NEWBERRY — Founded on the values of ethics, vocation and civic engagement, the Muller Center at Newberry College held its official ribbon cutting last week.
Funded by the bequest of John D. Muller Jr. the Muller Center was founded with the purpose to support students pursuing ministry to church and world.
Dr. Krista Hughes, director of the Muller Center and associate professor of religion, said the center has taken over the Values Based Learning Program that was run at Newberry College, but has also added additional concepts to the original program.
The Muller Center was established in January 2015.
A couple of years ago, Hughes said Newberry College President Maurice Scherrens designated a group of people to discuss how the wishes of Muller could be interpreted and have the widest impact.
“After many months of thinking through that, we decided the establishment of a center was the best way to take the money the furthest,” Hughes said.
The goal from the beginning, Hughes said was to pull in the work from the Values Based Learning Program that did a lot of service learning through the community and wove that into the curriculum and class-based work.
“But they also wanted other elements,” Hughes said.
When the group was commissioned, Hughes said the common thought was very explicit that this would be the Muller Center AT Newberry College instead of OF Newberry College because they wanted it to be as much of a community center as anything else.
“We really wanted to see it as a bridge between the community and the campus,” Hughes said.
While the Values Based Learning Program laid a lot of the groundwork for civic engagement, the idea of the Muller Center was that it would also bring in questions of ethics and vocation.
Hughes said they understood ethics to mean the grappling of big moral questions that we all face in the world. For example, in the wake of the Charleston shootings, Hughes said they have partnered with the Office of Diversity Education, Athletics and Student Affairs on campus about how they may foster questions about race relations and other topics.
“We do want those conversations to happen not only on campus, but with the campus and the community, so we’re working to figure out how we can collaborate on those things,” Hughes said.
As for vocation, Hughes said because of Newberry College’s Lutheran liberal arts tradition, one of the wonderful gifts that the Lutheran tradition had to offer was the concept of vocation.
“It’s a really wonderful concept that anyone can benefit from,” Hughes said.
Hughes said she believed that you did not have to be Lutheran or even a Christian to benefit from the concept, but rather understand what you were being called to do in the world.
“Each of us has a purpose and meaning in the world that is unique to ourselves, but that takes us beyond ourselves,” Hughes said. “We have something to give back.”
Part of Hughes’ job as director has been to access the civic engagement and service learning programs of Newberry College to try to connect them with a broader range of community partners.
Hughes said they currently have great partners including the Newberry County Literacy Council, the Living Hope Foundation and others. However there were places that had not yet been connected that Hughes said she was trying to meet with in the community to get them involved.
About the Center
Located on the second floor of Keller Hall on Newberry College’s campus, the Muller Center does not hold classes, Hughes said but is responsible for supporting Newberry College faculty as they are designing courses.
“We might work with a faculty member or a community partner to come up with a community based project that might be relevant to a class,” Hughes said as an example.
Hughes said the staff’s job was to connect faculty and community partners for things like that and to help faculty members think through possibilities for a potential project. They also try to place volunteers in the community.
The Muller Center has student research fellows with the idea that the students could earn academic credit while they research community outreach.
The center’s current and first Muller Student Research Fellow is Karley Young, who is working on food insecurity in Newberry County. Young is analyzing current needs and will lay the groundwork for a food program sponsored by the college and primarily staffed by student volunteers.
“She (Karley) is investigating what is being offered in the community right now and if there might be a way the college could provide a backpack program or a campus kitchen,” Hughes said.
Another part of the Muller Center’s staff is through AmeriCorps VISTA. However, Hughes said they work at the center, but their work goes beyond the center. One of their big roles, Hughes said is to connect students with community opportunities.
Current AmeriCorps VISTA staff are Maggie Williamson and Amanda Alston.
Hughes said the ribbon cutting last week was a great chance to invite people to come see where they were located and acknowledge the hard work of the people who had gotten them where they were.
“We invite the community onto campus because we want this to be a resource for the community and not just the college,” Hughes said.
For more information on the Muller Center, staff and opportunities, visit https://www.newberry.edu/muller-center.
Reach Elyssa Parnell at 803-276-0625.