Program Prospers Student’s Purpose

Sullivan (first row, far right in red blazer) with her program cohort.

In August, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) student Paola Sullivan attended Duke University’s 19th Annual Course on Religion, Spirituality and Health. Sullivan, a family, youth and community sciences student, spent five days learning from experts from around the country. The program, which met 32 hours of continuing education credits for medical professionals, featured field leaders such as Harold Koenig and Redford Williams.  

Sullivan was able to participate in this professional development program with funding from the VP Promise Initiative, which provides financial support for various experiential learning opportunities for CALS students.  

As a program participant, Sullivan attended several sessions with topics ranging from creating an academic career to theological dimensions. She also participated in a series of workshops related to research applications and methodologies.  

“The curriculum was designed to really equip participants with the tools needed to initiate and conduct impactful research in this controversial, yet expanding field,” said Sullivan. 

Throughout the presentations, Sullivan noted that the presentation style was unique compared to conferences she had previously attended. Speakers took advantage of the array of backgrounds present and used it as an opportunity to foster collaboration.  

Sullivan and Koenig.

“Presentations were not merely one-sided; they were interactive sessions that encouraged questions, debates, and diverse global perspectives, making the learning experience all the more enriching,” said Sullivan.

Additionally, Sullivan participated in the one-on-one mentor sessions offered by the program. She was able to select from a wide range of faculty members for this opportunity. Sullivan elected for Harold Koenig, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Duke University’s School of Medicine, to be her mentor. 

“His guidance was invaluable in helping me fine-tune my current research project that investigates whether spiritual intervention tools help increase students’ spirituality, happiness, and overall psychological well-being. The insights he offered for implementing spirituality scales that do not include any mental health measures were a game changer for me,” said Sullivan.  

Sullivan, currently in her senior year, returned to campus with a fresh perspective for her future. Armed with a sense of purpose and new research ideas, she is prepared to take steps towards her goal of a career in academia and research.  

“This course didn’t just provide me with a comprehensive education—it instilled in me a sense of responsibility to further explore and contribute to the dynamic interplay between spirituality and health,” said Sullivan.  

The VP Promise is an initiative to provide financial assistance for students pursuing experiences in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources. CALS supports student success both inside and outside of the classroom and encourages students to broaden their perspectives through enriching opportunities such as study abroad programs and travel to conferences. For more information on the VP Promise visit the CALS website.


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Posted: October 30, 2023

Category: Health & Nutrition, Professional Development, UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: Career Services, Family Youth And Community Science, Professional Development, VP Promise

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