September 30, 2022

Journey of a lifetime

Prof. Nate Eastman

Building on Earlham’s traditional strengths in the liberal arts and classroom learning, the Epic Journey helps each student design a framework for personal and professional success.

As Juš Tavčar wrapped up his senior year in May, he was at one of those points in life when you can see a clear juncture between what was and what’s next. The grad from Slovenia was grateful for the opportunity he had for his journey through a college like Earlham.

Drawing depicting student Tvcar's Epic Journey

Juš Tavčar ’22

HOMETOWN: Ljublijana, Slovenia

MAJORS: Art with a focus on art history and Global Management (with a focus on marketing)

MINOR: Museum studies

APPLIED MINOR: Arts management

FAVORITE CLASS: Twentieth Century Art

INTERNSHIPS: Advocacy and policy internship with Friends Committee on National Legislation; children’s advocacy intern at Day One

RESEARCH: “Art of pricing and pricing of art,” examining the art market in South Asia

OFF-CAMPUS STUDY: Washington, D.C., semester program

STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS: International Student Coalition, Earlham Student Government

CAMPUS/COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Joseph Moore Museum, student ambassador

Combining his art history background with mar-keting and lobbying has pointed him in the direction of advocacy and public policy for the arts. An art history major, he decided to apply for a position in the sci-ence library on a whim. Katie Breslin, his supervisor at that job, also became a mentor.

“We bonded through that experience, and because of that, I participated in my first Spring Lobby Weekend,” he says. “From there, I did a virtual internship with Friends Committee on National Legislation, and then I did the off- campus semester program in D.C. working with an anti-hunger advocacy organization.”

“The fact that there are so many opportunities joined on such a small campus—that literally changed my life.”

Tavčar’s story would resonate with many Earlhamites—a student comes to campus and begins to explore one interest only to find it branching into several more in sometimes unexpected ways, gather-ing in intensity and ultimately shaping the purpose of his life. That’s a gem worth polishing, and such is the aim of every Epic Journey, Earlham’s signature approach to a liberal arts education.

Better than serendipity

But if you wanted to make sure that every journey was as good as Tavčar’s, for example, how would you go about it? By designing a four-year framework that provides each student with the incentives, opportunities and support they need to thrive at Earlham and beyond.

What the Epic Journey creates for each student is a process that is holistic and comprehensive. “While pieces of this approach have existed at Earlham, what we’ve never had is an intentional four-year structured program for career and personal develop-ment,” explains Mike Deibel, associate vice president for academic affairs. “Now it starts from the moment a student arrives on campus.”

New and reimagined initiatives help first-year students begin their Epic Journeys on the right foot. First, a mentor program will help students navigate college life outside the classroom. Second, a new curriculum embedded in the first-year Earlham Seminars will introduce students to the concepts of design thinking as they begin to imagine their next four years and beyond.

Nate Eastman, Professor of English and con-vener of the Honors Program, is coordinating the launch of the new mentor program, known as Epic Journey Guides. He sees the guides as door-openers.

“[The Epic Journey framework] involves not just getting them started on the right foot, but ensuring there’s a middle checkpoint and an endocarp that helps them consider how they want to launch the next phase of their life.”

“About 20 years ago I moved into a neighbor-hood that had block parties. The kind where people block off both ends of the street with those grills you make out of a 50-gallon drum. The first time that happened, I was also new to the neighborhood. I didn’t know the code. I didn’t know whether I was welcome there until my neighbors knocked on my door.

“Epic Journey Guides work about the same way; we have these open events, but we have them for students who are new to the campus, new to college. They don’t know the code yet. Just because an event looks open doesn’t mean that it’s for you. Epic Guides will help new students navigate that kind of uncertainty, and help them take advantage of the opportunities that fit their abilities and interests.”

The guides themselves will be administrative faculty, and include everyone from student life and marketing to the president and members of Cabinet. In addition to academic advisers, these guides will help students navigate Earlham, providing a community of support from the start.

Queries for students along the Epic Journey


What do I want to do? What academic opportunities excite me and suit my early goals? What kinds of co-curricular experiences will be the most fulfilling? What kind of values do I want to guide my life?


What academic major should be my intellectual home? How does it lead me to what’s next in life? What kinds of co-curricular experiences do I need to have to find out more about myself and refine my goals? What sort of Epic Advantage experience would help me reach my goals?


How do I master the academics involved in my major? How do I make the most of my co-curricular opportunities?


How can I take everything that I just built academically and through research, travel or work experiences and translate that into an outcome that fits my passions and strengths? What is my portfolio of experiences and how best can I share that with future employers and grad schools? How do I begin the next chapter of my life with purpose and integrity?

Drawing depicting student Abby's Epic Journey

Abby Stewart ’22

HOMETOWN: Richmond, Indiana

MAJOR: Psychology

APPLIED MINOR: Medical humanities

FAVORITE CLASS: Psychology of Happiness

INTERNSHIP: Job shadow at Richmond State Hospital and Centerstone family support specialist/therapy intern at Starr Elementary

RESEARCH: “The role of stigma in patients being treated for Borderline Personality Disorder”

STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS: Founder/co-convener of Earlham Active Minds

CAMPUS/COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Varsity tennis, volunteer tennis instructor at Amigos and student ambassador

Designing a life and launching into a career

Besides resources like mentors and guides, students are also given a framework for thinking about how they want to organize their time at Earlham, explains Deibel. “ That involves not just getting them started on the right foot, but ensuring there’s a middle checkpoint and an endcap that helps them consider how they want to launch the next phase of their life.”

The checkpoints are critical because the path to a career is rarely a straight one—and it isn’t intended to be. Only after students have begun exploring where they want to go, will they be able to refine their aims and make changes. By design, students are encouraged to take risks, test interests and do hands-on work. The more of these well-considered options, the better. The Epic Journey makes this happen.

“We have had a long history of success in the class-room, through summer research, and through off campus research and study programs, and so on,” says Deibel. “What we’ve done is build more of them. For example, the Epic Advantage didn’t exist until 2018.

We have added additional opportunities through the CoLab centers. We now also have more ways to get students job experience or significant service work—all in ways that we couldn’t do before.”

Justice Vaughn ’23

HOMETOWN: Indianapolis, Indiana

MAJOR: Biology

FAVORITE CLASS: Pan-Africanism

INTERNSHIP: Shadowed in the Ob/Gyn unit at Reid Hospital and with a pain management doctor

RESEARCH: Worked in tandem with a maternal health and care organization based in Indianapolis

STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS: Earlham Student Government

CAMPUS/COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: Co-convener of women’s rugby club, Campus Life Advisory Committee

Drawing depicting student Justice's Epic Journey

The Epic Advantage—a fully funded internship, research or otherwise career-defining experience offered to every student—serves as a life-changing opportunity for students to challenge themselves, test their interests and make invaluable connections. And it’s free to students, thanks to donations from Alan and Peg Scantland, both from Earlham’s Class of 1974. Most students pursue their Epic Advantage experience during the summer after their second or third year and, prior to that, they must complete the EPIC 171 course about creating a foundation for their career life.

In this course, students will re-encounter a theme that is also being built into the first-year Earlham Seminars: using principles of design in your own life. Using concepts from Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ book, Designing Your Life—which Earlham is providing to every student—students will learn how to think deeply and creatively about what comes next.

“We now also have more ways to get students job experience or significant service work—all in ways that we couldn’t do before.”

Design thinking helps students approach problems so that they can imagine a path forward, explains Caroline Wagner, a senior career coach in the Center for Career Education.

She is developing the curriculum for the redesigned EPIC 171 course, one of the significant waypoints along the Epic Journey. “In the Earlham Seminars, they will think about their values—where there’s synergy, where there’s divergence or conflict, and where they might have to make tough decisions. In EPIC 171, we’ll return to those ideas as they begin to create five-year plans for after college. Through all of this, students will be encour-aged to think about what they would do if the ideal path doesn’t work.”

As in design thinking, it’s expected for students to learn from both successes and struggles. The goal: that all students are aware of the opportunities around them, understand how to use them, and are equipped with the resiliency and grit that will help them forge a path forward in a way that reflects their values.

Seniors this fall will also be able to participate in a career readiness “launch program,” which entails several days of intensive training just before their senior year, all designed to help them prepare for the big transition from college to career.

The launch program is highly participatory expe-rience, according to Mila Cooper, executive director of Career Education and Community Engagement. All seniors will be come back early for their senior year to take part. “Students will attend empower-ment sessions and workshops, network with em-ployers and community leaders, connect with career mentors and develop a plan for their senior year and their next phase after Earlham,” says Cooper.

Greater than the sum of its parts

The aim of the Epic Journey is to take what’s great about Earlham and pair it with equally excellent support systems and career preparation opportuni-ties. That’s what today’s students and their families expect from a college experience.

“If we had this whole program, but didn’t have an outstanding liberal arts institution with amazing faculty and amazing teaching, it would not mean the same thing,” says Deibel. “We do. It’s by having both that we can do even more for our students.

“So, there’s nothing we’re giving up about the liberal arts and there’s nothing we’re giving up about our commitment to excellence in the classroom. We depend on that. We rely on it. We’re adding additional things to complement it with the goal of giving students the best experience of any institution across the country. That’s what the Epic Journey means for Earlham.”

Story written by Jennifer Gose. Illustrations by Kathleen Fu.

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Alumni invited to be Epic Journey guides

Epic Journey guides will use EC Connect to help new students find additional mentors—for everything from career advice to help navigating college as a first-generation student. Create your profile today for the opportunity to connect and help Earlham students grow in their personal and professional development.

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