John Templeton Foundation Research on the Gordon Presidential Fellows Program
Through the generosity of the John Templeton Foundation, the College had the opportunity to study the impact of the Gordon Presidential Fellows program on developing a sense of purpose in college-age students. The three-year study, conducted by sociologist Pat Hastings of Colorado State University, found that Fellows develop a greater sense of purpose, a deeper understanding of what makes life meaningful, an increased spirit of altruism and heightened social support from friends.
Over the course of three years (2015–2018), successful program applicants and corresponding program finalists who were not selected participated in two surveys that were administered before and after the fellowship year.
Fellows: Before and after the Fellowship year
Fellows reported an increase in:
Fellows reported a decrease in:
Finalists vs. Fellows
Compared to finalists who were not selected as fellows, fellows reported a greater increase in:
Compared to finalists, fellows reported a greater decrease in:
“In aggregate, our research, informed by the work of Bill Damon at Stanford, found that the program is very effective in increasing a sense of wisdom, responsibility, and judgment. We were pleased to find that Fellows developed virtues in addition to professional skills.
In addition to the benefits to Fellows, program participants found that the program had myriad benefits for the College itself. Departments found the Fellows to be indispensable and the significant work assignments completed by Fellows were done so at a relatively low cost and at an exceptionally high level. The Fellows also serve as exceptional ambassadors for the College, helping the institution recruit and retain key students.
Our theory of change arises from the premise that young people who are exposed to settings and individuals who challenge them and encourage them in certain directions will elicit values and leadership abilities that would otherwise lie dormant. The Fellows program effectively creates context where some of the very traits we hoped would be developed actually emerge. These include a better sense of judgment or wisdom to use language derived from scripture. This is demonstrated as students have a better sense of what makes life meaningful and they have a higher degree of relational discernment and aptitude.
The Fellows program also develops within students a sense of responsibility. They are more willing to go out of their way to help individuals in need. They are less likely to be rebellious and more likely to be respectful, even appreciative, to those in authority. This is an important development in the lives of young people who are developing what Max Weber would call ‘an ethic of responsibility.’
Moreover, Fellows are less likely to develop the purpose of life as ‘having fun’ and these fellows seem less driven by material gains such as working to make more money in its place they are more likely to undertake activities that give them a sense of purpose and meaning. All of this aligns with Bill Damon’s research and demonstrates how an immersive leadership development experience in the context of a cohort can elicit the kind of virtues that enable students to thrive over the long haul into productive, contributing members of society.
Fellows feel pride and a long-term connection to the program which is provided through their philanthropic support. This past year, 93% of Fellows alumni donated to the College; more than 4 times the rate for non-Fellows alumni.”
“Without a doubt, my experience during the Fellows program was one of the most formative of my undergraduate years—and consequently, of my life to date. It is a rare blessing to have such intimate access to the successes, failures, motivations and learnings of leaders (and servants) across so many fields; it is even rarer for that access to come at such a formative moment in an individual's life. The Fellows program challenged my concept of purpose, enlarged my aspirations, and equipped me with confidence and character at exactly the time when my core values and driving passions were beginning to cement.”
—Erik Hilker ’13
“To my mentor, to the men and women who shared their experiences with us, to those who facilitated and funded the program, I owe a great thank you. It is likely that I will never fully grasp this program's impact on my life, but I can say with confidence that whatever good I contribute in my home, in my work, in my community and in this world, it finds its source in the Gordon College Presidential Fellows program.”
—Josh Hill ’15
“The Presidential Fellows program was the highlight of my education. Needless to say, the rigorous work coupled with the caliber of the program provided a tangible advantage when it came to pursuing my passion after Gordon. More importantly, however, the mentoring I received from the administration served to shape my character and teach me the qualities necessary to be a devoted Christian in the marketplace. I will always be very grateful for the opportunity that Gordon College and its generous donors made possible.”
—Zach Hall ’15
“The mentoring I received from my principal and other members of the administration shaped my character and taught me the qualities necessary to be a devoted Christian in the marketplace.
—Nathanael Lee ’16
“When I became a Presidential Fellow, I felt empowered to be a leader. The program teaches us how to be servant-leaders and gives us incredible opportunities to utilize even more fully the values and lessons taught at Gordon. My time with my cohort taught me so much about myself, and working with the Cabinet gave me incredible insights into the challenges and rewards of leading a community. I am grateful for my experience and have found that the program constantly impacts my life in ways I could have never imagined.”
—Claire Campbell ’16
“When I reflect on my time as a Fellow, it is clear that God used the Presidential Fellows program to prepare me for what he has in store for my life.”
—Bersley Chery ’16