Colby College

Case Study

Colby College

Colby College Ask Big Questions


Colby College, a private liberal arts college in Maine, is home to about 1,200 undergraduates. Kurt Nelson, dean of spiritual life at the college, wanted to deepen the impact of several community-building and personal reflection programs on campus, including a discussion series on purpose and vocation, and an interfaith dialogue program. The college also wanted to see measurable outcomes in student growth.

“We needed to train students in how to lead these kinds of conversations, and we needed a curriculum for them to use.”
Kurt Nelson
Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life

What We Did

Ask Big Questions worked with Kurt and his staff to identify key themes in campus life and design a conversation series built around a series of four Big Questions:

  1. How does technology change us?
  2. When do you say no?
  3. How do we disagree?
  4. For whom are we responsible?

A training team from Ask Big Questions traveled to campus to lead a one-day training for 20 student leaders and 4 campus advisors, who were drawn from both the “Lives on Purpose” program and the interfaith dialogue series. Over the fall semester, the student leaders each led a conversation circle of 10 participants through this series of conversations.


The Ask Big Questions conversation series led to measurable gains in students’ sense of purpose and vocation. Survey data showed that 84 percent of student participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “As a result of these conversations, I feel greater clarity about my mission and purpose in college and life.” The series also led to deeper connections across lines of difference, with 86 percent reporting that, after the series of four conversations, they had come to new understand the stories and viewpoints of other students whom they would otherwise would not have met. 

What's Next

Colby College student leaders used Ask Big Questions in their work on campus and are planning to hold additional conversations during the spring semester. Ask Big Questions is currently working with Colby College to expand the program in the 2016-2017 school year, with a focus on training student leaders in residential life. 

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