Meaning Making as a Pathway to Thriving

I am captivated by the powerful role of meaning making and spirituality in the lives of students on campus. This sense of reliance on a higher power when life is difficult was a predictor of thriving for all students in my dissertation study but was especially powerful in predicting thriving among the minority student groups I explored. I feel it imperative that campuses adopt practices that foster spirituality and meaning making among students as it is such an important aspect in the lives of students.


Students in college seek a meaning to live for and ask their own existential questions along the journey. The search for meaning is powerful. Nash and Murray (2010) contended:

Meaning therefore helps us to make cosmos out of chaos; it gives us choice in place of chance. Most of all, it gets us out of bed in the morning and off to face life’s inevitable daily mixtures of pleasure and pain. (p. xxi)

Campus student affairs practitioners, faculty, and administrators who are able to reconceptualize how they engage this vital spiritual part of the student may create new pathways for students to thrive on campus – particularly among students of color. Campuses can begin by affirming the importance of the spiritual self and move toward fostering the spiritual side of the student throughout the college years.


While creating opportunities for students to explore meaning making, self-purpose, and spirituality, it is important to distinguish between the spirituality as we conceptualize it in our ongoing work on student thriving, and religiosity. Although spirituality and religiosity are seemingly overlapping constructs, they have distinct meanings. Religiosity, like spirituality, often includes a belief in some higher power outside of oneself when life is difficult. However, religiosity also includes integration of belief into one’s daily habits as expressed through commitment toward, and a living out of, a particular belief system. In my work examining student thriving, I have not examined religious commitment and its connection to thriving.


Although many may believe that faith-based campuses in America are adequately addressing the spiritual needs of students. However, some are meeting the spiritual needs, and many are addressing the religious needs. The perspective of spirituality explored in my dissertation study seems to precede many religious practices by first asking the question: Is there a power inside or outside this world that is greater than me?


Our team’s ongoing work examining student thriving is collecting items associated with religiosity, such as lifestyle, and organizational affiliation as they connect to student thriving; however that research is ongoing.