Center leading the way in ethics and religious programming, support

University Park, Pa. -- When deciding on a college four years ago, Lauren Mack was concerned about how a large institution might affect her faith traditions, her ethics and morals. Graduating from Penn State this weekend, Mack looks back on her time at the University as one that, in part, enabled her to develop her own Catholic faith while enriching her knowledge and bringing her closer to a diverse student body of varied religious and spiritual beliefs.

Mack joined a panel representing student affairs and Penn State's Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs (CERA) in an informational report to the University's Board of Trustees Friday (May 18) on CERA and its services to the University Park community and beyond.

"I can proudly say that Penn State has provided me the unique opportunity to practice my Catholic faith alongside my Jewish, Protestant and Muslim peers," Mack said. "While the challenges associated with a multi-faith center seem daunting ... Penn State has led the way in proving that the benefits of such a center far outweigh the difficulties."

More than 50 years ago, Penn State President Milton Eisenhower developed the idea for an all-faith chapel, and Eisenhower Chapel opened in 1956. In 2003, the opening of the adjoining Pasquerilla Spiritual Center added 29,400 square feet of space to CERA's facilities.

The two facilities give Penn State the largest worship space of any public university, and with good reason. Vicky L. Triponey, vice president for student affairs, said that a recent Penn State Pulse survey found 82 percent of Penn State students consider themselves a religious person, and 91 percent a spiritual person.

"Penn State continues to provide our students with enriching programs designed to expand their ability to make important ethical decisions," Triponey said. "In addition, we are continuing this University's long tradition of supporting our students in the free expression of their views about religion while discovering and developing their own spirituality."

CERA, a division of Student Affairs, is responsible for providing a venue and programs for the ethical, spiritual and character development of the University community. Robert H. Smith, CERA director, said more than 60 religious/spiritual organizations exist on campus and most call the Pasquerilla Center and Eisenhower Chapel their home. More than 3,000 students participate in services and programs there each week.

In addition to providing venues for worship services, CERA organizes memorial services annually for all Penn State students who have passed away in the past year, for individuals throughout the year, and in response to a particular event, such as a recent service in honor of the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting tragedy. The facilities also host a large number of weddings annually.

With a variety of educational programs, CERA provides the opportunity for learning in a diverse environment. A Student Advisory Board brings together monthly a panel of students of different faiths to discuss issues pertinent to the center and campus at large. Numerous other panel discussions ranging from cult awareness to the role of religion have educated while enhancing diversity. Other programs hosted at the Pasquerilla Center include weekly open discussions between Muslim and Jewish students and monthly discussions between Evangelical and atheist groups.

Eric Schoon, who along with Mack served this past year as a CERA student fellow, explained to the board that the center has renewed its emphasis on ethics programming. This spring, in cooperation with Penn State's Rock Ethics Institute, CERA coordinated a series on environmental ethics. The center is developing an ethics certificate program to enhance students' knowledge through their education and professional lives. Organizations such as a new group devoted to ethics also are accommodated and welcomed at the center.

The Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs, housed in the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center and Eisenhower Chapel, has received national attention and praise. Schoon said that this semester he attended Coming Together, a national interfaith conference of college and university students held this year at the University of Southern California. Penn State will host the fourth annual Coming Together next year, four days of deep exploration of interfaith work and activity.

"Without fail, every administrator I spoke with at Coming Together 3 knew about Penn State, our program and our facilities at the center," Schoon said.

"What we have at the Pasquerilla Center and within the Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs is truly the vanguard of religious and ethics programming both at public and private universities. In the coming year we will have the chance to show what Penn State really has to offer in that area to an audience that goes well beyond prospective students and those with professional interests."

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Last Updated March 19, 2009