Leadership, Community, and Faith
Service. Leadership. Vocation. For Caleb Rollins ’15, these words defined his experience at Valpo and created his path to philanthropic work as development manager for Lutheran Services in America.
Caleb was initially drawn to Valpo for its “home away from home” community, but he says the financial support and the promises of the Christ College — The Honors College experience led him to stay.
“I wouldn’t have been able to go to Valpo if it weren’t for the financial awards I received. The opportunity to participate in Christ College was also a big draw for me because of the academic rigor and community they offered,” Caleb says. “I felt Valpo was a place that could be my home for four years. I attended three high schools, lived in about five cities before college, and was really looking for a place to call home. I felt like Valpo could be that place, and it was.”
Caleb, a recipient of the Allen Scholarship for Church Vocation and the Board of Directors Scholarship, majored in international service, now called global service, with a minor in philanthropic leadership and service. Through his academic work in Christ College, he also earned a major in humanities.
Caleb emphasizes that it’s not only the academics that prepared him for his career in philanthropy, but also the variety of service and leadership opportunities that make up the unique Valpo experience.
“Valpo provided me with a lot of different opportunities to shape my education — from studying abroad, to broadening my scope of communication with people of diverse backgrounds, to practicing fundraising and development work through the Social Action Leadership Team, to learning student social justice ministry at the Chapel, to working on my critical thinking skills through my time in Christ College,” Caleb says. “Those opportunities, coupled with the support by faculty and staff, made my time there invaluable.”
When alumni reflect upon their Valpo experience, they often think of the people who influenced them during their time here and the relationships developed — most often with faculty and staff mentors and advisors. Caleb Rollins is no different.
In appreciation, Caleb wrote thank you cards to a few faculty and staff after graduation. Among those was Elizabeth Lynn, director of the Institute for Leadership and Service. “She was a great mentor to me. She encouraged me to reflect on my service and my learning and to think critically about them,” he says.
Caleb met Elizabeth Lynn at the start of his sophomore year and expressed enthusiasm for the mission of the Institute, which is dedicated to preparing Valpo students for lives of leadership and service in the world. Director Lynn says this moment characterizes Caleb’s commitment to making a difference.
“He consistently takes initiative to work with others to create meaningful new action to improve our world,” Director Lynn says. “I immediately hired him as a research assistant and put him to work assessing and mapping different types of student service on our campus — a complex assignment he fulfilled promptly and effectively while also managing a full course load, other jobs, and growing student leadership roles on campus.”
Like Director Lynn, other Valpo professors had a definitive impact on Caleb as a student and helped to shape him into the philanthropist, leader, and person of faith he strived to be.
“Professor Heath Carter helped me realize that I can’t really separate my Christian faith from work for justice. I think that’s important for my identity now outside of Valpo,” Caleb says. “And Professor Greg Jones — I don’t know if he would know he had a big impact on me, but he definitely did. He taught me to continue to work for and cry out for justice even when people aren’t listening to you.”
Professor Jones says he is honored to have contributed to Caleb’s academic and faith formation at Valpo. “Caleb is one of those rare individuals whose heart is carried and shown in full view of the public,” Professor Jones says. “His life is a testimony to the power and presence of faith to transform us into an instrument of good. Caleb simply lives his faith.”
Pastor Jim Wetzstein says Caleb is the typical kind of student that Valpo attracts. “He’s both talented and hardworking, passionately committed to finding his place in the world, not to become famous or for self-profit, but to be of service as an expression of his own awareness of God’s great love and service to him,” Pastor Jim says.
Caleb rose to leadership in the Social Action Leadership Team (SALT), the social justice ministry of the Chapel of the Resurrection, under Pastor Jim’s direction. Pastor Jim says, “Like many before and countless more that will follow, Caleb heeded the call to be ‘salt of the earth’ and is taking it seriously. Knowing Caleb and others like him is among the greatest joys of my work here at Valpo.”
In addition to the impactful leadership of faculty and staff mentors, Caleb says being part of the Calling And Purpose in Society (CAPS) Fellows Program helped guide and shape his career path. CAPS is a distinguished program within the Institute for Leadership and Service. CAPS Fellows are placed in internships with organizations engaged in important forms of service and leadership for 9-10 weeks in the summer, for a minimum of 300 hours. The CAPS experience is more than a job working in a service environment, it’s an opportunity for students to reflect on service, and reflect on their call to service.
“My true vocation was defined by my experience in CAPS,” Caleb says.
Caleb’s CAPS Fellow placement was at Lutheran Services in America, not coincidentally where he started his new professional role as development manager in March after his CAPS Fellows experience helped him cultivate his Lutheran identity.
“I lived with a community of Fellows who also had extraordinary experiences outside of Valpo in service-oriented positions,” Caleb says. They reflected on those experiences collectively and how they relate to their vocation. “My time in the CAPS Fellows Program gave me more of an insight into how I view vocation and how that is affecting me in what I do now. I do work in Lutheran social ministry for Lutheran Services in America, and I’m not sure I was as committed to my Lutheran identity before my time in the CAPS Fellows Program.”
Caleb is just starting his career in the philanthropic sector, and his ambitions are high. “I want to work in a career where I’m able to love and serve God and my neighbor,” Caleb says. He wishes to continue to work in a faith-based organization, and eventually pursue a graduate degree in international development, and ultimately, a Ph.D. in philanthropic studies.
In addition to leadership development opportunities, Caleb also took advantage of opportunities to create fun experiences and memories at Valpo through the Social Action Leadership Team (SALT) and Social Justice Ministry of the Chapel and various positions in Christ College and admissions.
However, a particular highlight of his time at Valpo was SALT’s Color for a Cause — an event he helped organize. It was the memories created with friends through that event that Caleb says will last his lifetime.
“Color for a Cause is a color run that SALT puts on the first weekend of May each year. Its purpose is to raise funds for their World Relief Campaign, their primary annual funding initiative,” Caleb says.
“It is a night that perfectly captured the community and service aspect of my Valpo experience, and it was fun.”
Something not so unique about the Valpo experience is its community, but Caleb says that sense of community and the way it impacted him is what made his experience so special.
“I think I was fortunate that I can define my Valpo experience as being holistic,” he says. “I could go to class on Wednesday morning with some of my best friends, and then maybe we’d go to lunch, or go to Chapel Break together. Then I could go onto the recreational sports field and play some intramural flag football with them. And then I could go to a staff meeting for the Social Action Leadership Team and see some of the same people there.
“The same applied to professors. I could see them in class, and then I’d be going on a trip with them to Selma, Alabama. And then I’d maybe see them out to dinner in downtown and have a conversation with them and their family.”
Caleb says it’s through these experiences and Valpo’s community-based culture, coupled with what he learned in the classroom, that changed him throughout the course of four years into someone who knows himself and his passions.
“When I think of Valpo I think of people who are committed to learning and service and their faith, and who invited me to come alongside them to also learn and service and be faithful with them for four years,” Caleb says. “The people who were along my journey at Valpo were, and are, incredible.”