Like many Erskine graduates, Jordan Joseph Kennington, a member of the Class of 2017, praises mentors on the Due West campus who helped make her college career a success. But before she ever became an Erskine College student, Jordan received a preview of small-school attention and guidance when she participated in a gap-year program just after high school.
Thanks to the benefits of mentoring before and during her Erskine experience, Jordan’s confidence in her faith, critical-thinking skills, and community-living savvy were nurtured and balanced by growth in humility and trust in God.
The varieties of gap-year experience
When Jordan Joseph signed up for the Impact 360 gap-year program in 2012, Erskine graduate Dr. John Basie—now serving as provost of Erskine College—was directing the program, perhaps even lending it a little Erskine flair.
“It is more than fair to say Erskine helped prepare me for my various leadership roles at the Impact 360 Institute,” Basie says.
Basie believes he would not have been as successful at Impact 360 or in other academic and professional roles had he not been “introduced to the question ‘What does it mean to be human?’ through the humanities and sciences at Erskine.”
At Impact 360, Jordan and 29 other students were taught by a different professor every week, focusing on subjects ranging from theology to leadership, from service to art, and these sessions made a real difference for her.
“During these weekly classes, I found my love for both theology and philosophy,” she says. “I learned how to think critically and come to defendable conclusions about any given subject.”
Jordan eventually completed a Bible and religion major as well as a major in philosophy at Erskine.
Her time with Impact 360 included living with other students, providing preparation for residential college life. So her gap-year experience not only sparked her enthusiasm for theology and philosophy and honed her critical-thinking skills, but also helped her gain experience that would ease the transition to college life.
“Through living with these 29 students, I learned practically about Christian community and what it looks like to live in fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ, pushing each other forward in every aspect of our lives,” she says.
Jordan’s gap year, which ran from fall 2012 through spring 2013, included a trip to Brazil in January for community-based missions work, an experience she describes as “an extreme time of growth for me.” The mission trip was just one item in a set of gap-year lessons and experiences that encouraged her to “approach the world from a Christian mindset.”
Mentoring by full-time Impact 360 staff, as well as by some of the professors who came in weekly to teach students, continued throughout the fall and spring.
“Weekly teachers would come and often be willing to have lunch with students afterwards. It was during two of these lunchtimes that professors encouraged me to continue studying philosophy and theology,” Jordan recalls. “I was also mentored by our female resident life coordinator, who was often a listening ear for me when I had to ‘process through’ life or school or relationships.”
Near the end of Jordan’s gap year, Basie took a hand in the mentoring process, assisting her with “choosing colleges and life paths.”
The college try: coming to Erskine
Looking back at her four years as an Erskine student, Jordan says Impact 360 “prepared me to come into college with a strong foundation for what I actually believed.”
Having developed a faith that was “personal and not just something I’d been taught and accepted without much thought,” she was able to persevere in her faith through the college years.
She had also sharpened skills that helped her assess the knowledge she was gleaning in college. Thus she could “critically think through all my classes and how my faith was intertwined with the truths I was learning.”
Owing at least in part to living with students at Impact 360, she had some experience of “what a Christian community could look like” and sufficient insight to enable her “to make wise decisions with friends and my social life,” she says.
During Jordan’s junior year, before Basie came to Erskine to serve as provost, he again became a mentor to Jordan, offering guidance through an online academic coaching program he founded and directed. Jordan and the future provost “would talk on the phone weekly and discuss assignments he had given me to think through my passions and talents” as she tried to come to a clearer idea of her calling in life.
“The coaching process that Jordan completed was what is known as a life purpose and vocational discernment coaching process,” Basie explains. “Colleges and universities have begun to realize that there is something valuable in looking to certified executive coaches and certified life coaches in helping students think through God’s call on their lives and what comes post-college.”
There were some professors at Erskine who “probably unknowingly” served as mentors, Jordan says.
“The most important, Dr. [J. Brooks] Kuykendall, is an odd one because I am not a music major, but during my time at Erskine I ended up taking four of his classes, and they have had an impact on me for the better,” she says. “His intentional teaching style [helped] me as an individual to think more critically and to be okay with arriving at the answer ‘I don’t know.’”
Having professors take an interest in her as an individual, as Kuykendall did, “has made me become more confident in my passions and talents and striving to glorify God within my unique calling,” she says.
Finding community, finishing strong
Jordan cites Chaplain Paul Patrick, who leads Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at Erskine, as another mentor during her college years. Since her gap-year experience had given her “a longing to be involved in ministry the moment I stepped on campus,” she became involved with RUF right away and stuck with it.
Patrick observes that students who, like Jordan, come to the Erskine campus desiring the “friendship, fellowship, and community” offered by RUF can find it quickly, “while others can grow that appetite while here.”
For the chaplain, mentoring is simply a part of his gospel ministry. “I would note that the mentoring [referenced] is really just Christian discipleship,” he says. “Believers overlapping with believers in a healthy context where the scriptures are read and heard and practiced by fellow strugglers in the faith.
“At Erskine, we do all that wrapped up in hospitality on Sunday nights at ‘The Barn’ and Wednesday nights on the patio,” Patrick adds, referring to the round of Bible study and worship opportunities offered by RUF at Erskine, often hosted by the Patricks at their home.
Crediting the campus chaplain with “a passion to see students excel, not only spiritually, but also academically, athletically, socially,” Jordan is grateful that Patrick took “an individual interest in my life and well-being” and “sought to grow me as a leader in RUF and on campus.”
Her gap-year preparation gave her confidence, a critical-thinking boost, and practical experience in community living. Once Jordan came to the Erskine campus, attention from professors as well as from the chaplain helped her to realize the limits of critical thinking and also encouraged her, as she describes it, to “take refuge in the work of Christ more and more every day.”
Jordan completed her double major, participated in RUF and other activities, and also served as vice president of the Student Christian Association during her senior year. She graduated in May 2017 and was married to former Erskine student Luke Kennington the next month at the barn on the Patricks’ property just outside Due West. They have been living in Lancaster, S.C.
“Luke is working as a mechanic at a local auto shop I have been working two awesome part-time jobs,” she explains. “I’m the youth intern at Unity ARP Church here in Lancaster and am also working part-time as a reading assistance teacher at Buford Elementary School.”
Beginning in June 2018, Jordan plans to take classes in Winthrop University’s graduate program in Counseling and Development. She hopes to complete a master’s degree in school counseling in May 2020.
Jordan Joseph Kennington is on the way to becoming a mentor for others.
Impact 360 Institute, an academically rigorous educational organization committed to teaching biblical worldview and servant leadership in all its programs, is affiliated with Union University in Tennessee, Lifeshape Foundation, and Chick-fil-A, Inc.