Oxford launches new Center for Pathways and Purpose

Dr. Sarah Fankhauser with students in biology lab.

"The Center for Pathways and Purpose is a shining example of Oxford's core values. It is representative of our mission to educate the whole person through a liberal arts education, and it will now serve as an expansive home to many of our curricular and co-curricular programs, as well as to new and innovative resources that will provide students with meaningful experiences beyond the classroom. I have no doubt that, under Dr. Gunnels' leadership, the Center will excel in fostering personal growth and discovery, connecting students with accomplished mentors, exploring vocational pathways, and promoting interdisciplinary study." - Badia Ahad, dean of Oxford College

This spring, the Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose (CPP) is bringing together new and existing programs and resources across the college to help students flourish and develop their personal and professional ambitions.

Under the leadership of inaugural director Bridgette W. Gunnels, the CPP is developing new initiatives to add to key Oxford programs such as Global Learning, Community Engaged Learning, Experiential Learning, and Internships and Career and Professional Development—all working together to provide a unified framework to support student flourishing.

CPP programs and resources will encourage students to explore interests, engage with their campus and personal communities, and reflect upon their work in both social and academic settings.

The idea for the CPP began in early 2022 with a desire to bring together already-existing resources under one roof and a plan to expand its offerings in the future. And that future is right around the corner.

Bridgette W. Gunnels, Director of CPP

Bridgette W. Gunnels, director of the Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose

Bridgette W. Gunnels, director of the Oxford Center for Pathways and Purpose

Oxford College Campus

Over the next year, the CPP will launch two additional signature programs designed to further its mission. The Impact Lab, coming in fall 2024, will be an innovative space dedicated to 1:1 mentoring with a Professional in Residence. It will offer a student workspace; resources to help students develop individual projects, including internships and global opportunities; and financial assistance to help make those opportunities possible.

Next on deck is StartUp 1.0—slated to begin spring 2025—which will help Oxford students pursue entrepreneurial goals. It will provide the time, space, and funds to develop creative ideas that serve the Oxford community, as well as seed money and professional mentors to help fully realize these projects. 

“I'm fortunate to have been able to listen deeply to what colleagues, alumni, students, and others invested in the success of the CPP have shared,” Gunnels said. “Our collective vision is to build a place where students can access the services and support needed to help them understand the why of coming to college—and to participate in programs that foster and sustain balance, mental health, and community awareness. Our two new programs, as well as existing ones now incorporated into the Center, reflect these values.” 

These opportunities will equip Oxford students with the skills to navigate the professional world and to lead meaningful lives both within and beyond their careers. More immediately, the CPP will prepare them for their transition to the Atlanta campus, where they will be able to continue their development at the Emory College Pathways Center—a sister center to Oxford’s own.

The CPP Impact Lab

The CPP Impact Lab

The CPP Impact Lab

The stone entrance to Oxford College


To prepare students for life after college, the Oxford CPP will help them explore, identify, and actively pursue career paths that reflect their values, talents, and goals. As part of this process, students will engage with one-on-one career coaches to identify pathways and develop strategies to gain valuable work and life experience in their chosen fields.

Students will also learn interviewing skills and resume management and connect with Oxford alumni who want to support them in their journeys. Workshops dedicated to financial literacy—such as how to secure housing and how to file income taxes—will prepare students for the practical realities of life after college. 

Lauren Braun, assistant dean for Academic Affairs and director of the Advising Support Center (ASC), sees the CPP as a major resource that can help students navigate their time in college. It also gives the ASC a wealth of options in guiding students to a transformative and fulfilling two years at Oxford.

“The CPP’s programming will not only meet students where they are developmentally, but it will also help them make meaning of their undergraduate experiences,” Braun said. “My hope is that the collaborations between our offices will encourage students to think critically about the ways a liberal arts experience at Oxford will help them gain insights about their values, who they are now, and ultimately, who they want to be.” 

That has been the case for Diya Nair 25Ox, who plans to major in human health and is currently enrolled in a CPP internship-for-credit course. Her internship is with the Food as Medicine Program of the Grady Health System—a one-of-a-kind program focused on combating food insecurity, hypertension, and diabetes. Every Friday and Saturday, she heads to Atlanta for work, where she analyzes a variety of research materials and patient surveys.

The experience has helped Nair better envision her own future, both personally and professionally.

“This internship has been really valuable to me as someone wanting to pursue a career in public health,” Nair said. “Our discussions in the course meetings make me think deeply about my experience—from the novel insights I gained and how I can apply them in different roles to the challenges I experienced and what I can learn from them going forward. This thoughtful reflection will help me grow in my career, not just professionally, but also interpersonally.”

Student Group in Dining Hall


Oxford’s robust Global Learning program, now part of the CPP, facilitates experiential courses that allow students to see and engage with concepts from the classroom in the real world. These travel courses are transformational for students studying alongside faculty, who immerse them in the context of their own research.

Each year, the CPP will support specially designed credit-bearing courses that travel to destinations all over the world and study topics ranging from the sociology of food to the evolution of the scientific research article. The latter is an interdisciplinary course—taught by Gwendolynne Reid, associate professor of English and director of the Writing & Communication Program, and Sarah Fankhauser, associate professor of biology—that immerses students in history, science, and writing. 

“The anticipation of our trips to England and France has given a special importance and urgency to our work in the classroom,” Reid said. “Students are eagerly engaging with material, with each other, and with us as professors. We all want to have the contextual understanding to truly benefit from the experience. We also want to get to know each other as human beings so that we can travel well together. And reflection during and after travel will provide a special opportunity to re-see and integrate the material.”

Gunnels has seen these effects firsthand. Last March, she traveled with fourteen Oxford students to Cuba to observe the impact of the Cuban revolution—from the late 1950s to the present day—on the island. Students learned about and engaged with the Cuban history and reality up close. The trip included visits with everyone from local small business owners to noted Cuban sociologists. 

“By definition, experiential learning connects distinct places, spaces, and people together with students in a way that propels them toward deeper thinking and learning,” Gunnels said upon returning from the trip. “The value of integrated academic course travel is found in the end game, when students return and can articulate how the experience transformed their purpose, ignited new passions, and reinforced their principles that guide understanding of who they want to be in the world as global citizens. For an educator, there is no greater gift.” 

Oxford students just recently returned from spring break trips abroad—including one to Ghana led by Associate Professor of Political Science Salmon Shomade and another to the Bahamas led by Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Melissa Hage. 

Avery Uffelman 25Ox has her sights set on a trip this summer. She plans to major in biology and is currently enrolled in two opportunities supported by the CPP. For one, she is interning at Positive Impact Health Centers, LLC, as she explores her interest in public health; for the other, she is taking a class titled “Social Structures and Wellbeing” that will travel to Spain in May. The course is taught by staff-faculty combination Amanda Yu-Nguyen, co-interim dean of Campus Life, and Deric Shannon, associate professor of sociology.

“Both [courses] have allowed me to explore my interest in public health in a more experiential way, and that has allowed me to understand my goals and future pathways better than any non-hands-on program ever could,” Uffelman said. 

Bahamas Spring Break Trip
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Cuba Spring Break Trip

Oxford's Travel Course to Cuba

Oxford's Travel Course to Cuba

Cuba Spring Break Trip


Closer to home, the CPP offers a number of community-engaged learning courses that directly involve students in Atlanta, Oxford, and Covington.

One such class is English 311: Shakespeare and Law, taught by Assistant Professor of English Sarah Higinbotham, in which students study the Bard’s plays that center on trials, law, and punishment and visit the nearby Burruss State Prison. There, Higinbotham has taught humanities courses to incarcerated students for more than 15 years—and she brings her Oxford students to participate each semester.

In February 2022, Higinbotham led a group of students to present their research on the effects of a humanities education on incarcerated persons at the Georgia State Legislature.

“When students have to think about their work intellectually—in this case reading social critiques of mass incarceration and reform movements in justice—while seeing what it actually looks like in practice, they understand the rest of their time in college that what they’re learning has the transformative power to fix problems,” she said at the time. “The fact that there is crossover between Oxford students and incarcerated students, Oxford students and state senators, demonstrates the power of proximity.”

The CPP also partners with Newton County for a number of service and learning opportunities. In all, Oxford students spend approximately 3,000 hours a year serving their communities.

Volunteer Oxford in the community

“I am so excited for the work that the Center for Pathways and Purpose will do to connect students with stakeholders in the local area. Our community is a special place, and there are many opportunities for our students to work together with community partners to make a positive impact while exploring their interests and career goals. I look forward to connecting community partners with high-impact experiential learning initiatives through the CPP.”

— Laura Gafnea, director of community relations

Blue background
Student Group in the Oxford Student Center.
Student Study Group


Each year, the CPP awards several fellowships and scholarships that provide funding for professional development, whether through internships and work experience or an extension of academic research.

Oxford’s most recent Tarbutton Leadership and Kabir Fellows spent last summer working in communities at home and abroad exploring a wide range of interests.

For example, Kabir Fellow Rachel Kroger 23Ox traveled to Japan and conducted research alongside faculty mentor Maren Adams, associate teaching professor of interdisciplinary studies and director of Global Learning and Undergraduate Research Programs. Their project involved documenting the life stories and cultural memories of atomic bomb survivors.

“I now have experiences that most people only ever learn about in the classroom,” Kroger said of her trip. “I have so many stories to tell—of the people I met and of the ones I grew closer with while traveling. I feel more independent.”

The Center also administers the Arrendale Internship Scholarship for computer science projects and the Mosley Innovation Internship Award for projects focused on entrepreneurship and innovation. In addition, the Center disburses the EXP Summer Impact Grants, which support students who find unique opportunities or unpaid internships but need to bridge the gap financially to make the experience a reality.

In the next year, the CPP also plans to launch the Glass-Mallard Fellowship, which will fund student projects dedicated to exploring and improving mental health on campus. The fellowship is the result of the 2021 Oxford Class Gift in honor of current Director of Counseling and Career Services Dr. Gary Glass and in memory of Rob Mallard 87Ox.

Student Study Group
Oxford College Campus.


Gunnels believes the CPP—with both its existing framework and new programs on the horizon—reflects the heart of an Oxford education.

“That is what absolutely makes the CPP an exciting and worthwhile endeavor,” Gunnels said. “It unites so many of the best parts of our community, such as experiential learning, community engagement, deep faculty mentoring in the form of internships or guided research, and global learning and internships. These are uniquely Oxford experiences that are the cornerstone of who we are.”

Oxford College of Emory University | March 22, 2024

Designed by Kristine Gonsalez and written by Daniel Christian. Photos by Kay Hinton and Sarah Woods and courtesy of Bridgette Gunnels and Melissa Hage.