Book by Sharon Daloz Parks
Review by Kay S. Hamada
Colleges of Arts & Sciences Student Academic Services
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

With the premise that emerging adulthood is “rightfully a time of asking big questions and crafting worthy dreams” (p. 8), the tenth anniversary edition of Big Questions, Worthy Dreams encompasses Parks’s work in exploring the importance of “mentors and mentoring environments” in the “twenty-something years.”  Parks’s concerns that emerging adults “are not being encouraged to ask the big questions that awaken critical thought in the first place” and that critical thought is “inadequately applied to the broader challenges now facing our society and world” (p. xi) remain relevant today, and echoes concerns voiced by stakeholders in higher education, including academic advisors.
At the heart of the book is faith development; Parks states, “Faith is more adequately recognized as the activity of seeking and discovering meaning in the most comprehensive dimensions of our experience” (p. 10) and that it is “not only the act of setting one’s heart, but it is also what one sets the heart on” (p. 45). Faith, as Parks describes it, is not only making meaning of experiences, beliefs, and values, but also the process of reflecting on, testing, and transforming them. Parks argues that mentors and mentoring environments are important in the meaning-making process to provide support, challenge, and motivation for emerging adults in both seeking and asking the titular “big questions.” Mentors can be found in formal and informal environments including the college campus, religion, the workplace, and greater “culture.”

Although this text is mostly based in theory, Parks also provides context by including excerpts from interviews with emerging adults and those reflecting on their earlier emerging adult experiences.  The perspectives presented in these interviews are excellent examples of various emerging adult cases— perspectives likely familiar to academic advisors—and further demonstrates that while faith “is a broad, generic human phenomenon” (p. 10), the process by which it is developed can differ and be based in a wide range of foundations. 

While Parks does not limit her work to students on the college campus, the author’s suggestions highlight ways in which academic advisors in higher education can create mentoring environments in which students develop their sense of self and think critically. Undoubtedly, advisors can offer “a network of belonging in which emerging adults feel recognized as both who they are and who they are yet becoming” (p. 123). Advisors can challenge and encourage emerging adults to be critically aware of their roles in their education and lives beyond school by taking responsibility for understanding, assessing, and recomposing their educational plans and goals.  Advisors can also facilitate discussions with students regarding their roles as engaged and informed citizens, and reinforce the notion that there is something outside of (and greater than) themselves.  Additionally, advisors can benefit from learning about other mentoring communities that influence students as they journey through their educational careers.
In considering the diversity of students who populate college campuses, Parks’s presentation of mentoring environment models leaves us with the conclusion that faith building is remarkably multidimensional. Perhaps most relevant to advisors is the implication that a successful mentoring environment is made up of a partnership between the mentor(s) and emerging adult, in which critical dialogue and the enthusiasm for potential is shared.

Big questions, worthy dreams: Mentoring emerging adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith (Revised 10th anniversary edition). (2011). Book by Sharon Daloz Parks. Review by Kay Hamada. San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 352 pp. $35.00, (hardback).  ISBN # 978-0-470-90379-7

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