Syracuse University Magazine


Newhouse student Sean Martinelli '15 hosts Soulful Sit-Downs, a weekly conversation series that brings together students interested in reflecting on questions related to living a meaningful life.

Photos by John Dowling

Soulful Sharing

When Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian Elie Wiesel is asked what guiding principle his readers should take away from his books, he offers one simple yet eloquent answer: “Think higher and feel deeper.” Sean Martinelli ’15 takes those words to heart, and believes there is no greater mission in life than helping others do the same. Toward that goal, he founded Soulful Sit-Downs, an intimate conversation series that invites SU students to be lifted out of their daily concerns to reflect on such matters as identity, gratitude, and life purpose. “I saw a yearning among students here to go a bit deeper,” says Martinelli, a Newhouse broadcast and digital journalism major. “They were going through their daily routines, going to classes, and they had their social life. But I could sense in people that something was missing. So I tried to figure out, ‘How can I bring something more into their lives?’”

Martinelli’s vision for Soulful Sit-Downs was to create a place where students could have “conversations that matter.” He shared his idea with Katelyn Cowen, health and wellness promotions specialist in the Division of Student Affairs, requesting her help in making it happen. “I was so pleased Sean reached out to me, because so often we think of these kinds of discussions as being only in the religious or spiritual realm,” says Cowen, whose office provides logistical and financial support for Soulful Sit-Downs, with additional funding from Hendricks Chapel. “This is a space for everybody, where students can do some self-exploration and reflection, and really improve their inner health and well-being as a result.”

Launched in February 2013, the weekly sessions are open to all students and sometimes feature guest speakers via Skype, including such well-known personal development experts and thought leaders as New York Times best-selling author Marianne Williamson and Mastin Kipp, CEO and founder of The Daily Love inspirational blog. Martinelli plans and facilitates each week’s conversation, supported by Jill Ouikahilo, communications director for the Division of Student Affairs. “This is unique—to have an opportunity for students to more broadly and deeply start to uncover their truths and share their thoughts about life’s big questions,” Ouikahilo says.

The discussion series has been well-received by students, who often report to Martinelli that the sessions have had a powerful impact on them. Newhouse television, radio, and film major Lauren Teng ’14, for example, considers Soulful Sit-Downs “a serious gift of peace and friendship” amid a sometimes stressful college life. “It was the perfect excuse to spend an hour each week over pizza with some of the most thoughtful people I’ve ever met, talking about all the big and small things,” she says. “Every time I went, I left feeling lighter, more encouraged, and more excited to keep leading my life.”

Soulful Sit-Downs has been equally meaningful for its founder. “This has been a defining thing for me at the University,” Martinelli says. “It’s great to see that you’ve done something that has touched other people and left an imprint on them. It really has played a deep role in their lives, and also in mine.”     —Amy Speach