Last week I attended a conference — ready for the title — the Council of Independent Colleges Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education: Enriching the Theological Exploration of Vocation conference. Despite that mouthful, NetVUE was a solid, reflective, conference on a topic important to me, and not coincidentally part of my work at Concordia. As with any good conference, I came away with new ideas, questions, concerns, annoyances, and more. Here, in no particular order, are my takeaways regarding vocation and private higher education today.
Eating, sharing, and story: A repeated theme reported from many colleges was that of sharing call stories around meals. Many seem to do this in professors’ homes, though some do so in a more formal banquet style on campus. In either format, faculty share their stories of how they came to work where they do, and how they see their life’s work as a calling. Though I’m not aware of this happening in a formal way at Concordia, informally we often ask speakers to share a bit of how they came to do the work they do. For example, Paul Raushenbush, Huffington Post Senior Religion Editor, and Dan Lee, VP for External Relations at Lutheran World Relief have done just that at dinners with students this March.
Vocation and coursework: I attended a presentation or two in which colleges presented how they created new courses that help students ask big questions like, “Who am I?” “What are my gifts?” “How can I contribute to the world?” and “What does the world (and/or God) require of me?” While these individual courses seem to have a worthy impact (at least anecdotally), I left thinking not how could we do that at Concordia, but: how can an entire undergraduate curriculum help tackle these questions from first-year seminar to senior capstone? I also look forward to hearing from my students at the end of the semester how my course has helped (or hindered) vocational reflection.
Calvin College’s Concert and Art Series: I was super intrigued by Calvin College’s approach to hosting a hugely popular art, music, and culture series on their campus. They bring dozens of bands each year (students can buy discounted tickets, others pay full price), and build into the concert a discussion with the artist on meaning and faith in their work. The college’s assumption is that popular culture has both good and bad in it, and the college’s calling is to help teach cultural discernment skills. Just as they expect their students to be able to analyze and critique a John Donne poem, so too do they enable practices of reflection on popular bands and film. This blog post, “The Boundaries of Cultural Engagement” by Greg Veltman describes why this series is important. I’d love to see this happen at Concordia.
Vocation and Worship: I admit that I did not attend the early morning worship services, but I did note how worship was discussed, almost always, as an afterthought when it came to vocational theology and discernment. This left me wondering: how can we design worship opportunities (whether daily chapel or some other setting) that help invite students to reflect, engage vocational questions, and discover calling? I’m not sure what this would look like exactly, but it’d sure be fun to try!
Watch out for this book: Timothy Clydesdale’s keynote presentation discussed some of his research in the forthcoming, “Changing on Purpose: When Students and Professors Find Their Calling.” Here’s an interview with Clydesdale. In short, I found his presentation hopeful in that thoughtful professors and smart administrators can significantly impact students’ vocational understanding and future progress by creating a climate of vocational discernment on campus. On the other hand, there seems to be no silver bullet, no easy 1-2-3 program.
Thoughts? If you could do one thing on a college campus to help students approach vocational discernment, what would you do?