NetVUE Regional Gatherings Set New Participation Records

During the academic year between its biennial national conferences, CIC’s Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) hosts regional and topical gatherings for its members. Providing more direct networking opportunities than is possible at the large biennial conference, these smaller events allow participants to meet colleagues from nearby member institutions to explore issues of common concern in greater depth. The four gatherings that were held in fall 2019 drew nearly 200 participants combined—a record participation level. Four more regional gatherings will take place in spring and summer 2020.

In September 2019, NetVUE members met at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, for a gathering on “Hearing Vocation Differently.” The event focused on the recently published book in the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project, Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose, and Identity in the Multi-Faith Academy (Oxford 2019). Three of the volume’s contributors spoke at the event: Katherine (Trina) Janiec Jones, associate professor of religion and associate provost for curriculum and co-curriculum at Wofford College (SC); Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion, philosophy, and Asian studies at St. Olaf College (MN); and Noah J. Silverman, senior director of learning and partnerships at Interfaith Youth Core. The gathering drew 39 participants from 11 institutions.

Anant Rambachan presents from podium to seated students
Pepperdine University (CA) students were invited to listen to Anant Rambachan’s plenary address at the NetVUE gathering on “Hearing Vocation Differently.”

In his presentation, Rambachan explained why it had been important to him, as a scholar and practitioner of Hinduism, to address the historically Christian concept of vocation. He noted that the caste system in India traditionally gave people little choice as to the shape of their future lives. In his study of vocation, however, Rambachan was able to discover resources within the Hindu tradition for addressing some of what he called the “intrinsically oppressive” elements of the caste system. Specifically, he examined the Bhagavadgita’s discussion of the tension between the life of action and the contemplative life of those who have renounced their vocation. The key to addressing this tension, he noted, is to free oneself from attachment to the specific results of one’s actions: to find meaning in what we do, and not only in the outcomes that our actions produce. This insight can be valuable for undergraduate students—reducing their fear of failure and encouraging them to act in the world for the flourishing of all.

In October, Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, hosted a NetVUE gathering under the theme “Educating for Citizenship: Vocational Reflection for the Public Good.” The topic attracted 33 participants from 13 institutions. The keynote address was offered by Stephanie Summers of the Center for Public Justice, a nonpartisan civic education and public policy organization in Washington, DC. “What is your first memory of yourself as a citizen?” Summers asked those gathered. The ensuing discussion helped participants identify the people, organizations, and events that formed their early thinking. Events such as the civil rights movement influenced how many people came to understand themselves as citizens. Young adults, however, are less likely to understand their citizenship in terms of working with (or against) institutions. Summers suggested that by sharing their “political autobiographies” people can invite others into the conversation and create occasions for reflecting about citizenship and engaging different worldviews.

Five panelists presents from chairs in front of room
Faculty members who led various breakout sessions at the NetVUE regional gathering at Geneva College (PA) reflected on the event’s interwoven themes in a closing plenary session.

In November, Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, hosted a regional gathering titled “Colleges Can Have Callings Too.” This event drew a record 76 participants from 34 institutions. Many of those gathered were particularly interested in NetVUE’s new Grants for Reframing the Institutional Saga, which will provide NetVUE members with an opportunity to reconsider the historic roots of their institutions in light of their contemporary contexts.

The Lipscomb event began with a joint keynote presentation by David S. Cunningham, director of NetVUE, and Julianne Wallace, vice president for mission and ministry at Alvernia University (PA). Cunningham made the case for employing the language of vocation in the institutional context, as a supplement to the language of mission. Drawing on his essay in an earlier volume of the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project, Vocation across the Academy: A New Vocabulary for Higher Education (Oxford 2017), Cunningham noted that the roots of the word mission suggest the idea of sending forth. “This language points us toward the past—to those who ‘sent’ the institution on its way—and to internal forces that do the sending. The word vocation, on the other hand, with its resonances of ‘calling,’ reminds us of the people and the social forces that are external to the institution and that call it into the future,” Cunningham said. Wallace provided concrete examples of this distinction by describing Alvernia’s Franciscan heritage, noting that an institution’s vocation is determined by the stories that it tells—particularly the stories that it is called to tell about its future. She also spoke about the importance of alignment between the personal vocation of senior leadership (particularly the president and the board) and the vocation of the institution as a whole. Both speakers noted that CIC’s Presidential Vocation and Institutional Mission program also addresses this topic.  

Throughout the remainder of the event, panels of speakers from a wide range of colleges and universities spoke about their own institutional histories and the challenges that they face in the present day. By telling the stories of how their institutions came to be, and the stories of their current contexts, presenters provided participants with a wide range of examples as to how colleges and universities might come to understand the shape and focus of their own institutional sagas.

The lineup of NetVUE regional events this fall concluded in November with “Vocation, Teaching, and Religious Studies,” a pre-meeting at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature in San Diego, California. The following four gatherings will take place in 2020:

  • “Voices from the Margins: Supporting Vocational Reflection with Underserved Students” at Occidental College (CA) January 18–20;
  • “Where the Campus Meets the World: Vocation and Post-College Transition” at Huntingdon College (AL) February 21–22;
  • “Engaging Faculty Members in the Work of Vocation” at St. Norbert College (WI) March 27–28; and
  • “Finding Ourselves at the Center: Collaborative Spaces for Purpose, Work, Learning, and Engagement” at Bluffton University (OH) June 10–12.

For more information, visit the NetVUE website.