NetVUE Awards Grants, Expands Online Opportunities

CIC announced several Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) grant awards and online programs this spring—including nearly $700,000 in grants to member institutions and a series of online webinars and informal conversations designed to help campus leaders support vocational exploration and discernment among undergraduate students.

Professional Development Awards

CIC granted Professional Development Awards of up to $10,000 each to 26 NetVUE member institutions. These one-year grants support activities that enhance the knowledge, skills, and expertise of staff and faculty members who lead initiatives that help students reflect on their many callings in life. CIC awarded nearly $250,000 in this seventh round of selection, bringing the total provided for NetVUE Professional Development Awards to over $1.2 million since 2014.

“This award program is designed to give recipients flexibility in tailoring the grant to the institution’s current needs. Most recipients will use the awards to support faculty and staff reading groups, one-day workshops, or off-campus retreats. Some institutions will engage a well-known expert in the field of vocational exploration to come to campus, either physically or virtually, to lead the community in conversations on calling and purpose,” explained David S. Cunningham, director of NetVUE. A number of grantees, including Nebraska Wesleyan University, Philander Smith University (AR), the University of St. Francis (IL), and Wingate University (NC), will focus their programs on mentoring and advising for students. The University of Pikeville (KY) will design curricular changes in the humanities and fine arts, while Campbell University (NC) will support small cohorts of staff members to consider the relationship between their own vocations and those of their students.

Vocation across the Academy Grants

In addition, CIC awarded Vocation across the Academy Grants totaling over $435,000 to 18 NetVUE member institutions this spring. These three-year grants, which provide up to $25,000 for the first year, support institution-wide initiatives to expand ongoing programming in vocational exploration across the liberal arts and applied professional fields. Vocation across the Academy Grants are unique among NetVUE grant opportunities, in that they offer additional second-year funding—equal to the original request—if the recipient raises equivalent matching funds from third-party sources. CIC therefore expects to distribute a similar amount in bonus awards to grantees that meet the donor matching requirement, for a potential award of up to $75,000 per institution (and a total of over $1.3 million) from CIC and third-party sources. Over this program’s first three rounds of selection, 51 NetVUE institutions will potentially receive over $4 million in CIC and donor-match funding.

Five of the Vocation across the Academy grants were awarded through a new NetVUE Community Partnerships initiative. The five award recipients proposed the development of partnerships with local businesses, nonprofits, and community organizations. For example, Dakota Wesleyan University (SD) will work with businesses and organizations that provide leadership within rural communities, with a focus on providing additional opportunities for first-generation and low-income students in particular. Saint Martin’s University (WA) will launch a “Saints Promise” initiative that will develop early relationships between students and prospective local employers. And Wheaton College (IL) will develop an “iScholars” program through its Center for Faith and Innovation, which will encourage creativity and problem-solving by enabling students to experience the daily realities of working on projects with local businesses and nonprofits.

Both grant programs are generously funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. and are expected to continue next year. Most NetVUE member institutions that do not already benefit from a NetVUE grant will be eligible for these awards, as will new members that join the network by early 2021. View more information on NetVUE grant programs. Questions about NetVUE grant programs may be directed to Lynn Hunnicutt, NetVUE assistant director, at or (253) 535-7644.

Screen capture of webinar  

Virtual Conversations

Because most campus leaders are currently working in virtual environments, NetVUE has dramatically expanded its online offerings. In addition to the ongoing NetVUE blog and the member-accessible Online Community Network, two new initiatives were launched this spring and summer.

First, NetVUE hosted a series of informal Zoom conversations among professionals in various campus roles that have major responsibility for vocational exploration and discernment programs. These included academic affairs, student life, campus ministry and religious life, and vocation and career center staff, as well as mission officers. A total of 20 gatherings have taken place so far, with 20 to 30 participants in most sessions. Participants shared how the public health crisis was affecting their work and offered examples of a wide variety of creative approaches to supporting their students through virtual channels. For example, a number of NetVUE institutions have successfully converted in-person internships into virtual ones, and some small-group advising sessions have become easier to schedule in an online environment. Sensing some “screen-time overload” among students, Lewis University (IL) provided student telephone numbers to staff and faculty members, who then contacted individual students to provide mentoring sessions by phone.

Second, NetVUE launched a series of virtual engagements on topics of immediate interest to many campus leaders. The first of these, “Theological Responses to the Pandemic,” took place on June 17. Panelists included Rachel S. Mikva of Chicago Theological Seminary, Younus Y. Mirza of Shenandoah University (PA), Deanna A. Thompson of St. Olaf College (MN), and Paul J. Wadell, of St. Norbert College (WI); the conversation was hosted by Hannah Schell, coordinator of the NetVUE online community and editor of the NetVUE blog. Working from their various theological perspectives, the four speakers invited webinar participants to consider questions of suffering, human relationships, and hope. All four theologians described how the religious traditions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity can help people make sense of traumatic experience.

Two additional NetVUE webinars took place in July. On July 14, “Fighting the Good Fight: Social Justice, Activism, and Vocation,” examined the ways that student activism can serve as an element of vocational discernment and how NetVUE leaders can be supportive of students who may feel frustrated, embattled, or simply exhausted. Also hosted by Schell, this webinar featured Chris Arguedas of Occidental College (CA), LaShonda Gurley of Bluffton University (OH), Kevin Lavender Jr. of Cornerstone University (MI), and Jason Mahn of Augustana College (IL). Arguedas emphasized the importance of coming alongside student activists and partnering with them, in order to reinforce the value and importance of their work. Gurley pointed out that the current public health crisis has opened new spaces for activism, particularly in the area of civil rights—drawing a comparison to the struggle for women’s rights that coincided with the influenza epidemic in the early 20th century. Mahn suggested that vocational conversations often focus on “the needs of the world,” but some students are being called to question the current state of the world and its self-perceived needs. These students need support as they seek not just to interpret the world but to change it.

The July 28 webinar, “Courageous Texts, Courageous Teaching,” addressed how institutions can foster deep and persistent conversations around difficult vocation-related questions, particularly in a time that asks for risk-taking, personal and communal reflection, and innovative thinking. Panelists included Teresa A. Grettano of the University of Scranton (PA), Esteban Loustaunau of Assumption University (MA), and Jason Stevens of Cornerstone University. The conversation was hosted by Erin VanLaningham of Loras College (IA), who directs the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project. All three panelists introduced texts that had worked well for them as they engaged undergraduate students in classroom vocational conversations. Loustaunau focused on the concept of proximity, drawing on Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson and Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas. Grettano discussed opportunities for meaning-making through accounts of contemporary events (such as narratives of 9/11) and drama (including the recent Broadway production of To Kill a Mockingbird). Stevens emphasized the importance of encouraging students to engage their own emotions and desires, drawing on his classroom experiences with discussions of the Northern Ireland conflict and the poetry of Seamus Heaney.

All three virtual events provided extensive question-and-answer opportunities for participants and were highly evaluated in follow-up surveys. The sessions were recorded and are available for viewing on the NetVUE webinar channel.

View additional information about NetVUE. For questions about NetVUE membership, programs, and services, please contact David S. Cunningham, director of NetVUE, at or (616) 395-6750.

Professional Development Award Recipients, Spring 2020

​Ancilla College (IN)
Campbell University (NC)
Carroll College (MT)
Chestnut Hill College (PA)
Colby-Sawyer College (NH)
Geneva College (PA)
Grace College and Seminary (IN)
King University (TN)
Lane College (TN)
Lenoir-Rhyne University (NC)
Marquette University (WI)
Muhlenberg College (PA)
Nebraska Wesleyan University
​Oakland City University (IN)
Philander Smith College (AR)
Rhodes College (TN)
Rivier University (NH)
St. Ambrose University (IA)
Trocaire College (NY)
Union College (NE)
University of Mobile (AL)
University of Pikeville (KY)
University of St. Francis (IL)
Washington & Jefferson College (PA)
Waynesburg University (PA)
Wingate University (NC)

Vocation across the Academy Grant Recipients, Spring 2020

​Aquinas College (MI)
Augustana University (SD)
Canadian Mennonite University
Concordia College (MN)
Covenant College (GA)*
Dakota Wesleyan University (SD)*
Davis & Elkins College (WV)
Earlham College (IN)
Huntingdon College (AL)
​Le Moyne College (NY)
Malone University (OH)*
Newberry College (SC)
Piedmont College (GA)
Saint Martin’s University (WA)*
Schreiner University (TX)
Valparaiso University (IN)
Wagner College (NY)
Wheaton College (IL)*

(*received this grant through the Community Partnership initiative)