Regional Gatherings Focus on Second NetVUE Volume; Book Gains Broad Readership

CIC’s Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE) already has produced two books and will release a third volume in early 2019. The books are written by members of the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project to facilitate the work of vocational exploration and discernment among students and faculty members. The positive effects of these efforts became more visible at two recent NetVUE regional gatherings that explored the project’s latest book.

Vocation across the Academy: A New Vocabulary for Higher Education was published by Oxford University Press in early 2017. This second book in the series was featured in a panel discussion at the March 2017 NetVUE Conference and quickly sold out at the event bookstore. It has been purchased for distribution to faculty members at many NetVUE institutions and has frequently played a role in programs receiving NetVUE Professional Development Awards.

Sensing a desire for further exploration of the book’s themes, NetVUE collaborated with two CIC institutions—Berry College (GA) and California Lutheran University—to host gatherings that focused on this volume. With 40 participants at Berry and 20 at California Lutheran, the events brought together campus leaders who had used—or hoped to use—the book in their own settings or who had found its themes relevant to their work. Each gathering featured presentations on each of the four main sections of the book. The host institutions provided ideal venues for their respective conversations, with beautiful settings, broad participation from their campus constituents, opportunities for intellectual and spiritual reflection, and memorable hospitality for their guests.

The Berry College event, “Storytelling, Mapmaking, and a Sense of Direction,” took place February 23–24, 2018. It began with an inspiring plenary talk by Shirley Hershey Showalter, president emerita of Goshen College (IN). She emphasized the value of stories for vocational exploration, giving particular attention to the classroom context. The classroom allows students to explore the intersection of the teacher’s story, their own experiences, and the new narrative that is created by the course and its participants. She referenced the life of Elise Boulding, whose journey had helped shape Showalter’s own vocational trajectory. Readers can access her description of Boulding’s story in a blog entry on the NetVUE Scholars site.

Six participants seated at a roundtable sharing ideas
Berry College (GA) hosted a NetVUE gathering, “Storytelling, Mapmaking, and a Sense of Direction,” February 23–24, 2018.

The March 9–10 gathering at California Lutheran University, “Calling, Conflict, and the Necessity of Action,” opened with a presentation by one of the book’s contributors, Jason A. Mahn, associate professor of religion at Augustana College (IL). His talk addressed a perennial problem faced by college students: being called in several directions simultaneously. With references to classical literature, campus experiences, and individual student stories, he argued that such conflicts are inevitable and that educators should work to prepare their students to wrestle with them. These contradictions can be faced and resolved, but our various “roads not taken” continue to shape our lives.

Each gathering also featured plenary panels, offering participants an opportunity to discuss how the book’s themes were playing out on their own campuses. At Berry, one of the panels focused on the second section of the book, which describes how diverse fields of study (including sociology, music, business administration, and biology) might offer resources for vocational reflection. The panelists included a mathematician, Lindsey Bosko-Dunbar, faculty director of Pathways to Purpose at Spring Hill College (AL); a political scientist, Nancy C. Biggio, associate provost for administration at Samford University (AL); and a scholar of literature, Don King, professor of English at Montreat College (NC)—each of whom described their efforts to incorporate vocational reflection into their courses. All three panelists emphasized certain features of their own academic fields that could contribute to the larger conversation about vocation.

Similarly, at California Lutheran, a panel discussed part four of Vocation across the Academy, subtitled “Overcoming Institutional Obstacles to the Language of Call.” The host institution’s Colleen Windham-Hughes, associate professor of religion, explored the ongoing challenges faced by institutions as their vocational paths evolve. Daniel Meyers, director of the Center for Faith and Vocation at Butler University (IN), described several strategies that have allowed the center to adapt its work to the university’s strategic initiatives and to help students negotiate the “overload of opportunities” that undergraduate life so often presents.

The California Lutheran event included words of welcome from provost Leanne Neilson, who described how NetVUE membership had enabled her institution to integrate a wide range of offices and programs to help students reflect on their callings. At Berry College, president Stephen Briggs contributed to a panel discussion in which he spoke of the need for leaders to balance academic and co-curricular concerns with other factors—including enrollment, student retention, and marketing—in order to support vocational exploration. Both leaders hosted receptions on Friday evening for the gathered participants.

At both events, NetVUE Director David Cunningham, who headed the Scholarly Resources Project and edited its books, offered a brief closing reflection. With reference to the book’s epilogue, “Vocabularies of Vocation: Language for a Complex Educational Landscape,” Cunningham observed that these gatherings provide excellent opportunities to consider the variety of terminology being employed to help students reflect on their vocations. Campuses have had good success with diverse approaches, including specifically theological language (“God’s call to us”), the language of personal and professional development (“finding direction in life”), or that of civic engagement and the common good (“the necessity of action”). The strong appeal of Vocation across the Academy has been, in part, its recognition that the language of vocation is sufficiently capacious, dynamic, and elastic to be useful in a variety of settings and across a wide range of academic disciplines and applied fields.

Early next year, Oxford will publish the third volume from the Scholarly Resources Project, titled Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose, and Identity in the Multi-Faith Academy. The book will be featured at the 2019 NetVUE Conference (March 21–23, in Louisville, Kentucky), as well as at a number of regional gatherings during the following academic year.