The importance of what we care about

Prospective students and their families have a lot of factors to consider when looking at colleges. Campus facilities, program offerings, financial aid packages, location, and that amorphous element referred to as “fit” — these are often what drive decision-making when it comes to the college search.

It’s an important decision, indeed it’s a crucial moment in one’s much larger vocational journey. And it’s a decision that is made under the specter of a kind of skepticism about whether the price-tag is even worth it. “What is the value of a college education these days, anyway?”

In a recent piece in the Washington Post, Jim Troha, the President of Juniata College in Pennsylvania, advised students and families to consider value in an altogether different way, by asking, instead, what are the values of a particular college? Continue reading

More thoughts on a Woodworker’s Madness

Aldo Leopold

Before I began my last post on the life and work of Roy Underhill, I tried to write an essay about Robert Frost and Aldo Leopold.  The single stanza of Frost’s poem, “Two Tramps in Mudtime,” that Shirley Showalter included in a recent post sent me down this path, but connecting these contemporaries through the idea of vocation has been much harder than I expected.  In any case, I am convinced that both writers understood something about work, and the direction it was headed during their lifetimes, that sheds important light on the modern world and what we are called to do in it. Continue reading

Transitions: A Powerful Time for Vocational Reflection

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Welcome to summer

For academics, every summer contains an “eek!” moment right around the fourth of July. Suddenly one realizes that there are only five or six weeks left until the first faculty meetings of the new academic year.

Wait, didn’t we just sit through that long commencement ceremony?

One of the aspects of a life lived in school, to borrow Jane Tompkin’s felicitous memoir title, is almost constant motion. We, and our students, go through a lot of transitions. Consider, for example, the four or five years of the average student’s life cycle in college:

  • Leaving home
  • Moving into a dorm room, perhaps sharing a room for the first time,
  • Food always available, even Captain Crunch
  • The girlfriend or boyfriend left behind
  • The new girlfriend(s) or boyfriend(s)
  • Summer jobs
  • Part-time jobs on campus
  • Family members who divorce or get sick or die
  • Internships and/or study abroad
  • More roommates/new housing every year
  • Choosing (and often changing) majors
  • Graduating
  • Job seeking/applying to graduate school

These are just the most common and most obvious changes students navigate. Continue reading

Mentoring for Vocation: A Form of Friendship

 

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Members of this year’s faculty development workshop on Teaching Vocational Exploration

At NetVUE’s Faculty Development Workshop on Teaching Vocational Exploration in June, Paul Wadell presented a paper entitled “Mentoring for Vocation – Befriending Those Entrusted to Us.”  The paper was well-received because it spoke to mentorship as an essential part of vocation. The article is published in the Journal of Catholic Higher Education, yet is relevant to those who may not be Catholic.  As Wadell explains, the language of “friendship” may be more “inviting, understandable, and relatable” to those who may not have explicit religious commitments and are increasingly part of a diverse academy.  “Friendship” can help us better understand “mentorship” even though the concepts are distinct and have unique traits.  Wadell then proceeds to list three specific ways in which the metaphor of “friendship” can give us insights into who a mentor can potentially be.

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Paul Waddell

First, “a friend is someone who seeks another’s good and finds joy in doing so.” A friend is someone who genuinely cares about their friend and “sets aside [their] own concerns and preoccupations in order to attend to them and help them come to a clearer understanding of what is truly good for them.”  College students pursue friendships, especially those of their peers and fellow students from whom they seek approval and counsel.  However, many students are specifically looking for an adult who genuinely cares for them and is interested in them flourishing in the world.  These adults play an essential role in helping students find their “home” or their place in contributing to the global common good.

Second, true friendship demands that one “make space” for their friend within one’s life.  This “space” develops out of making the friend a priority such as finding time within one’s schedule.  Friendship is thus an “eloquent act of hospitality” where one brings a “stranger” into one’s life because they ultimately see something good in them and worth engaging.  This good is something that the student may not have necessarily seen within themselves but is recognized and brought out by the mentor.

Third, friends work to get to know one another and understand their specific stories.  Friendship is a “form of love” and requires a recognition of who the other person is and “what it would mean for them to thrive and flourish.”  Giving time to students implies that there is a genuine “respect for the students who come to us.”  Respecting students necessitates listening to their stories and learning about the pivotal moments of their upbringing and formative memories.  To be invited into a student’s story is “a sacred trust” because “their story is their truth and they need to speak it.”

However, a true mentor does not simply listen to their student’s stories but responds to them and potentially directs them to better ones.  Nonetheless, the best way for a mentor to help develop their student’s stories is to “embody in their own lives the virtues, dispositions, and practices they are encouraging students to adopt.”  As Wadell poetically states, “Nothing convinces students more than authenticity.  And perhaps nothing disillusions them more than hypocrisy.”

Waddell acknowledges that while the metaphor of friendship may be helpful, there are some key differences between it and that of mentorship.  For instance, friendship is defined by “mutuality” while a mentorship relationship is focused primarily on the mentee.  The mentor is focused on the student’s success and is not requiring the same in return.  Moreover, the mentorship relationship usually has an imbalance of power and authority.  Mentors can use their power to help students succeed but they could also use it to abuse, an important reminder in our cultural moment and in the backdrops of the #Metoo and #blacklivesmatter movements.  It is therefore essential to define boundaries within a mentorship relationship and to point students to other experts when necessary.  If a student is wrestling with depression or anxiety, for instance, then they should be directed to a counselor or mental health professional.

The metaphor of friendship allows readers to better understand the profound role that a mentor can play within their student’s life.  Wadell’s various writings emphasize hope, empathy and mentors “embodying what they call their students to be.”  I highly recommend his work for courses, faculty development programs and reading groups on vocation and mentorship.

Bibliography:

Paul Wadell, “Mentoring for Vocation: Befriending Those Entrusted to Us,” Journal of Catholic Higher Education 36, no. 2 (2007):103-120.

Paul Wadell, “An Itinerary of Hope: Called to Magnanimous Way,” in At this Time and in This Place: Vocation in Higher Education, edited by David S. Cunningham (Oxford, 2015).

Younus Mirza is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Allegheny College. He is the author of “Doubt as an Integral Part of Calling: The Qur’anic Story of Joseph” which will appear in the volume Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose, and Identity in the Multi-Faith Academy, edited by David S. Cunningham (Oxford, 2019). To learn more about his scholarship and teaching, please check out his website at http://dryounusmirza.com

The Chastening of Careerists (Part 1)

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Bryan Dix and Jason Mahn at NetVUE gathering in June 2018

I had the good fortune to present at a regional NetVUE gathering here at Augustana College (Rock Island, IL) earlier this summer alongside Bryan J. Dik, professor at Colorado State University, leading researcher in “vocational psychology,” and co-author (with Ryan Duffy) of Make Your Job a Calling: How the Psychology of Vocation Can Change Your Life at Work. I have learned a great deal from the book, from Bryan’s presentation, and from our dinner conversation the night before. Most helpful is his insistence that, just as important as choosing and preparing for a relevant vocation—indeed, maybe more important—is a person’s ongoing work of crafting whatever job or career she or he currently holds into more and more of a calling. In other words, the work of living a calling goes far beyond the vocational discernment and decisions of college students. The initial selection of a career that draws on one’s gifts and passions and which contributes to the needs of the community is certainly important. And of course many of us (actually most of us) will need to reassess our chosen careers, repurpose, retool, “reinvent ourselves.” But even those of us on traditional career paths with relatively linear trajectories (tenured professors may be some of the few remaining!) can and should still find new ways to make meaning, forge purpose, and serve others through our work.

I am convinced that my colleagues and I would find more meaning, be more effective, and be, well, happier, were we to more intentionally, strategically, and regularly make our careers into callings. Still, I find myself wanting to offer a word of caution about the work of forging a career into a vocation. Continue reading

The Calling of Place

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Jill Ker as a child in Australia

Several years ago, The Road From Coorain was one of the featured texts in our first year seminar. The first ten or so pages offer a detailed description of the author’s natal land of Australia, and some of the students complained that it went on “way too long” and was boring. When the author, Dr. Jill Ker Conway, visited campus and delivered a convocation address, she suggested that they consider the landscape as one of the characters in the book, which gave the smarter students pause and forced them to reconsider the work. I was reminded of this pedagogical moment recently when I heard the news that Dr. Ker Conway had passed away. She was a remarkable woman and while I could easily devote a whole essay to her autobiography as well as her accomplishments, what I want to focus on is how particular places can give shape and meaning to our lives. Continue reading

Listen up! How Good is Your Listening Quotient?

Have you ever taken, or taught, a listening course?

Neither have I.

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Detail from Salvador Dali’s Galatea of the Spheres (1952)

From the beginnings of education, the 3 R’s (“Reading, Riting, and Arithmetic”) dominate the curriculum in one form or another. Speech gets some attention in later years, but not much. Listening gets almost no place. According to a 2012-2013 survey, out of approximately 7,700 undergraduate institutions in the U. S. (which must surely offer hundreds of thousands of classes), only 181 courses in listening were taught. We might want to rethink this hierarchy, enhancing listening as a field and offering more classes in it—or at least developing modules around listening skills in more of our classes. Continue reading