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

5 Ways Faculty Can Connect Vocation to Career Services

Faculty play an instrumental role in speaking about the theoretical aspects of vocation, whether it be leading class discussions on the topic, introducing students to relevant literature, or mentoring them on a specific career path.  However, liberal arts colleges are frequently criticized for leaving these discussions philosophical and not urging students to think about the nuts and bolts about getting a job.  This is why there has been a larger move across the country for colleges and universities to integrate career services more fully with the academic mission of their institutions.  Here are five practical ways that faculty can connect vocation to career services:

First, bring Career Services and internships up in advising sessions. Advising sessions are ideal in helping students figure out their degree requirements and encouraging students to reflect on larger questions regarding vocation and discernment. However, advising sessions can also be helpful for students to think more practically about the steps they need to take to land a job.  For instance, faculty can gently ask students whether they have thought about what they are going to do in the summer and whether they have explored internship deadlines.  These questions are particularly helpful in the Fall since many summer internship deadlines are months before the actual internship starts, something that students may be unaware of.

Second, plan a field trip to Career Services. It is one thing to encourage your students to visit Career Services but it is another to actually plan a field trip there.  In my first-year seminar course, I make it a habit of ending some classes early and leading field trips to various parts of the campus, from the counseling to the career center. After we would walk to the office, a staff member welcomes us and then introduces what services they provide. Students frequently mentioned that these trips were helpful because they would not have travelled to the places otherwise.  Once they physically visited the Center, they were more comfortable in coming again.

Third, invite a member of Career Services to speak in your class. Career Service staff often have a wealth of knowledge and practical advice to share. I had a Career Service staff person speak in my first-year class about how to give a presentation and make a four-year plan.  These skills are not only helpful on the job market but also transferable to being a good liberal arts student.  Inviting Career Service staff to speak in your class could help develop relationships and learn more about what their office is up to.

Guest Speaker
From “Getting the Most Out of Guest Experts…” (Faculty Focus, 2015).

Fourth, organize an alumni panel through Career Services. Faculty may be in touch with their previous students but may not know the various alumni who are active in helping students across the campus. Career Services frequently have a database of alumni which can be a potential resource to your teaching.  One time I led a trip to Washington DC and Career Services helped me get in touch with some alumni that had recently spoken on campus.  Meeting the alumni in DC was one of the highlights of the trips as the students immediately connected with them and their experiences.

Finally, have a member of Career Services be a co-advisor to one of your classes. Allegheny College has a great tradition of pairing up staff with First-Year seminar faculty.  While the faculty continue to lead and teach the class, the staff members are “co-advisors” in helping students pick their classes and adjust to college.  I was fortunate to be paired with our Director of Career Education and he was excellent in participating in class discussions and giving presentations on various life-skills.  The students really connected with him with some eventually working in his office.

Faculty play an important role in helping students reflect on big picture questions and in thinking critically about their life-goals and purpose.  Career Services can help actualize our work, especially if we have developed strong relationships with the office through consultations and projects.  Our students ultimately benefit from the bridges that we have already built with our colleagues in Career Services.


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


The Meaning and Method of a Woodworker’s Madness

Roy Underhill: A Quarter Century of Subversive Woodworking
Roy Underhill – a subversive woodworker? 

The first time I ever saw anyone use a hand plane to work a piece of  rough-sawn lumber into something useful was in Tanzania, on the island of Ukerewe, in 1998. I was part of a decidedly unskilled — at least with regards to building construction — team of newly sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteers helping with a local Habitat for Humanity project while on our way from Dar es Salaam to our sites around Lake Victoria.

Brick kiln on the island of Ukerewe, Tanzania.

The house we were helping to build was made from red clay bricks that were recently fired. The kiln was built right next to the house using soil that was dug from a large open pit.  The master carpenter overseeing the construction was incredibly patient, not to mention gracious, as he taught us to lay bricks.  The first exterior wall that we tried on our own needed to be taken apart and rebuilt by the crew of skilled masons working on the project. Our eight weeks of Peace Corps training had prepared us for a lot of things, but laying bricks was clearly not one of them. Continue reading

Pomp & Circumstance

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May is the season for commencement addresses, a genre of writing often marked by platitudes and clichés, personal anecdotes that are of questionable relevance, and hyperbole about the significance of this historical moment or the potential of this year’s graduating class. As people tied to the rhythms and rituals of the academic year, over the span of a career we are exposed to dozens of such speeches. Since most graduation speeches are utterly forgettable, it’s difficult not to become somewhat cynical about them. And yet, they often touch upon important messages about vocation, and so it’s worthwhile to stop and think about the genre and function of the graduation speech. Continue reading

Dislocation: The power of off-campus study

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Magdalena Abakanowicz’s “Agora” (Grant Park, Chicago).

For the past ten years I have taught a course called Values and Vocation at Chicago Semester, an urban experiential education program that welcomes college students to Chicago to complete a semester-long internship experience and take urban studies courses. The mostly seniors and a few juniors that take my course are introduced to the idea of having a calling and thinking about where that calling might take them as they move on from Chicago and graduate from college.  For most of the students, being in Chicago is a new experience – many of the students are living in a setting quite different from their college campuses, grappling with how to integrate themselves into a new place, while interning in a learning setting very unlike a college classroom. As they lean into this new place and these new experiences, they are simultaneously trying to conceptualize how their encounters in Chicago might inform their first steps after college. Continue reading

The Way of Vocation – some thoughts for new college grads

There is a new post at that will be of interest to many in the NetVUE community, entitled “So you just graduated from college, now what?”  Drew Moser, Associate Professor in Higher Education and Dean of Experiential Learning at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, offers some helpful insights for new college graduates. “The way of vocation,” Moser argues, is the better alternative to the approach of “simply living it up” or the pressure to “figure it out right away.”

New college grads are indeed given such advice, sometimes conflicting in nature and much of it problematic. Moser’s concerns about “living it up” overlap with what Meg Jay argued in The Defining Decade, a book that has been used effectively in vocation classes. (If you are not familiar with her book, Jay also has a popular Ted talk, “Why 30 is not the new 20”).

Yet Jay’s analysis lacks any attention to spiritual or religious commitments, and so Moser’s new book, co-written with Jess Fankhauser and titled Ready or Not: Leaning Into Life in Our Twenties (2018), could potentially work even more effectively or as a text to augment others. A short review from Publisher’s Weekly concluded this about the book: “Though the tone is light throughout, Moser and Fankhauser provide many jumping-off points for deep contemplation about a wide range of fraught areas for those starting adulthood. Christian readers setting out into the wilds of adulthood will find this a helpful guide.”

If thinking deeply about vocation is the best antidote to the questionable advice given to new college graduates, and to helping alleviate some of their natural anxiety during this time of transition, all the more reason why they should be supported in those reflections through well-planned, substantive programs throughout their time on campus!