The liberal arts, soft skills and a “storm-hardy” faith

A recent piece in the Chronicle highlighted Bates College and other institutions that provide opportunities for real-life work as an important part of the undergraduate experience. Bethel University, a member of NetVUE located in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers another solid example of how faith, work and the liberal arts can come together in a dynamic way. They highlight how the “timeless tradition” of the liberal arts can be married to a 21st century education that instills the “soft skills” desired by companies such as Google:

Among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top managers, seven were soft skills, including areas like communication, listening, empathy, and critical thinking and problem solving.

An education at Bethel, however, reaches beyond these “marketable skills.” Continue reading

Back to the Future (Part One): The Prolepsis of Vocational Discernment

“Prolepsis” is not a commonly used term, but it is helpful when talking to students about vocation. After all, what is college if it is not an opportunity to learn new vocabulary words?

Prolepsis connotes a present and active anticipation of a future reality. Said otherwise, to live proleptically is to live in the present in a way that reflects or is oriented toward an assumed future.

The DeLorean Time Machine in “Back to the Future” (1985).

To illustrate this, I ask students to take an imaginary journey back in time in my own life. While my parents’ generation might picture such an exercise through an H.G. Wells time machine, and I see myself jumping in a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor (at least if I can obtain some uranium or time things well during a thunderstorm), my students often choose to imagine a time-traveling drone equipped with a GoPro that can be controlled from the comfort of home. Any apparatus will do as I invite them to visit my fifteen year-old self at home in the suburbs of Philadelphia on any evening in August or September of 1982. I then tell them what they are nearly guaranteed to see. They will see my tall, lanky frame outside dribbling and shooting a basketball in the driveway until it is too dark to do so. (The full picture of my teen-self includes pre-Jordan tight shorts, socks pulled up to the knees, a headband, and Chuck Taylors.) Continue reading

Vocation and the Future of Higher Education

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 2.07.31 PMHigher education is facing a number of structural challenges, from a change in demographics to the rising costs of retaining full-time faculty. These challenges are particularly acute in small colleges and universities that offer a mentor-intensive liberal arts education but face strong competition and financial challenges. I sat down with Randy Bass, Vice Provost of Education at Georgetown University, to talk about his new book (co-authored with Bret Eynon) “Open and Integrative: Designing Liberal Education for the New Digital Ecosystem” (AACU, 2016) which addresses many of the challenges facing higher education. Randy is part of Georgetown’s “Designing the Future(s)” initiative and has become a thought leader in the realm of the future of higher education, thinking critically about what a liberal arts education will look like in the years ahead.  While Randy works at Georgetown, he has helped many small colleges and universities strategize about how to build innovative and sustainable futures. Continue reading

Exploring Vocation in Honors Education

It’s fair to say that most faculty are honors students. We climbed the hill of academic success, garnered several complicated degrees and certificates, sat through terrifying and difficult exams, and embarked on various research projects.

Our identities as scholars and teachers are often still conflicted, responding to the demands of a product oriented higher education landscape and the liberal arts education many of us cherish. So, too, do our students who seek academic achievement find themselves conflicted when they arrive in an honors program.

Honors programs vary in nature and scope—some emphasizing an enriched liberal arts curriculum, some prizing individual research projects and some asking students to apply research in their communities and through civic engagement. The programs attempt to add depth or breadth to student experience, as well as platforms for innovative teaching and learning. Continue reading

May Their Memory be a Blessing

Following their respective deaths in August, the news recently has included remembrances of Aretha Franklin (1942-2018) and John McCain (1936-2018). Through various tributes, we get a sense of their lives as well as their social and cultural significance. This has been followed by commentary about what makes for an appropriate way to remember someone after their passing. (Is such second-order critique inevitable or is it another symptom of our cultural divide?). We learn something about our collective life in these moments.

Whether it is an internationally known figure or a “local hero,” reflecting upon how we remember great men and women can be instructive. Eulogies are an important form of articulating what we understand to be a good life.  Continue reading