Advising is Teaching, and Other Truisms

Holistic mentoring—the kind of mentoring that ideally involves supporting students in the discernment of their vocations—is sometimes framed as a return to an older model of advising, one that was traditionally under the purview of faculty. Simply put, to borrow the subtitle from William James’ Pragmatism, holistic mentoring is “A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking.” Yet just as often it is celebrated as something new and distinctive, a welcome development over previous modes of advising that were prescriptive and often perfunctory.

Considered historically, the shifts in advising involved a related shift in personnel, that is, who is doing the advising and for what purpose. In many contexts, faculty have ceded advising to student affairs personnel and others. Advising occurs in various silos across campus, sometimes to the detriment of students. And, as Isabel Roche pointed out recently on the AAC&U Liberal Education blog, this leaves unfulfilled one of the important promises of the liberal arts college (See “Advising is Teaching. Now Is the Time to Make Good on its Promise”). 

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Practicing Humility in the Sciences

Part of a series of posts written by a team of faculty and students at Calvin University who are developing a curriculum to support team-based research. Their hope is that this blog series will spark a dialog about measures of success that are not typically prioritized in scholarly work and ways this project could be expanded to other colleges and universities, both within and beyond the Christian tradition. This post was written by Hannah Hooley and Rachael Baker.

In our last post, we gave you an overview of our work of building a thriving research team that aims to prepare students to work effectively in team science settings. In this post, we would like to provide an expanded discussion of one of our central practices, humility. 

Contemporary definitions of humility, such as the definition from the VIA Virtues Project shown below, emphasize that humility includes possessing an accurate view of oneself. This accurate estimation of oneself together with appreciating the values and differences of all things aligns with an understanding of humility from our faith tradition in which humility is second only to love as taught in the Bible, emphasizing relationship with God and others (see Yonker et al., 2017). The Greek word (tapeinos) that Jesus and the apostles used when calling followers to humble themselves “conveys the idea of having a right view of ourselves before God and others” (see Thomas A. Tarrants of the C.S. Lewis Institute on “Pride and Humility”). It suggests the importance of being honest and realistic about who we are as individuals and in relation to others as members of a community. 

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Interruption Stories

A new episode of NetVUE’s podcast series, Callings, features a conversation with Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU). Fr. Dennis served as the 11th president of DePaul University, from 2004-2017.

A wise leader with an infectious laugh, in our conversation with him Fr. Dennis shared stories about Chicago-style politics and his vision of the modern university. He elaborated upon his thoughts about the “ethics of re-opening” (articulated as a series of insights in this piece published in Inside HigherEd last July). And when asked what advice he would give to the new U.S. President, Fr. Dennis told a wonderful story about meeting Joe Biden in the cafeteria at the White House.

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A “self-critical” faith

“The deep roots of self-critical faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam present both a gift and an obligation,” Rachel Mikva argues in her new book published by Beacon Press in November. “Our own religious teaching should consistently be processed through the crucible of rigorous self-examination. We need to recognize how our texts, teachings, and practices have implications for others, in themselves and as echoes of historical interpretations,” she writes. The book, entitled Dangerous Religious Ideas: The Deep Roots of Self-critical Faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, invites readers to wrestle with what she calls the multivocality, dynamism, and capacity for self-critique in our religious traditions.

Erin VanLaningham and I had a chance to talk with Rachel at length about her new book for a recent episode of the NetVUE podcast series Callings. In the conversation, we discuss the role of self-critical faith in the public sphere and how certain religious ideas can be “good and dangerous.” We hear a little bit about Rachel’s own calling in response to the events of September, 2001, and asked her to tell us more about what vocation looks like “if the world is coming to an end” (picking up on a provocatively titled talk she delivered at a NetVUE gathering in 2019).

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Building a Thriving Research Team

A group of faculty and students at Calvin University is developing a curriculum to support team-based research. Their aim is to incorporate communal and individual professional skills into research team processes to foster thriving community and improved vocational discernment for students. They seek to build a community of scientists whose scholarship aligns with their values: authentic community, member well-being, and scientific excellence. Their hope is that this blog series will spark a dialog about measures of success that are not typically prioritized in scholarly work and ways this project could be expanded to other colleges and universities, both within and beyond the Christian tradition.

The events of the past year and our experiences with SARS-CoV-2 have demonstrated that the ability of scientists with diverse expertise to work together is vital to scientific success. A whole field of study, known as the Science of Team Science, has arisen around identifying strategies to bring scientists together to confront complex questions and solve problems effectively. Team Science is defined as “research conducted by more than one individual in an interdependent fashion, including research conducted by small teams and larger groups” (Cooke & Hilton, 2015). 

Many potential benefits of the team approach to science have been identified, for example, 1) enhanced capacity to achieve goals, 2) increased productivity and influence, and 3) improved outcomes for individual team members (Cooke, 2015; DeHart, 2017). However, several factors hinder attainment of the benefits of team science. These problems include inter-task dependence, lack of common vocabulary (communication challenges), and goal misalignment (lack of commitment) (Bennett et al., 2010; Cooke, 2015). As the Science of Team Science has illuminated, and our global experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has exemplified, students entering scientific careers will need to be able to work effectively as members of multi-disciplinary teams.

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The Journey of the Called Life

Readers of this blog may be interested in a new book about vocation called Living Vocationally: The Journey of the Called Life (Cascade Books, 2021). A labor of love and friendship, the book was co-written by Charlie Pinches, who teaches at the University of Scranton, and Paul Wadell, professor emeritus at St. Norbert College. Weaving together insights from a wide range of thinkers, including Augustine, Aquinas, and Gabriel Marcel as well as Barbara Brown Taylor, Parker Palmer, Wendell Berry and Pope Francis, a sizeable portion of the book explores the virtues that are needed for the journey: attentiveness and humility, fidelity and courage, justice, hope, and patience.

The book draws upon much of the recent writing about vocation, including the collections published as part of the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project. Several authors who have contributed to this blog—including David Cunningham, Douglas Henry, Jason Mahn, Anantanand Rambachan, Caryn Riswold, and Hannah Schell—are mentioned in the footnotes throughout the book.

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In praise of mischief-makers

A surprising piece in Inside HigherEd this week praises the work of mischief-makers. The authors make a case to other deans and directors to consider hiring people who are willing to shake things up and take risks. During this time of crisis and tumultuous change, we may be tempted to stick with what seems safe and known. But in fact the opposite is what is most needed now, they argue.

Their understanding of constructive mischief-making relies upon a certain set of virtues. The whole essay is an exercise in thinking about these interrelated qualities — “having a bent for mischief isn’t sufficient on its own,” they warn. Higher education needs more people who possess the traits of “creative playfulness” and an “impulse to nudge against tradition”; who naturally embody “a mix of empathy and impatience”; and who have a sense of humour and “an ability to connect to others from the heart.”

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Science, Certainty, and the Active Learning Lab of COVID-19

In early December, NetVUE hosted a webinar on “The Scientific Vocation in a Time of Crisis.” Judy Ericksen, associate professor of occupational therapy at Elizabethtown College, offered these reflections about how COVID-19 has created an “active learning lab” for students.

I teach in a program that attracts students who have decided early on what they want to do with their lives: they want to help people. They are often drawn to the health professions by personal experiences with disease or disability, and understand becoming an occupational therapist as a calling, something they were drawn to at an early age.

As they move through our program, which is five years in length, they are required to reconcile their vision of occupational therapy with the reality of today’s healthcare environment and this is often not an easy task for them. My advisees who question this early calling seem to fall into two categories—those who discover that health care, e.g. medical care no longer fuels their passion—and those who discover that while their calling came from the heart, being an occupational therapist also requires good use of the head. We describe our profession as being an art and a science and often it is the science that is more challenging for them. 

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Good opportunism

There are good reasons to be wary of leaders when they invoke the “ancient Chinese wisdom” that in crisis lies opportunity. It often portends dramatic or controversial decisions that have not been sufficiently considered, but are now seemingly justified by the needs of the moment. A dead give-away that such thinking is at work is the gleam in the eye of the one so relishing the moment. Such opportunism is not always but often enough at odds with long-standing mission.

But today’s Inside HigherEd includes an opinion piece that exemplifies a different kind of opportunism.

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