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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Rethinking and Unlearning: Imagining New Ways of Being in Community

A conversation with Nimisha Barton, historian, educator, and diversity practitioner.

Nimisha Barton will lead a workshop for NetVUE members on October 27th on Bias, Privilege and Educational Freedom (see below for more details). As we finalized the details about her workshop, Nimisha generously agreed to be interviewed about her work and career trajectory and how her experiences in graduate school have informed her approach to mentoring. At the end, Nimisha suggests texts and other resources for educators who are committed to supporting undergraduates and unlearning the damaging messages into which we have all been socialized.

Describe the work you do now and how you engage with students, either as a consultant, teacher, mentor, etc. 

I consult with colleges and universities helping faculty and staff around the country find ways to improve their relationships with their entire community. This may look like inclusive teaching workshops for faculty or inclusive leadership development trainings for students. At the end of the day, I seek to highlight existing norms and practices and suggest new ways of thinking that might enhance our relationships with one another. Often, this means thinking through how historical and sociopolitical realities have conditioned the ways we currently relate with one another and imagining new ways of being in community. 

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Leading Lives that Matter

When you are a college teacher, certain books become beloved companions because of how well they work for undergraduates in a classroom setting. William Placher’s deceptively brief A History of Christian Theology was that type of book for me when I taught the history of Christian thought at Monmouth College, as was the first edition of the wonderful anthology Leading Lives that Matter, especially when we began to weave vocation into some of our courses. I loved teaching that book. It was a thrill to introduce students to its array of thinkers and texts and to engage them in conversations about the questions the texts posed. And so I was excited to learn that the editors Mark Schwehn and Dorothy Bass were engaged in the task of putting together a new, second edition—but also quietly hoped that they wouldn’t change it too much! I’m happy to report that the updates do not alter the original strength of the collection, that the second edition includes a welcome diversity of perspectives, and that it is now available for purchase from Eerdmans.

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Fighting the Good Fight

Many students feel called to engage in ongoing struggles for social justice on our campuses, in their communities, and beyond. Recent events have led even more students to recognize that such activism may be part of their vocation. But even the most motivated and energetic student advocates experience frustration and exhaustion to an extent that threatens their well-being and sometimes even the continuation of their studies. How can we best support these students? How can those of us who are committed to helping our students discern and live out their vocations tend to their sometimes acute sense of being embattled? On Tuesday, July 14, NetVUE hosted a webinar with four speakers who addressed this intersection of social justice, activism, and vocation.

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Back to basics: holistic mentoring in times of crisis

In a recent essay in Inside Higher Ed, Eric R. White, associate dean for advising emeritus at Pennsylvania State University and former president of NACADA, called upon his colleagues to begin to re-imagine a new model for academic advising, one that takes into account the realities that higher education will inevitably confront in the coming years. As with the shift to on-line teaching this spring, academic advising also had to pivot to relying upon online communication forms. White argues that such a shift was almost “second nature” to many, given that in recent years “academic advising was one of the first higher education endeavors to embrace technology as a way to supplement its work.”

The sanguine picture White paints may not align with the reality for many advisors this spring. Being comfortable with online technology is one thing but getting students to respond to offers for help and support is another. During a NetVUE-sponsored Zoom gathering in April, people described texting with individual students as an effective way to simply inquire about how they were doing, their family situation, and overall well-being. At another meeting, Student Affairs administrators described the importance of getting in touch with every student over those initial weeks of anxiety, bewilderment, and grief—an “all hands on deck” endeavor. I came away from those Zoom meetings reaffirmed about the passion and commitment of NetVUE colleagues from across the country. Even in a state of exhaustion, they operate from a deep sense of calling; they are “nimble” because they know how to stay connected to fundamentals.

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Ten Things that Make Life Worth Living

Jacqueline Bussie shares her top ten insights for what makes life worth living.

If you have never met Jacqueline Bussie, then you should just skip to the video clip below so that you experience her uniquely exuberant form of wisdom. Jacqueline is the Director of the Forum on Faith and Life and a professor of Religion at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Her book Love Without Limits (Fortress, 2018) was declared a “must read” book for Christians by Publisher’s Weekly. Her book Outlaw Christian (Thomas Nelson, 2016) won a 2017 Gold Medal Illumination Award for Christian Living. She has been an active member of NetVUE for many years, including speaking as part of a panel at the pre-conference gathering at the American Academy of Religion meeting in San Diego last November.

Jacqueline recently recorded a short video slip (26 minutes) in which she shared her “top ten” thoughts about what makes life worth living. The video is part of a series put together by the Living Well Center for Vocation and Purpose at Lenoir Rhyne University, where Mindy Makant is the director.

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Student Activism and Belonging

A conversation with Chris Arguedas, Director of the Intercultural Community Center at Occidental College.  

Chris Arguedas

I met Chris Arguedas at the NetVUE regional gathering hosted by Occidental College in January 2020, where we started a conversation about tending to the well-being of student activists. Chris generously agreed to share some of his thoughts about the particular challenges faced by student activists, especially students from minoritized communities, and his own sense of calling in the work that he does with students.

Describe the work you do at Occidental and the students you encounter and support. 

First, I am there to listen. I often meet with students on a one-on-one basis, and I take these opportunities to learn from them and to build trust. Relationships built on trust are what propel the work of an Intercultural Center forward. My work is also to make students feel seen, in particular students who are underrepresented and racially minoritized in higher education, who often move through the world without being treated with respect. And, more specifically, I conduct training to mitigate institutional barriers at the college; I act as a liaison (and translator sometimes) between faculty, staff and students as it relates to issues of equity and social justice; and I co-create programming with students that recognizes and honors their identities and helps them step into their greatness. 

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