Insights and Conversations from the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE)
Author: Julia L Fogg
The Rev. Dr. Julia Lambert Fogg is a biblical scholar whose teaching at California Lutheran University includes courses like "Global Jesus", "St. Paul and Community", "Liberation, Theology, and Immigration" as well as the introductory course "Religion, Identity and Vocation".
Her pedagogy is focused on meeting students where they are in their university career, incorporating their passions, academic majors, and community commitments. Julia regularly incorporates service and community immersion learning projects so that students can take their classroom work and apply it in their communities in creative and constructive ways. Her 2020 book, "Finding Jesus at the Border: Opening Our Hearts to the Stories of Our Immigrant Neighbors" (Baker-Brazos Press) grows out of her work with students learning from field workers in Oxnard, shadowing housing activists in Ventura, and undertaking independent summer research opportunities.
The aim is to teach students to prioritize non-homework activities that support mental health and emotional well-being, and that are critical for building cognitive function inside and outside of the classroom.
In my previous post, I reflected on the impossibility of today’s full-time, undergraduate students’ completing the two “independent student learning” homework hours for every “instructor-led” class hour as standardized by Carnegie. Fulfilling these mandated homework hours was not possible before the pandemic because students did not have enough time in their weekly schedules. After the pandemic, students face even more obstacles. Still lacking enough time to study, students seem to be missing critical independent study skills and are experiencing limited cognitive capacity as well as increased mental health concerns. In this post, I will offer a few concrete ways to address these two concerns in our syllabi and support the vocation of student learning.
If Carnegie units of academic time are fundamental to defining a baccalaureate degree, then how can we make them work for us and for our students?
The Carnegie hour is a unit of time that standardizes academic study across institutions. Established in 1906 as means to calculate retirement hours earned, Carnegie hours are now often required on syllabi. This way, students (and accreditation agencies) know how many “instructor-led” class hours to expect and how many “independent student learning” homework hours to schedule.
The more students I mentor in shaping investigative projects, the more I find that “doing research” directly engages students in understanding the contours of their own vocations—that place where their deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger, as Frederick Buechner has said.
What is the purpose of undergraduate research in the humanities? We may agree that college and university students aspiring to graduate studies benefit from the experience of researching and that a well-crafted research paper contributes to their graduate school applications. We may also concede that developing a research question and carrying out an investigation helps humanities students who are not bound for graduate school to develop important analytical, problem-solving, writing, and time-management skills.
But is that it? Humanities research really only benefits a few declared majors already heading to grad school and assists others with soft skills? If this were the case, then there would be little point for students to engage in research outside of their disciplinary majors. Yet general education courses still require the use of primary sources, reviews of scholarly literature, argument analysis, and final projects—all forms of investigative research. The more students I mentor in shaping investigative projects, the more I find that “doing research” directly engages students in understanding the contours of their own vocations—that place where their deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger, as Frederick Buechner has said.
I have found the clearest examples of students engaging their vocations through investigative research in
The members of my department have worked together for over a decade… We know intimately how twined and tangled the personal and the professional are for those of us who out live our teaching vocation.
Our Religion department chair always begins meetings with a round of check-ins. The check-in question changes, but the invitation to share from something professional or personal is always there. This feels right—perhaps because the members of our department have worked together for over a decade. Or maybe because we know intimately how twined and tangled the personal and the professional are for those of us who out live our teaching vocation.
This week, a department member opened our check-in saying, “I’m having a rough day, but I’m doing my best in this moment to be present to the work.” Before I could think, I blurted out, “I’m also having a rough day, but I’m not sure what our work is now.”
On the surface, my comment made no sense. The agenda for the department meeting was clear: discuss core curriculum revisions, construct a shared assignment on “identity” for all first year religion and theology classes, and set hiring priorities for the fall (we lost three faculty this academic year). But eight weeks into the semester, five semesters into the pandemic, and two plus years into educational upheaval, my confusion was real.