Vocational Discernment as a Wellness Tool

Campus life is gradually beginning to return to a new normal after two years of pandemic learning. Students are back in classrooms, and co-curricular activities are in full swing. However, there is still much healing and readjustment to do since the psychological impact of the COVID19 pandemic will be with us for years to come.

To address this new normal, NetVUE’s Fall 2022 Webinar focused on “Vocational Discernment as a Wellness Tool.” Exploring meaning and purpose can be a creative and effective way to integrate well-being practices on campus. A recent study, for example, indicates that exploring meaning and purpose for one’s life may lead to higher levels of life satisfaction, positive coping skills, and greater psychological health. The webinar on October 26 featured Elizabeth Kubek (below left) and Debra Minsky-Kelly (below right) and addressed the topic of integrating vocation as a wellness strategy in our work with students.

Elizabeth Kubek serves as Director of Summer Term and Faculty Director of Student Academic Success in the Provost’s Office and as Professor in English at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, Minnesota. Elizabeth shared the mission of her institution’s Vocation Advisory Council, which coordinates activities for vocation-based education for students, faculty, and staff. She also outlined the college’s general education programming, which includes required well-being courses that introduce at least one dimension of well-being (Emotional, Relational, Physical, Financial, Intellectual, Environmental, Vocational, Career, Spiritual) and Challenge Seminar courses that involve senior students in exploring a particular challenge or a pressing ethical question.

Debra Minsky-Kelly is Director of Field Education and Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Work at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Debra discussed how intellectual reflection exercises, such as vocational exploration, relate to brain center activation and higher order cognitive skills. She provided information on how stress affects our bodies. She discussed classroom techniques that integrate vocational exploration and wellness: mindfulness, role playing, small-group work, yoga, journaling, and more.

The final 30 minutes of the webinar were dedicated to questions from participants, including questions about specific approaches to integrating vocation and wellness techniques in the classroom and about institutional initiatives. Related NetVUE resources include episodes from Callings on Burnout and Belonging and Vocational Advice for Undergraduates and blog posts on Self Care and Vocation Through Students’ Eyes and Quiet Quitting.

The webinar was recorded and can be accessed here. Please note that when you go to this link, it will prompt you to share your name and email address, but this is not a login; it simply allows NetVUE to keep track of interest. You are unlikely to receive any follow-up emails unless you are at a NetVUE member institution. However, if you do, you’ll have the opportunity to unsubscribe.

Exploring Vocation in First-Year Programs

Most people recognize that it takes more than just “smarts” to make it through college. Clearly academic skills and a certain level of intelligence are essential to earning a college degree. However, having a successful, meaningful, and enjoyable college experience includes more than just the academic encounters of our students. Higher education also provides opportunity for students to learn about themselves, develop healthy habits, and make meaning out of life.

Exploring vocation is an important component of the first year of college and can be used to develop psychosocial skills that will set students up for success during their 4+ years at the university. Learning how to use God-given gifts to make a positive impact in a complex, demanding world requires the development of the whole person.

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Building multicultural competency

Malcolm X sat across the desk from Mr. Ostrowski, his teacher and advisor. Despite being one of his top eighth grade students, Mr. Ostrowski told Malcolm he should be realistic and become a carpenter–not a lawyer–because he was Black. Little did either of the two know at that moment in time what greater vocation lay ahead for Malcolm X. As educators and student development staff in higher education we would like to think that this type of racist interaction is a thing of the past; however, unconscious and conscious biases shape our interactions with students. Building multicultural competency is not an easy task and is a life-long journey and yet taking on this charge is critical if we are to ethically serve all of our students.

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Lessons from Humanism: Mentoring that Fosters Vocational Discernment

Any relationship can be therapeutic, according to Carl Rogers (1902-1987). In psychology there are many theoretical approaches to counseling and various clinical techniques. The common factor among all effective therapies is the working relationship between the two parties. In higher education there are numerous opportunities for building rewarding relationships with students and colleagues. Humanism’s approach of emphasizing relationship, strengths, and human potential make it a particularly useful framework for undergraduate mentoring relationships that foster vocational discernment. 

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Identity Exploration and Vocational Discernment

“Who do you want to be when you grow up?” Most likely we’ve all been asked this question, and probably have asked it ourselves, a time or two. In psychology, there are a variety of models of personality development that set out to explain the answer to that question–some focus on early childhood experiences or interpersonal relationships or ethnic identity. Often, identity development theory centers on the theme of finding meaning and purpose in life and contributing to society. College is a time of heightened identity exploration which provides unique opportunity for self-reflection and vocational discernment. 

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