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

What’s in a name?

At the most basic level, we use names to identify ourselves, and distinguish ourselves from one another.  However, names are much more than that; they are intimate part of the cultures that we live in and the way we associate with one another and the past. Names may connect us to a relative who we may have known or passed away before we were born.  Names may connect us to a song, piece of literature or to scripture.  Eventually, we have to come to terms with our own name and whether we want to continue to be referred by it.  Some people even change their names signaling a desire to break with the past and that they are a different person.  Moreover, giving a name is a remarkable responsibility. The name that we give will be the one that a child will be called, write and referred to countless of times. The child will have to eventually decide if they should make the name their own, and could  influence what names they will potentially give in the future. Continue reading

Mentoring for Vocation: A Form of Friendship

 

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Members of this year’s faculty development workshop on Teaching Vocational Exploration

At NetVUE’s Faculty Development Workshop on Teaching Vocational Exploration in June, Paul Wadell presented a paper entitled “Mentoring for Vocation – Befriending Those Entrusted to Us.”  The paper was well-received because it spoke to mentorship as an essential part of vocation. The article is published in the Journal of Catholic Higher Education, yet is relevant to those who may not be Catholic.  As Wadell explains, the language of “friendship” may be more “inviting, understandable, and relatable” to those who may not have explicit religious commitments and are increasingly part of a diverse academy.  “Friendship” can help us better understand “mentorship” even though the concepts are distinct and have unique traits.  Wadell then proceeds to list three specific ways in which the metaphor of “friendship” can give us insights into who a mentor can potentially be.

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Paul Waddell

First, “a friend is someone who seeks another’s good and finds joy in doing so.” A friend is someone who genuinely cares about their friend and “sets aside [their] own concerns and preoccupations in order to attend to them and help them come to a clearer understanding of what is truly good for them.”  College students pursue friendships, especially those of their peers and fellow students from whom they seek approval and counsel.  However, many students are specifically looking for an adult who genuinely cares for them and is interested in them flourishing in the world.  These adults play an essential role in helping students find their “home” or their place in contributing to the global common good.

Second, true friendship demands that one “make space” for their friend within one’s life.  This “space” develops out of making the friend a priority such as finding time within one’s schedule.  Friendship is thus an “eloquent act of hospitality” where one brings a “stranger” into one’s life because they ultimately see something good in them and worth engaging.  This good is something that the student may not have necessarily seen within themselves but is recognized and brought out by the mentor.

Third, friends work to get to know one another and understand their specific stories.  Friendship is a “form of love” and requires a recognition of who the other person is and “what it would mean for them to thrive and flourish.”  Giving time to students implies that there is a genuine “respect for the students who come to us.”  Respecting students necessitates listening to their stories and learning about the pivotal moments of their upbringing and formative memories.  To be invited into a student’s story is “a sacred trust” because “their story is their truth and they need to speak it.”

However, a true mentor does not simply listen to their student’s stories but responds to them and potentially directs them to better ones.  Nonetheless, the best way for a mentor to help develop their student’s stories is to “embody in their own lives the virtues, dispositions, and practices they are encouraging students to adopt.”  As Wadell poetically states, “Nothing convinces students more than authenticity.  And perhaps nothing disillusions them more than hypocrisy.”

Waddell acknowledges that while the metaphor of friendship may be helpful, there are some key differences between it and that of mentorship.  For instance, friendship is defined by “mutuality” while a mentorship relationship is focused primarily on the mentee.  The mentor is focused on the student’s success and is not requiring the same in return.  Moreover, the mentorship relationship usually has an imbalance of power and authority.  Mentors can use their power to help students succeed but they could also use it to abuse, an important reminder in our cultural moment and in the backdrops of the #Metoo and #blacklivesmatter movements.  It is therefore essential to define boundaries within a mentorship relationship and to point students to other experts when necessary.  If a student is wrestling with depression or anxiety, for instance, then they should be directed to a counselor or mental health professional.

The metaphor of friendship allows readers to better understand the profound role that a mentor can play within their student’s life.  Wadell’s various writings emphasize hope, empathy and mentors “embodying what they call their students to be.”  I highly recommend his work for courses, faculty development programs and reading groups on vocation and mentorship.

Bibliography:

Paul Wadell, “Mentoring for Vocation: Befriending Those Entrusted to Us,” Journal of Catholic Higher Education 36, no. 2 (2007):103-120.

Paul Wadell, “An Itinerary of Hope: Called to Magnanimous Way,” in At this Time and in This Place: Vocation in Higher Education, edited by David S. Cunningham (Oxford, 2015).

Younus Mirza is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Allegheny College. He is the author of “Doubt as an Integral Part of Calling: The Qur’anic Story of Joseph” which will appear in the volume Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose, and Identity in the Multi-Faith Academy, edited by David S. Cunningham (Oxford, 2019). To learn more about his scholarship and teaching, please check out his website at http://dryounusmirza.com

5 Ways Faculty Can Connect Vocation to Career Services

Faculty play an instrumental role in speaking about the theoretical aspects of vocation, whether it be leading class discussions on the topic, introducing students to relevant literature, or mentoring them on a specific career path.  However, liberal arts colleges are frequently criticized for leaving these discussions philosophical and not urging students to think about the nuts and bolts about getting a job.  This is why there has been a larger move across the country for colleges and universities to integrate career services more fully with the academic mission of their institutions.  Here are five practical ways that faculty can connect vocation to career services: Continue reading

Connecting the Dots: What we can learn from Steve Jobs, college drop-out

In his 2005 Stanford commencement address, Steve Jobs reflected upon his life: his birth and adoption, his early firing from Apple and marriage and then his scare with death after being diagnosed with cancer.  The first part of the speech was dedicated to “connecting the dots” and to his early life and college experience. Like Jobs, our most successful students are able to “connect the dots” and take important risks. Continue reading

The invisible challenges of international students

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Younus Mirza (center, front row) with his students from Allegheny College.

College and Universities frequently espouse educating the “whole person” or the physical, spiritual and intellectual aspects of their students.  However, educating the “whole person” for international students may look very different than for domestic students since they face various obstacles and structural challenges that may be invisible to us.  These challenges may include their visa status, speaking American English or understanding the cultural norms of their peers. Continue reading