Discussing vocation and collaboration
University faculty and staff from as far away as Rhodes Island, South Carolina and Winnipeg, Canada, came together at Bluffton University May 31-June 2 for the NetVUE (Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education) regional gathering, “Finding Ourselves at the Center: Collaborative Spaces for Purpose, Work, Learning and Engagement.”
“We’re all trying to help students find their way,” said Dr. Lamar Nisly, vice president and dean of academic affairs at Bluffton. “At this gathering, we’re looking at how we make sure we’re having a shared conversation on campuses around the topic of vocation. It’s been really interesting to hear the different structures people have at their institutions.”
A program of The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), NetVUE is a is a network of nearly 300 colleges and universities, including Bluffton, formed to support and enrich vocational exploration and development.
NetVUE funding previously supported the development of Learning in Community, the second-year course of the Bluffton Blueprint. Consisting of four foundational courses, one for each year of college, the goal of the Bluffton Blueprint is to help students come to new vocational understandings through action and hands on practice. Through Learning in Community, Bluffton students work with partner agencies in Lima, Ohio.
“A lot of schools are thinking about how to engage students in the community beyond the borders of campus,” said Dr. Walt Paquin, director of social work and the Bluffton faculty member who led the development of Learning in Community. “Vocation is more than just a major or job. It’s how we contribute to creating a better world, a better community, a better society.”
About 50 people attended the gathering. Michelle Arnold, assistant director of mission integration at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, said her work centers on expanding the vocational conversation into every element of campus life. She came with two others from MSJ and was excited to learn more about how conversations on vocation were woven into the Bluffton Blueprint curriculum.
“We’re thinking about how to take those ideas back and to use some of them to complement what we already have so that our students have an amazing experience,” said Arnold. “We’re not just training for a job. We’re training for hard work.”
The event also featured a keynote presentation from Dr. Krista E. Hughes, director of the Muller Center at Newberry College. Hughes spoke on, “Why and How We Center: The Risks, Rewards and Promises of Campus Centers for Vocation.”
“More and more members of NetVUE are really thinking about how to infuse vocational exploration into their offerings for students,” said Hughes. “Vocation is so much bigger than career. The question, ‘How does a student’s career fit into their life goals?’ has a been a longtime conversation, but in some ways it’s more important than ever before.”
During her closing presentation, Shari Ayers, former director of Bluffton’s Center for Career and Vocation, focused on the importance of connection to better handle the challenges and successes of college campuses.
“It’s a complex, chaotic time in education everywhere and that requires us to be adaptive, creative and strategic,” said Ayers. “We shared a lot of information and now is the time to discern what to act on and what to set aside for later.”