It’s a given that career prospects will rank at the top of the list for nearly any college student, but how much better if they actually enjoy the work that they go on to do and make a difference while doing it?
That’s the premise behind the book “At This Time and in This Place: Vocation and Higher Education,” edited by Dr. David S. Cunningham of the Hope College faculty and published this past fall by Oxford University Press. Featuring contributions by 13 authors, the book is a scholarly examination of the concept of vocation—pursuing a meaningful calling in life—and how higher education can help students identify paths that offer more than a paycheck alone.
“As students and their families invest in a college education, it’s natural that they’re concerned about employment, but there’s no reason for education to end there—and very good reasons why it shouldn’t,” said Cunningham, who is a professor of religion at Hope as well as director of the college’s CrossRoads Project and David J. Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing. “What an unhappy life it would be to spend hours each day, and year after year, doing work one disliked, when some additional guidance could lead to a better understanding of what really matters and how to integrate these concerns into work that’s fulfilling. Who wouldn’t want that instead?”
“At This Time and in This Place: Vocation and Higher Education” is designed to help readers understand the nature and significance of vocational reflection and discernment. It describes how faculty and staff can help students reflect on the “big issues” of meaning and purpose through classroom conversations, co-curricular activities, programs for community engagement, and even attention to a campus’s physical features. Its topics also include a historical overview of vocational discernment, as well as discussions of the current state of higher education, the role of faith in calling and vocation, and broader cultural trends.
The book is the first of three being developed by the Scholarly Resources Project of the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE), which is sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). Cunningham has directed the Scholarly Resources Project since it was created in 2012.
NetVUE is a nationwide network of more than 200 colleges and universities formed to enrich the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation among undergraduate students. Established in 2009, it is an outgrowth of the Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV) initiative launched by Lilly Endowment Inc. in 1999, providing an ongoing opportunity for discussion and additional resources for institutions that had participated in PTEV as well as for others.
Hope received grants from Lilly Endowment Inc. in both 2003 and 2008 to establish and enhance CrossRoads, which has helped expand campus exploration of vocation, including through long-running academic programs such as Hope’s First-Year Seminars and Senior Seminars; support for individual departments creating additional programming; and participation in workshops and external events for students. Based on the success of Hope’s program, and his active engagement nationally in discussions related to the development of programs on vocational discernment, Cunningham was asked by the CIC to organize a 2008 conference (out of which NetVUE originated). Subsequently he was named director of that organization’s Scholarly Resource Project.
Cunningham noted that Hope has been a national leader in what has been a growing movement in higher education, reflecting not only the success of CrossRoads but the overall character of the education that Hope provides.
“I think the ground here at Hope was well prepared for a conversation about vocation and calling,” he said. “These were questions that people here were already asking: ‘Where can I go and have an impact?’ ‘Where can I meet a need in the world?’ ‘What makes for a flourishing life—a life well-lived?’”
In addition to Cunningham, the book’s authors include Quincy D. Brown of LaGrange college; William T. Cavanaugh of DePaul University; Douglas V. Henry of Baylor University; Thomas Albert (Tal) Howard of Gordon College; Kathryn A. Kleinhans of Wartburg College; Charles Pinches of the University of Scranton; Darby K. Ray of Bates College; Caryn D. Riswold of Illinois College; Hannah Schell of Monmouth College; Paul J. Wadell of St. Norbert College; Stephen H. Webb of Wabash College; and Cynthia A. Wells of Messiah College.
“At This Time and in This Place: Vocation and Higher Education” costs $35 and is available at the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore. The bookstore is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., and can be called at 800-946-4673 or (616) 395-7833 or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.