on the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education

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1 Shirley Roels on the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education By Tracy Schier Shirley Roels is the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) Senior Advisor for the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE), a national network of colleges and universities that seeks to expand and extend conversations about vocational exploration in undergraduate education. NetVUE states its purposes as follows: to deepen understanding of the intellectual and theological substance of vocation exploration; examine the role of theological reflection and vocational exploration in a variety of institutional contexts; share knowledge, best practices, and reflection on experiences across participating campuses; facilitate the incorporation of additional colleges and universities into this enterprise; and develop a network for sustaining an extended program in the theological exploration of vocation. NetVUE is administered by CIC with support from Lilly Endowment Inc. As of May 2012, membership had reached 167 campuses across a broad range of traditions. Its programs and services include: a large national conference held every other year (next is March 14-16, 2013); regional gatherings and multi-campus collaborations on specific topics conducted in the off-years; a website ( for the exchange of resources and ideas among member institutions; consulting and campus visit services to develop new programs at member colleges. A small NetVUE staff, led by Dr. Roels, is housed at Calvin College (MI).

2 Shirley Roels has taught at Calvin College since 1979 in the areas of management and accounting. For several years she taught a course entitled Christian Perspectives on Work and Vocation. She has written widely about business ethics and served as an academic dean and was director of the Calvin College Lilly Vocation Project. That work led to development of the college s Congregational and Ministry Studies Department because of its emphasis on Christian calling to life and leadership in the church. Roels has also served there as Director of the Van Lunen Center for Executive Management in Christian Schools. Among her publications, she is co-author with Richard Chewning and John W. Eby of Business Through the Eyes of Faith and author of a related guide for business faculty members. She is also co-editor with Max L. Stackhouse and Dennis P. McCann of On Moral Business: Classical and Contemporary Resources for Ethics in Economic Life. Dr. Roels is the author of Organization Man, Organization Women: Calling, Leadership and Culture. Her professional expertise in matters of planning, strategy, organization, and finances has been used in congregational and denominational settings for many years. Currently she is on the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Dr. Roels holds her doctorate in college and university administration from Michigan State University and has an MBA from the University of Michigan. She is also a certified managerial accountant. Her spouse is an attorney and she is the mother of two married sons and has one granddaughter. This conversation is edited. Q. Can you first talk about NetVUE and how it is similar to/different from the Lilly Endowment-sponsored Programs for Theological Exploration of Vocation (PTEV) that ended a few years ago and involved some 88 colleges and universities around the country? A. Both programs are similar in focus and goal. The programs are structurally different by design. As you may recall, the schools in PTEV submitted individual grant applications to the Endowment for specific programming within each institution. Programming was meant to be congruent with the mission of each college (all of which were denominationally affiliated) but was wide ranging in strategies. So some institutions focused more on curriculum than on student services, others developed programs to engage students in a wide variety of service projects; some involved graduate students, faculty, and alumni to a greater or lesser extent. There was great variety in the PTEV programming. Page 2 of 7

3 Your readers will want to know that Tim Clydesdale, a sociologist at The College of New Jersey, is writing a soon-to-be-published book that is a national investigation into vocational thinking and processes of religious and nonreligious American college students. It is a national evaluation of PTEV s impact on students and their mentors and will shed much light on the impact of that program in the 88 participating institutions. Unlike PTEV, NetVUE is based on membership and is an initiative of CIC. There are several criteria for institutional participation. First, the college or university must be independent; second, it must be a four-year institution; then the membership must focus on undergraduate education; and finally, the institution must be fully accredited. A majority of the campuses that had PTEV grants are members of NetVUE, but since our membership is larger than the 88 PTEV institutions, a majority of our NetVUE members were not part of PTEV. NetVUE is constructed so that we provide a set of more common benefits to our members; our goal is to be a participatory network that will allow the institutions to learn from each other. As I mentioned, it is a CIC initiative. It came about when some presidents of PTEV campuses approached CIC to ask if a network to support vocational programming and emphases could be sustained after PTEV ended, in order to extend its work. We do not limit NetVUE membership to CIC members, but most belong. Q. Are most of the colleges and universities in NetVUE religiously affiliated? A. More than 90 percent. Some of the colleges are directly sponsored by a denomination while others have an affiliating relationship. Almost a third of the institutions are Catholic. The conversations that occur between the Catholics and Protestants are wonderful and so rich. But we also are a place that welcomes campuses with no religious affiliation. These are colleges and universities that may care deeply about the spiritual welfare of their students and graduates. We would also welcome a campus to membership that did not have Christian roots if its leaders said yes to our mission. Our goal is to be the big tent without washing out the particular theological orientation of each campus. Q. Do the colleges and universities make efforts to involve faculty, trustees, alumni as well as students? Where is the emphasis? A. We principally focus on senior administrators and chief academic officers, senior faculty leaders and professional campus ministry staff. But we occasionally involve young alumni and board members as well. We are Page 3 of 7

4 attempting to foster theological and intellectual exploration of vocation across entire campus communities. We try to encourage participation in activities and services and access to NetVUE resources on the part of all members of a college or university community. During this academic year, to give an example of how we work collaboratively, we have sponsored seven regional gatherings for representatives from our members. In October, Calvin College in Michigan hosted a workshop on Classrooms, Curricula, and Contexts: Vocation, Higher Education, and the Formation of Religious and Moral Identities. That same month Baylor University in Texas hosted a regional gathering on Educating for Wisdom and Vocation: Christian Resources for the Contemporary Academy. The panel at a John Carroll University (OH) event brought together a group of young alumni to address the issue of Emerging Adulthood and the Ignatian Vision: Vocational Discernment for College Students. California Lutheran University hosted west coast representatives in March to examine Vocation through Experiential Learning: Tying Vocational Reflection into Study Abroad, Service Learning, and Civic Engagement. Other regional gatherings took place at Monmouth College in Illinois, Seton Hall University in New Jersey (their topic had to do with the scientific vocations), and LaGrange College in Georgia. So you can see that we are trying to make multi-campus collaborations available throughout the country. Q. So, it would seem that representatives from individual institutions can learn from colleagues at other institutions as well as share their own experiences and efforts in programming. A. That s right. We are about collaboration. Member institutions send teams to the regional meetings and the attendance has been great. The feedback that we receive indicates a high level of gratitude along with comments about all that has been learned and shared. Q. How is the programming evaluated? A. We have structured evaluation into the program and hired a national evaluator, Dr. Barbara Gombach, previously a project manager for the Carnegie Corporation of New York and now Senior Grants Writer at Columbia University s Earth Institute. She reminds us of our goals and objectives and is able to measure our outcomes and hold us accountable to do what we are setting out to do. A variety of methodologies are also used for example, focus groups and immediate feedback from participants. Page 4 of 7

5 Q. What are some obstacles to success that have to be overcome both for the network and for the individual campuses? A. It is gratifying to see the early successes of our efforts. And we recognize the challenges that we have as we move forward. For one thing, if the institutions are to truly benefit from NetVUE they must have a sustainable commitment to the programs over time. Another challenge comes out of our diversity of theological traditions and the need to forge a commons. The vocational language, the vocational lenses, and the vocational practices must be agreed upon members must concur that they matter. We talk about vocation as noun, verb and preposition, and I believe that it really is all three! The network s strength is balancing many diverse contributions within the commons. Another obstacle, if you want to call it that, has to do with the cultural challenges we face. The American culture that we live in subconsciously shapes all of us. We know what is rewarded in the culture money, fame and image. So we are trying to encourage students to participate in the larger society from a different locus. We want to help each student to know that he/she has a calling and that there is more to a career or profession than just making money. Q. Are you finding that there really is universal buy-in at most of the college and university members, or is the programming in silos? A. We definitely have the buy-in. One of our goals is to open things up and to focus on vocation as something that flows across organizational divisions student life, administration, faculty. We intend to serve the calling of all and to serve the whole student. We make every effort to get away from divisions and to use the silos of disciplines to contribute to interdisciplinary work that articulates vocation. We find that the humanities people are talking to the business people, that the science folks are talking to the student development people, and so on. This is what we are after. Q. Can you give some examples of where and how curricula are being affected by NetVUE s efforts? A. I think there are many ways, but three high-impact areas are essential. We make strong efforts to affect the First-Year Experience courses in our institutions. Some of the colleges are reconfiguring their first-year courses with a conscious effort to help students understand their educational and vocational identities in relation to the institution s identity and mission. This is not a conversion enterprise, and it is directly respectful of the student. A deeper vocational emphasis also has to do with the calling that a student has in the here and now Page 5 of 7

6 the calling to be a student! The curriculum should inform the way that the students discern what they are called to be and to become, and also what informs the not to do. And, in addition to an emphasis on first year courses, we assist our member campuses with their capstone courses, whether these are general education or major specific. The third curricular example is the emphasis that member colleges and universities place on service, how the students perform service on and off campus, and how they reflect on it. The academically-based reflection on such service is intrinsic to the whole effort. Service learning is housed in a variety of locations in the individual schools. In some, there is a strong connection with the chaplain s office and we see students becoming involved with the religious life of their campus, doing things like planning worship and liturgy, providing music, and so on. Service learning can take place in the community in which the school exists, and it can take place as a study/work abroad option. Q. I am wondering how or if any of your work spills over to campuses online programs. A. It is a potential but not a primary issue for our campuses right now. This is because most of our undergraduates are in face-to-face situations. And of course, while acknowledging that there is no replacement for face-to-face learning and mentoring, we recognize that this is an ideal and will not always be realized. NetVUE campuses also work with adults in degree completion programs, and we end up saying to them that community building is always necessary, even when working online. Deep vocational identity predicates involvement with others in community settings. We will continue to work on this issue as we go along. Q. Will the campus members involved in NetVUE be able to sustain the programs and networking once funding concludes? A. I truly believe that the funding potential is never over. We are sustainable because we are a network with the colleges and universities contributing through dues. There are real structural advantages for the long-term sustainability of NetVUE because of its positioning in relationship to CIC. Though NetVUE membership does extend beyond CIC members, it is an excellent home base for this effort. Our initiatives complement other CIC efforts and there are some excellent synergies because of this. We are able to connect NetVUE to member campuses through other CIC forums such as the annual Presidents Institute, the Chief Academic Officers Institute, and CIC s regular newsletter The Independent. NetVUE s website ( is part of the larger CIC website Page 6 of 7

7 ( Visitors to the NetVUE site can also find a listing of our 167 member institutions. Q. Do you see that the NetVUE colleges and universities are incorporating this work into their institutional strategic plans? A. Absolutely. We see that this effort is present in the overarching missions of the members. CIC is so well positioned to address these questions because it always works with presidents and chief academic officers. And now we are going out to senior faculty leaders on curriculum development, to chaplains, and to student life offices. In other words, we have capacity, resources, and vision to work as a whole and to assist our members as they incorporate this work into every fabric of their existence. Q. What new initiatives might be in NetVUE s future? A. We are developing three new dimensions of our work. First, program development grants that can deepen capacity and initiatives for institutions that did not receive PTEV funding are now available to members. Second, we are continuously developing scholarly resources (especially pertaining to vocation) that support the needs of our members through scholarly seminars that will generate such resources. Finally, in our campus chaplaincy initiative, the goal is to respond to questions about how we foster robust intersections of the campus chaplain with other campus leaders relative to vocational identity and vocational initiatives. Page 7 of 7

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