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Author: Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education

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Conversations on college, career, and a life well-lived. “Callings” explores what it means to live a life defined by a sense of meaning and purpose. It focuses on the process of exploring and discerning one’s vocation, with particular emphasis on mentoring and supporting undergraduate students as they navigate college, career, and a life-well lived. Hosted by the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE).
30 Episodes
Richard Sévère shares his approach to mentoring, friendship, and vocation in this episode, drawing in part from his work with first-generation students and students from the Black diaspora. As a professor of English and interim associate dean at Valparaiso University, Richard shares how purposefully connecting with colleagues and students to hear their stories can allow a sense of difference to inform vocational discernment. Such intentional conversations foster an exploration of life, identity, and diversity that can build students’ confidence and a willingness to explore all aspects of a college experience. In such moments, vocational discernment emerges as an “investment of time.”
Part of our call as educators is to prepare students for a dynamic and complicated world. Paul Hanstedt helps us understand how vocation and pedagogy intersect. He is author of Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World and directs the Houston H. Harte Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington and Lee University. Our conversation explores reflective practices, questioning, and listening in the classroom. He offers ways to disrupt patterns and discover fresh approaches for collaborative learning and exploration. Paul’s emphasis on preparing students for the difficulties of life—and engaging in big questions from the first semester through the last—ultimately challenges us to ask students, “what matters?” 
Ever since the publication of her New York Times bestselling book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (2020), Kristin Kobes Du Mez has been in the middle of intense public debates about faith, nationalism, and gender in American Evangelicalism. In our conversation, Kristin shares some of the story behind that story, reflecting on the role that historical research plays in public life — as well as the choices, controversies, and hopes that continue to shape her vocational journey. She also reflects on her calling as professor of history and gender studies at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
How does experience with trauma inform, and transform, our vocations? Our guest, Deanna Thompson, helps us understand how suffering shapes us and how our vocational frameworks might integrate sadness. Deanna’s journey with incurable cancer informs her role not only as a scholar and writer, but as a professor of religion at St. Olaf College, where she explores with students how vocation can be framed by unresolved questions and the paradoxes of despair and hope. Throughout this conversation, Deanna expands our views of the world—via digital platforms, interfaith friendships, and the communal experience of sadness alongside joy. Deanna poignantly captures what it means to be called to “this” rather than “that,” and how to accept the callings we didn’t expect or choose. The conversation evokes the experience of sharing sacred ground.
Meghan Sullivan teaches philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, where she also directs a program on God and the Good Life. Meghan’s newest book, co-authored with Paul Blaschko, is titled The Good Life Method: Reasoning through the Big Questions of Happiness, Faith, and Meaning. In our conversation, Meghan talks about the philosopher in all of us. She describes how philosophy bridges the active and reflective life, noting how strongly students yearn to explore life’s significant questions such as the meaning of work, love, and suffering. She draws on her extensive experience teaching about the good life and reminds all of us how our work can contribute to helping students “care for the soul.”
Rowan Williams is a professor, public theologian, author, poet, and one of the most recognized Christian leaders of our era. Most notably, from 2002 to 2012, he served as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury which is the senior leadership position in the Church of England and the ceremonial head of the Anglican Communion worldwide. In this conversation, Rowan reflects on his vocational development and shares insight and wisdom about public leadership, contemplative practice, dialog, and “common ground.” His insights into teaching and learning, from his years both in the parish and in the academy, emphasize what he sees as the core of education: joy.
Shaun Casey’s work explores the overlapping concerns among religion, diplomacy, and public life. Trained as a theologian with an interest in public policy, Shaun held many academic positions before he was called to set up the Office of Religion and Global Affairs at the U.S. State Department by Secretary of State John Kerry. In this conversation, Shaun offers us ways to think about vocations that have a public face and to consider how we might contribute to the major issues of contemporary life. He reflects on the importance of sitting down and talking together to find common ground. He also shares stories from his time at the State Department, some of which he chronicles in his new book, Chasing the Devil at Foggy Bottom: The Future of Religion in American Diplomacy. A common theme emerges as Shaun discusses his career in higher education, government, and public affairs: hope. 
Thema Bryant is the president-elect of the American Psychological Association, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She describes a deep sense of calling in her life in terms of an “overarching theme of healing.” In our conversation, Thema discusses liberation psychology, the relationship between faith and therapy, the healing power of poetry and dance, and the opportunities and limitations of social media in vocational discernment. In all this, she explores what it might mean to find one’s home, to heal, and to be a healer.
Meghan Slining, an epidemiologist and public health professor, shares how we might model compassion and love as we address burnout and support vocations that serve the public good. After five semesters marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities are still assessing the impact of the many losses and changes that we have experienced, both individually and collectively. In our conversation with Meghan, we explore how vocations develop at the intersections of diverse disciplines and experiences, as well as how we can help prepare young people for sustainable vocations—what Meghan calls “vocations for the long haul.” She reminds us about the power of pausing, which can allow us to recognize when our heart is hurting for others, even as we keep our hearts wide open in our vocational journey.   
This bonus episode features highlights from conversations that aired during the second season of Callings. Our guests offer advice for students today, but the advice is also helpful for anyone who teaches or mentors young adults. Listen to this compilation of insightful and interesting advice from Andy Chan, Marjorie Hass, Tim Clydesdale, Mary Dana Hinton, Jason Mahn, Patrick Reyes, and Stephanie Johnson. 
Jon Malesic explores the gap between the ideals and reality of work in his new book, The End of Burnout: Why Work Drains Us and How to Build Better Lives. In our conversation, Jon shares how we can imagine new cultural narratives of work and purpose and affirm the dignity of individuals, regardless of the sense of identity that we may gain from paid employment. Jon explains how (what he thought was) his dream job almost ruined his life, how the best spiritual practice may be “just getting over it,” and the complexities of the language of vocation and mission. Jon’s emphasis on belonging and innovation—in life and work—reveals why “knowing oneself” can ultimately result in finding radical hope. 
How might literary studies expand our understanding of vocation? In this episode we hear from two English professors who have explored this question in depth. Stephanie Johnson (The College of St. Scholastica) and Erin Van Laningham (Loras College) are co-editors of a new book on the subject: Cultivating Vocation in Literary Studies (Edinburgh University Press, 2022). Together, they observe that the imaginative work required by the close reading of texts can help us as we discern our callings—including those moments that the author George Eliot appreciated as our inevitable “blunders” in life. This new collection of essays, and our conversation, reveal how disciplinary expertise can expand our understanding of what it means to “dwell in possibility.” 
Richard Hughes—whose scholarship ranges across religious history, vocation, and the role of race in American religious culture—joins us for a conversation about some “troublesome questions” that have driven his thinking and scholarly work. An accomplished storyteller, Richard shares with us significant moments of rejection and criticism in his life and how these made him reconsider his most deeply held beliefs. Richard reflects on the influence of Victor Frankl, Robert Bellah, James Noel, and Martin Marty on his life and work. As he unpacks his new “memoir-of-sorts,” The Grace of Troublesome Questions: Vocation, Restoration, and Race, he reminds us of the ways that “losing oneself” can be a gift. Our vocations are not “tickets to the good life,” but rather moments to live into difficulties and challenges—and to hear how we need to change. 
In this interview, Tim Clydesdale talks about living intentionally—and about what it means to serve through one’s vocation. Building on his influential book The Purposeful Graduate and his subsequent research on twenty-somethings, Tim shares his expertise and empathy for young adults in their vocational journey. He emphasizes the importance of many conversation partners, understanding our common hopes and interests, and how to affirm those “good citizens” that we meet along the way. Listeners will also be interested in Tim’s comments about his tattered copy of Habits of the Heart, New Jersey diners, and how being a young adult today is like trying to navigate the LA freeway system at rush hour. 
Our guest in this episode is Marjorie Hass, president of the Council of Independent Colleges, who previously served as president of Rhodes College and of Austin College. Her recent book, A Leadership Guide for Women in Higher Education, stems from conversations with women leaders over many years. In her responses to our questions about calling, leadership, and times of personal as well as institutional crisis, Marjorie drew upon a set of images and metaphors from her own Jewish tradition. For her, calling is first and foremost about responsibility—that is, our ability to respond—as Abraham and others did. She reminds us that when Jacob wrestled with the angel, he received the blessing but forever afterward walked with a limp. 
Our guest, Tom Landy, is director of the McFarland Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. A longtime leader in higher education and vocation-related initiatives, Tom is founder of Collegium, a summer colloquy on faith and intellectual life. He is also co-editor of Becoming Beholders: Cultivating Sacramental Imagination and Action in College Classrooms, which includes various essays on how we can encourage students to develop imagination and reflection in their learning. Our conversation highlights the steady patience that vocational discernment entails, as well as the space vocation programming can provide to consider important questions, such as “what do we need to leave behind in order to become the people we are called to be?” Tom talks about pilgrimages, Max Weber, and how a “hermeneutic of wonder” can prompt imaginative acts that help us better experiment with our callings.  
As a young girl in Kittrell, North Carolina, Mary Dana Hinton never imagined she might one day become the president of a college. Driven by a life-long calling to educational equity, she became the 13th president of Hollins University in August 2020 after serving as president of the College of Saint Benedict for many years. In this conversation she shares that on some days her calling feels heavy, and yet the inspiration of her hard-working mother, the encouragement from early mentors, and the uplifting teachings of the black church keep her going. President Hinton chooses to “lead from the margins,” and speaks about the importance of the balance between strength and vulnerability. 
In this episode, we interview Patrick Reyes about his new book, The Purpose Gap: Empowering Communities of Color to Find Meaning and Thrive. Patrick speaks with urgency about our need to lean into the diversity of colleges and universities so that we might be most effective in addressing “the purpose gap” that exists for many students of color. Inviting new metaphors, Patrick suggests that we see our work in vocational exploration in terms of a constellation, operating collaboratively to move entire communities forward (rather than singling out individual “stars”). This process will need to involve significant reflective questioning, an openness to receiving feedback, and above all, love—which Patrick describes as an inheritance from his grandmother and his ancestors.  Patrick’s words of advice will resonate with faculty and students alike: be courageous, because future generations depend upon our boldness.
Neighbor Love: Jason Mahn

Neighbor Love: Jason Mahn


During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jason Mahn began chronicling his “wondering and wanderings,” which are now published under the title Neighbor Love Through Fearful Days: Finding Purpose and Meaning in a Time of Crisis (Fortress, 2021). In this episode, we talk with Jason about his “in the moment” reflections about how we commit ourselves to loving our neighbors during times of social distancing, quarantine, protest, and social unrest. He writes about the threat of white supremacy, the challenges of repentance, and the importance of mundane acts. He urges us to resist stories that are too tidy in their resolution. Jason Mahn is Conrad Bergendoff Chair in the Humanities and director of the Presidential Center for Faith and Learning at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. He was a contributor to NetVUE’s second scholarly resources project volume, Vocation across the Academy, as well as the Vocation Matters blog. He is also a member of the NetVUE Advisory Council.  
In this episode, we talk with Andy Chan, Vice President for Innovation and Career Development at Wake Forest University. We ask Andy about the ways vocation and career overlap, as well as how we might help students rethink success. The provocative title of his TED talk, “Why Career Services Must Die,” is a rallying cry for how the academy can better integrate questions of career and purpose throughout all aspects of the college experience. For Andy, innovation is not just about novelty for its own sake, but about “creating value in new ways that meets the needs of those you serve, and also aligns with who you are and what you value.” Sharing some significant moments in his own vocational journey, Andy emphasizes the importance of “situational mentors” along the way.  Andy helps us see that the categories of mission, core values, and our students’ passions can help us reimagine more instrumentalist models of “career services” as forms of vocational exploration and discernment. 
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