[EAS] Vocation, Sense of

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Aug 4 23:18:38 EDT 2004

Mail*Link¨ SMTP               Vocation, Sense of

Dear Colleagues -

Vocation, as in "vocational training" may be a dirty word in
academia, but vocation as in "sense of vocation" certainly shouldn't
be. It ought to be the "higher ground" on which education relates to
life's future purposes, loftier than the usually debated dimensions
of "relevance" in economic or industrial terms.

Please ponder this interesting item from Stanford's Center for
Teaching and Learning that explores the ill-defined role that a
sense of vocation has in too many undergraduate curricula.


Date: 8/4/04 6:35 AM
From: Rick Reis
"That reaction was a vivid reminder to me, a recent college
president and long-time advocate of liberal education, that we need
to be much clearer about the relationship among learning, work, and

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The posting below is the sixth in the monthly series called Carnegie
Foundation Perspectives. These short commentaries exploring various
educational issues are produced by the Carnegie Foundation for the
Advancement of Teaching <<http://www.carnegiefoundation.org>.  The
Foundation invites your response at:
CarnegiePresident at carnegiefoundation.org.


Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Stanford Technology Ventures Program - Educators Corner

			             Tomorrow's Academia

                ----------------------------------- 1,087 words -------------------------------


March 2004
By Jamienne S. Studley

On Broadway Avenue Q is packing the house with twenty-somethings who
laugh ruefully at songs like "What Can You Do With a BA in English?"
and "I Wish I Could Go Back to College."    As the characters,
engaging but floundering puppet/human college graduates, search for
jobs that will pay the rent, the notion that what they are really
searching for is "purpose" hits them like a thunderbolt. The night I
watched, this seemed to be a new thought for many in the audience as

That reaction was a vivid reminder to me, a recent college president
and long-time advocate of liberal education, that we need to be much
clearer about the relationship among learning, work, and purpose.
Our students want to know how to connect their values and goals,
their intellectual passions and capacities, the myriad of learning
experiences in which they engage during college, and the work of
their lives.

Too often students are introduced to the world of work and the
process of career planning the same way they learn about sex-on the
playground from their peers. The results are often similarly
distorted, incomplete, and even risky. As with sex, learning how to
connect one's education and life's work is best done thoughtfully
and with responsible adult involvement. It's high time for us as
educators to think about what that would look like in undergraduate

College mission statements testify to the integral connection
between liberal education and preparation for work, leadership, and
service. Lately academia seems to be consciously embracing the
importance of integrating all aspects of the undergraduate
educational experience, including academic, co-curricular,
residential, volunteer, spiritual, and athletic life. But even with
this comprehensive vision, the dimension of work, past, present and
future, is typically left out of the integrative model. Indeed some
institutions and educators treat students' fascination with their
future pursuits as irrelevant, a distraction, the province of a few
specialized staff. Skilled career services staff offer
self-assessment, counseling, and other resources to help students
plan outward for career choices and job searches, and faculty are
typically happy to let them do it. The problem is that these career
development processes are not woven into students' central
educational endeavors where they could provide powerful material and
expand motivation for learning.

Why are vocational and career considerations the Cinderella of the
integration ball? One reason is that faculty sometimes recoil from
the unfortunate but understandable tide of family anxiety about jobs
and pressures for relevance and specific workplace preparation. As
one candid colleague put it, "the whiff of vocationalism is
downright repulsive to many faculty." Faculty also worry about
additional time demands, especially when it is to do work for which
they do not feel prepared. They compound the problem by overlooking
the potential contributions of career services professionals to
effective integration by relegating them to the lower status rungs
of the already undervalued student affairs ladder. Finally, higher
education called some of this pressure upon ourselves by promoting
the worth of college in terms of increased lifetime earnings. That
makes it harder now for us to define educational success by such
measures as graduates' enhanced intellectual and ethical life and
capacity for problem-solving, multicultural understanding, and
adaptability, measures that are in fact highly correlated with
workplace success.

My mother's advice to me for dealing with irritating junior high
boys was, "Ignore them and they will go away." That would be a poor
strategy for dealing with the hunger for attention to careers. Here
the danger to liberal education is that if we ignore students'
interest in educational programs that are willing to speak directly
to work preparation and options, the students will indeed go away.
The solution is not to ignore or stiff-arm students' curiosity and
anxiety-nor to overreact in a careerist direction-but rather to use
that energy to fuel their educational journeys. Welcoming students'
vision, concern, and questions about vocation, work, and careers can
reveal their passions and interests and motivate their hunger for
further learning. And like parents and mentors willing to talk about
sex, those teachers and advisors who are willing to talk about what
is on students' minds-in this case "purpose" and work-will invite a
new level of engagement and trust.

The goal is to broaden students' vision instead of narrowing it and
to support their intellectual passions and ambitions. Constructive
attention to work and careers can actually liberate students from
short-term, "what job can I get with that?" thinking. The rising
enrollment in undergraduate business degree programs is driven in
large part by students' expectation that jobs in business will be
more readily available to business majors than to others. But the
best teachers, including in the business department, tell students
that it is most important to pursue subjects to which they bring
intensity, curiosity, discipline, and a desire to learn, and that
students of every subject find rewarding work when they have done
their best and developed essential capacities.

Offering rich examples of people with liberal educations and
satisfying careers is useful. Even more important is to marry
academic planning and advising about vocation for fulfilling lives,
and then to weave them together into the exploratory and reflective
work of college in a thoughtful, systematic, natural fashion.

    * For example, Colorado College showcases the relationship of
liberal education and future careers at the very start of students'
journey, with an alumni panel, "The Surprising Lives and Careers of
Colorado College Graduates," on Day Two of orientation. The mission
of the first and sophomore year advising office reinforces the
relationship between academic and life choices: "The advising
program assists students in the development of meaningful
educational plans that are compatible with their career and life

    * Grinnell College faculty integrate student advising and
mentoring for academic and career choices around the organizing
theme of vocation.

    * The Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning created the
Learning Careers Project, which uses a portfolio model and
self-coaching process "to support student integration of learning
experiences inside and outside the classroom, on-campus and
off-campus, in face-to-face and virtual environments, and well
beyond the four years the student spends at Stanford."

Those of us in midlife know that finding our vocation(s) and meaning
in our work, and linking them to our values, knowledge, and
capacities, is a lifelong challenge. Understanding that, we should
give our students a strong foundation for conducting that process of
exploration, reflection, adaptation, and learning-and we should
seize the chance to do it as they make the critical early choices of
their college years.

About the Author

Jamienne S. Studley, is a visiting scholar with the Foundation,
former president of Skidmore College, and past general counsel at
the U.S. Department of Education. Beginning May 1 Jamie will be
president of Public Advocates, Inc.

As part of a current research project, Jamie is interested in
collecting further examples of serious integration of academic and
other learning experiences and career development.

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