Educators examine the value of vocation

Garden work helps conclude CLU conference

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Tatiana Nazarenko, dean of curriculum and educational effectiveness at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, helps water the seeds in the small greenhouse at California Lutheran University.

Photo: Juan Carlo/ The Star

The role of universities and colleges in helping young people find their calling in life was the theme of a conference this weekend at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

Higher education teachers from across the western half of the United States including Washington, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and California gathered for the two-day event.

The conference kicked off with a keynote address by the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Mark Hanson, and ended Saturday with a service project in the CLU garden and outdoor classroom.

As Jacqueline Bussie, director of the Forum on Faith and Life at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., helped pull a bed of carrots and turn over soil ready for new planting in the garden, she said it was an appropriate way to conclude the conference.

"I don't think we can sit around and just talk about service learning for our students without doing it ourselves, as faculty and staff," Bussie said. "I think it's a wonderful incorporation of theory and practice."

The higher education conference is part of a national initiative by NetVUE, the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education, to explore the idea of vocation on college campuses.

"What I've really gotten out of this is that vocation is collective. It's communal. 'We' have a calling, not just 'I' have a calling," Bussie said.

The idea of collective calling was a theme referenced by Hanson in his address.

Hanson, who is based in Chicago, said it is important that colleges and universities reflect on what their vocation is in today's world.

"Is it just to create graduates with degrees? Or about exploring life's questions and discerning together what is our purpose?" Hanson said in a phone interview ahead of the conference.

"We understand that to be Lutheran is to be asking questions. It's the core of our being that faith frees us to explore the world," he said.

"We have a shared calling to serve the common good in a culture personified by individuals focused on getting their needs met and to engage in acts of repentance and reconciliation in a culture that hears religious voices as engaged in rebuke and retribution."

CLU is a founding member of NetVUE, which is coordinated by the Council of Independent Colleges and has about 160 members.

CLU Provost Leanne Neilson serves on the NetVUE advisory council.

"Experiential learning in institutions like ours is very much a part of the undergraduate education, doing things like study abroad, service learning, internships and field trips. We want to help students understand how those experiential learning opportunities tie in to their purpose," Neilson said. "So this is about trying to make those connections and getting folks from different universities together to figure out how to make that happen."

Ann Lutterman-Aguilar, director of Augsberg College's Center for Global Education in Cuernavaca, Mexico, said there is no substitute for having a cross-cultural experience or studying abroad in terms of having a life-changing experience that will shape a young person's vocation.

"Young adults are at a point in their development when they tend to be asking questions about, 'Who am I?' 'What's my purpose in life?' and, 'What am I going to do?' " she said. "Whether we use the term 'vocation' or not, it's the central issue that college students are dealing with."

Tony Finitsis of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., said he wants to help his undergraduate students understand the idea of vocation.

"We want our students to find not just employment but an occupation that gives meaning to their lives and who they are as people." he said. "It's not just abut earning money; it's about enjoying who you are and living with integrity."

--- Published in the Ventura County Star on March 11, 2012