$50,000 grant launches program to help students find "calling"

Malcolm Russell, Union College’s vice president for Academic Administration, doesn't regret his career path, but wishes he had been more intentional about discovering and following his calling while in college.

“My father was a teacher, I did well in school yet faced a poor job market when I graduated from college,” said Russell. “The logical thing to do was go to graduate school. While there, I successfully interviewed for a job at the Department of State, but at the same time I was approached about filling a position at Andrews University. You may think of that as the Lord opening windows, but to me a calling is deeper than feeling that the Lord has opened or closed doors. It should lead to a deeper sense of what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives.”

Russell has been working with a group of faculty and staff,  finding ways to help Union College students discover their calling before leaving college and entering the workforce.

“When we look for our calling, we look for the connection between the passion God built into us and the various avenues that passion can shine through,” said Michelle Velazquez Mesnard, chair of the Division of Humanities. “Discovering our calling impacts every area of our lives—our education, our social pursuits and our spiritual pursuits. It is multifaceted and has everything from daily to lifelong applications. When we are living our calling, we live a more fulfilled life!”

Union College was recently awarded a grant by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) to develop a program on calling and vocation and will receive $49,150 to use during the next two years. The coorperation of students, faculty and administrators played a crucial roll in winning this grant.

The journey to receive the grant began in 2009 when representatives from Union were invited to a CIC seminar on vocation and calling, which later became the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE). Russell attended with faculty members in 2009 and then again in 2011 and 2012. “We’ve been trying to do something with calling ever since,” he said. “We came back from the conferences enthusiastic and inspired to explore the idea of vocation further, recognizing that the first step was to create a core of people who understand the concept of calling and its value.”

In 2012, after reflecting the unique roles that students play on campus, Russell persuaded NetVUE that Union’s students should join a regional conference, alongside faculty and staff.  “The two Union students, Joellyn Sheehy and Michael Rohm, changed both the dynamics of the conference and the energy level at Union,” says Russell. “Our students gained the respect of the other attendees, and when we returned to campus, we had the critical mass to advance the discussion.”

“I have always had a passion for helping students discover their calling,” said Mesnard, the faculty attendee at the 2012 NetVUE conference. “Developing a campus focus on God’s calling connected so closely with my passion for helping students discover their calling that I couldn’t resist attending. Our group actually walked away with the beginnings of a plan to implement a program on our campus. The workshop lit the fire. When there was a grant available, we couldn’t help but apply for it.”

Union College will use the money to launch an “Experience Your Calling” program in the fall of 2013 to help students discover their life missions. Planning and preparation for the campaign will begin in January. “This grant enables us to develop a more complete program, more than we could do in our own time,” said Russell. “It gives us the opportunity to fund directors, create a retreat for faculty and staff who are interested in exploring vocation, as well as to host guest speakers on campus.”

Faculty hope the new program will help students spend more time focusing on a plan for their lives. “My life would have been different if I had actually searched for my calling,” said Russell. “I accepted a vocation without really considering it. We need to challenge students to think about their calling, encouraging them to listen to God and helping them prepare to follow His leading.”

Russell believes that helping students go beyond simply training for a career will help Union College take the next step in preparing students for service. “We’ve been the College of the Golden Cords for more than a century, and we need to remember that all those missionaries were called to serve, maybe for a school year or maybe for a lifetime. This grant gives Union an opportunity to be a leader among Adventist colleges in addressing vocation and calling. We hope that soon discovering vocation will become a part of our educational culture, much like mission service.”