Bethel receives grant for groups to discuss ‘vocational discernment’

Chad Frey
The Kansan
Bethel College got a boost in its process toward becoming a federally recognized work college with a Professional Development Award from a national organization.

Bethel College got a boost in its process toward becoming a federally recognized work college with a Professional Development Award from a national organization.

Bethel College was just awarded a grant designed to help transform the school a bit — moving toward becoming a federally recognized "work college."

“This grant is an important part of a much broader institutional arc to position Bethel at the forefront of the higher education landscape with respect to work, vocation, faith formation and the liberal arts,” said Jon C. Gering, Bethel president,.

The college is beginning a new strategic planning cycle, and according to Gering becoming a work college is central to that plan. 

Work colleges are colleges in the United States that require students to work and integrate that work into the college learning experience. They are federally designated institutions that have "comprehensive work-learning-service" programs as an essential and core component of their educational programs.

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), through its Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE), has awarded Bethel almost $10,000, to be used during the 2021-22 school year “to deepen vocational exploration and discernment among undergraduate students by supporting the professional development of faculty members and staff.”

The grant is supported by the CIC and Lilly Endowment Inc.

Megan Kershner, Bethel’s director of career and leadership development, wrote the grant proposal  and is coordinating a two-semester program of reading groups involving faculty, staff and administrators that started in September.

“The language of vocational discernment is not widely used on the Bethel campus,” Kershner said. “In fact, the term ‘vocation’ has been interpreted more as ‘technical education or training.’

Three groups of people, a total of 24 members of the student body, staff and administrators for the college, will read and discuss "At This Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education" this fall, and in the spring "Vocation Across the Academy: A New Vocabulary for Higher Education."  Each are a collection of essays edited by David S. Cunningham.

“While many college employees understand ‘vocation’ as it pertains to ‘calling,’ there has not been an emphasis in using this language with students during daily instruction or co-curricular activities," Kershner said.  “By having intentional discussions based on compilations of scholarly writing on vocational exploration, we can begin to formulate ways to engage our students with this increasingly important topic."

David S. Cunningham is Professor of Religion at Hope College, where he also serves as Director of the CrossRoads Project and of the Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing.

The final meeting of each semester will be a total-group planning and implementation workshop.

“As Bethel College begins the journey of becoming a work college, the timing for these reflections and discussions is nearly perfect,” Kershner said.