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A Question for the Final Exam and Beyond: What Is Your Calling?

By Stephen Wilhoit, Professor of English and Co-chair of the Vocation Implementation Team

At the University of Dayton, faculty and staff are exploring a question at the heart of the University’s mission: how can we help students discern their calling and develop lives of meaning, purpose, and joy?   

The search for calling — or vocation — is a lifelong quest students undertake to discover how they can best experience fulfillment by using their gifts and talents to serve others and the common good. Callings change over time, and the challenge all educators face is how to prepare students for this journey. Our goal is to graduate students who will thrive in their chosen professions and act courageously to live out their true callings. 

Aided by a grant from the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education, a group of faculty and staff from across the University and responsible for activities across both the curriculum and co-curriculum — the Vocation Implementation Team (VIT) — is leading these efforts on our campus. Through workshops, retreats, book reads, guest speakers, and consultations, the VIT is helping faculty and staff integrate vocation into courses and student programs across the campus. These are just a few VIT initiatives that can serve as a model in higher education:

Explore callings during new student orientation. This year, incoming first-year students engaged in a series of activities asking them to reflect on and talk about their individual gifts and career plans and to consider how they might serve the common good. From their first days on campus, students were introduced to questions of meaning and purpose that will impact every aspect of their undergraduate education, from choosing which majors and careers to pursue to deciding which service organizations and co-curricular programs to join. 

Address vocation-related student learning outcomes throughout the first year. Building on their experiences in New Student Orientation, students will continue to explore their callings in the wide range of academic courses and co-curricular programs that make up the First-Year Experience program at the University of Dayton.  Faculty and staff who deliver classes and programs in the First-Year Experience are collaborating to pursue a common set of three vocation-related student learning outcomes. This focus on calling will ask students to integrate their experiences in the classroom and residence hall as they identify their unique set of gifts and passions and consider how they can employ both in the service of others. 

Provide mini-grants to support student discernment of calling. The VIT has issued two rounds of mini-grants to fund faculty, staff, and student efforts to promote undergraduates’ discernment of calling in and beyond the first year. Funds have been used to support a new experiential learning initiative in the pre-med program; student-designed and run vocation programming through our Chaminade Scholars program that helps first-year students grow in their faith and understanding of who they are called to be; sophomore retreats for students offered through the residence life staff; and special programming for students participating in summer immersion programs, just to name a few.  

Incorporate reflections in capstone courses. All University of Dayton capstone courses and experiences must address calling in some way. From one perspective, capstone courses and experiences represent a culmination, an endpoint to the students’ college experience that invites reflection on the past. However, when these courses or experiences address vocation, they are future-oriented as well. Students consider not just what they have learned at the University of Dayton, but how they can continue to employ what they know to find their life passions and serve the common good.

In a world where college graduates may change jobs a dozen times during their careers, colleges and universities need to do more to help students adeptly navigate change and find a higher purpose in life, their true calling.

At the University of Dayton, we ask students to reflect on how they can create lives that matter. We want our students to graduate thoroughly prepared for their chosen profession but also well versed in vocational discernment, able and eager to serve others by acting on their life’s calling. 

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