The NetVUE Consultation Program: Bethel College and Union College

“Why do you think, as such a small institution, you don’t know all that is going on with respect to vocation?” This was the question posed to Union College campus leaders by NetVUE Consultants this past March of 2023. Union College had a NetVUE Professional Development grant in recent years. Campus partners helped students consider their micro and macro stories while also exploring the United Methodist Church’s Awakened Life curriculum. On the heels of a season of important student engagement, faculty involvement, and curricular programming, what impacts were most significant and what was next? Enter in the NetVUE Consultation Program.

Union College
Rev. David Miller,
Union College

Rev. David Miller, college minister and executive director of spiritual life and social justice initiatives, organized a consultation from NetVUE to explore the next chapter for his institution. Two NetVUE consultants, Carter Aikin, professor of philosophy and religion at Blackburn College, and Monica Smith, vice president of diversity equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer for Augustana College (IL), began to work with Miller. In an early Zoom consultation call, Miller was presented with two common vocational programming models. There is the oft heralded “center model” where a certain place on campus owns the vocation programming, but there is also the “garden model” where there are metaphorical garden plots all over your campus and the goal is to learn who is tending the gardens and coordinate what they are growing.

“It helped us reframe things and look at different layers.”

For Miller, gaining freedom from the “center model” by embracing the “garden model” ignited new creative ideas for vocational exploration at Union. Instead of centrally organizing it all, the work became about “creating pathways between garden plots.” Eventually colleagues at Union were not only talking about gardens, they were also talking about layers. Three layers, to be exact. Vocational reflection at Union had focused on helping students find their paths, but this first layer was only a part of the story. Vocational initiatives also could support the discovery of vocations for faculty and staff (layer two) as well the institution’s sense of calling as a whole (layer three). “It was an excellent consultation,” said Miller.“It helped us reframe things and look at different layers. . .we had only foregrounded helping students, and Carter and Monica helped us foreground two other layers as well.”

Union College just had their consultation this past March. During the process, Aikin and Smith met with Union faculty and campus leaders over Zoom several times and then came to visit on site, during which they visited with key stakeholders. The process helped provide “connective tissue” to bind together the institution’s many efforts. As a result, vocational reflection at Union is growing into a season of coordinated decentralization, where the students are prioritized, yet faculty, staff, and the wider institutional mission are tended to as well. Union is just starting down this path and NetVUE is excited to see how these seeds germinate in the months ahead.

Bethel College

The consultation was the “hinge point of the discussion.”

Megan Kershner, Bethel College
Bob Milliman, Bethel College

Turning to a consultation example that has had more time to take root, Bethel College shows what can be accomplished in the several months after a NetVUE consultation. Just before classes started this past fall, Carter Aikin met with a working group at Bethel, as well as with the entire faculty. Megan Kershner, dean of employment experiences, and Bob Milliman, vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty, coordinated the visit. The goals of the consultation were to develop common language around vocation and explore how to implement vocation into curricular and co-curricular activities. “We now have a strong buy-in for integrating vocation into the curriculum,” said Milliman, “thanks to the foundation Carter laid for us.” The buy-in and credibility established by the visit has led to approval of a new full-time position at Bethel College; the new person will teach sophomore seminars and coordinate other faculty members who are teaching the same courses. This is a significant development for vocational work at Bethel: all sophomores will now encounter vocational reflection in a curricular space, coordinated by a new full-time faculty member. This idea took time to emerge, and the consultation was the “hinge point of the discussion” that took about a semester; “Carter’s visit was the turning point” according to Milliman.

“The consultation process helps find out where the synergies are,” said Smith of her work as a consultant at Union College. “We find out where they are now and what they need and then we write a report with recommendations,” said Smith. For her, spending time on college campuses is about finding “organic ways and intentional ways” to help make vocation “part of the mission, purpose and driven life” of the institutions she is visiting. Describing herself as having connected to the language of vocation later in her career, Smith is dedicated to helping students find it sooner in life as a means to create impact. “We are at a point where we are helping campuses think about this not only tied to a particular faith tradition, but how students are going to contribute to the world,” said Smith.

Monica Smith, NetVUE Consultant

What questions is your campus ready to ask?

Is it time for a reframe?
Is it time for creating campus buy-in?
Are you functioning as a garden when you think you are a center?
Are you tilling one layer deep when there are two more layers to consider?

If your campus is asking questions or exploring potential inflection points, perhaps it is time to consider inviting a NetVUE consultant. To learn more about how to arrange a visit through the Consultation Program and review the request form, click the button below.  The Consultation Program is a NetVUE resource available to help frame your questions, connect to your stakeholders, and generate a new-found momentum for the next chapter of vocation programming on your campus. “The Consultation Program is just a fantastic opportunity,” said Kershner at Bethel College, “if you don’t engage with it, you are missing out on what NetVUE is able to provide. . . this was fantastic!”

<strong><a href="">Learn more about the NetVUE Consultation Program</a></strong>