Reported below are the findings from the pilot phase of our research, conducted during the 2014-2015 school year. For a more complete executive summary, please click here.
During the fall of 2014, essay responses were gathered from 345 (80 percent) incoming first year students during their first week on campus. Essays cold be no longer than one page and were in response to two questions:
How do you define/understand the word vocation?
What has shaped/influenced this understanding of vocation?
Below are the key findings:
believe it to be from God or God's will.
believe it to be a career you will do for your whole life.
believe it to be just a job or occupation.
believe it to be doing what you love or enjoy.
Top definitions of vocation:
Top influencers on understanding:
believe it to be from personal thinking and observation of others.
believe it to be from faith experiences such as personal faith, the Bible, and church.
believe it to be from parents (implicit and explicit).
believe it to be from their education.
Other key findings:
admitted to not understanding the word or never having heard it before.
articulated any sense that vocation was broader than work.
recognized any role of vocation as tied to one's community.
responded to the idea of vocation with words such as pressure, fear and confusion.
Student Leader Findings
During the fall of 2014, a quantitative survey was piloted with all residence life student leaders. This included resident assistants, discipleship assistants, and discipleship coordinators. These students live across campus and range in year from sophomores to seniors. Seventy-eight student leaders completed the survey which looked at motivations for engaging in academics, leadership, service, community and faith as well as their understanding of the words vocation and calling.
cited personal enjoyment/inerest and a sense of purpose as the top factors in their major and career choices.
identified job market availability and financial gain as top factors.
indicated engaging their faith mostly or completely out of personal motivation.
Parents (75%) and peers (45%) emerged as the most significant influencers of major and career choices.
When asked about habits, only 63% agreed or strongly agreed that they regularly spent time in solitude, yet when asked what helped them discern between God's calling and their own interests, the most cited response was time with God is prayer/solitude.
When asked why they engage in their faith, 19% said it was out of other's expectations along with their own motivation.
Focus Group Findings
During the fall of 2014, a focus group interview was conducted with six students ranging from sophomores to seniors. These students were participants in a one-credit elective pilot course entitled Theology of Vocation. They were asked a series of questions related to their prior and current understanding of vocation, and what influenced these understandings. These results provide a depth of response that help us understand college students and vocation.
All participants admitted "very little understanding" of vocation prior to taking the course.
Participants admitted anxiety over a major; lots of pressure to "figure it out."
When asked about vocation and the connection to the common good, most participants expressed that, "they don't really think about it much at all."
When asked about the church's helpfulness on vocation development, the focus group responded unanimously and forcefully that the church was no help to them.
Theology of Vocation Course Findings
Students enrolled in the Theology of Vocation pilot course wrote a final paper expressing their personal theology of vocation. These papers were three to four pages in length, and served as a culmination of the students' historical and theological studies of the subject.
Key findings from papers:
Significant development in their understanding of vocation.
Significant development in their articulation of vocation.
Enhanced ability to connect their personal vocational development with the common good.
Below is an excerpt from a female student in the course who contrasted her prior understanding of vocational development (walking a tightrope), with her current understanding after taking the course:
"But now I have a completely different snapshot in my head. Now when I see vocation, I see a canvas and a box of paints. I sit before this empty canvas and before I can do anything or plan what I will paint, I have to recognize the boundaries of the canvas- the edges tell me where my picture can and cannot go. Once I know the space in which I can work, I will look down at the paints that have been given to me. The pallet of colors is uniquely my own, but I can mix the colors and allow them to interact with each other. I can also interact with other painters and take cues from things I see in their paintings that I like and want to imitate... I believe other people will have more influence on my canvas than I do. They will add their own strokes to my pianting... They allow me an opportunity to creatively change the plan of my picture and integrate their presence into my work. Unlike the tightrope, at times I must stop painting and step back to look at my canvas."