This article was invited by a member of the editorial board of The Mentor based on an exemplary conference session presented by the author.

To approach faculty advising as a vocation would not seem out of place in a private, church-affiliated liberal arts college. While the theological understandings of vocation may vary, the idea of vocation, no doubt, would call up at least two unifying ideas: (1) as a fulfillment of one's calling to teach and (2) as service to others. Philosopher Lee Hardy facilitates a conversation on vocation that is broader than a church-based conversation. In his book The Fabric of this World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work, Hardy (1990) talks about vocation and work from both an individual and a social perspective. For the purposes of this conversation, let me begin with this quote from Hardy:

“... if work is a social place where our gifts are to be employed in the service of our neighbor, then two obligations follow: to discover and cultivate our gifts, and to locate the place where those gifts can be exercised for the good of the human community. In this way the concept of calling serves as our guide as we wend our way in the world of work, as we make personal choices in a social context.” (Hardy, 1990, p. 124)

Discussing faculty advising as part of one's vocation or work as a teacher in an academic setting, this article explores (1) the ways in which faculty advise students in a variety of ways in a variety of places and (2) the ways in which vocation facilitates a framework for discussing with students their academic, career, and life-long goals. I am making the assumption that a faculty member has already discerned his/her gifts, teaching/advising, and has chosen to use those gifts with students in an institution of higher education. One goal of advising is to enable students to also discern their gifts and design and decide on a course of study that leads them to a fulfilling vocation.

While faculty normally perceive advising to take place in their offices during meetings set up before registration, I would like to suggest that we expand the notion of where, when, and how advising takes place: faculty are advising all of their students in their classes and in any co-curricular activities for which they are responsible.

One-on-one conferences with students related to course assignments facilitate academic advising. Instructors in the first-year writing courses at St. Olaf often assign students personal narrative essays, discussions of which lead to a variety of questions: Are they passionate about the topic? Is this a family situation that intrigues them? Is there a larger social and/or global issue that surrounds the topic? Asking these questions may lead to suggesting courses to pursue or career options to explore or enable them to see how their chosen major relates to these questions.

Academic advising happens while instructors integrate into discipline-specific lectures examples of how content informs a variety of issues in other disciplines, current events, or career choices. In my Movement Analysis course, while we discussed the reasons for observing movement phrasing, we referred to movement phrasing in athletic skills, autistic children, factory workers, counseling, and the performing arts, and we used them as examples which opened up possibilities of further study and work in specific areas.

The use in lectures of personal anecdotes and discussions with other professionals and their career choices is another form of academic advising. Many professions now have listservs where professional conversations take place around specific questions, and many of these conversations could be included in lectures. What is the range of things people in a particular profession are curious about? What are their contexts and with whom do they work? What kinds of questions are being asked?

Encouraging students to be involved in co-curricular activities and/or advising such activities is another opportunity for advising. Involvement in student government or service-oriented honor houses enables students to gain skills and perspectives on possible courses of study and continued learning. Faculty who supervise such activities become involved with students in such a way that advising becomes embedded in conversations while planning activities.

In addition to the many ways in which faculty advise outside the scheduled meetings for registration, vocation also provides a framework for developing vocationally directed academic planning. During each year of a student's academic life at a college, consideration of vocation encourages a different set of questions and focuses the options in a particular way.

More college admission offices are looking at a student's volunteer service work in high school. Students who do well academically and are involved in various other activities are more apt to be active participants in the college community of their choice. However, students in their first year of college often become overwhelmed with the changes and turn inward; as a result, they become less service or “other” oriented. Questions about what they did in high school and what academic choices they are making now in college can be vocation related: Where did you spend your time with people other than your friends? What kinds of responsibilities did you have and/or enjoy? Were there particular populations of people (children, senior citizens) with whom you worked? What do you miss about those activities, and are there ways to continue them? What skills did you begin to develop and which would like to continue developing?

Most sophomores either already have chosen a major, or they are beginning to decide on one. Many become quite anxious when others around them have declared a major and they are still undecided. Again, questions with a vocational twist may ease some of the anxieties. Is there a course or aspect of a course that intrigued you? Is there an internship or off-campus study possibility that would put you in a particular context or place? Do you have a sense of what your gifts are: Do friends or family come to you for particular things? What do you volunteer for when planning events for family and friends? What issues do you seem most concerned about and follow on a regular basis?

All of these questions can be asked again as juniors make decisions about a focus within a particular major. Does a particular area of emphasis or concentration enable the student to discern his/her gifts and decide on a work place and the serving of a particular population? Is this the time to select an internship or off-campus study opportunity? Can research paper topics be selected so that they help the student explore potentially meaningful vocational contexts, such as working with Alzheimer patients, counseling children of alcoholic parents, defining human rights, or arts activism? Again some of these vocational questions can be guided by a faculty member other than the assigned adviser.

Seniors are in the process of either looking for a job or planning for graduate schools or service work such as the Peace Corps. Heading to graduate school shapes even further how students discern their gifts and in what place and with whom they wish to pursue their passions. Choosing service work fulfills the need to be in “service of our neighbor” and, in the end, often helps determine the choice of graduate study and/or a career leading to a fulfilling vocation. Determining what job opportunities to pursue and/or accept can also be framed by questions of vocation: What is the social context in which I make a decision; where and with whom are my gifts best utilized?

Advising from a vocational perspective can be useful for both the faculty adviser and the students. A vocational perspective broadens the definition of when, where, how, and with whom advising takes place and provides a set of focused questions with which to consider academic, career, and life-long goals. In the adviser/advisee relationship, this broadened perspective facilitates a way to encourage students to discern their gifts and explore places and communities where they see these gifts being used.