Ross attends prestigious seminar on teaching vocational exploration

Ross attends prestigious seminar on teaching vocational exploration

July 20, 2017

  Dr. Dan Ross, associate professor of mathematics at Maryville College, was selected through a competitive and highly selective process to participate in “Teaching Vocational Exploration,” a multidisciplinary faculty development seminar held June 19-23 in Chicago, Ill.

The seminar was presented by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and designed for faculty members from colleges and universities that are members of the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE), a nationwide network of colleges and universities formed to enrich the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation among undergraduate students. NetVUE is administered by the CIC with support from Lilly Endowment Inc. Maryville College is a member of NetVUE.

The seminar aimed to teach participants to strengthen the teaching of vocational exploration by “probing a variety of understandings of vocation and their importance in educating undergraduates, by developing new courses or course materials, and by establishing a broader network of faculty members committed to teaching vocational exploration,” according to the seminar description on the CIC website.

Ross, who was one of 20 participants selected by the CIC by competitive nomination, said he was interested in participating because the focus of the seminar was on bringing the discussion of vocation into college classrooms. In addition to teaching mathematics at Maryville College, Ross also teaches first-year seminar courses (FYS 110), a core requirement for freshman starting their college experience. Serving as a multi-faceted introduction to the liberal arts, FYS courses enhance academic and communication skills, encourage critical thinking and facilitate personal and professional exploration.

“As I’ve worked with both first-year students in FYS and as my advisees, as well as students and advisees in our division, I’ve had many opportunities to discuss with students what they want to do at Maryville College and once they graduate,” Ross said. “We’ve got some great things happening to help students learn about and prepare for careers with the Maryville College Works program. I think it’s valuable to be able to help students to consider vocation as they make career preparations, and I wanted to learn more about good ways to do that.”

Seminar leaders included Dr. Paul J. Wadell, professor of theology and religious studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., and Dr. Darby Kathleen Ray, the Donald W. and Ann M. Harward Professor of Civic Engagement at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where she is also professor of religious studies and director of the Harward Center for Community Partnerships (named for Don Harward '61, MC alumnus and president emeritus of Bates College).

During the seminar, Ross and other attendees participated in a variety of vocational exploration activities, such as drawing “vocation maps” to show how they ended up in their current places in life and interviewing each other about their vocations in a “speed-dating” type of format.

“We had several opportunities to discuss in small groups some of the readings we did about different aspects of vocation: how our calling comes from within as well as outside sources, how it is related to responsibility and morals, the issues that current college students face and how it affects their pursuit of their vocation, and how colleges and institutions themselves have vocations,” Ross said. “We also spent the last day of the seminar working on specific plans to try to implement in our classrooms and at our institutions. This was tremendously practical and will certainly help me bring what I’ve learned back to Maryville College.”

Ross said he developed specific activities for both first-year students in FYS 110 and students in CSC299: Professional Practices in Math Sciences, the Mathematics and Computer Science Division’s sophomore-level class connected to Maryville College Works, which integrates career preparation for today’s job market with a time-tested, small-college liberal arts education.

“For the first-year students, I’m planning on having them look for challenges or needs in their communities – both at Maryville College and in their hometowns – that they feel drawn to,” Ross said. “For the sophomores in our division, I’m planning on having the students interview someone in a career they are interested in to ask that person questions about vocation. I’m also planning on discussing vocation with my mathematics education advisees as we meet.”

Maryville College receives NetVUE grant

Maryville College recently received a NetVUE Professional Development Award, which is intended to “deepen the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation by supporting the professional development of institutional leaders,” according to the CIC.

The $10,000 award, which will be used during the 2017-18 academic year, is made possible by a generous grant to the CIC from Lilly Endowment Inc.

As the College fully implements its Maryville College Works program, the grant provides an opportunity for the College “to build the capacity of faculty as academic advisors,” said Maryville College President Tom Bogart in the grant proposal.

“We anticipate that engaging faculty in conversations about vocation and calling will strengthen their ability to engage their advisees in reflection on their own callings,” Bogart said. “Likewise, as we approach our bicentennial and undertake a new strategic planning process, we expect that faculty and staff conversations around our liberal arts identity and our institutional vocation will make a vital contribution to that undertaking.”

Maryville College will use the grant to accomplish two main goals.

The first goal calls for the faculty of Maryville College to deepen its engagement with vocational reflection – both in terms of individual calling and institutional identity. To accomplish this goal, the annual opening retreat for faculty will provide an opportunity to launch a year-long project focused on “renewing our vocational vision.” Activities include a keynote speaker, conversation about vocation and calling, skill building and community building.

The second goal focuses on faculty and staff conversations and calls for groups of faculty and staff to engage in ongoing learning and conversation centered on questions of vocation and identity. Activities include book groups and a series of welcome receptions for new faculty and staff that will provide an opportunity to share the liberal arts identity of the College, in a context of vocational reflection.

Dr. Barbara Wells, vice president and dean of the College, said she is confident that the College will benefit from these programs well beyond the year of the grant.

“We believe that intentional vocational reflection can enhance job satisfaction, as faculty and staff members reflect on their own sense of purpose as it connects with the purpose of the College,” Wells said. “We are confident that our students will benefit from being taught and led by people who have greater facility in asking questions about and listening deeply to their stories and questions about finding their place in the world, and making places for others.

“As we launch a new strategic planning process, we expect that these foundational conversations will help that eventual plan reflect both accurately and deeply both who we are as an institution, and how we are now, in this time and place, called to serve.”

By Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2017 semester is 1,181.