Research: Personal Vocations and Student Engagement

2023-2025: Recruiting interested faculty!!
If you’re interested in using this assignment and participating in an ongoing study about its effectiveness (FUS IRB #2022-6), please complete the linked survey.


The problem

Having taught 1500+ students at 4 institutions – many of whom were underclassmen taking introductory courses or students taking CORE curriculum courses [seemingly, to them] unrelated to their degree or career goals –,  I, like many instructors, had noticed that students often lack motivation, attention, and ultimately learning success in classes for which they do not perceive value. This was made painfully clear when multiple nursing students at multiple institutions indicated a lack of appreciation or understanding for why they had to take an intro anatomy and physiology course!

It seemed imperative that I design some course-based intervention to challenge students to personally explore and reflect on the relevance of the course material to their own lives. Given the careerist perspective of many students, fostering some careerist motivation seemed like a good place to start. Ideally, though, such an assignment needed to extend beyond career trajectories to help a broader swatch of students to connect coursework to a deeper underlying personal worldview or identity. I believed that deeper connection would be best achieved by having students connect coursework explicitly to their faith and personal sense of vocational calling.

What is personal vocation:

  • Ongoing, shared call to holiness (living out the Gospel; love God, self, and neighbor)
  • Uniquely expressed based on each individual’s gifts/talents
  • Constant and ongoing opportunities to apply (state of life, jobs, career, individual actions)

The assignment

I’ve designed a simple but effective Personal Vocation Engagement Assignment that can be applied to any class to instill greater appreciation, connection, and engagement of course material. 

  • This even works with introductory and CORE curricular classes!

The assignment challenges students to consider and unite coursework with their specific career plans and personal calling from God. Mix in some effective professional development, skill building, networking, general academic reading/writing practice, and prayer, and this assignment holistically prepares students to better engage their coursework and unite it to their faith/career!

Preliminary results:

More than 100 FUS students across 6 classes (Biology, Education, Engineering, Computer Science, and Economics ) completed this assignment in AY21-22, and preliminary results (recently published in the journal Christian Higher Education) demonstrate significant improvement in student appreciation, motivation, participation, and prioritization of course material as well as significant improvement in students’ ability to link coursework to their faith and an overall improved sense of direction for students not only in the class in which they completed the assignment but across all their courses!

Many students indicated their efforts on this assignment served as the unifying moment they needed to “make sense” of their education/career trajectory, their time at FUS, and God’s personal calling for them throughout their lives.

Example student feedback:

  • I have loved finding deeper purpose and passion for my classes. I have always related and reflected how my classes connect to my future as well as the role each class plays in reaching my goals; however, I never took that a step deeper to consider how each assignment can work with my vocation…. I can see how God wants to use each and every assignment to bring me closer to Him and to teach me how to love others. – student in Education class
  • When I first saw that we had to write a paper for [this class], I was definitely less than thrilled about it. But then looking back now, having written the assignment, I am very happy… [for the] opportunity to really think about [this course] in the context of our faith and in our potential future careers, out in the world. It is a necessary pause to take in the course of the semester, just to discover or rediscover why you are taking [this course] in the first place. It may be simply to fulfill the requirement for your major, but it becomes so much more meaningful upon thinking about your motives to do well in the class. – student in Anatomy and Physiology class

Recruiting interested faculty!!

I’d like to share this assignment with other faculty so that it can be applied in additional classes this school year. If you’re interested in using this assignment and participating in an ongoing study about its effectiveness (FUS IRB #2022-6), please complete the linked survey.

  • You may also contact Dr. Payne for further questions or comments of interest.