The debate about the relative worth of an undergraduate degree has intensified in recent years. With a slow economic recovery, 2013 graduates know that good jobs do not come easily. Competition in the marketplace remains fierce. any imprudent expectation of finding the perfect position right out of college must be tempered with realism and perseverance.
Noting that in the workforce today there are more than a million retail sales clerks with a four-year undergraduate degree, Scott Carlson, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education, recently asked whether or not an undergraduate degree even merits the time and money anymore.
Nel Noddings—an educational philosopher, decorated teacher, and mother of ten—describes two societal expectations that have led us to this place in higher education: first, a push for increasingly specialized programs of study; and second, a demand for solid economic return on investment (ROI) for a degree. Nevertheless, she believes the liberal arts approach to learning proves to be something of incomparable value. According to Noddings, “That spirit aims at the development of wisdom, an understanding of the good life and moral character, and aesthetic appreciation.”
But are such things worthy and sufficient goals for a college education? Most of my senior seminar students seem to think so. The question “What are you going to do with it?” (referring to their English degree, in particular, and their liberal arts education, in general) is often posed to these students. They tended to agree that their education already has done something valuable to and for them—it has shaped their god-given gifts and passions for the art of living all of life well, preparing them to serve effectively in any number of life roles. “What I choose to do with my life, which entails more than just a job,” explained one student, “should be an expression of who god has made me to be.”
The theological concept of a calling—a Christian vocation that in the literal sense of the word requires the disciple to hear the voice of god for direction— appeals to most of my students. It represents a spiritual reality that, more often than not, becomes evident over time, in community with others, and through prayerful discernment. The exercise of one’s Christian vocation may or may not have a direct correlation to a career; however, its actualization requires the yearning to be prompted by god, the faith to believe that he will lead, and the courage to take holy risks in using talent for others.
As the six students featured on these pages illustrate so vividly, a Christian liberal arts education should ideally promote the discovery of a Christian vocation and, in so doing, provide lifelong returns on the initial investment.
Frances Griswold ’13
Grad student at Central Washington University
During March of her sophomore year, Frances awoke to her roommate’s frantic attempts to call home to Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. The family was safe, but the ensuing conversations and prayers instilled a desire in Frances: to help create better warning systems to prevent the large-scale loss of life such as that which most recently occurred in Japan, Haiti, and Southeast Asia.
“Geology is my way to impact God’s kingdom,” she says, noting that her goals have shifted since coming to Wheaton. “I took geology my freshman year because I needed to have a science credit and didn’t want it to have anything to do with blood,” she says. Two weeks into that 101 course, she declared geology as her major.
Frances visited her roommate Marisa Foxwell ’13 in Japan, meeting many of the survivors and witnessing the massive landscapes of rubble. She saw evacuation zones below safe elevation levels, where people had gathered and were washed away. “By looking at previous tsunami deposits, the shape of the land, the shape of the ocean floor, we can create better evacuation routes and know where people have to reach in order to be safe.”
Awarded a prestigious summer internship with the United States Geological Survey last summer, Frances studied volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest, specifically Mt. Hood, Mount St. Helens, and the Three Sisters. She helped install a new seismic station on the south side of Mount St. Helens. By helicopter, the team brought in a small solar-powered hut and set up the buried seismometer, as well as radios and transmitters. All seismic activity is now transmitted to a center in Vancouver, Wash., that monitors for earthquakes and ground swelling— triggers that could point to volcanic activity or destructive earthquakes.
“Natural disasters are very difficult to predict, but when we look for patterns, growth in the dome, gas emissions, and other changes, we get better at keeping people safe and informed.”
Frances began a graduate school program at Central Washington University this fall to further her expertise in natural disasters. She will likely travel to the Aleutian Islands for her fieldwork, and hopes to lead a new generation of focus on tracking and preparing for natural disasters.
Kendall Vanderslice ‘13
Pastry Assistant in the Boston area
On the outskirts of Boston, a farm that practices sustainable techniques sells its produce in a small shop on the premises. Next to fresh vegetables and preserves rests a tempting array of pastries made from the farm’s fresh fruit in season. With her degree in anthropology, Kendall bakes these pastries—when she’s not working at Zebra’s Bistro and Wine Bar, a restaurant boasting sustainable and local ingredients.
Kendall entered Wheaton with all sorts of ideas of what she wanted to be and do. She considered going to culinary school but decided to earn a bachelor’s degree first. She contemplated a number of majors, but then took the advice of advisor Dr. Brian Howell, who suggested a trip to the College’s bookstore. Once there, she picked up whatever books looked interesting, and then determined courses based on these choices, which led to her major in anthropology. In this way, Kendall began her journey to connect her loves: food and human nature.
Others may question the connections between culinary arts and anthropological research—not Kendall. She weaves the two like a loaf of challah. “The big questions for me are: How do we understand the food we eat today? and What makes food ethical?” she says.
For her senior capstone project, Kendall worked with a group of young women petitioning to add a campus house dedicated to sustainable living. She taught these fellow students about ethical eating. Together they developed strategies for partnering with the campus food vendor, Bon Appetit, and educating the larger community about sustainable living. She also taught them how to make some food from her own repertoire.
Upon graduation, Kendall thought again about attending culinary school, but the executive chef of the restaurant where she now works encouraged her to join his team, to bring her passions along with her to learn and grow on the job. “My primary goal for the future is to work toward making sustainable food available to all socioeconomic classes,” she says.
Jeremy Coogan ‘13
Graduate student at University of Oxford
Majors: Ancient Languages, Biblical and Theological Studies, and German
Graduating summa cum laude with a triple major, Jeremiah Coogan is not your typical “Buswell bookworm.” He runs distance races, is a qualified technical mountain climber as well as a certified lifeguard and rescue swimmer, and achieved second place in the ROTC Cadet Ranger Challenge in the fall of 2009. But his real love is language— particularly languages that help us understand the Bible better.
“I hope that my research on the textual transmission of Scripture will prompt both the church and academy to think more carefully about what we mean when we say ‘Scripture,’” Jeremiah says, “and about the impact of translation and early transmission.”
Jeremiah began learning Latin in middle school and started studying German in high school. Once at Wheaton, he added Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, and Coptic. He spent a semester in Tübingen, and also participated in a week of intensive seminars with one of the best Septuagint scholars in the world, Dr. Jan Joosten, at the Septuaginta Unternehmen in Göttingen, Germany.
As a junior scholar with The Green Scholars Initiative, Jeremiah was part of Professor Karen Jobes’ Wheaton College team identifying, preparing, and publishing a koine papyrus from the Septuagint for The Green Scholars Initiative: Papyrus Series to be published by Brill. He spent three weeks in Oxford this past summer doing further work on this publication. He has been invited by the general editor to contribute a lexical article to the Historical and Theological Lexicon of the Septuagint, Vol. 2 (Mohr Siebeck: Tübingen, forthcoming 2016).
As a Hastert Center Research Scholar, Jeremiah co-authored an essay with Professor Bryan McGraw, “A Shifting Evangelical Conversation on Political Economy,” and co-presented it with Dr. McGraw at Notre Dame. He also delivered an academic paper at meetings of the Midwest Society of Biblical Literature.
Beginning two years of fully funded graduate study at the University of Oxford, Jeremiah plans to focus on the Septuagint and other early versions of the Bible. He aims one day to teach languages and conduct research in Septuagint and textual criticism. “I hope to be able to share my love of the languages with students, opening doors for them to understand Scripture and the ancient world in which it was written and read,” Jeremiah says.
Jeremiah and Sarah (Carter) Coogan ’13 were married on September 7. “Not surprisingly,” he says, “we met in the library.” Sarah also plans to study at Oxford for a one-year master of studies (MSt) degree starting in the fall of 2014. She then hopes to earn a Ph.D. and someday teach at the collegiate level.
Andrew Thompson ‘13
Fellow with the Oregon Leadership Development Institute
Majors: Communication (Journalism Certificate) and Spanish
While a senior at Wheaton, Andrew Thompson attended the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast by invitation from the National Student Leadership Forum. “The experience was incredible,” he says, “chiefly because I met individuals from around the world— including leaders from Norway, Guatemala, and India—and many from the United States.”
It was there that he also met the director of the Oregon Leadership Development Institute (OLDI), who encouraged him to apply to the Fellows Program in Portland, Ore., where he is today. Andrew sees this program as a fulfillment of a gentle tug that began as he worked his way through Spanish and journalism classes, and mentored other students as a resident assistant at Wheaton.
One of the first two graduates to earn Wheaton’s new journalism certificate, he spent his junior year interning for a nonprofit organization and for Christianity Today magazine. He had two stories published in print and several more on the Christianity Today website—in English and Spanish.
Conducting interviews, and research, and writing stories while completing his senior capstone classes fanned the desire to use writing to spark change in his environment, as well as the desire to learn better how to live for Christ.
Now part of a one-year internship taking the concept of integrating faith and learning to the next level, Andrew is living with five other young men in the program. He works four days a week for a lobbying firm called Thorn Run Partners and one day a week focuses on service at a homeless ministry as well as spiritual development initiatives.
He sees this new chapter as an extension of things he started as a student at Wheaton. Through the internship, he is paired with a mentor and will also participate in several retreats, the 2014 National Prayer Breakfast, and a weeklong international service trip.
His plans for the future include living abroad in a Spanish- speaking country, working in a corporate communications setting, and living in community with a small group of believers. “Community is absolutely essential to thriving,” he says.
Irma Castañeda ‘13
Community worker with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission
Majors: Sociology and Spanish
“There’s nothing more empowering than education,” says Irma Castañeda. A first-generation college graduate, Irma learned English at school and spoke only Spanish at church and at home.
“For most of my life, I had these two separate worlds that I floated in and out of. Over time English became my dominant language, and because my mom grew up in rural Mexico and spoke only Spanish, it became very hard for us to understand one another,” she says.
After having to trudge through the FAFSA application process by herself and learn the college-going procedures through trial and error, once at Wheaton, Irma applied to work for the BRIDGE (Building Roads to Intellectual Diversity and Great Education) program to help other prospective students not have to go it alone. BRIDGE is a means for Wheaton to connect with first-generation minority or low-income college-bound students in the Chicago area.
BRIDGE Program Director Veronica Ponce ’08 became a mentor, as did Dr. Henry Kim, associate professor of sociology. Through BRIDGE, her coursework, and a semester abroad in Nicaragua, Irma not only prepared for life ahead, but also gained a new appreciation for her family.
“I did a rural home stay in Nicaragua that showed me how hard life had been for my mom, and Dr. Kim helped me process the bicultural experience.”
After graduation Veronica recommended Irma for a job with the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC), where as a community worker, Irma is now part of the outreach program, ISACorps. She conducts presentations for students considering college, helps them fill out applications and apply for financial aid, and shows them the value of further education and available opportunities.
“I studied sociology while I was at Wheaton because I was interested in what I could learn about confronting societal inequalities and overcoming obstacles,” she says. “Having grown up in an immigrant family, I have a heart for these communities and would like to see these kids have the same kind of advocacy and support that I received.”
Ryan Anderson ‘13
First-year medical student at Mayo Medical School
Ryan Anderson began considering a career in medicine in high school after his good friend, David, was in a traumatic car accident. He watched his friend recover slowly—progressing from a medically induced coma, to regaining motor skills, and ultimately, graduating from high school on time.
“Watching that process was formational for me. I had never really seen the huge impact that physicians can have on someone’s quality of life.”
Once at Wheaton, Ryan connected with Wheaton alumni and volunteered at clinics to learn more about the situations he’d be facing in the future as a physician.
He spent two summers as a research student working with Erik Hess ’97, an emergency medicine physician at Mayo Clinic. From Erik, Ryan gained a holistic appreciation for research and its effect on health care delivery. He participated in research dealing with improving the efficiency of treating chest pain in the emergency department.
“Dr. Hess also provided an example of someone living out his faith as an active research physician,” Ryan says.
While most pre-med students come from biology or chemistry tracks, Erik (a philosophy major) helped Ryan understand the value of studying other fields in college. So Ryan stayed with his business/economics major and continued to see points of relevance. “Given the current challenges in health care, it’s important to understand the pillars of business and economics.”
Also while at Wheaton, Ryan volunteered for two years at Bolingbrook Christian Health Center, a primary care center for the uninsured. Working with Clinic Director Sue Davis ’91, he came to appreciate the deep need for physicians who will serve the underserved with compassion and empathy.
Between these two hands-on experiences and mentoring from professors like Drs. Jennifer Busch (biology), Bruce Howard (business), and Becky Eggimann (chemistry), Ryan solidified his interests.
Now a first-year medical student at Mayo Medical School, Ryan hopes to someday practice in academic medicine and contribute to improving our healthcare system.