We were able to sit down with Opus' director and assistant director to discuss what Opus is all about.
If you had to describe Opus in 30 seconds or less, what would you say?
Chris Armstrong: We are here to help students combine their faith into their vocational journeys and think about their future work. We often work behind-the-scenes with faculty and are beginning to contribute to curriculum.
Ben Norquist: Opus is at Wheaton to help students catch a vision for meaningful work for their lives. We accomplish this primarily through working with those who work with students.
What makes Opus unique?
Ben: We're moving toward pretty unique articulations of the theology of work and vocational discernment and areas of knowledge that bridge vocation and career in the Christian tradition.
Are there different types of vocation?
Chris: There are two types of vocation: general and particular. Our general vocation is the same- to be fruitful and multiply, to be a good steward, and to love God and neighbor. Our particular vocation(s) are found in our relationships and jobs. Particular careers are so much more fruitful once someone is following their general vocation, and they'll be less important as markers of your identity.
How does Opus interact with students?
Chris: We interact with undergraduates through Wheaton's Shark Tank, but we primarily work with faculty members. However, everything we do is for the students. All the research faculty members are doing is for their colleagues to use inside the classroom. We are also doing lots of surveys on students' understanding of vocation.
Ben: Graduate fellows are a significant part of our program, as well as student workers. We also give scholarships to attend Praxis academy.
Why does Opus choose to primarily work with faculty?
Ben: In literature and hard data, faculty rank as having a disproportionate role in influencing students' values, decisions, and major life choices. We see helping these influencers help students in their vocational growth as a highly strategic way to impact students long-term.
Chris: We could create events that would cause a buzz on campus, but compare that to the long-term effects of impact in the classes and conversation with faculty who are here ten-plus years. If you're going to make a culture-change in a college, the faculty-and staff-must be on board.
Where have you seen the effects of Opus' work on Wheaton's campus and with Wheaton's students?
Chris: It's hard to measure. One of the ways we will be measuring is through comparative survey data: doing a freshman seminar now, then again when that class are seniors.
Ben: We've had many comments from graduate fellows and undergraduate fellows as to the difference the fellowships have made in their view of vocation.
What advice would you give to a current student in regards to vocation?
Chris: Students need to exercise their vocational skills. They should do at least 1-2 internships, reflect on their experiences, talk to friends, and interact in a pro-vocational community. In this type of community, students can figure out who they are and what they are going to do.
Ben: Some students feel incredible pressure to have a specific career. Instead, get life right by yielding to the Lord and vocations and careers will flow from that. A career is an important thing, but in part, it's just that- a career.
How have you accomplished your goals so far?
Ben: More and more faculty and staff are involved with us in meaningful ways. We're making substantial inroads into Wheaton classrooms and curricula, from materials we're writing that are being used in classrooms to faculty writings that we've coached in response to our information.
Chris: Also, FYS each year encounters readings and shared assignments on vocation that have been gathered and crafted by Opus.
What's next for Opus?
Ben: Long term, we desire to bring what we've learned to other schools so they can learn from our experiment. We want to do more of what we have already accomplished and get better at what we have done.
Chris: In detail, we want to help Wheaton students bridge the secular-sacred divide. I'd like to help students understand more what it means to be a Christian in their particular field. To ask, what are the challenges you're going to face in your sphere, and how can you bring a redemptive edge?