The best gift a university can give the world is an educated, ethical, compassionate global citizen dedicated to serving others, according to Adam Weyhaupt, the dean of Fontbonne University’s college of arts and sciences. “When we can ignite that passion for service in others, it’s beautiful,” he said.
It may sound quaint, Weyhaupt said, but universities really are in the business of transforming students’ lives through education. “There’s many, many pieces that have to come together,” said the educator whose background is in teaching math. “I love teaching college students, and it’s deeply meaningful to help students understand mathematics and make connections. In my role as dean, the meaning comes from helping to craft an environment so that other faculty can do that transformation.”
A major goal of Fontbonne’s strategic plan is to increase student success, helping all students to learn about themselves and discover their place in the world of work. Earlier this year, the Council of Independent Colleges and the Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded Fontbonne a grant which will be used to develop a vocational exploration program on campus. The NetVUE (a network of colleges and universities focused on vocation) Professional Grant is intended to deepen the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation by supporting the professional development of institutional leaders.
Weyhaupt said the effort goes beyond career exploration and placement services for students so they find their life’s vocation — to find meaning in their work.
Early in a students’ education at Fontbonne they take a course called Mission Core One, in which they learn about Catholic social teaching and the common good. Those lessons are interspersed in other courses, too
No matter what choice a student makes toward a career, they can find the right fit, Weyhaupt said. “There’s great meaning in the world of engineering,” he said as an example. “Or, if you’re serving food to somebody there’s ways to bring meaning to that, too.”
Catholic social teaching addresses concepts such as care for the worker, he said, which “speaks even to those students who wouldn’t necessary identify as having a strong faith or religious background. Those ideas are ideas we see throughout our society.”
An example for students in considering their work life is the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, the founders and sponsors of Fontbonne, Weyhaupt pointed out. The idea is to help students in their approach to work. “We’re really trying to help students develop holistically, not just a set of skills in a particular career area. In that sense it really is that vocation, that calling,” he said.
A liberal arts education applies because students need more than technical skills, said Weyhaupt, a parishioner at St. Nicholas in O’Fallon, Ill., who first found meaning in his field by teaching while in graduate school. Students “need an understanding of theology and philosophy and literature and history because all of those help them to understand who they are and their place in the world,” he said.