At Wheaton, it’s become something of a cliché to say that vocation encompasses more than just a career. But growing numbers of people who love the College are hastening to add that it certainly isn’t less—and that helping students find their calling in the workplace is an extension of liberal arts excellence.
“A liberal arts education, teaching students to think across the disciplines, is not an end in itself,” states Vice President for Advancement, Vocation, and Alumni Engagement Kirk Farney M.A. ’98. “It doesn’t fully blossom until our students are out there engaging it in vocational pursuits.”
Dr. Farney acknowledges that the College is still learning the best ways to help students find their careers and vocations. Yet he is confident that progress is being made, and much more is ahead, through the Center for Vocation and Career (CVC).
from the heart, for the kingdom
The CVC is a key focus of the From the Heart, For the Kingdom capital campaign. The aim is to raise $4 million and pour it into increased staff and staff development. Other goals include more funding for student assessments and events, employer relations and student career exploration trips, and internship awards.
“It’s a radical change compared with where we were,” Dr. Farney says. “This is a new program, not a tweaking of an existing program.”
The new CVC, both in form and function, is a proactive team focused on meeting students where they are: in residence halls, in academic buildings, in the Beamer Center.
According to CVC Director Dee Pierce M.A. ’17, the CVC’s number one goal is to “reach every student on campus.” To this end, instead of waiting for students to come in, staff members reach outside of the doors of the CVC’s physical space by hosting campus events such as Canvas and networking nights and by having career coaches embedded in academic departments. Additionally, Dr. Farney says that parents have been asking Wheaton to focus more on extending its commitment to liberal arts excellence into the workplace.
“Part of this new emphasis is to highlight liberal arts education’s relevance at a time when people are questioning its relevance,” Dr. Farney says. “A liberal arts education helps you think in creative and critical ways.”
Paul Pesek ’13 loved his time on campus but was less enamored with the career guidance he received. So Pesek, now an Associate at Insight Equity in New York, became what he calls a “burr in the saddle” of the CVC. With two other Wheaton College grads, Jake Van Raaphorst ’13 and Grant Hensel ’15, he started an organization called Vocational Capital that offers specialized coaching in the “high impact” but difficult-to-enter fields of finance, technology, and consulting.
Pesek says he has been pleased by the CVC’s progress—particularly the hiring of Dee Pierce—but he wants the momentum to continue.
“Dee has brought a level of care and understanding that’s impressive,” Pesek says. “This has given her clout with students and faculty that wasn’t there before I think her plans to reimagine the career center will attract more students, increasing the focus on career and vocation across campus.”
But with every opportunity comes a cost. Provost Margaret DuPlissis Diddams ’83 says if the CVC is to fulfill its mission of helping students to know their next steps after graduation, even a gift of $1,000 makes a big difference.
“We want students to have mentoring relationships within the CVC and one-on-one time with career coaches,” she says. “We want the Center for Vocation and Career to be more than a place to post jobs and review resumes. But to do that, we must have the staff in place.”
Pesek is lending a hand, too, even while he continues to push for change on campus. He regularly coaches Wheaton undergrads sent to him by Pierce and financially supports the innovative new directions of the CVC.
“Career development at its core is doing a few fundamental things with a high degree of excellence,” Pesek says. “I am pleased the College is taking positive steps.”