A major grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. will enhance Hope College's role in helping students to consider the role of vocation or calling in their lives.

A major grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. will enhance Hope College's role in helping students to consider the role of vocation or calling in their lives.

Hope has received $2 million from the Endowment for its "Program for the Theological Exploration of Vocation." The multi-faceted effort, which will begin in the fall of 2003, will encourage students to reflect on how their faith commitments are related to their career choices and what it means to be "called" to lives of service.

"This program will be a tremendously rich experience for our students," said Dr. James E. Bultman, president of Hope College.

"The grant allows Hope the opportunity to be intentional about vocation and call on the part of all our students, and specifically to encourage young women and men to consider Christian ministry in their vocational choice," he said. "We're deeply grateful to Lilly Endowment for its recognition of the need to address this area and its vision in providing the funds to implement it."

Hope is one of 39 colleges and universities in the country to receive grants totaling $76.8 million in the third round of the Endowment's initiative to support "Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation."

The Endowment invited the colleges to reflect on their particular strengths, history and mission in designing proposals so that the programs would fit each institution well. "Consequently, the result is a wonderful amalgam of creative programs that are clearly well-thought-out and have a real chance of success," said Craig Dykstra, Endowment vice president for religion.

The Hope program has four main emphases. It is designed to help students and faculty explore the liberal arts as a shared vocation that enables them to discern what gives them their deepest joys as human beings and as Christians. It will help students explore how their future work can meet the world's most pressing needs. It will strengthen the college's partnership with the college's parent denomination, the Reformed Church in America, and with the wider Christian community in identifying and nurturing leaders for congregations and the church. And it will encourage faculty and staff to discover deeper and wider understandings of their own vocations.

As encouraged by the Endowment, Hope developed the program's priorities with the college's historical character in mind, according to Dr. William Reynolds, who is dean for the arts and humanities and was the co-chair with Dr. Nancy Miller, dean for the social sciences, of the seven-member committee that drafted the project proposal.

"It's not that we're taking something that is foreign to the 130-some year tradition and history of Hope College," he said. "The idea is already part of Hope College's mission and of its educational program."

"But we're taking things that are part of our mission, part of our tradition, and we're working on doing some of them better, and introducing others that are just as integral but that we haven't previously been able to introduce because of funding," Reynolds said.

The committee's approach was affirmed, he noted, through a series of discussions with other members of the Hope community, including faculty and students.

"We were overwhelmed by the amount of interest that people showed," Reynolds said. "The committee genuinely believes that we were supported by a community, and what we've put together is our best representation of the thinking of the community as a whole and the values of the community as a whole."

The program's first emphasis, "Liberal Arts as Vocation: Discovering One's Deep Joy," is designed to reach every student. It will include discussion of vocation in recruitment materials and during New Student Orientation. The First-Year Seminar, Senior Seminar and Residence Life programs will be provided support that will allow for additional emphasis on discussion of vocation. Hope will also schedule retreats for students to allow them to consider the topic.

Through "Specialized Study as Vocation: Responding to the World's Needs," the college will encourage students to reflect on vocation in their own area of specialization. Hope intends to develop pre-professional and internship programs that will emphasize vocation. The academic advising program will also place greater emphasis on vocation.

In "Christian Ministry as Vocation: Responding to the Church's Needs," Hope will help students consider careers in the church. Activities will include visits to seminaries and internships with churches, programs including lay ministry and parish nursing, and scholarships for students interested in ministry, including minority students from RCA congregations.

The fourth emphasis, "Academic Life as Vocation: Faculty-Staff Support Initiatives," will fund faculty training, faculty-student collaborative research on vocation and grants for additional faculty projects focused on vocation.

The funding from the Endowment will support activities at the college for five years, through the spring of 2008. Administrative support will include a full-time director, a part-time associate director and a part-time secretary.

Hope will provide funds in addition to the grant for some of the activities. As part of its on-going assessment of the program, the college will also consider options for continuing elements of the effort beyond the grant's duration.

In its first round of grants through the initiative, in 2000, the Endowment awarded a total of $37.7 million to 20 schools. In the second round, in 2001, the Endowment awarded grants totaling $56.8 million to 29 schools.

The third round brings the total of implementation grants to $171.3 million to 88 schools across the country. The Endowment also has invested $5.5 million in helping schools develop planning grants for the awards.

The Endowment is pleased with the outcome.

"Colleges that received grants in earlier rounds are reporting very successful implementation of their plans- -their students are eager to engage in theological reflection as they make their choices about their future, and many students are seriously considering the ministry as a career," Dykstra said.

"Furthermore," he said, "people in these schools are getting together with each other to exchange ideas and tell each other about the most promising aspects of their projects, so the 'infrastructure' of connections keeps building. We think that will greatly enhance both their common purposes and the Endowment's ultimate objectives of a talented new generation of ministers leading healthy and vibrant congregations."

Founded in 1937, the Endowment is an Indianapolis- based private foundation that supports its founders' wishes by supporting the causes of religion, community development and education.