I started as the internship coordinator at Northland College nine-years ago, and at the time, I planned to develop a program modeled on other colleges’ career centers. I researched job growth and hiring trends. I read reports about top internship programs. I related all of this to students, and again and again, they told me they were looking for something deeper.
Whether their major was business, biology, education, or sociology, students articulated their ‘something deeper’ as wanting to make a difference with their career. They chose not the jobs with the highest salary, but those where they felt they would make the highest impact.
Long before media stories reported millennials wanting ‘purpose over paychecks’ in their careers, Northland alumni were finding savvy ways to do both.
I decided to reach out and invite alumni to campus to present on their work. Every single one I asked responded ‘yes.’
We welcomed alumni like Susan Haig, a conservation geneticist who works to recover bird species on the edge of extinction. Next came Anita Burke, who worked as an advisor for international sustainable development with the oil industry. Michael Walter presented about his work as the manager of the BioWatch Program at the Department of Homeland Security.
Tina Ramme inspired staff, faculty, students, and community members with her stories of being a single mom working in Africa leading lion conservation efforts. Shannon Franks, a senior scientist with NASA, presented on working with satellite imagery to analyze the earth’s surface, and even completed the Book Across the Bay while he was here.
What I quickly realized was that working in career services at Northland was not like other colleges.
While not all of our alumni work in leadership roles such as the ones I mentioned, I would argue that our students and alumni, again and again, articulate a calling into work that benefits others.
I would argue this is the ‘deeper life’ that Professor Blaisdell said at the laying of the cornerstone of Wheeler Hall in 1892 “An academy is not built of rock, or of granite, or of sandstone that hardens with exposure. You may launch it with fine appointments and striking architectures, but it is not an institution until you have endowed it with a deeper life.”
The heart of a Northland College education at work is what I eventually began to call vocation. The poet and writer Frederick Buechner described vocation as, “where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need.”
When I am collating data on where our students have interned over the past year, I get to see a big picture of the impact that their work is having in the world. It’s a perspective that so few, even at the college, ever know.
I’ve been in awe and even moved to tears several times, such as last year while reading senior Liandra Skenadore’s thesis project on Native American sovereignty, justice, and healing. Her work was transformative: showing that historical and current trauma of Native American communities need to have a voice before restoration can occur. Her work gave me vision for a better future.
I’m proud to be an alumna of this small college in northern Wisconsin, which was endowed with a deeper life at its inception, and which continues to hold space for students and graduates to bring that deeper life into the world.
Stacy Craig is the coordinator of applied learning at Northland College. She is currently earning her master of divinity from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities and will start in January as the minister for the Chequamegon Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.