Career Path Interview: Interfaith Instruction in Higher Education

An interfaith friend of mine graduated this month with a degree in Communication and Civic Advocacy. Congratulations Peter! He had to interview a person working within his chosen career about their job, and the path they took to get to their position. I was honored that he chose me. Building a career is a process, especially in the uncharted interfaith territory. For clarity sake, I work part time as a Specialist in the First Year Experience office and as an Adjunct Instructor for an Introduction to Humanities course. The path, for me, has been filled with many starts and stops. I thought, after completing my Master’s degree, that the path would be much easier. Many opportunities I thought were just within my grasp, suddenly evaporated. I attribute most of this to my God who has incredible plans for my life. I place my trust in this plan for not only my career, but my personal life as well. In the meantime, I have to learn from the process. I share with you my journey; hopefully it will help others along their path.

The first thing I found important to share with Peter was to learn to not get the job offer. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true that failing is the best teacher. I’ve applied for so many jobs, but interviews are few and far between. It’s been personally complicated trying to juggle whether I want to stay in Student Services and have the opportunity to be a part of conversations that have a wider reach across all students. The other option, at this time, is to work adjunct positions that just have a classroom’s reach, but the depth of the interactions is much greater. They are distinct roles, and  I have yet to understand exactly where interfaith fits, and subsequently where I fit. I was flown across the country to a private university to interview in person for a third round interview. I wasn’t offered that position, and later found out they didn’t hire at all for that position. I took that pretty hard. I can confidently say I wouldn’t change; I know I was my authentic self. I wrote about that experience in a piece call Appropriate Qualifications. I do know that I have grown from not getting the job.

I explained to Peter how I do want to pursue my PhD. I am so busy right now with all the work that I am doing for the Parliament of World Religions, that I can’t really spend too much time thinking about a doctoral program. What will I do with a PhD when I get it? Maybe I’ll pursue a full professorship; maybe I’ll try to be a departmental director, maybe some combination of the two? I’m ok with where I am right now, and the work that I am doing. It allows the flexibility for me to do all the interfaith things I want to do. The tradeoff is that I don’t make a lot of money. I am really hoping, through the work that I am doing now with all the organizing, committee meetings, and Interfaith Roundtable involvement with the Parliament of World Religions, that I am gaining valuable experience that I will be able to leverage later.  I know God has a position for me out there somewhere, and will direct my steps.

Because Peter is so interested in being an instructor he was curious about the depth of my teaching experience, but in reality, like most, I was a graduate assistant in graduate school. Most of the work I did was grading. I did work both online and in person. I tutored when I was in undergrad, and I can safely say I use some of those skills today in my adjunct position. The biggest difference between that experience, and now, is the student response. Before I could grade something and never have to speak to a student. If the student was upset they went to the professor. Now, I have to handle those conversations. My interpersonal communication is on a whole new level. The difference really lives in communication in the classroom.

In an effort to increase the skill and capacity of the students I use Safe Space Rules in my classroom. I got everyone to agree to them at the beginning of class. It is a part of my first class day every semester. We revisited the rules throughout the semester especially as students felt uncomfortable in their own presentations. I know it helped some students open up to conversations that they normally would not have engaged in in public.

My conversation with Peter helped me with my perspective. So much of the time I feel like I am struggling, treading water. I am not where I want to be professionally after having completed my Master’s degree, but then I am reminded there are those that would love to be in my position. I certainly know I’ve come a long way, and that God has great work for me in the future. If you are interested in Higher Education, I would love to talk to you about your career path. I would especially welcome a conversation around professorship verses working in student services.

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