GAINESVILLE—Five years ago, the Gator Wesley Foundation received a $100,000 grant to fund its Campus Ministry Theological Exploration of Vocation Initiative to give students a chance to explore vocations that are in keeping with their desires to serve God.
|Joel and Heather Pancoast are co-directors of the Gator Wesley Foundation. A recent grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. will continue work that began in 2012 enabling students to explore their vocations.|
This year, Heather Pancoast and her husband, Joel, who have served as co-directors of the foundation for a year and a half, successfully applied for a second sustainable grant of $50,000 from Lilly Endowment, Inc. to continue the work that began in 2012.
Nearly 80 percent of college-bound students have yet to choose a major, according to Dr. Fritz Grupe, founder of MyMajors.com. And 50 percent of those who do declare a major end up changing majors while in college.
Some are encouraged to follow in the footsteps or the dreams of their parents. Others choose majors based on their natural affinity for the sciences, the arts, history or writing. And some select majors based on their interests.
“There is a lot of pressure for college students to make a decision about what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives before they’ve even had a chance to explore all of their options,” said Pancoast, who works with students at both the University of Florida and Santa Fe College in Gainesville.
A lifelong vocation, however, shouldn’t be chosen with the flip of a coin, according to Pancoast.
“It should be chosen after a great deal of discernment and an opportunity to explore a variety of options,” she said.
Since 2012, Gator Wesley has helped students do just that with the help of Lilly Endowment Inc.
Lilly Endowment, Inc. is an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company, according to Judith Cebula, communications director at the endowment.
Among the focus of its grant awards are projects that enrich the religious lives of Christians.
“We’re looking for creative ways for students to view vocations through the lens of their faith,” Pancoast said. “A vocation isn’t just about a job and a paycheck. We’re taught that God has given us gifts and wants us to use those gifts to serve others. A lot of students haven’t really thought about their careers in terms of how to serve others. They haven’t taken the time to think how God might be calling them to be an engineer or an attorney.”
To date, grant funds have been used to send students to national conferences and take part in mission trips where they’re encouraged to explore ways to integrate God’s calling with careers.
“We’ve also used the funds to buy books about vocational discernment and sponsor speakers like artists and musicians who might spark a fire inside someone,” Pancoast said.
The project, Pancoast said, has not only helped students think about how their chosen careers fit into God’s plans for them, but has also prompted students to choose new careers.
“One of the things I discovered about millennials is they want jobs that have meaning,” Pancoast said. “They’re very eager to make a difference. So, it’s been easy to engage them in this conversation.”
One junior had her heart set on a pre-med major.
Last fall, this student joined Pancoast and three other Gator Wesley students in Portland, Oregon, at the annual Exploration conference.
The conference gives young adults age 18 to 26 an opportunity to hear, discern and respond to God’s call to become an ordained minister, deacon or elder in The United Methodist Church.
“At the conference, the students are challenged to explore the ways God can use them,” Pancoast said. “After a great deal of conversation and prayer, she decided to change her major to public health. She feels God is calling her to work in global missions and help the poor.”
Another student had long planned to become a history teacher. However, after attending the Exploration conference, then working part-time as a youth director at the First United Methodist Church in Gainesville, she is now considering entering the seminary.
--D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer based in Valrico.
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