In May, as many students prepare for graduation, we are featuring reflections written by college seniors from universities across the United States. Today, we have three students from three different schools (UVA, Columbia, Penn State) going into three different fields (economics, international relations, architectural engineering). Join us to celebrate their achievement and pray for their "every good endeavor."
* * * * *
Studying Economics in Light of Shalom
Caroline Cross is a graduating senior at the University of Virginia. Her major is economics. While in college, Caroline's favorite class was Principles of Macroeconomics, which explored some of the public policy implications of economic theory. Upon graduating, she is moving to the Washington, D.C., area to participate in a fellows program at McLean Presbyterian Church. She will intern with the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics during her time as a Capital Fellow.
Vision of Vocation
As a high school student, I tended to view my work as an extension of myself. In a vague sense, I knew that my papers and tests were ways to worship God, but my work was strictly between God and me---that is, I had little consideration for how my calling could affect others or how it fit into the narrative of Scripture. In short, I had no imagination for a holistic Christian vision of vocation.
Last year, however, I took a class at The Center for Christian Study in Charlottesville. Taught by the center's director, Bill Wilder, the class progressed through the Old Testament with a "Skyline Drive" view, as Bill affectionately called it. For me, the most influential part of the class was one particular refrain: Christians are priests and kings. I learned that God calls his people to image him as Lord by ruling over the world and reflecting his character to it in our roles as intermediaries. Bit by bit, my vision of my vocation expanded. Fundamentally, I was beginning to see that my work was not about my success or failure. Vocational stewardship offered me an opportunity to see my work as participation in God's story for the whole world.
Along with taking the class, I served as an intern for the center. Not only did I have the opportunity to see my work in a wider theological context, I also had the chance to live out this compelling vision. My supervisor, Shelly, who serves as the director of administration and development, encouraged me to take my internship seriously. She gave me books (Amy Sherman's Kingdom Calling and Steve Garber's Visions of Vocation) to help me work out what my vocational calling as an intern and as a student looks like now as well as dream about how my vocation would take shape in the future.
Economics and Shalom
Looking forward to next year, I'm thankful for the opportunity to take part in the Capital Fellows Program at McLean Presbyterian Church, which is located just outside of Washington, D.C. I anticipate that this upcoming year of work and study will deepen my sense of specific vocational calling even further.
Having spent the last four years studying economics, I eventually plan to return to business school. As an industry, business appeals to me because I can use economic tools to help bring about shalom. In Kingdom Calling, Sherman quotes Cornelius Plantinga Jr., who defines shalom as "the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight . . . We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or cease-fire among enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight."
For me, reading Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert's When Helping Hurts fleshed out a gospel-centered view of economics, particularly as it relates to poverty alleviation. Corbett and Fikkert's work gave me a glimpse of what it might look like for me to apply what I was learning in the classroom to bring about shalom in the world. While in D.C., I look forward to exploring the ways that my background in economics might enable to me to play the role of a priest and king who, in a small way, brings about redemption and healing in the world for the glory of God and the joy of all people.
That Little Extra
In a few weeks, I will walk down the marble steps of the Rotunda, cross the emerald green Lawn, and officially graduate from the University of Virginia. Even as this austere moment beckons me, though, I am reminded of my days in elementary school.
I vividly recall a poster that hung above the window in my third grade classroom pushing us to excel: "The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra." Not necessarily bad advice, but as I anticipate post-college life, I am incredibly grateful that Christ does not call me to be successful, brilliant, or extraordinary. He simply calls me to be faithful, to die to self, and to be made new in him. His grace is and has been sufficient for all areas of my life, and I look forward to experiencing even more of that abundant grace as I venture into the life to which he has called me.
* * * * *
Called to Be a Peacemaker
Daniel García is a graduating senior at Columbia University in New York City. He was born in Orlando, Florida, and is of Mexican heritage. While in college, he pursued a BA in political science-international relations, and interned at the Council on Foreign Relations and at the Mayor's Office for International Affairs. Upon graduation, he plans to stay in New York and work as a paralegal at a commercial litigation law firm.
"Something terrible has happened in New York City," the principal of my elementary school announced through the grainy intercom on September 11, 2001. Although it was 13 years ago, that day is seared into my memory---the unfamiliar expression of angst on my teacher's face, the parents picking up their children in haste, the sun shining in the clear blue sky.
What affected me was not so much the trauma of that particular day, but my experiences in the ensuing years. The American public---including my own family---scrambled to identify those responsible. The media talked about Iraq, the Middle East, Arabs, and Muslims. It introduced us to a robed man called Osama bin Laden, who spoke in a foreign language and whose sinister quality seemed more important than his fleeting words. I sensed how the words Arab, Muslim, and terrorist became synonymous and how any person with origins in the area between North Africa and Southeast Asia became one and the same.
I could feel how so many in my community---at school and at church---were turning this glob of labels and people into "The Other." One day in fifth grade, when I was on the school bus, a veiled woman boarded and called one of my fellow classmates to her. As he blushed with his head down, she held back tears of desperation. With the fury of a protective mother, she demanded that we leave her son, Osama, alone and told us with a heavy Egyptian accent, "My son is not a terrorist. We are not terrorists."
My Diverse Community
In middle school and high school, I became friends with people from many different backgrounds. My best friends at school included a Muslim Indian American, a Presbyterian American, and a Catholic Venezuelan. At my church, I had a large extended family of aunts, uncles, and grandparents in Christ from all over Latin America. From them I learned about God's infinite love for humanity and the beauty of community.
Looking back on my pre-college experiences, I feel incredibly blessed to have grown up in the midst of such diversity. Thanks to the values that my parents instilled in me and to my exposure to different cultures and religions, I developed an affection for all types of people and an ability to find common ground with anyone---to become a Greek to the Greeks, a Jew to the Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20).
For that reason, the more fear and hate toward Muslims, Arabs, and Arab-looking people grew, the more I became confused and frustrated. What did Indians have to do with 9/11? What did my Muslim friends have to do with a network of evil individuals? How could I reconcile the media caricature of Muslims with my experiences with my friends?
Searching for Answers
My desire to understand and help resolve the complex web of conflicts related to 9/11 has influenced my college experience and my future career plans. I took five semesters of Arabic and several classes on the culture and politics of the Middle East---at Columbia and at Sciences Po Paris. I chose to major in political science because, as I struggled with what course of study would best prepare me to resolve these conflicts and puzzles, I realized that I wanted to explore regional, inter-state conflict resolution. Through a research paper, I considered regional integration as a possible remedy to the challenges faced by the Middle East. This, in turn, led me to learn about the success of European integration, a subject that I have been exploring for more than a year now to see whether there is anything we can apply from that context to other contexts.
As I move forward, I am eager to gain technical and professional skills. After two years working as a paralegal, I hope to return to school to earn a joint JD/MBA in international affairs. In the long term, I want to work at the State Department to promote policies that strengthen regional intergovernmental unions.
But what does all of this have to do with my faith? A few key biblical passages are at the core of my professional goals: "For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Galatians 5:14); "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice" (Proverbs 31:8-9); and "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).
Although I believe humanity will always fall short of constructing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, I do not believe that means that we should stop trying. After all, Jesus taught us to ask him for it: "Our Father . . . May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10). One way this happens is through proclaiming the gospel of peace. Paul says that Christ himself is "our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility" (Ephesians 2:14). To the Galatians, he writes that, when it comes to gaining access to God, there is no material distinction between us---"for you are all one in Christ" (3:28).
Although God is glorified in our "multiformity," he calls all kinds of people together to be one in Christ. This is the gospel of peace. And I feel that God has called me to be a peacemaker, contributing the construction of the most peaceful and prosperous world possible.
* * * * *
Building Systems as an Architectural Engineer
As told to Bethany L. Jenkins
Faye Poon is a graduating senior from Pennsylvania State University in State College, Pennsylvania. Although she was born and raised in Hong Kong, she moved with her family to a small town outside of Boston when she was 15. In college, she participated in a college ministry called Elements, in the Penn State student chapter of the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), and a recreational dance troop. Upon graduation, she is heading to Boston to work at an architectural engineering firm.
I was raised going to church, but---as a kid---I didn't really like it. The children's ministry was great, but the main emphasis was always doing expressly spiritual things like reading the Bible. These were good things, of course, but I wanted to know and understand more. I wanted to know what God said about some of my favorite subjects---science, math, and art.
When my family and I moved from Hong Kong to Massachusetts, we started attending a Chinese American church that had a great Friday night youth group. There I met my friend Rachel. As we did church Bible studies together, we came to understand that God created things for a purpose. Since I wanted to join him in creating things with functionality and since I loved buildings, I decided during my senior year of high school that I wanted to be an architect. Unfortunately, though, I wasn't good at architecture. (She laughs.)
I entered college without a declared major. Engineering wasn't even on my radar. (She laughs again.) However, one of my freshman advisers noticed that I was good at math and encouraged me to consider architectural engineering---an industry that seeks to make buildings suitable for living and use.
Around this time I went to the Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh and attended a session with one of the architects of PNC Park. How he talked about his work as a means to create community and bless the environment was a turning point for me. God opened my eyes to see that humble human beings could be called to steward creation for God's glory and the common good of all people.
As I began to see all industries---architectural engineering, education, civil service---as potential means to glorify God and love others, I began to realize that I needed to learn more about God and his Word. For no matter what he was calling me to do, my work needed to be informed by my faith. Just because he wasn't calling me to full-time vocational ministry did not mean that I could slack off in seeking him.
Although I didn't leave Jubilee with a clear sense of my particular vocational calling, I returned to school reinvigorated in my studies. I continued to pursue architectural engineering and, through an internship, put names and faces to the industry. As I saw first-hand how my colleagues were using the raw materials of creation to build functional and useful things for people, I began to find real joy in my work.
I also saw, however, the brokenness of the industry. As with any industry, there's the possibility of corruption or unethical business practices. In architectural engineering, in particular, there's also the temptation to take advantage of our clients. Since our work is specialized and necessary, we can manipulate the trust that our clients place in us and advise them that they need certain things even if we know those things may not be the best for them. We can do it subtly by changing their desires with new information. It's not illegal, but it's not necessarily ethical either.
Thankfully, in our industry, client-driven awards incentivize good and honest business dealings. For me, of course, I'm also driven by a desire to work with integrity "as unto the Lord" (Colossians 3:23-24), not treating clients or colleagues as transaction costs or tools, but as human beings made in God's image. I want to treat people with as much dignity as possible.
Life After College
After I graduate, I'm moving to Boston to work at one of the top engineering firms. It combines the environment of a think tank with the world of application, being innovative with current research and assessing the needs of our clients.
In my work, I'll mainly be looking at the reliability of building systems, which is probably the biggest concern for architectural engineers. Reliability is why we run so many calculations---to ensure that nothing will fall apart and that the system will require little maintenance. Making sure that systems are safe and reliable, of course, is a wonderful way to love and serve my neighbor.
In addition to reliability, we also care about efficiency; we want to create building systems that waste as little energy as possible. Not only is this efficiency good for the end user because it saves money in energy bills, it is also good for the environment. The industry is moving toward net-zero energy buildings, which are buildings that get half their energy from a conventional power grid and half their energy from renewable resources. To me, being a humble and faithful steward of God's creation is an important way to integrate my faith and my work.