Joliet, Ill. – The University of St. Francis (USF) was recently awarded a $40,000 grant through the Council of Independent Colleges’ (CIC) NetVUE Grant for Reframing the Institutional Saga that will allow Joliet’s university to create two publications, one comprised of faculty essays and another comprised of student essays that will focus on both its past and its future.

“This CIC NetVUE grant challenges the university to reexamine its historical narrative in order to craft and articulate an institutional vocation going forth that responds to the needs of the present and future,” said USF Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Beth Roth, Ph.D. “To undertake this challenge, we proposed two publication projects. The first is a volume of 100 essays by faculty who share personal vignettes of how teaching and service align with the university’s core values of respect, service, integrity, and compassion in the past and in the future. The second book is a companion volume that collects student writing and artistic contributions on how our core values shape the way they engage with current situations, such as the pandemic, structural racism, the immigration crisis, and climate change.”

Funding through the grant will allow for a two-year production timeline that includes writing retreats and group meetings, and will culminate with a presentation event for the campus community in spring 2023. USF English and foreign languages professor Kathryn Duys, Ph.D., will oversee the projects and head the projects’ overall leadership group.

“Consistent with the Franciscan tradition of honoring each individual entity, this project to shape our vocation will arise from the broad community of teachers and learners to gather discrete experiences and collectively assert that USF is a privileged place of compassion and wisdom, a sanctuary university dedicated to sustainability, racial justice, and civil dialogue,” Duys noted.

The NetVUE grant award comes at a welcome time for USF as it prepares to close a centennial celebration that spanned all of 2020, but that was also heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last spring and as part of the centennial celebration, Roth invited USF faculty to contribute to a volume of essays modeled after NPR’s “This I Believe” series. The goal was to receive contributions from 100 faculty for our 100 years that would showcase the university’s commitment to teaching and learning. However, just as USF’s centennial celebrations were affected by the pandemic, so was this project.

“Like most universities, all USF classes went fully remote in late March. Faculty focused intensely on learning new technologies, sharing expertise with colleagues, maintaining quality standards, and helping students stay on track to meet their academic goals amidst all the changes that began in the spring and have continued well into the fall. Despite the increased workload and rapid pace of change, we did have 18 faculty who contributed essays to the centennial project by the June deadline, but our faculty’s focus was heavily pointed toward academics,” Roth said.

In light of this, Roth said that this new grant opportunity could not have come at a better time for USF.

“The CIC NetVUE grant for Reframing the Institutional Saga will allow USF to reboot this book project and raise the bar. We had just begun celebrating our centennial in 2020 when the pandemic suddenly compelled us to rethink what we do, reinvent how we do it, and reconsider why,” Roth said.

“The publication projects that we proposed will result in two tangible books, but it will also create a repository of digital content ideal for redistribution over a number of channels and platforms as podcasts, digital narrative projects, and social media posts, recrafted in student internships before being passed to USF Marketing,” Duys added. “This new discourse will support curriculum redesign with new pedagogies and strategies to engage our communities in projects that will prepare USF graduates to critically and creatively ‘contribute to the world through service and leadership’ (USF Mission Statement).”

The $40,000 grant supported by the Council of Independent Colleges and Lilly Endowment, Inc. is the second award USF has received from CIC NetVUE (Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education) this year. In June, USF received a $10,000 NetVUE Professional Development Award to fund a yearlong initiative (July 1, 2020–June 30, 2021) designed to foster the exploration of vocation and mentoring in our curricula and co-curricular activities.

“We are grateful for the opportunities provided by NetVUE that challenge us to examine our institutional identity and guide students to lead lives of purpose and meaning,” Roth offered. Duys added, “We look forward to sharing our book projects with the community.”

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Currently celebrating 100 years of higher education rooted in Franciscan values, the University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves close to 4,000 students nationwide and offers undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 51,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit stfrancis.edu.

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.

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