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Fringe Benefits

Three days ago, I posted about an assignment I give where students write a one-page essay on “What I want to do with my life.” One of the fringe benefits is that since I frame it as a life essay rather than a career essay, we get to often go deeper than their 9 to 5 dreams and priorities. In particular, a few students each semester share how their relationship with Christ is a driving factor for them or some other reference to their faith.

I am always thrilled with this, because since they bring it up, it becomes fair game for an open conversation between us, and it is usually mutually encouraging (Romans 1:12). They are excited to learn about an instructor at the big school who shares their faith, and I’m glad to be able to let students know where I stand, and hopefully it spreads to other students for their encouragement. They are especially encouraged that it is a science instructor who is a Christian because there is an attitude sometimes that ‘you can’t be a scientist and a Christian,’ so it is a relief to find out that isn’t true.

There are even opportunities to identify with Christ with other students as well. I try to give each student I interview a chance to ask any questions they have…about anything. They often will ask for my career story, and did I use the suggestions I share with them in getting where I am today. Not only can I say I have, but I also get to share how in college I became disillusioned with the idea of being a ‘white-coated researcher in some secret government lab on the cutting edge of chemistry with a Nobel Prize at 26,’ (which usually draws an empathetic laugh), and strongly looked into going to seminary and becoming a pastor before feeling led to stay in chemistry, but focus on teaching. That is the true story, it isn’t forced and I don’t dwell on the pastor thing, but it sometimes leads to further conversations.

All of this was incidental to the assignment. Now that I see the opportunities to share where I come from, it seems so simple. We are a mystery to many of our students, and they value chances to get glimpses ‘inside’ and the idea that an instructor would take the time to talk with them about their life and their dreams is huge. This is a golden opportunity for us to minister to them. All it takes is a little creativity in what we assign, and the willingness to give them some of our time. Not a bad ‘sacrifice’ for the kingdom.


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