Grace Infused Faculty

God sends us students

A former student who was no longer affiliated with the university traveled to find me during my office hours, she confessed she needed help with suicidal feelings. When I reported the conversation to the department, the administrators said,“This is amazing. A hurting woman needed to talk to someone, and the only person she could imagine going to was her college writing professor after all these years. Not her parents, a doctor, or a therapist, but her professor!”   

  • I realized that professors do stand in for parents, doctors, priests, and social workers whether they want to or not.

  • It’s the professor who reminds students to get a good night’s sleep, to stop binge drinking, and to turn in assignments on time.

  • It’s the professor who often notices when a student doesn’t look well and needs to go to Student Health or when they are in distress for any reason.

  • We’ve all probably helped students find resources for sexual assault, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or addiction.  

  • Often we’ve even provided character references—using all our powers of written persuasion—to convince judges and administrators to show mercy to students who find themselves in trouble with the law and need a second chance.

God sends us faculty as well

I love students in my natural pathways of classroom and office, but I also love being involved in the lives of fellow faculty members.

In God’s providence, He placed me in a neighborhood of at least a dozen professors in a one-mile radius. I invested in this one mile by doing some creative things.

We asked the parents (often professors) and children if any of them would be interested in a “walk to school” routine. A group first gathers at our house, and as we walk by houses on the way to school parents and children join the group. This has been going on for 6 years now. Yes, I arrive early to get the walk started and greet people! I’ve walked 1,000 miles with parents and children and have incredible memories of conversations about so many things on their hearts.

Often – sometimes sooner and sometimes later – Jesus enters the conversation. I learned, like in my classroom, to just be myself and ask questions. Sometimes I would talk about things I was learning, or feeling, and even things I had noticed in the Bible.

Professors actually will talk about Jesus. They seem to enjoy talking about spiritual things and I suspect they felt safe doing so. My neighbors knew that I treasured and enjoyed their friendship (like my students feel), so I’m guessing that conversations about significant things, such as spiritual matters, happened more easily because of this.

God seems to have a great sense of humor because often when I write in my journal that I’m available to connect with someone in the neighborhood, one of them will call with a particular need.

On Tuesday I told a professor I had a bit of time when we could talk, as I sensed that God wanted me to be available to listen to her. Two hours later we met and had a rich conversation regarding our struggles to trust Him in our personal and professional lives.

I love this calling

I love this calling. I’m part of a great mission every day. I’m learning that whether it’s in a classroom, a department, or even a neighborhood—whatever our place—there’s always someone for whom we might go early. We can ask questions to open doors for the hope of the gospel to enter in.

Sometimes, I’ll get an email from a student that says, “My little sister just got into Penn State. I’m sending her to meet you. Please take care of her.”  I will. And if she takes my class, I’m going to teach her how to find her voice, both in writing and in life.

I’m going to arrive early and begin to know her. She’ll resist it all at first, and her writing won’t be clear or honest, but soon, she’ll grow into herself.

I’ll be there to see it happen.

–Heather Holleman, Penn State