Faculty members have all heard the stories about dying grandmothers and various other reasons that students can’t make it to class or complete an assignment. In many cases, they are just stories. In some cases the death of a grandmother, or another family tragedy, actually occurs and affects a student’s ability to complete assignments.
Students Need Someone to Listen
“I’ve been surprised at the number of times I’ve had students in my office who will be in tears about something,” said Mark Edwards, a Sociology professor at Oregon State University. “Students do have difficult things going on in their lives. Being able to listen and pay attention to them has a big impact.”
Mark recalled counseling first generation college students whose parents were out of work and the student was struggling to stay in school. Gay and lesbian students shared about how lonely and hurt they felt. One student showed up at his office drunk and in tears because his wife had left him. At those times Mark reflects that being a professor is not that different from being an InterVarsity staff worker.
“Over the years I felt like what the Lord was leading me to do was actually to engage students in more of a pastoral way, in more of a ministry of mercy or compassion,” he said. “Students are surprised when they’re treated with respect or civility or with a little bit of generosity. That has been the most effective way for people to detect that perhaps there’s something different about me as a Christian.”
Attracted to Academia
Mark was a student at the University of California—Davis when he first got involved with InterVarsity. He graduated with a degree in Food Biochemistry in 1984 and joined InterVarsity staff. During the six years he was on staff, he discovered how much he loved the university and being around students.
He also met several Christian sociology professors who he admired for the way they engaged moral issues in their field in a professional way, but also provided a vibrant Christian witness in the classroom. Rather than pursue a career as a food scientist working for a large corporation, he decided to stay in academia and become a sociologist.
Today he also serves as the faculty adviser for the InterVarsity chapter at Oregon State University, and he is a lay leader in a local church. “I find that the kind of skills that InterVarsity gave me as a student and staff worker are also the skills that my pastor says that he needs to see more in the church,” Mark said.
His academic research most recently has focused on hunger and food insecurity. He’s concerned about families which are struggling to put food on the table. And he’s pleased that organizations dealing with hunger issues have been able to use his information in their dealings with lawmakers to initiate programs that help low income families. “I’ve chosen to do projects that are not high-powered, big academic projects but are simple research projects that are trying to deal with social justice questions in our state,” he said.
Renewing the Campus
After spending all of his adult life on campus, as a student, staff worker, and now a professor, Mark is thankful for the presence of a campus ministry like InterVarsity.
“The university does a good job identifying where there are problems, helping students to maybe even care about them. But often we don’t have solutions to offer the students, except maybe some new government program or something that isn’t very practical for students. InterVarsity’s programs and activities are helping the university fulfill its mission, even if it doesn’t know that InterVarsity fellowships are doing that.”
Because of his InterVarsity experience, Mark’s students have a professor who cares about more than just what he can teach them about Sociology.