Virtues & Vocations: $1.5 million Grant to Fund Reimagining the Character of Professional Education

character buildingProfessions are the backbone of our cultural, economic, legal, and social institutions. A professional has the responsibility to develop and maintain a requisite body of knowledge, while also upholding norms of good behavior and competence all in service to others in one’s practice. Character formation is an inevitable, inescapable, and crucial part of what it means to choose a profession and become a professional. However, professionals and the schools that train professionals often have great difficulty identifying the role of character should play. Professional fields have largely focused on the development and maintenance of technical knowledge among their practitioners while adhering to a set of behavior-based ethics, without attending to the development of virtuous character. As a result, none of the professions, nor any of their leading professional schools, are focused on the pathways and models for intentionally selecting, educating, and forming professionals with the mindsets, habits, and commitments that cultivate virtuous character.

With a $1.5 million grant from the Kern Family Foundation, the Kenan Institute and Divinity School seek to fill this gap. “This grant is an opportunity to lead a national conversation about virtue, vocation and professional education and to develop best practices for the cultivation of character at the very moment when concerns of professional burnout, careerism and insufficient ethical training are increasing across professions” notes Kenan Institute’s Nannerl O. Keohane Director, Suzanne Shanahan.

In what we hope will be a long term partnership, the Kenan Institute and Divinity School in collaboration with the Kern Family Foundation plan to cultivate a vibrant national forum to deepen the conversation around how best to shape character in professional education through annual national conferences. Each conference will bring multi-disciplinary scholars and practitioners together to test, sharpen, and deepen understandings of character in the professions. The national conferences will serve as a space for experimentation, producing new scholarly literature, pedagogies, curricula, and practices that will be disseminated widely and that others can adopt. In the words of L. Gregory Jones, Dean of the Divinity School, these conferences will “elevate the importance of character in professional education, and to inspire and encourage more effective teaching, research, and engagement across diverse professions.”