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VALPARAISO | More than 200 scholars from across the United States are at Valparaiso University this week focusing on how colleges and students are being affected by changing notions of place, community and higher learning in the 21st century.

John Fea, associate professor of history at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and a former Lilly Fellow, focused Thursday on the challenges and benefits of “rooting” one’s vocation in a particular community and place.

He said a church-related college can offer a truly spiritual education, but it also can be suffocating for those who don’t share that passion. He talked about the importance of being loyal to an institution.

Jennifer Miller, who graduated from Valparaiso University in 2003 and began a two-year Lilly Fellow teaching in Christ College at VU, said Fea’s message impacted her professionally and personally.

“It really spoke to me,” she said. “Finding a space where you can call home and develop your career is a tension I see in my own life. My husband and I have two small children. We lived in Minnesota, and made a number of connections then we uprooted and came here. It makes me think about the connections between Christian faith, professional identity, scholarship and teaching.”

Mel Piehl, Dean of Christ College, said he hopes conference participants walk away understanding the importance of deepening and strengthening Christian higher education.

The Valparaiso-based Lilly Fellows is the largest ecumenical organization working to advance the future of church-related higher education. This is the Lilly Fellows Program’s 20th anniversary national conference, which will feature a variety of speakers and sessions. It concludes Sunday.