From accounting to theology and all fields in between, Christian graduate schools provide an invaluable education to equip the whole person for a life of service. Here, practical vocational tools are not only honed, but also infused with passionate faith and visionary thought.
The value of Christian post-graduate learning is seen most clearly in the stories of grad students who have used their education to impact their world in unique ways.
Bridging Two Worlds
Kirk Farney, Wheaton College M.A. '98, is an unlikely student of theology. He spent most of his career as the managing director of the asset-backed finance group of JP Morgan Securities, Inc. and its predecessors, successfully navigating in the global market and through several large-scale corporate mergers.
"I was in banking for 26 years, and I don't regret it at all, but I got an itch to do something else. So I decided to test my faith and take the leap," Farney said.
"The leap" began as a one week intensive theology class being offered at Wheaton College. Dennis Okholm, his professor and now good friend, told him he had a natural proclivity for theology and encouraged him to look into it further.
Taking a sabbatical from work, Farney was able to pursue and complete his master's degree in '98. He is now pursuing a doctorate in Christian History from the University of Notre Dame.
Instead of being a diversion from his financial career, his theological training has served to enhance his effectiveness in all spheres of his life.
"I like to build bridges through communication; to be able to understand theology in a deep way and yet be able to engage people on Wall Street [and] all over the world," Farney said.
His master's work has given him the opportunity to "smuggle" theology into business, making doctrinal details accessible to colleagues who are curious about Christianity. He has also been able to "smuggle" his commerce expertise into the theological world. While attending the Theological Panel for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod he was able to explain the issues surrounding the current financial crisis to the other theologians in attendance.
He says, "the more ways you have to look at something and the better [you are] at communicating it, the more we all grow, learn, and understand."
Stewardship of Knowledge
When Aaron Young, Baylor University Ph.D. '02, got his bachelor's degree, his heart was partially in the academic world and partially in the private sector. He enjoyed having intellectual discussions and the aura of academia, but was also drawn to organizations with a more hands-on, goal-oriented practical approach to the world.
For him, Baylor's unique, research-intensive Applied Sociology program was the perfect fit. Operating through the Baylor Center for Community Research, Young was able to work closely with organizations such as Hillcrest Baptist Hospital in Waco, Texas. There he was able to apply the skills he was learning in the classroom to real world issues.
Young started in the program as an apprentice, shadowing those ahead of him. By the time he left, someone else was shadowing him as he met with clients and made presentations of his research.
"Baylor has a culture of service. You gain knowledge from professors who are passing that knowledge on
[there is a] body of knowledge that continues to pass on from generation to generation," Young said.
Young is currently serving as the Senior Director of Research and Analytics for the Federation of State Medical Boards, an organization that represents and supports the 70 State Medical and Osteopathic Boards. In this role, he is at the cutting edge of national healthcare reform. Young continues to draw upon not only his Baylor-honed research skills, but also the foundational Christian values of integrity and service Baylor continually reinforced.
The Voice of an Advocate
Ruth Rivera, Indiana Wesleyan University M.B.A. '00, was working as a division manager at Test America, Inc., an environmental testing facility, when she discovered Indiana Wesleyan University and their tracks for non-traditional students. She was a single mother working full time and caring for her young daughter, and did not have the time needed for traditional schooling. But, at IWU, she saw an opportunity to get her M.B.A.
"Through the non-traditional program I could take my classes at night around my work, scheduling my classes as a standing appointment," Rivera said.
Rivera wasn't aware of the religious underpinnings of IWU when she applied, and was pleasantly surprised by the environment she discovered when she began to take classes.
"The professors were unselfish, and people were genuinely helpful. I was the only minority in most classes and it wasn't a problem. The environment was conducive to studying. The professors began with prayer, which at the end of a 10 hour workday provided refreshment of the soul and time for personal prayer," Rivera said.
One lesson sticks in Rivera's mind particularly. In an Accounting class, the professor was addressing an assignment due at the end of the month. "You need to think whether it's better to have perfect report at end of the month or a strong, good report in the middle or third week of the month, where you can make adjustments," the professor said. "Perfection may come too late for a decision."
Since graduating from Indiana Wesleyan's M.B.A. program in 2000, Dr. Rivera earned her J.D. in 2004 from Indiana University School of Law and has become an associate with Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP. In addition to her work, she has become an advocate for underrepresented ethnic and social groups. She volunteers her time with groups like Protective Order Pro Bono Project of Greater Indianapolis Inc., which provides free legal services to low-income victims of domestic violence.
One day, she hopes to open her own law firm. When she does, she is conscious that she will not only be a lawyer, but also a small business owner. She will carry the lesson about balancing the desire for perfection with a necessary degree of flexibility, and wants to apply it more broadly to her employees.
"I want a good, strong business, but I also want to keep in mind the human aspects and needs of the people: family, personal growth, and mental health are important
There was a sense of mentoring that went on with my professors. Everybody should be in a position where they can mentor someone else personally or professionally; especially people who are underrepresented. We are our brother's keeper and we must pay the grace and compassion we receive from the Lord forward to others."
The Tools of Discipleship
Christian graduate schools are in the business of sharpening the God-given tools of the individual student in their chosen field of influence. No matter the specific field, a post-graduate education at a Christian school serves to engender more precise thought, strengthen the foundation of faith, and develop the tools that will better equip the student for a life of compassionate service and discipleship.
Jonathan Sprowl is a freelance writer living in Wheaton, Illinois.