In Their Own Words
THE ETHOS OF Union Theological Seminary and its commitment to social justice are the driving forces for my application to Union. Several friends and faculty from India suggested that I apply to Union because of its academic standards and its liberal outlook. It was when I decided to apply for the STM program that I realized that there were several students from India who graduated from Union. Those alums are witnesses to the call and commitment of Union and its role in molding individuals to be scholars. Since my arrival at Union, I have realized how wonderfully it shapes a person holistically. While Chapel service is a life transforming experience, the academic discussions nurture one’s intellectual articulations. Union is a place for every diligent learner, for every aspiring woman and for every person who dreams high.
Dreams of international students to study in esteemed institutions, like Union, cannot come true unless those institutions make efforts to appreciate the diverse contributions international students can make to the community. Union’s scholarship program is a wonderful tool for bringing students from around the world into one place to learn, explore, and contribute. My scholarship is crucial to me as it became the first step in starting my journey toward reaching my goal.
WHEN I ENTERED MY FIRST graduate program at the University of Michigan, I chose the field of public policy because I wanted to study social issues through a systemic lens and engage them with structural approaches. While my public policy education was invaluable, once I started working in the field of immigrant rights and anti-violence movements, I felt an important component of spirituality was missing. I recognized a disconnect in how I interacted with and framed issues and narratives in my work community from how I addressed them in my faith community. I personally felt bifurcated and incomplete, while also recognizing an increasingly gnawing desire for theological dialogue in non-faith-based spaces.
Seminary is a place I considered for many years, but I wondered if there was a case for theological study given the prohibitive cost and the professional trajectory I was establishing in the nonprofit sector. For many years, I slaked my theological thirst through reading and attending local seminaries’ events, but they did not feel enough. In late 2014, I embarked on a desert year of reassessing my life and reflecting on where God was leading me next. During this period, Union came up repeatedly and I found myself drawn to its history and purpose to integrate faith and scholarship to reimagine the work of justice. I decided to apply to Union to see what opportunities might emerge in considering a very specific seminary education (as I knew Union was a special and unique place).
Union’s generous scholarship offer was a pivotal part of my discernment process. It provided a practical means for me to accept Union’s offer, as well as the broader affirmation of belonging at Union. I would not have been able to support my life from southern California and move with my new spouse to New York to devote sacred time in articulating a theological framework for engaging in our world’s pressing issues without financial support. I am grateful to be at Union and am excited to contribute to the Union community, as well as share what I gain from my time here with my community back home.
IT’S A TREMENDOUS BLESSING to be able to study at a place as unique as Union Theological Seminary. I’m here learning and growing only because of the generous support of the scholarship I receive. The faculty and my classmates here have poured so much into me over the last three semesters. Every day I’m encountering new ideas and strengthening my skill set for the future. I’ve received clarity in vocational insights, while also having my own equilibrium challenged. This has been a transformative process that I simply wouldn’t have been able to experience without the help of this scholarship.
My scholarship provides an opportunity, not just to study at Union, but also to learn in New York City. My educational experience has been enriched by the relationship I’ve built with a diverse group of colleagues, mentors and friends who have greatly informed my development. Coming from a family and religious back- ground steeped in Southern traditions, I’ve developed a great appreciation for how I’ve been stretched simply by being in a new geographical space. My world view has been enlarged. Moreover, with each day in this new environment my own ideas are constantly being critiqued and strengthened in ways I couldn’t imagine anywhere else.
I am convinced that Union is producing the type of ethical change agents that this world desperately needs. Our cultural landscape highlights a deep void in compassionate religious leaders. I’m grateful to be at Union because I know I’m being prepared for a ministry that will be radically transcendent and speak directly to the needs of a hurting world.
WORKING ON A Ph.D. is a full-time job, period. Between completing coursework, passing language exams, reading and writing and researching for comprehensive exams and a dissertation, proposing papers for conferences, attending those conferences, finding ways to publish, serving as a teaching fellow, learning how to teach, and grading masters students’ assignments, there never seem to be enough hours in a day.
But the extensive demands that this degree places on those who pursue it pale in comparison to one simple fact: I love what I do and consider myself incredibly lucky to get to do it. Every day at Union I get to learn with and from a group of students and faculty who are truly unique in the wide world of academia, and for that I am grateful.
It is by no means an overstatement to suggest that without the support of the doctoral fellowship that I receive each year, none of this would be possible. I view my work in religious scholarship as my vocation—I have to in order to get it all done! And the only way that I am able to engage in the full-time pursuit that is doctoral work at Union is through the financial assistance made available to each and every new Ph.D. student accepted into this program.