Growing up I was always interested in learning. If the learning was structured and geared toward a goal, I found it to be driving, thrilling, and achievable. Growing up in India, education is culturally very significant. Your future prospect of a “good life” depends heavily on your educational pursuits, so the expectation is not that you just graduate from high school or college, but graduate with distinction and pursue education as far as you can.
When I first came to the United States nearly ten years ago, the opportunity for higher education blew my mind. The freedom to choose whatever you wanted to study and the resulting potential to a serious student was simply unparalleled compared to what was available in India.
As leaders of Chi Alpha, what is our approach to education in general and higher education in particular? I had the desire to go back to school ever since I came here. Having studied theology in India, I was very much drawn to study philosophy, but I had several questions I had to wrestle with before deciding to pursue further studies here:
- Did I have the time to undertake a study program?
- How would I pay for my studies?
- Would this be a useful endeavor in terms of what I was currently doing or would it be ten years down the road?
- Would it be worth it the sacrifice of time, money, and effort?
These are some of the questions we all have to ask when we consider continuing education.
I had no answers to any of the above questions when I climbed the stairs of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences building to the Philosophy Department on the third floor. After meeting with one of the professors, I found out there was no course of studies at Sam Houston State University for a graduate degree in Philosophy.
Because Philosophy was no longer an option, I ended up going down one level to the Sociology Department and was quickly met with a great opportunity to pursue graduate studies there. Two years later, I graduated with my Master’s degree in Sociology. Along the way, in retrospection, I found a few answers for the above questions.
One of the pleasant surprises of my particular graduate studies was centered around the concentration of my studies. The stretching of the mind through the academic rigor of studies was one of my favorite aspects of continuing education. Reading and reading and reading—that is what is required of graduate studies. Sociology studies society. Sociology teaches every social institution we see today evolved to its state because of the social factors presented as society changes over time. It studies different social problems in society, different cultural perspective of minority communities in the U.S., gender/racial/religious tensions and problems in society, etc.
As I studied in this field, two things resulted for me: 1) an increased awareness of our society; 2) an increased vision of the Scriptures—having gained sociological perspective, the Biblical narratives had a new life to me. I believe this is not unique to sociology but everything that we learn would increase our vision of God and His Word. An enlarged vision of the Scriptures was the pleasant surprise of my graduate studies.
Graduate programs generally present themselves with opportunities for close associations with professors. There are of a variety of ways—working alongside, writing a research paper with them, presenting a research at an academic conference, perhaps publishing a paper with them, etc. All these are opportunities to get to know your fellow graduate students and a unique window into the busy life of an academic.
I was able to build relationships with several professors since 2013, and many of them I still keep in touch with. Eventually, after a number of years when one of the professors tells you a private matter and asks you to pray with him, you realize what Jesus might do through you because you decided to take a few classes each semester.
I am grateful I was able to move forward with the desire of furthering my education, and I am glad God brought some meaningful relationships toward eternity out of my studies that would not have happened otherwise. These unique opportunities presented through pursuing graduate studies only enhance our overall mission of reconciling our campuses to the Lord.
My word of encouragement and challenge to fellow campus ministers would be to give serious thought to continuing education. I believe being academically minded and “fit” is one of the ways that we can serve well on the university campus. Modern day education is geared primarily toward personal enhancement and development so that achievers can get to the top of the ladder in their fields.
As ministers, however, we can take the opportunity of higher education to grow, sharpen, and implement our learning for the highest good of God and His kingdom. Certainly, time, and money are precious commodities. However, let’s not be scared away by the daunting thought of how to find time and money to pursue further studies. Trust the Lord to provide and open doors, ways, and means.