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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Where are the Christians in Academia?

Gabe Lyons: The Academy is unique in a lot of ways, both as a place of opportunity and also complexity and challenge for people of faith. I'm here with Duane Grobman, Executive Director of the Mustard Seed Foundation and Director of the Harvey Fellows Program. When you talk to Duane, you realize just how strategically he and some others have been thinking about the role of believers in the academy and the importance of developing great scholars, the importance of thinking long-term, not just short-term, and thinking about, "What does the next 20 to 30 years of philosophy look like in major campuses around the U.S. and the world?"

Duane, tell us about the Harvey Fellows Program.

Duane Grobman: Sure. The Harvey Fellows Program began in 1992 and it was started, and it's continued to be funded by, the Mustard Seed Foundation. They founded the Fellows Program because they wanted to encourage Christians to innovate their faith with their vocation and also to encourage them to pursue leadership positions in what we call strategic fields where Christians appear to be underrepresented. And so, their hope was that through the program they would encourage students to pursue culturally influential vocations, that they would actually help equip students with tools necessary to lead integrated lives and that they actually help validate exceptional abilities and academic leadership and gifts as gifts from God worthy of cultivation development. Because, often times the church hasn't been terrific at validating individual's abilities in the areas of leadership and academics.

Gabe: I loved the log-term thinking that obviously has gone into this entire program. Really, this is a pretty strategic attempt to connect with some of the most astute leaders in society for the long-term. Right?

Duane: That is correct. To our knowledge, we're the only program of this kind. You hit the nail on the head there, in that, I think one of the reasons is because it is so long-term. We've often said that it's sort of a 20-year experiment, that we won't fully know the effects of the program culturally and its impact for 20 years. And so, there's not a lot of foundations that are willing to invest in that long-term vision. But given, now, that we're in our 16th year, from the fruit that we see and the impact, we find this incredibly encouraging. So we're feeling really confident that it's a worthwhile investment.

Gabe: Yes—It sounds like it's very worthwhile. Duane, tell us a little bit about you. What drove you into wanting to lead a project like this and why is this so important to you personally?

Duane: I got into the leadership program because I received a Harvey Fellowship to receive my doctorate in education from Harvard. It was a profound blessing for me as an individual to receive this fellowship from this foundation and from a collection of individuals. For some reason, in my application, they saw gifts and potential there that they wanted to invest in and that was deeply meaningful. We hold an institute each summer where we bring the fellows together and we talk about issues of integrating faith and vocation and coming to that institute had a great impact on me and my thinking. And so, going back to my university, going back to Harvard and to my work, it just deepened my understanding of vocation and my sense of calling.

And so, as I progressed through my own degree program, which is in education, I already had a strong focus and passion for this field. I really saw the fellowship as a cultivator of hope, as I often call it, that when they approached me a number of years later to direct the program, with a lot of enthusiasm, I said yes, I would love to be able to further the program as well as to work with the Fellows and encouraging them in their own giftings and passions and callings.

Gabe: That's awesome. One of the things that we talked about a lot with Q is talking about the different sectors of culture. We talk about politics and businessmediaarts and entertainment,the social sector and the church, but it’s the education channel that is really where this project is focused. I know you believe this is probably one of the most strategic places to focus when we're thinking about how the future of culture is shaped. Could you give us an example of how this world of education actually shapes the culture that we all live and breathe within? And what are, maybe, some examples of where the education world ends up impacting the way the rest of us live?

Duane: Well, there is an oft-quoted adage that says ideas have consequences, and I think that's really true. As someone who has worked with this program but also views education through a university lens, because that's what I studied, I can think of a couple different examples. For one, the change and shift in people's view of the environment is powerful. How education has been a key in changing people's understanding about the environment and how we're called to care for creation and have a redemptive view of it and that changes our behavior in how we use it, how we live our lives and the choices that we make and how we live together. So the whole sense of the environment, I think, is one where education has had a key role in shaping people's thoughts. But that’s just one example. I mean, I could go on.

Gabe: And that's what's good. I think we're always craving to understand. I think the environmental discussion is a great one because it has so affected the discussion and the broader conversation and given it the credibility to go with that discussion as to why we should care about creation. James Hunter, who's a great student of culture, talks a lot about the idea of cultural capital. I am curious to ask you, Duane, about this idea of cultural capital. We hear about all kinds of different social capital and real capital. But when you look at cultural capital, it's this idea that, maybe when you have a degree from a certain set of specific schools, that gives you a certain cultural capital and entrance into any environment.

Part of the program you structured is based a little on that idea, isn't it? You want people to get degrees from very specific institutions because those institutions carry a certain level of credibility in our culture today.

Duane: Yes, that's right. First, I would say that we believe that God can use anyone from any background from any school context and position them where He wants. But, we also believe that we live in a culture that does operate with what you're talking about—cultural capital—and that degrees from specific schools in specific fields of study open doors. And through those open doors, you have an opportunity to meet with people who you can potentially work with who share similar set of passions and interests and who you can solve problems with.

One of the things that I saw in my own studies and in working with the Harvey Fellows is how the introduction to these people and walking through those doors gives you access to a culture of synergy where you meet with others who can move forward your ideas, and your callings, and your passions. So I affirm what James Hunter has said because I think it is a real thing.

Gabe: What are some examples of this in the top five schools? I know that's where you guys focus on specific disciplines. What are some of those key schools that make sense for specific industries?

Duane: Sure. And again, we target what we call premier schools, which to give a guide we say a roughly top five. It's not a rigid rule but it is a general rule that we looked at. Because these are the schools that have been acknowledged by scholars and researchers and practitioners and individuals in those specialties saying, "If you're going to get the best training, these are the schools to go to." So they vary according to your specific field of study. For example, law. There will be schools like Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, NYU. But say you're a filmmaker, and so the schools are different for film. It'll be like UCLA, USC, NYU, AFI. Say you have a desire to go into architecture, then it's going to be schools like Harvard, Yale, Penn, Columbia, M.I.T. And then, for a final example, say you have an interest and passion in engineering. Well, then it'll be schools like M.I.T, Stanford, CalTech, UC Berkeley, Purdue, GeorgiaTech.

Gabe: One of things I thought was really great about this is that you allow people to apply for the fellowship. There's a major process that you guys have put in place to evaluate and critique applicants and then choose which ones for each year you're going to be able to get behind. Tell us a little bit about what are parts of the application process that allow you to determine who you're going to choose and who you don't choose?

Duane: Each applicant is required to write a series of six essays. One of the essays asks them to “share your statement of faith.” And so, we look at the evidence of an individual's Christian faith, its strength and maturity. We also look for an individual's commitment to the local church because we think that's really important for the nurturing of faith. We then want to hear an applicant share about why they think their field of study is so strategic. What kind of thinking have they done about the influential nature of their field? 

We want to hear why they think their field is underrepresented by Christians? Because, again, part of the goal of the program is to encourage and equip individuals who have a calling in the field where there's not a Christian voice. What's their awareness of the underrepresented nature of their field?

We're looking for what kind of leadership roles that they have already served in. We're looking for why they've chosen their specific school and degree program and what the strength in that program is. For example, even though I just listed top five schools, we do make exceptions to that rule.

When it comes to an individual's choice to study with a scholar or a researcher who is world-renowned in that specialty but for whatever reason that researcher or scholar has chosen to teach at a school that's not highly ranked but everyone widely recognizes that he or she is the top or among the top. When an applicant writes and tells us they've chosen to study with this person and these are the reasons why, we'll say that's terrific. We will affirm that and even though it's not rigidly in the top five, they've demonstrated to us the thinking and why they want to study with that person and why they're going to that school. So those are things that we look at.

Gabe: One of the things you mentioned when you were describing the different factors was fields that are underrepresented by a Christian presence. What are maybe some examples of those kinds of fields that you're finding have an under-representation?

Duane: Well, we think teaching at the university in an R-1 school, a secular university, is very underrepresented by Christians, so we really affirm the role of academia, like research, teaching and administration at premiere universities and colleges. We also think public policy and federal/state governments are a strategic, underrepresented field. Film production and the visual and performing arts, journalism and media. We would love to see more Christians go into those fields. International diplomacy, international economics and finance would be some others.

Gabe: I think it's really interesting to get that perspective because it gives us a good sense of where people are focused and where they're not. The intentionality you put into this is awesome. So for listeners who know people who might be pursuing graduate degrees in these different fields or have a passion or energy for some of what we just heard Duane describe, they actually can apply for this program, right, Duane? Where would they go if they were interested in applying or even referring others to apply for the Harvey Fellows Program?

Duane: Sure. They can go to our website which is It's a pretty extensive website that gives you a lot of information about who we are. It gives you actually a list of all the Fellows, all 283, along with their field of study that we have funded since 1992.

Gabe: You mentioned the 283 Harvey Fellows that you funded. What are some examples of the few who are making a really significant contribution in the way that this vision for the Harvey Fellows Program was birthed?

Duane: Sure. Bacl to the example of the environment and the role education has played in that. Susan Emerick, a fellow, heads up at Emerick Environmental Consulting and is also a filmmaker and educator. She does extraordinary work. I’ve often heard her on BBC. She's highly sought-after as an individual who speaks on environmental issues. Also, Jacquelline Fuller is one of our Fellows who has worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She is part of the leadership team of the philanthropic arm of Google. We actually have quite a few of our Fellows working at Google.
Another individual I'll share about is Nicole Jordan, who is an engineer. She works for NASA and when the most recent space shuttle a number of years ago tragically exploded, she was the one who was called upon to design a new repair kit given the issues that were identified that caused the explosion. She finished that and now she's been tasked to design the first new space suit for NASA. It's the first one designed in over a decade or more.

Another Fellow of ours works with legal work, dealing with anti-human trafficking in India, Ashley Varghese. Gregg Helvey, who's one of our filmmakers, made a feature film on child slavery where he filmed it in India. Over half of the Ivy League schools have a Harvey Fellow who is on the faculty.

I'll also mention that this fellowship is not just for Americans. We welcome international students. We really encourage applications from international students. We have faculty members who serve on universities in India and in Ethiopia. Samuel Rizk, who's actually one of our Fellows, is Egyptian but he helps lead a center dealing with dialogue and development and culture in the Middle East.

Gabe: That's great! Well, I tell you, Duane, it's really impressive to see that for so many years there's been somebody who had a really long-term vision for this and now to see how that's playing itself out. I just applaud you and the whole team that's working on the Harvey Fellows Program. I hope we can just continue to learn more about the program. 

The people who are leading this have been doing it for quite some time do so with a lot of credibility. Duane, thanks again for being a part of this community, and for just contributing your thoughts and ideas.

Duane: Thanks, Gabe. It's been my pleasure.


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