Seminary Beyond The School House

snapshot_bannersnapshot-2009-09-15Ismael (Smiley) Calderon, Gracia Walker, and Eric Banner are first-year students studying in low-residency mode. Top: Incoming Class of 2009

Starr King welcomed 27 first-year students this month, including five who will earn credits while living hundreds, or even thousands, of miles from Berkeley. The school continues to expand its low-residency degree program, which allows students to take on-line courses and perform fieldwork to earn their degrees. Gracia Walker is an M. Div. student on the low-residency track. She’ll study this year from Johnson City, Tenn. She has three daughters, all of whom are attending college near home, and she wants to be nearby to see them through. Also, she says, she intends to fulfill commitments as a board member at Holston Valley (Tenn.) UU Church, and as Secretary of the Board of the Thomas Jefferson District of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Walker grew up in a fundamentalist church and spent her early life “hiding books that I was reading so they wouldn’t be taken away.” Her daughters are the first women in her family to attend college. She wants to be a UU minister so she can “reach out to people who are leaving fundamentalist traditions and need somewhere to go…. I feel it’s part of my calling to share my story.” Eric Banner, another first-year, low-residency M. Div. student, is an environmental scientist living in Manhattan, Kan. Married with a 15-month-old daughter, he plans to study long-distance this year, then wind down his life in Kansas and move to Berkeley with his family next year. Why did Eric choose Starr King? “If I’m going to take three years of my life and focus on my growth as a religious person, then I need to be pulled out of my comfort zone of familiarity. I felt that I was going to get that growth experience being a Starr King student.” He’s not sure yet whether he’ll become a parish minister, but says, “My (current) work is research-oriented, and I want to be more engaged in the human work of environmental change.” Ismael Smiley Calderon chose the low-residency program because he is raising three children and has a good job in Orange, Calif. As a Master of Divinity student, Calderon may earn up to two-thirds of his credits off campus. He says he plans to move to Berkeley for some of his education. He attended the school’s orientation recently, and comments, “I enjoyed everyone’s hospitality. It was a very good vibe.” An American Baptist interested in anti-poverty work, Calderon also was attracted by Starr King’s inclusiveness. “I consider myself a universalist with a small ‘u’. I want to be accepting of everyone – atheists, Muslims, Buddhists. I don’t want to confine my spirituality to one theological outlook.” The low-residency programs are available to students seeking a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, or a Master of Arts in Religious Leadership for Social Change (M.A.S.C.) degree. For more information, visit SKSM Degree Programs or contact the school at (510) 845-6232.

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