Daniel Bell, Jr.
After graduating from Stetson University in 1988 with a degree in religious studies, I attended Duke University to earn a master of divinity degree in preparation for ordination in The United Methodist Church, and then to earn a Ph.D. in theology and ethics in preparation for a teaching career. Upon completing my Ph.D., I taught in the religious studies or philosophy departments at several undergraduate institutions before being called to my current position, professor of theology and ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
Reflecting on my time at Stetson University, I am struck by how formative was the time I spent there. The academic preparation I received as well as the life experiences I gained have opened doors and created opportunities for me that would not have materialized had I attended a larger institution.
For example, during my first year of seminary I discovered that the academic preparation I received at Stetson University placed me well ahead of my classmates. Whether it was the extensive practice writing or the breadth and depth of the knowledge of the discipline, the religious studies degree prepared me to make the most of my seminary education.
Beyond the excellent preparation for seminary work, though, I credit my training at Stetson University with helping me secure my first teaching positions. Those positions required me to teach everything, including: Old and New Testament, philosophical ethics, church history, theology and world religions. Seminary and graduate school did not prepare me for all of that. Rather it was Stetson University that helped me succeed.
What I most value about my time at Stetson University, however, is the sense of community, the friendships and the genuine interest in students displayed by the department's faculty. At Stetson University, I first experienced the joy of a vibrant community of conversation where we could wrestle with issues that really mattered. Many of the friendships that formed in the midst of those conversations – with faculty and students – continue to this day. Perhaps the single gift I cherish most is the genuine care and compassion expressed by the faculty for me and my classmates. If the academic preparation I gained at Stetson University opened the doors to my present career, it is the profound care expressed by the faculty that most inspires and shapes how I try to live out this career.
Looking back from twenty years, I am convinced that I could not have gotten a better education anywhere else.
Beverly Dozier-Peeples, J.D.
I graduated from Stetson University in 1997 with a major in religious studies and a minor in political science. I subsequently attended the University of Florida College of Law, and graduated in 2000 with a Juris Doctorate. Today I am a senior policy advisor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga. I never would have imagined while studying at Stetson University that I would be where I am today. Before I came to Stetson University, I knew that I wanted to study the law, and that I wanted to be a prosecutor. Little did I know what was in store for me. So, as many aspiring law students, I began my studies as a political science major. As I began taking religious studies courses as electives, I quickly discovered how much I enjoyed the courses, and that they seemed a nice fit with my political science courses. I switched majors, and I began to understand some things that had never occurred to me before. My studies at Stetson University in religious studies were critical to my professional development, and were invaluable in my understanding the foundation of public policy, and thereby the law which results from that public policy.
While we live in a nation which values the rights of individuals to worship as they freely choose, and to enjoy a government 'free from religion'; our choices-personal, political, religious - our morals, ethics and beliefs - are largely founded on our religious perspectives. This is true even when it is not a conscious analysis. The nexus between our political life and our religious beliefs cannot be ignored without losing sight of the basis for public policy and public 'good.' What we consider 'good' or 'right' is the yardstick by which we measure our choices, and that yardstick includes more of our faith and subsequently, our view of who we are - than we are often ready to acknowledge. The idea that we should suspend our religious beliefs when making political choices is a fascinating and largely uniquely American perspective.
My studies in the religious studies department at Stetson University equipped me with tools that not only assisted me at law school, but everyday in my work at the CDC. I assist our nation's leaders in making difficult decisions about the allocation of resources - such as vaccines and medical technology everyday. The law is not our only guide in this decision-making process. There are undoubtedly many ethical choices, undeniably made by using the yardstick of our sense of what is 'good' and 'right.' I have responsibility for reviewing and carefully considering proposed legislation before it is introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives or the Senate; and making substantive comments to legislators about how the implementation of legislation might impact our agency's programs and consequently our national and international health assets. Putting our laws and regulations under the microscope of the underlying public policy exposes much about who we are as a people and a nation.
Understanding why you believe something is 'right' or 'wrong,' and being able to effectively translate that into something that may be used to make the world a better place, is an empowering skill you may have the opportunity to attain should you decide to avail yourself of a degree in religious studies at Stetson University.
In the fall of 1998, I was a senior in high school eagerly touring colleges in my home state of Florida. Stetson University was the first that I visited, but I knew immediately that I wouldn't be interested in any others. And, much to my mother's horror, I sent out only one college application.
For the last three years of high school, I attended what some might call a fundamentalist Christian school; so as a college freshman, I felt pretty confident that I would be prepared for Kandy Queen-Sutherland's "Introduction to Christianity" course. Prepared, I was not. I was astonished - enthralled, even - to learn about the rich history and cultural background of the Old Testament texts. And Dr. Queen-Sutherland's enthusiasm for the subject just made it that much more compelling. I was hooked after the first class.
From then on, I took at least one religious studies course every semester. Each one opened my mind and made me hungry for more. Each professor was passionate about their subject matter – a quality that I didn't fully appreciate until I went on to graduate school. In fact, I am certain that had it not been for their passion for their sincere interest in their students, I would not be where I am today - working as a publicist for religious books at Random House and Penguin.
But, it is because of the encouragement of great teachers that many of us are inspired to explore and find our paths. In May 2003, I graduated magna cum laude from Stetson University, and in May 2006 from Princeton Theological Seminary. Uncertain that I was called to the ministry, I began to look for other ways to use my religious studies and masters of divinity degrees. Two months later, I took a job at Doubleday Religion, an imprint of Random House, working as a publicity assistant. Since then, I have worked as a publicist at Tarcher, an imprint of Penguin Group, where I worked on a range of diverse spiritual titles. I also worked as a web publicist at Hachette, promoting titles by evangelical authors including Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. Currently I am a freelance publicist in the greater New York City area.
Stetson University's professors, namely those in the religious studies and humanities departments, nurtured my desire to learn and succeed. I continue to draw on the things they taught me and apply them not only to my career, but also to my daily life. The courses I took at Stetson University changed my perspective and opened my mind, and I am very, very grateful to have had the opportunity to study there.
Erica (Bilsky) Hruby
In January of 1992 I became a Stetson University student. I chose Stetson University because of the location, the small class sizes and the variety of academic opportunities. As a Floridian, Stetson University felt far enough away from home, yet close enough to provide comfort if needed.
My first class in the religious studies department was "The Judeo-Christian Heritage" with Kandy Queen-Sutherland. I fondly remember her as a tiny professor whose energy and excitement lit up a room. From that moment forward, I was hooked. The religious studies department understood who I was and the faculty taught courses in a way that made me not only feel comfortable, but that made me thirst for more. Ironically, several years ago I was looking back at my transcripts and I realized that I had actually taken enough credits in the department that I could double major. That showed me that I was truly taking courses for the sake of learning and because I loved the subject, not for recognition on a transcript. In addition, I was fortunate enough to participate in a travel course with the department. Seeing Israel through a historical lens and understanding the significance of our homeland was incredible. I traveled with faculty that I trusted and friends that I will remember throughout my life.
Immediately after graduating from Stetson University I began graduate school at the Georgia School of Professional Psychology. Over the last fifteen years I have devoted myself to Jewish communal work. The work that I am most proud of, though, is the work that I am doing today. I proudly serve as the director of a 200-student supplementary Hebrew high school program and as the coordinator of Central Florida's partnership city program with Israel. Every day I am able to make a real difference in the lives of Jewish teens in Central Florida and to connect people of all ages to Israel. It is my job to help people understand that Jewish education and Israel can be a meaningful (and fun) part of their lives. I am one of the fortunate people who can say that I love what I do!
Stetson University, specifically the religious studies department, laid the foundation for who I am today. My passion for teaching, my love of learning and my excitement for my career, I believe, came from the amazing mentors that I now lovingly call my friends.