By Ben Lucas ‘12
Imagine you’re a college basketball coach and nine of your players advance to the NBA.
That should give you some idea of the accomplishment that Simpson’s Department of Religion recently achieved.
Nine students applied to various seminary programs.
All nine were accepted.
And the final count may prove to be even higher. Other religion majors may go on to seminary after taking a year or two off from school.
“Our success this year is a testament to the students themselves – they are a tight-knit, hardworking bunch, with a lot of intellectual curiosity,” said Mark Gammon, chair of the department. “It isn’t surprising that seminaries and graduate schools would want them.”
What makes Simpson unusual – in addition to the 100 percent acceptance rate – is the number of religion majors it has for a small college. And most of them began expecting to pursue a different career.
Take senior Hannah Landgraf, for example.
“I was going to go to law school, but I didn’t really have a passion for law,” she said.
Her passion is helping others, “and I realized the way I wanted to help people was not in law. It was also a realization that going to seminary doesn’t mean you’re going to be a pastor. There are all kinds of ways to do ministry in the world.”
After graduating later this month, Landgraf will begin studying at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. There, she will pursue a Masters in Divinity with a possible Ph.D.
“Right now I’m really interested in doing chaplaincy work, specifically in a hospital, prison or in a (drug or alcohol) treatment facility,” she said.
Gammon said the program that Simpson has in place – including the religion department, the chapel and CVIL – allows students to explore the many dimensions of ministry.
“We’ve also humanized and demystified the profession,” he said. “It is a noble and difficult calling, and I’m glad that our department plays some part in guiding the best and the brightest that way again. Hardly any of the students who end up going to divinity school planned on that path at the start.”
It’s not easy.
“First-year divinity students often struggle both academically and spiritually, but our alumni report being among the best prepared,” Gammon said.
Although statistics aren’t readily available, “we’re doing well not just this year, but over the last several when it comes to sending students on to graduate work in the field,” he added. “Our pre-ministry program is as strong as any in the region – and stronger than most. And we’re doing this with a comparably small department and limited resources.”
Landgraf attributed the success of Simpson’s religion department to the faculty and the manner in which majors are attracted to the program.
“I think most of it is the faculty,” she said. “It’s not just one faculty member; it’s all three of them. That’s a pretty small department when you think about it, but they really know how to engage students. Most of the people that are religion majors now don’t come in as religion majors. They end up taking a class and really enjoying it.”
Senior Erin Broich of Alta has been accepted to both Loyola in Chicago and Boston College. She credits each Simpson professor’s unique teaching style for her success, but also believes each student that came into the religion department worked much harder as a result.
“I think it’s because none of us came in as religion majors,” Broich said. “We all kind of converted to the religion department. A lot of it had to do with the classes we took and the professors themselves, because the professors are pretty awesome.”
Senior Erin Guzman of Traer was accepted to all four schools she applied to, including Duke Divinity School, which Gammon considers to be one of the hardest seminaries in the country to enter. She said she’s grateful for the training she received in the religion department and that it will help her far into the future, not just at seminary.
“I think it says amazing things about what our education is doing, the fact that we have so many people going to grad schools of this caliber,” she said. “Just the fact that all of these schools see potential in us and they’ve seen our transcript and the list of classes we’ve taken, they know they’re going to get quality students no matter where we decide to go.”
It’s a message that’s spreading.
“While we tend to send more than our share to seminary, our majors are also having success in law school, social work, business, and even the military,” Gammon said. “We’ve also sent a good number off to AmeriCorps and other service programs. We’re proud of our record across the board.”
Here are the Simpson religion majors or recent graduates who have been accepted to various seminaries:
Alex Wright– Majors: Religion, Applied Philosophy.
Minors: Sociology, Women’s Studies.
Hometown: Papillon, Neb.
Accepted by St. Paul, Iliff and Garrett.
Erin Guzman – Majors: Religion, Integrated Marketing Communication.
Accepted by Drew, Duke, Vanderbilt and Garrett.
Mick Wise – Major: Religion.
Hometown: Des Moines.
Accepted by Garrett.
Amanda Mackey — Major: Religion (graduated last fall).
Hometown: Shawnee, Kan.
Accepted by Garrett
Eva DePue – Major: Religion.
Hometown: Bellevue, Neb.
Accepted by Duke.
Michael DePue — Major: Religion. (He graduated in 2010, but applied to seminary this year.)
Accepted by Duke.
Hannah Landgraf – Majors: History, Religion.
Minor: Women’s Studies.
Hometown: Mason City.
Accepted by Candler, Vanderbilt, Boston University.
Erin Broich – Majors: History, Religion.
Accepted by Loyola of Chicago and Boston College.
Ryan Edwardson – Majors: Religion, Psychology.
Accepted by Garrett.