The Office of Loans and Scholarships at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) recently recognized Dr. Kimberly Russaw, who became the 41st Women of Color graduate when she received a Doctor of Philosophy in religion with a focus in Hebrew Bible and ancient Israel from Vanderbilt University in 2016.
A four-year commitment from The United Methodist Church and the religious scholars, the Women of Color Scholarship Program (WOC) is designed to give financial, intellectual and personal support to United Methodist women of color pursuing doctorates in religious studies at seminaries and universities across the U.S. Each recipient of the scholarship desires to serve on the faculty or in an executive administrative position at a UM-related theological school.
Russaw entered the WOC program in 2012 through a referral from United Methodist communications professional, Amelia Tucker Shaw. Russaw describes her time in the WOC as familial, “We become connected and develop lasting relationships. We watch each other grow through the program, and we see families and children grow while we are in the program.”
“A jewel – a hidden gem,” Russaw said when describing the WOC program. “The program offers so much in terms of financial, and more importantly, moral support,” Russaw added. “The mentoring aspect of the program is a critical part of its success. The individual mentoring I’ve received from women like Angella Current-Felder [former executive director of the Office of Loans and Scholarship at GBHEM] has been invaluable.”
A published author, Russaw’s work focused on daughters and how they navigate antagonistic systems of power in the Old Testament. Russaw’s findings are the basis for her upcoming book, “Daughters in the Hebrew Bible.” Russaw earned her undergraduate degree from Spelman College. She later earned an MBA from Clark Atlanta University and a Master of Divinity from Gammon/Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC).
Russaw recently relocated to her hometown of Chicago, Illinois. She is serving in an adjunct professor role and pursuing a faculty role within a seminary, college or university. “I want to make an impact for people that look like me in this space [theological education],” Russaw said.
When asked what advice she would give to current and future WOC scholars, Russaw advised the women to “listen closely and carefully to the program mentors. Although you may not always agree, the advice and information the mentors provide will be helpful to you as you continue in your doctoral program.”
Exiting WOC Scholars
In addition to celebrating Russaw completing her doctoral work, GBHEM recognized the scholars exiting the program in 2016 after completing their four-year commitment: Elyse Ambrose, Amy Barbour and Hyun Hui Kim.
Ambrose, who is preparing for graduation in 2017, attends Drew Theological School. Her doctoral work is focused on Christian social ethics; women, gender and sexuality; and African American studies. Ambrose serves as a provisional deacon in New York Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
In addition to her pursuit of a faculty position at a United Methodist seminary, she hopes to also serve as an associate pastor of a church. “Being around other women of color scholars is comforting and impactful. It is helpful to know that you aren’t alone and there are women who have shared experiences with you,” Ambrose said when describing the WOC program. “Women of Color provides assurance that you can succeed and live out your call. It’s a network that you take with you throughout your career.”
Ambrose, who majored in business administration at Howard University and earned a Master of Divinity from Gammon Theological Seminary, urges current and future WOC scholars to “not compare yourself to other people. Do you and trust that it will work – just look at the successful women who have come through the program.” She also advises scholarship recipients to “take full advantage of the opportunity to network and connect.”
Barbour attends Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary and the focus of her doctoral work is in systematic and constructive theology. Barbour earned her undergraduate degree from Northern Illinois University and Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary.
“The gift of the program is the fact that it is multi-year and there are many opportunities to develop lasting relationships and gain invaluable mentoring,” Barbour said. “We are undertaking very different and challenging work, and Women of Color gives us the support and platform to work through the process. I will carry the warm, welcoming spirit I find among the mentors and other scholars with me.”
Barbour encourages current and future WOC scholars to dream big. “Women of Color gives you a supportive environment to think differently about theology. Take advantage of this opportunity that you may not always have,” Barbour added.
Hyun Hui Kim
Kim is pursuing her doctorate in theological and philosophical studies at Drew Theological School. She earned her Master of Divinity from the same university. In addition to her studies, Kim is also going through ordination to serve as an elder in the New Jersey Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
“It’s emotional when the Women of Color Scholars come together – it’s like coming home. The mentors and my fellow scholars offer diverse and interdisciplinary perspectives,” Kim said. “I have many fond memories of my time in the program but our closing devotions will always be my favorite memories. We hold hands – a physical connection – and pray for each other – a spiritual connection – it’s truly powerful.”
“The program can be challenging, but helpful and impactful to your doctoral work,” Kim said when asked what advice she would give to future WOC scholars. “It can be stressful to show your academic work. Don’t worry, the program gives you a platform to gain help and support. The program offers a balance between personal philosophies and Eurocentric philosophies our doctoral programs.”
GBHEM applauds Dr. Kimberly Russaw and the WOC scholars on their accomplishments and wish each continued success in the future. To learn more about GBHEM and the WOC program, visit www.gbhem.org.
About GBHEM: As the leadership development agency of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to lead and connect the educational and ministerial life of the church. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call on their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.