John and Jane Colman, lifetime Chicagoans involved with many charitable organizations and long-time friends of the University of Chicago Divinity School, have made a gift of $900,000 to support leadership initiatives at the School. Margaret M. Mitchell, Dean of the Divinity School and Shailer Mathews Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, announced the gift at the autumn meeting of the Visiting Committee to the Divinity School on Tuesday, October 29, 2013. The Colmans’ gift, the largest to the School from an individual donor in the past 10 years, will endow the Craft of Teaching in the Academic Study of Religion, an innovative new program that the Divinity School inaugurated in 2011.
The Craft of Teaching Program is the School’s unique pedagogical curriculum that seamlessly integrates the commitment to preparing outstanding educators in the field of religious studies with the experience of rigorous graduate study in religion at Swift Hall. Through a year-round program of seminars and workshops, the program sustains a vigorous conversation on pedagogy in the study of religion both within and across all the Divinity School’s diverse areas of study and focuses on preparing students to be professional leaders in the academy and broader society.
Dean Mitchell stated, “We are profoundly grateful to the Colmans for this extraordinary gift to endow the Craft of Teaching at the Divinity School. There is no comparable program anywhere in higher education, and the Colmans’ vision for training scholar-leaders in the academic study of religion puts this ground-breaking initiative on a solid foundation and ensures that it will flourish into the future, benefiting generations of students to come.”
This is John and Jane Colman’s second major gift in seven years to support leadership initiatives at the Divinity School. In 2006, they endowed the Marty Center Dissertation Seminar with a gift of $750,000. Their gift inspired $1.5 million in matching funds from alumni and friends in response to the Colmans’ challenge. In reflecting on their decision to endow the Craft of Teaching program, John Colman noted that the two gifts flow from one overarching philanthropic goal. “Just as our first gift to establish the Marty Center Dissertation Fellowships was about recruiting and training those who have the best prospects for becoming leaders in the academic study of religion, so this gift to endow the Craft of Teaching is intended to help scholars of religion develop leadership skills– to be put to use in their classrooms, institutions, and broader communities.”
The Marty Center Dissertation Seminar provides the opportunity for a small cohort of advanced doctoral students to work together for a year to complete their dissertations in some aspect of the academic study of religion, at the same time learning how to translate their specialized research knowledge for broader publics. The Craft of Teaching Program is available to a broad spectrum of students across the Divinity School’s doctoral and master’s programs, and to students across the larger university, thereby modeling to the broader academic community innovative ways of developing leadership skills. Both the Marty Center Dissertation Seminar and the Craft of Teaching program give students tools to foster intelligent public discussion of religion with a wide range of constituencies. In its first full year, the Craft of Teaching program sponsored over 22 dedicated events with 124 Divinity School students from all degree programs participating in at least one of those programs;15 Divinity School faculty and 18 alumni gave presentations on some aspect of the art of teaching, along with other outstanding educators.
Lucy K. Pick, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Senior Lecturer in the History of Christianity and the College, is one of the faculty members serving on the School’s Teaching Task Force that has been at work since 2010. This year, she is co-leading the Marty Center Dissertation Seminar. “The Marty Center Dissertation Seminar, which has been so generously supported by the Colmans over the years, has always been a cornerstone of the Divinity School's conversations on pedagogy. Thanks once again to the Colmans, the Craft of Teaching program will now be able to build on and greatly expand the work begun in the Seminar. Their gift will allow the Divinity School to train its students to become leaders in pedagogy across the disciplines that make up the field of religious studies.”
Mr. Colman added, “The Divinity School has long been regarded as the first without equal as an institution that trains teachers in the academic study of religion. Jane and I are very excited about supporting the Craft of Teaching program that builds on this tradition of excellence to produce new generations of outstanding leaders."
Over the decades, the University of Chicago Divinity School has consistently been the foremost teacher of teachers in the academic study of religion, placing more of its graduates in a wide range of departments of religious studies across the country than any of its peers. These institutions include liberal arts colleges, research universities, state universities, seminaries, and schools of theology. Divinity School alumni also have significant impact on higher education today as college presidents, deans of schools and divisions and department heads. The Craft of Teaching program seeks to equip students for their full array of potential leadership roles as educators, mentors, institutional leaders and public intellectuals.
One of the core elements of the program is the Dean’s quarterly Craft of Teaching Seminar. Each quarter a distinguished alumnus/a or other accomplished educator, each representing a different type of educational institution and academic specialization, is invited by the Dean to lead a seminar addressing the challenges of teaching religion in their particular academic context, while also speaking concretely about a course they have designed and taught. These opportunities for students to connect with colleagues and to become part of supportive, mentoring networks are essential parts of the Craft of Teaching program.
Brandon Cline, PhD candidate in New Testament and Early Christian Literature and Coordinator of the Craft of Teaching Program, observed that “at its heart the Craft of Teaching is about preparing Divinity School graduates to make an immediate and positive contribution to institutions of higher learning, training them to bring leadership, insight, and clarity to the public conversation on religion one class, one department, and one institution at a time. Most students are at Swift because our lives were transformed at some point by outstanding and thoughtful teaching--by teachers who could inspire and lead their students to new understanding and abilities. Young pedagogues like us long to make that kind of difference, but to get there we need the support of a robust program that brings together the resources and experience of our faculty, alums, and peers. The excitement and energy around the Craft of Teaching are evidence that the program is meeting that need and is already having an appreciable impact on students’ development as teacher-scholars."
John Colman joined the Divinity School’s Visiting Committee in the 1970s and has been a member of the Martin Marty Center’s Advisory Board since the center was founded in 1988. Reflecting on their gifts to the School, he observed, “We believe that developing new generations of leaders is a crucial role for higher education and essential for the continued well-being of our society. What better place than the Divinity School to identify and train leaders who will make a difference in their communities?”