News Release: Religion and Ethics

Jul. 11,  2011

Students Return for First-Ever Theology Alumni Academy

News Article ImageStudents who attended the Youth Theological Initiative Summer Academy last year say goodbye at the end of the program.

Some 30 high school students and recent graduates who attended last year’s Youth Theological Initiative (YTI) Summer Academy are returning to Emory University’s Candler School of Theology July 20-24 for the first-ever Alumni Academy. The program aims to help these young scholars reconnect with each other and support their ongoing development as engaged, critically thinking people of faith.

“We see YTI working with youth as they go into adulthood, not just for one summer,” says Elizabeth Corrie, director of YTI and assistant professor at Candler. “We’re making it possible for everyone who is interested to come back.”

YTI’s Summer Academy is an intensive residential program of theological education for rising high school juniors and seniors started in 1993 with a grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. Since its inception, more than 900 youth from the United States, the Bahamas, Jerusalem and Mexico have learned how to engage in respectful and effective interfaith dialogue, and to study the intersection of theology and the public sphere, including issues such as environmental justice, racism and civil rights, migration, immigration and labor.

Held annually until this year, the Summer Academy moves to an every other year schedule with the launch of the new Alumni Academy, which Corrie says was created to fill a gap experienced by Summer Academy graduates.

“After their intensive summer experience together, where they’ve changed and matured, Summer Academy scholars can’t believe they aren’t going to see each other again. Knowing they can come back for the Alumni Academy helps get them through the tough year that lies ahead,” she says.

Claudia Martinez, a 2010 YTI alumna, says she’s attending the Alumni Academy because “YTI has always been in the back of my mind since I left.”

“I’m excited to reconnect with my faith and with the people there again. Their personal stories changed me, taught me that despite family problems and issues with growing up, they still had faith and their relationship with God stayed strong,” she says.

The Alumni Academy will offer a series of lectures, workshops and worship services interspersed with focus groups, an interfaith picnic and time to reconnect with peers. Older YTI alumni, many who are now leaders of churches and religious organizations, will conduct workshops, such as “Does God Think Girls Have Cooties?: Feminism and Christianity” and “So, now what?: Discerning One’s Path in a Distracting World.”

The two-day event then merges into an alumni reunion weekend open to all YTI alumni and former staff, with special celebrations for the classes of 1996, 2001 and 2006. On the agenda are workshops and panel discussions, a fundraising banquet and a keynote address by 86-year-old Ethel R. Johnson, a beloved member of the YTI community who was a civil rights activist and faculty member at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio.

“It’s a time of building community across the years and a way for older alumni to mentor younger alumni,” says Corrie.

The Summer Academy returns in 2012 with gifts from the Finegan Family Foundation and the Morgan Family Foundation totaling $105,000. Some $75,000 will provide scholarships and travel funds for five students from the Northern California region as well as support for YTI’s “Faith, Ethics and the City” project for 2012-2014. The remaining $30,000 is a three-year challenge grant to encourage YTI alumni to raise money for scholarships.

About Candler School of Theology

Candler School of Theology, Emory University, prepares real people to make a real difference in the real world. It is an intellectually vital, internationally distinguished and intentionally diverse university-based school of theology. Its mission is to educate faithful and creative leaders for the church's ministries in the world. Candler is dedicated to expanding knowledge of religion and theology, deepening spiritual life, strengthening the public witness of the churches, and building upon the breadth of Christian traditions, particularly the Wesleyan heritage, for the positive transformation of church and world. It is one of 13 United Methodist Church seminaries, with an enrollment of 500 students representing 50 denominations and more than 7,000 alumni worldwide.

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