Jessie Ball duPont Fund pays for essential research.

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Dean Javier Viera reboots the mission.

February 2016 – Drew Theological School’s plan to transform its curriculum just got a huge boost.

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund awarded a two-year grant to the Theological School to fund research related to the transformation, which will inform the school’s creative redesign of its curricula for a variety of theological experiences that will touch the needs of today’s diverse constituencies.

The grant also will help Drew better position itself among other theological institutions and introduce new partners who will consult and recommend effective pedagogical innovations. In the process, the seminary aims to answer a number of questions, including:

  • Who is the adult learner in the digital age?
  • Who are the adult learners in their 20s, 40s and 60s?
  • What do these students seek, demand, and need to sustain their commitment to a rigorous theological education?

These are questions that Theological School professors have already raised. As such, Dean Javier Viera and his colleagues look forward to the input of external experts who, as Viera said, will “allow us to be in a position to have our assumptions challenged and even shaped by what we learn from the research and data collection that the grant enables to us to gather.”

Viera added that the duPont grant provides vital insights “that otherwise would have been much less robust and comprehensive.”

The process ultimately will produce a reinvigorated curriculum that will be ready for students by the fall of 2018.

The transformation comes at a key point in the Theological School’s history. Next year, the school will celebrate its 150th anniversary, which coincides with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Also, the seminary isn’t the only Drew institution embracing change: Drew’s College of Liberal Arts and Caspersen School of Graduate Studies are in the midst of significant revamps as well. It’s all happening under Drew President MaryAnn Baenninger, who arrived in July 2014—the same month as Viera.

Curriculum transformation is central to Viera’s efforts to align the already forward-looking school with a strategic emphasis on student experience and revitalized degree programs and partnerships.

From the dean’s perspective, change is essential to ensuring the long-term growth of the seminary, which offers four master’s degrees and two doctorates and ranks highly as a producer of PhDs. The school also strives to be a microcosm of the global church that’s informed by the global perspectives of faculty and students alike. Its students come from as far away as South Korea, China, Kenya and Peru.

“What this transformation allows us to do is to zero in on our unique strengths and then shape them in ways that respond to the real needs of prospective students, of the Church, the academy and a culture that is changing so rapidly that we can barely keep up with the pace,” Viera said. “If we’re able to both adapt and build on our unique strengths, I think we’ll be in a strong position to thrive well into the future.”