Forum for Theological Exploration funds doctoral research.

September 2016 – Three Drew Theological School students earned fellowships from the Forum for Theological Exploration this year, up from just one in 2015.

The students, Ericka Dunbar, Erica Ramirez and Eric Thomas, are among just 16 fellows who were selected. The others hail from schools like Harvard University, Duke Divinity School and Princeton Theological Seminary.

The fellowships provide stipends to doctoral students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups who plan to teach religion, biblical studies or theology at theological schools in North America.

In Dunbar, Ramirez and Thomas, the Forum’s selection committee recognized a “clear commitment to the church and a long track record of success in the academy,” said Kimberly R. Daniel-Brister, the organization’s director of communications.

LD_083116_THEO_Ericka_Dunbar_0037_SQEricka Dunbar

For Dunbar, who is studying themes of marginalized subjects, violence and internalized oppression in the Hebrew Bible, the fellowship provides crucial financial support.

“It is an honor to have such prestige bestowed and support from an organization that is intentional about cultivating diverse leaders and scholars,” she added.

Dunbar credits her family, friends and mentors—like Randall C. Bailey of the Interdenominational Theological Center and Kenneth Ngwa of Drew Theological School—with her academic success. Before Drew, she earned associate of arts and bachelor of science degrees from University of Florida and a master of divinity degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center. She also has a master of theology from Candler School of Theology.

LD_090216_THEO_Erica_Ramirez_0169_SQErica Ramirez

Ramirez, a two-time Forum fellowship winner, is studying Pentecostal worship forms as political contest in the seminary’s Religion and Society program. Her last fellowship was in 2014.

“These scholarships have helped make my personally very meaningful work possible,” said Ramirez. “I am very grateful.”

Before entering the Theological School, Ramirez earned degrees from the Southwestern Assemblies of God University and Wheaton College Graduate School. She credits mentors like the late Otto Maduro and Assistant Professor Elias Ortega-Aponte with her academic success in The Forest.

“Rigor is the lifeblood of every school, but Drew’s value for innovation makes me so grateful I pursued the PhD here,” she added.

LD_082616_Theo_Eric_Thomas_0020-(1)_SQEric Thomas

Thomas, who described the fellowship as an “incredible honor,” is studying biblical studies and early Christianity. More specifically, he’s focusing on the “lived experiences of Black and Latinx queer people throughout the African diasporas.”

“The award reminds me that my work is valid and needed in the academy and greater community,” Thomas said.

Before Drew, Thomas earned master of divinity and master of arts degrees from the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary. He also has an MBA from Binghamton University and a BA from the State University of New York in Albany.

Past Forum Fellowship Winners


Dong Hyeon Jeong


Erica Ramirez


Jennifer Kaalund

Robert Wafula


Tejai Beulah

Shanell Smith

Peter Mena


David Evans


Shanell Smith


Lynne S. Darden

Shanell Smith

Sakena Young-Scaggs