From early in a child’s life, the educational narrative begins and is threaded throughout the child’s primary years into becoming a young adult. There are many different experiences that a family, community or society can provide, but education tends to be the centralized focus. As 17- and 18-year-olds discern what they are going to pursue post-high school graduation, many options may come to mind. Some options considered include which university, trade, job or passion will be pursued.
The pursuit of one or multiple of these options may be impacted by economic factors (e.g., how much debt a student is willing to take on, how many scholarships are provided, or whether more schooling is even the right choice), family responsibilities, or an uncertainty on what the next chapter of life might hold. However, one additional factor for many to consider is: How is Christ integrated into any and all of these decisions —specifically when discerning a university setting?
For years society has told young people to pursue certain degrees or disciplines of education that will set them up for success with a diploma and a pipeline of possible job opportunities. Students tend to pursue universities that are marketed with the number of graduates in jobs post-graduation and where the student will walk away with as little debt as possible. These desired outcomes, a job and as little debt as possible, are important outcomes for many reasons and can still be sought after while pursuing a Christ-centered education in a university setting. You might be asking yourself, “Where do I begin?” or “Where does my child begin?” All I have to offer is my own experience in a Christian university and why I chose the kind of university that I did.
Turn back the clock to the spring of 2009. I was a senior in high school and readier than ever to get out of my little town —the kind of town where everyone knows everyone and everything. A good amount of my friends chose to go to large public schools, where you become a number in the crowd and end up walking across the stage with very little connection to the person who shakes your hand, and says, “Congratulations. Job well done.” I knew that I did not just want to be a number, but that the place I would end up attending was going to be my home and community for at least the next four years. My top three major considerations were being able to go to a place where I could explore the foundation of my faith and grow, be in a city with people from all walks of life and be able to embrace God’s beauty throughout humanity, and to learn in a rigorous academic environment that would support me in my endeavor to be able to create a positive impact on this world.
A lot of institutions have Christian roots, but finding a presently Christ-centered institution and taking action as a community was the next step. After searching through and exploring the coalition of Christian universities on the West Coast, I ended up taking a trip to Seattle and came across a small Christian university called Seattle Pacific. If you have never been, this little university is tucked away in a beautiful neighborhood with lots of trees, easy access to public transportation, walking to different neighborhoods, and it is actually in the city! The small-town boy in me believed I had hit the goldmine. Seattle Pacific has three key pillars — faith, academics and Seattle —each of which covered my major considerations and would end up being my home for two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree and a doctorate.
For me, I found and pursued academics that expanded my knowledge and understanding of this world. I was able to learn in a diverse setting as we (Seattle Pacific students and staff) hosted Tent City, volunteered throughout our Seattle community, and worshipped in many Christian churches (Romans 12:16). We engaged in volunteer opportunities abroad that allowed for global outreach and learning (Acts 1:8). On the homefront, we opened our lecture halls to diversity of thought while pursuing Christ in conversation, dialogue and relationships. We learned, practiced and preached reconciliation between all walks of life (2 Corinthians 5:11–21). I learned to engage the culture around me, and I will continue to be able to change the world by living out my faith and loving people. The professors, staff and administration fostered an environment where learning in all facets of life was OK. Were we perfect? No, but each day and year we grow in grace and get better as a community (Hebrews 4:16, 1 Peter 4:10).
There are many kinds of universities that you could choose from. Am I a Seattle Pacific spokesperson? No. But do I love this university? Yes, and the many Christ-centered universities like it. As a lifelong learner and alumnus now of a Christ-centered Christian university, I can without a doubt say that the environment that you choose to be a part of will shape who you are during that time and who you become as you leave the formal academic setting. The university I chose was perfect for me. No matter which university you choose, I challenge you to keep two of my three major considerations: academics and faith. How you discern the environment in which you get to practice academics and faith, whether a large city or small town, is up to you. As a person in your larger Christian community, I look forward to seeing how you continue to seek God’s guidance as you learn, grow, engage with others, and shape the world around you.
Jake Redding has a Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology from Seattle Pacific University. He works in leadership development and focuses on helping organizations create diverse and inclusive workforces.