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Meet the Sims Scholars’ Advisory Committee


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Announced in mid-February, the Sims Scholars Initiative—through which up to eight theology students in the Twin Cities can earn a tuition-free Master of Arts in Leadership degree at United—has been put into motion. 

At an advisory committee meeting in May, members expressed their excitement about progress made in the intervening months. Comprised of United alums, trustees, faculty, and friends who wear myriad professional hats, the committee members are committed to seeking qualified candidates and providing mentorship and advising services while the cohort attends seminary.

Rev. Stacey Smith (’16), Presiding Elder for the Fourth District of the AME Church’s Chicago Annual Conference as well as a board member for United and the Minnesota Council of Churches, asserted that the initiative provides “an amazing opportunity for students to come [to United], have immediate community, [and] experience the seminary in a way that will help them blossom and gain additional skills.”

Rev. Dr. DeWayne Davis, lead minister at Plymouth Congregational Church—as well as a member of United’s board and adjunct faculty—is inspired by the widening breadth of theology being explored through the program, including Black spirituality and womanist theology. His greatest hope is that the Sims Scholars will have more expansive theological conversations and make strides in “confronting the fears we hide behind boundaries that we’ve accepted from tradition.”

The “Sims Scholars” Initiative is designed to address racial inequities in society and to educate and prepare leaders who desire to constructively engage issues confronting Black spiritual communities. Through this initiative, students will form an intentional cohort for mutual support, special studies, and mentoring.

“Representation matters!” emphasized Dr. William Hart, professor of religious studies at Macalester College and United’s board secretary. Dr. Hart reflected on his experience with a Black cohort during his PhD experience at Princeton University, and noted that “having a critical mass [of similarly situated colleagues] can be incredibly powerful for students who come into a predominantly white institution.”

“Who better than me to join this committee?” replied Rev. Dr. Darrell Gillespie (’23) when asked why he joined the advisory committee. Rev. Dr. Gillespie is the pastor/founder of Proverbs Christian Fellowship and a dean at Hope Academy. As someone who recently earned his DMin from United, he stated that United’s curriculum will enable students who study Black spirituality to “do church holistically well,” without the “financial burden” of earning a degree.

Rev. Dr. Alika Galloway, the final member of the advisory committee, is co-pastor of Liberty Community Church, and co-founder of the Northside Healing Space and 21st Century Academy within the church. Rev. Dr. Galloway headlined at United in 2015 as that year’s 24th annual Susan Draper White lecturer, and co-taught courses with Professor Emerita of Biblical Interpretation, Rev. Dr. Carolyn Pressler.

New cohort members may include persons already engaged in a profession who simply desire to learn more about the richness of Black spirituality. There will also be special learning opportunities for students that speak to Black experiences in church and society and extend beyond the core curriculum.

Rev. Dr. Gary F. Green, II (associate professor of pastoral theology and social transformation), who chaired the advisory committee meeting, also came through a cohort program at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas when United President Molly T. Marshall was its president. From his perspective, a supportive cohort “makes a day-to-day difference in the reality of matriculating through a [seminary] program…at a predominately white institution [where students may be] confronted with ideas…some of which are not very comfortable initially.” This program falls under the growing umbrella of United’s systemic anti-racism work, which Rev. Dr. Green leads.

A retired Cargill corporate vice president and former United trustee, Frank Sims, and his wife Robyn, are the generous donors behind the Sims Scholars initiative. “I am truly impressed and inspired,” he shared after listening to committee members’ statements. Like Rev. Dr. Green and Dr. Hart, he acknowledged that a supportive cohort of peers is key in education and needed in corporate America too.

We cannot overstate, President Marshall concluded, the “magnitude of inaugurating this program and the horizons that it promises.”

Learn more about the Sims Scholars’ program.

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