Crown Alumna Prepares for Top 10 Divinity School in the World

Photo Credit: Destiny Maddox

By Chyelle Dvorak

Education is limitless, valuable, and rewarding.

To have the opportunity to strive for academic excellence in high school, college, and graduate school is an honor. Crown College is pleased to acknowledge recent graduate Sarah Kuhn for continuing her studies this fall at Duke University.

In the World University Rankings, Duke University placed number eight in the top 10 universities for theology, divinity, and religious studies in the world. Duke recently ranked number nine in the 2018 U.S. News National University Rankings, just after Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania. Fiercely competitive with Ivy League schools, it’s no wonder their acceptance rate is a mere 11%.

Sarah Kuhn graduated last May with a double major in International Studies and English, and will pursue a Master of Arts in Theological Studies. She is the oldest of four children, and spent many of her teen years working on an alpaca farm. In addition to Duke, Kuhn also has aspirations to pursue a Ph.D. in Religion and Philosophy. Her love for theology has only grown more prominent through the International Studies program at Crown College.

“Growing up in the Church, I was pretty familiar with what the Bible said who God is and what he expects from us,” says Kuhn. “However, my experience of the world didn’t always line up with what I was taught in church. Especially after studying culture, I was confused as to why I was only taught to experience God in one way.”

Stephen Jones, Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies, taught many of Kuhn’s classes and was her advisor for four years.

“Sarah is a smart and passionate learner,” says Jones. “She can energize the whole class about issues and topics, and help others to care about them. I remember a couple of lectures and papers she delivered, both as a Teacher’s Assistant for me and at a conference. It was exciting to see the ways in which Sarah’s infectious passion for learning has the potential to really make a difference in the thoughts and lives of others.”

Kuhn says it was the class called Contextualization, Transformation, and Global Theology that opened her eyes to the ways both theology and culture can work together for God’s glory. Jones co-taught the class with Justin Winzenburg, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Greek.

“The class was designed to merge the study of theology and culture in order to explore new ways of discovering who God is,” says Kuhn. “It was in this class where I discovered God is bigger than our own personal experience of him. Ultimately, I decided to pursue God through theology regardless of what my original hesitations were, and I’ve been so surprised by how God has blessed that.”

Jones says Contextualization, Transformation, and Global Theology is one of his favorite classes to teach. The challenges of the course help prepare students to remain faithful even when faced with cultural disagreements they might not have the answers to.

“The course looks at the reality that different Christians from different cultural backgrounds read, understand, and theologize from the Bible in ways that are often different from one another,” says Jones. “This raises all sorts of interesting questions not only about culture and how we know what we know, but also about practical questions related to life and ministry. It is a really challenging course, but also one in which students are able to build their faith as they press in to seeking and knowing Christ in the midst of epistemological uncertainty.”

After some demanding coursework through the International Studies and English programs at Crown, Kuhn feels she is prepared for the upcoming challenges at Duke. The application process to Duke was rigorous, since the university evaluates students on more than just their grades.

“In my own experience, grades were not as important in applying for graduate school as the ability to express myself in writing,” says Kuhn. “Grades matter, but I believe that ultimately, institutions are more concerned with whether or not a student will fit in well into their community. If a student can’t express that in an essay, he or she will likely be at a disadvantage, regardless of grades.”

Something that helped prepare Kuhn for graduate school while attending Crown was her research practicum. Students who choose to pursue a research practicum get to select the topic for their research and must take initiative for their studies.

“My research practicum required me to be self-motivated and diligent,” says Kuhn.
“It also taught me how to harness my curiosity so I could seek answers that were useful and interesting to other people.”

Jones believes research practicums are important because they allow students to take action with their studies. It allows students to learn independently and by their own measure — something that defines academic excellence.

“Research practicums combine the discipline of independent learning with the joy of independent inquiry,” says Jones. “That is to say, in a research practicum you can pursue what it is you really care about, but you’d better be disciplined about it. At the end of the day, either you’ve completed your research or you haven’t. If you haven’t, there’s no one to point the finger at but yourself. That can be hard to get used to, but it’s also incredibly freeing to discover agency in your own learning.”

For Kuhn, going the extra mile and applying for her dream school was more important than the risk of being rejected. She believes the professors in the International Studies Program have prepared her for taking the next big step in her future. When God calls us to step out in faith, the most important thing we can do is trust Him.

“Resilience is often more valuable than success,” says Kuhn. “I was never certain I would be accepted into any graduate program, much less Duke, but I was certain that I wanted to go to Duke. I have found that the courage to go after what you feel God is calling you to is often more rewarding than achieving what you want. Know what you want, have the courage to go after it, and enjoy the adventure!”

Kuhn says she chose to come to Crown because of the academic rigor and uniqueness of the International Studies program. The program emphasizes world events, historical changes, and cultural differences around the world. After researching other Christian college programs, Kuhn decided Crown was the right fit.

“Other programs seemed more focused on traditional missions as opposed to a marriage of both biblical and cultural studies,” says Kuhn. “The International Studies program at Crown really emphasizes the necessity of being both culturally aware as well as compassionate in contextualizing the message of the Gospel. Sensing a call to missions, I felt Crown was the best place for me to explore contemporary missions.”

As Kuhn jumps into the next chapter, her vibrant attitude and joy for life will be missed on campus. But even as she closes one part of life and opens another, the Crown community of students and professors are here for her, cheering her onward. When asked to give one piece of advice for Kuhn to take with her to grad school and beyond, Jones had a ready answer:

“Celebrate good. Sometimes it is a fight to celebrate, sometimes it is difficult to tell what is good. But, keep on celebrating good. Which, to be fair, is more her advice to the world than my advice to her.”