APU's Own Superheros: The Fantastic Five

by Nicole Chin '08

Azusa Pacific University faculty have been known to exceed the requirements of a typical university instructor: Paul Shrier, Ph.D., and his Department of Practical Theology staff are one of many examples. Last spring, with an accomplished group of religion faculty, Shrier began an independent study for undergraduate students whose practical theology papers have “integrated theology with science, the social sciences and other disciplines to develop Christian responses to contemporary issues.” This past November in San Antonio, Texas, Michelle Kraft ‘05, Amanda Pettikas ‘06, Kirsten Bault ‘05, Steven Keates ’05, and Jon Kozyra ’06 presented poster versions of their papers at the American Academy of Religion’s (AAR) annual meeting. The students’ work was exhibited alongside work by graduate students from the nation’s top academic institutions including Harvard University, Loyola Marymont University, and Fuller Theological Seminary.

Kraft developed a Christian perspective on childcare, researching the teachings of Jesus in relation to child development. Pettikas addressed the question of female involvement in church leadership, focusing specifically on the Friends Church. Bault presented a Christian perspective on hiring practices, arguing that employers today value skill over integrity, even to the point of exclusion.

Using neuroscience and the prophet Elijah, Keates created a theology on extreme sports. And finally, Kozyra examined the Christian response to homosexuality according to Romans 1:18-32. These students’ hard work paid off when they presented to more than 5,000 graduate students and professionals at the AAR conference. They exceeded all expectations, Shrier’s included, earning acknowledgement from everyone. Both Bault and Kozyra received offers to publish a book on their paper’s topic.

All five students agree that the experience has boosted their self confidence, opened their eyes to a another side of APU faculty, and provided direction, enthusiasm, and purpose in something they never expected. "Before this conference I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life and future studies," said Kozyra, "Now, I feel like I have some direction and personal interest . . . this conference was a great experience that has boosted my self-confidence in academics and has given me great enthusiasm for future studies and research.”