Rachel Larson

This program helps students feel empowered to ask questions, see multiple viewpoints and dig deeper into answers without fear of doubt invalidating their understanding of the world. 


What do you see as the value of the program?

I saw students struggling with how to reconcile the perceived conflict between science and religion, which was either learned explicitly or avoided. It is always framed as a debate rather than a dialogue where they coexist and inform one another. The fellows (our name for the students who attend the academy) learn this through discussion and self-reflection, the academy itself provides resources and the space to question what they know. The program is priceless!


How was your experience working with the program?

Fantastic! I heard about The Gustavus Academy for Faith, Science, and Ethics its second year, my sophomore summer of college. I applied and thought I knew what it would look like: learning, planning, then teaching the fellows. After the first day of the Summer Intensive, it became clear it would be a collaborative space between everyone. We ended up mirroring what we were learning. 


What was the best thing about working with your program?

The best thing about working with the program was the community of students, including the presenters, organizers, mentors and fellows. Everyone learned from one another in an uplifting way, seeking out opportunities to learn through art, discussion, reading and reflection. The academy is intersectional and different every year based on the theme, people involved and the world. It isn't isolated or static. It always evolves and strengthens the same mission. 


How did you see students change during and after the program?

I saw them open up to one another and the mentors. I saw them challenge what they and what the presenters knew, unafraid to ask questions and dig into the answers. I saw them grow in vulnerability with one another and form friendships from knowing no one. From my time at the Academy, I know those friendships last from year to year. One fellow, who at the start of the week was very skeptical, at the end of the summer intensive gave a presentation that explained his doubts surrounding faith and science that the academy didn't shame him for. 


What do you think this program helps students learn about themselves, the world, or ministry?

I think it helps students feel empowered to ask questions, see multiple viewpoints and dig deeper into answers without fear of doubt invalidating their understanding of the world. It shows an evolving faith that reacts to the world in practice. It shows different people living their vocations in a variety of ways while joining together through a commonality. 


Do you feel students were better equipped for their next step or stage of life after attending? If so, how?

At the end of the Summer Intensive, we ask students to develop something they will present to their communities back home. This can take on the form of a vision board, a song, powerpoint, or anything they are called to share. This step empowers them to bring what they've learned and discovered home. Again and again, students return to the academy either as fellows or senior fellows. It is a testament to how the learning never stops. 


Did this experience shape your career or ministry engagement in general? If so, how?

Absolutely! The Gustavus Academy for Faith, Science, and Ethics sparked a joy of interdisciplinary learning, conversation and advocacy in the ways we are individually called to. I am informed and empowered through what I've learned at the academy: bodyself, activism, intersectionality in dialogue, exploring the physical world around us, new ways of worshiping, asking questions, engaging faith and doubt as an important part of faith. I've grown from the experiences as much as the fellows. 


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to lead a program like this?

It is interdisciplinary work that is endlessly collaborative. You will try something then learn to do something even better from people who are passionate about seeing success. No year will look the same.  

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