While the divinity school’s presence at the center of a top-ranked research university with one of the country’s best college basketball teams makes Claycomb the envy of other seminary recruiters, she takes nothing for granted. Claycomb is familiar with the statistics: Of more than 6,000 students who entered ATS member-schools in fall 2002, just 22.4 percent had considered theological education before college. Compared with law students, who typically decide on legal careers by age 20, people considering ministry are usually age 25 or older.
Once she became admissions director in 2001, Claycomb sensed that the divinity school needed to expand upon its well-known reputation for rigorous scholarship. “Everyone knew Duke was a great place for academics,” she says. “I wanted them to know that this was also an intentional community dedicated to transforming ministry through the formation of disciples for Christ.”
By the summer of 2002, she had developed new recruitment materials to tell that story. The colorful coordinated materials showed prospective students what to expect at Duke, from daily worship and weekly spiritual formation groups to classes and conversation with top-ranked faculty.
Claycomb expanded the recruiting schedule to add colleges and universities that had not been visited before while also tapping into schools with Lilly Endowment Inc.-funded Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation (www.ptev.org). Since the fall of 2000, this program, administered through the Fund for Theological Education, has awarded more than $176 million in grants to 88 colleges and universities across the nation. Each has designed a unique program to encourage student exploration of vocation and call to ministry.
The impact of another program for youth, also funded by Lilly Endowment, has yet to be measured. The Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation welcomes 50 high school students to campus each summer for a two-week residential experience based on the baptismal covenant.
Claycomb has served on the staff of the youth academy for two summers, recognizing that “some youth will experience a call to ministry through this transformative experience. It’s never too early to begin developing relationship with young people, whether they are in college or in high school.”
She also asks faculty to keep recruitment in mind, particularly when visiting universities where they meet prospective students. And while the national Alumni Network for Student Recruitment (ANSR) team gathers annually in Durham to discuss strategies for attracting the most gifted students, Claycomb recognizes that all alumni are recruiters—whether in the pulpit, the classroom, or some other form of ministry.
Landing top recruits often comes down to the bottom line: financial aid. The Divinity Fellowships have helped. Awarded annually to 12 incoming students with outstanding promise for parish ministry, these three-year, full-tuition scholarships are funded for five years of entering classes (2000-05). Each Divinity Fellow also serves a summer internship at one of 15 Teaching Congregations across the nation selected for outstanding pastoral leadership and innovative congregational ministries.
“The impact of these fellowships on the future of ministry is virtually incalculable,” says Claycomb. Duke is currently working to identify resources that will help endow and so continue the fellowships, which end next year. Also among Duke’s draws are opportunities for interdisciplinary study. There are options in theology and medicine (including parish nursing), a joint M.T.S. and J.D. with Duke Law School, and the new dual M.Div./M.S.W. with the School of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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