December 2021 – Drew Theological School has been a leader in innovation with years of experience with synchronous learning—offered well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic prompted the Theological School to adapt and pivot to fully remote learning—and introduce asynchronous versions of the core curriculum of Drew’s master’s degrees for ministry vocations, a challenge embraced by the faculty and community.
Many factors must be considered when offering an asynchronous degree in order to provide a successful online learning environment. Continuously adjusting and adapting, Drew considers student needs, learning goals, and the instructional technologies available to create a student-centric learning experience. “We select content delivery strategies and activities that promote self-reflection and accessibility for students in a variety of time zones, and align our content across both the in-person and online/asynchronous modalities,” said Graduate Division of Religion student and Teaching Assistant Kelsey Wallace T’22.
While Drew’s campus is now open, the synchronous and asynchronous options remain—affording students the opportunity to receive a Drew education from literally anywhere in the world. As a result, international enrollment has increased over 20 percent since 2019.
We recently spoke with Rebecca Maiko T’23, a Master of Divinity student for insight on what it’s like to start her Drew degree asynchronously from her native Kenya.
What brought you to Drew Theological School?
I learned about Drew Theological School through many avenues. There is actually another Drew student from my United Methodist Church (UMC) District in Nairobi. I researched the programs and the school’s achievements on Drew’s website, and my brother, a United Methodist pastor, encouraged me to apply.
My vocational path is to become a member of the clergy in the UMC. I chose the MDiv program at Drew because it has been my passion to serve in the church since I was young.
What were your deciding factors to attend school virtually/asynchronously in New Jersey?
There are so many factors that led to such a decision. I began my program at Drew online when COVID-19 had already hit many countries. Because of COVID-19, I was having difficulty obtaining the credentials to come to the U.S. as an international student. With the asynchronous options, I am able to continue on my educational path at Drew from Kenya.
It is my intent to come to New Jersey next fall and finish my degree in person. The asynchronous option afforded me the ability to not delay my studies.
What are the benefits of starting your degree asynchronously?
It saves me time since I can plan for my own work accordingly and work at my own pace. I have adjusted my time management skills greatly. And it saves money in terms of housing and commuting costs.
And the challenges?
Being a woman progressing with my studies and especially church ministries is a challenge in my community. It is difficult to find people who can hold your hand because many people view religious studies as a waste of time and resources, especially for a woman.
Technological issues can arise, but my Drew colleagues are there for me always.
Some asynchronous students experience feelings of isolation due to our locations. My thanks to Drew for coming up with virtual worship where sometimes we meet in this digital space—giving me a sense of belonging.
Tell us about your internship.
First and foremost, the UMC is growing in Kenya. For this reason, my mentor has organized my internship in such a way that I can teach in different churches, both small- and medium-sized, within my district in order to gain more exposure and experience.
My main internship is at the Highrise UMC, a slum-based church with a membership of approximately 30 members near my home in Kenya. I am able to do this with the support and consultation from my advisor and Drew’s Vocation and Formation Office.
I also minister to high school students within my district and offer spiritual care and therapy in a hospital where substance addicted police officers are rehabilitated through the police chaplaincy department.
Finally, I teach children in Good News (Bible) Clubs through Holding Hands Ministry, an organization that ministers to the needy.
Anything else you would like to share?
I appreciate my professors, the faculty team, and the teaching assistants as a whole for the great support that they have granted me so far to ensure that earning my degree asynchronously is not a burden.
It was so hard for me when I began since this was my first virtual class and I had a fear of the unknown, but with the support of my mentor, Dean Johnson-DeBaufre—and many others—the journey continues to get easier. Their quick responses to my emails have been a motivation to me and has helped me to meet deadlines across time zones.
I look forward to joining my professors and classmates on the Drew campus next fall.
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