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A Lifetime of Learning with Cynthia Shafer-Elliott, Ph.D.

Teaching is so much more than a job for Associate Dean and Professor Cynthia Shafer-Elliott, Ph.D. She’s passionate about learning and eager to share that passion with her students. As a field archaeologist, she has the unique opportunity to bring “real-world” knowledge into the classroom and beyond. We had a chance to ask Cynthia a little about her background, the way she incorporates experiential learning into her teaching, and how she’s taking advantage of the online education platform. 

Describe your path to teaching

My path to teaching at the university level was one I never planned on having until I went to college and was inspired by my own professors. I just couldn’t imagine a life not studying the Bible and wanted to be a perpetual student – so I became a professor! Now I’m always learning and hopefully passing that passion on to others.

How many years have you been at Jessup?

9 years

What classes do you teach at Jessup? 

I am the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Theology and Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Archaeology. I regularly teach courses on the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the archaeology of ancient Israel.

I love all my classes, but some of my favorites are: “Women in Scripture”, “Biblical World: Hebrew Bible”, and experiential learning classes in Israel like my “Bible and Field Archaeology” class (where students come on my dig with me) and our “Biblical Journeys” class (where we travel to Israel and see the Bible in its physical setting). I love the land as our classroom!

What’s unique about your online teaching style?

In my online class on the book of Jeremiah, I use the concept of reading Jeremiah as “survival literature” put forward by Kathleen O’Conner. This concept then serves as a thread in the rest of the class where we not only learn about the book of Jeremiah but how it can be used as a source of hope for others who have experienced some sort of global crisis.

What do you like most about the online learning mode at Jessup?

Students today have to juggle jobs, families, and other responsibilities that make attending traditional on-ground classes a challenge. Online learning is a great way to further one’s education but in a more flexible manner.

How can a student get the most out of an online learning experience?

I think most students don’t realize that Jessup’s online classes are only seven weeks long. That means it is important to organize one’s time wisely. Also, the forum discussions are a great way to engage with the professor and other students in the class.

In addition to teaching at Jessup, do you (did you) have another career?

I am also a field archaeologist. I am on staff at a couple of archaeological excavations in Israel and spend nearly every summer living and working in Israel. I also like to make a positive contribution to my fields of Biblical Studies and Archaeology by researching, writing and publishing, and speaking to various groups.

How are you using your “real-world” experience to help students in your program?

I use my “real-world” experience in my teaching nearly every day. I do what I teach, so that is a wonderful way to bring current research into the classroom.

How do you integrate faith into an online learning environment?

In online teaching, both the professor and the students have to be more deliberate. That means taking steps to interact with your students in ways that may seem awkward if you aren’t used to socializing online. The forums are a great place to interact with the students and to further integrate faith into their learning in an organic, yet digital, format.

What three people (dead or alive) would you invite to a dinner party?

Jesus (of course)
Pope Francis
Michelle Obama

For more information about Jessup’s Theology program, please visit their program page.

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