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Second APU Alumni Named Lilly Graduate Fellow

by April Overholt '11

APU alumna Rachel Pietka ’06 was recently selected to be 1 of 16 fellows in the Lilly Graduate Fellows Program, a national network of Christian educational institutions that works to strengthen the link between Christianity and the academic world. The Humanities and the Arts chapter of the organization recently began this grant program to recognize and support outstanding graduate students who plan to teach at church-related colleges or universities after completing a doctoral degree. Pietka is the second APU alumni to receive this honor; Nathan Kilpatrick ’06 was named a Lilly Graduate Fellow in 2008.

"The fact that two students have already been awarded this new grant first offered only three years ago speaks well for them, their professors in all academic areas at APU, and the Lilly Fellows team who recognized their sincere desire to grow and learn as young Christian scholars," said Carole Lambert, Ph.D., director of research and professor in APU's Department of English.

To qualify for this fellowship, applicants must first request a nomination from their university before applying to the program. Out of 66 applicants, Pietka landed a spot as one of 16 finalists in the third cohort. These selected fellows gain an opportunity to research how Christianity is intertwined with a particular issue under the umbrella of humanities and arts. Ultimately, fellows aim to learn what it means to be a Christian scholar and educator. Pietka plans to use the grant to study religious issues and spiritual autobiographies of several 19th-century British and American writers as she pursues a Ph.D. at Baylor University.

The fellowship lasts three years and includes a $3,000 annual stipend. Each scholar must participate in four national conferences and one symposium. Frequent individual meetings with a mentor establish a one-on-one relationship between scholar and educator. Additionally, fellows and mentors meet weekly to read and analyze various pieces of literature as a community, including authors like Aristotle, Plato, and Thomas Aquinas. “I’m interested in looking at the literature through the lens of Christian tradition, and what that means to me as an aspiring teacher and scholar,” Pietka said.

Pietka attributes her academic accomplishments to her time at APU. “I had great mentors and professors at APU—people who really showed me what it’s like to be a Christian scholar studying English,” she said. “APU is the reason I’m passionate about Christian education.”

Emily Griesinger, Ph.D., professor in APU’s Department of English, influenced Pietka as one of these mentors. Pietka became closely acquainted with Griesinger while taking several of her literature classes. “I am thrilled that Rachel was selected as APU’s second Graduate Lilly Fellow,” Griesinger said. “She was an excellent student.”

Lambert has also witnessed APU's lasting impact on graduates.

"I believe [Kilpatrick and Pietka's] success is a valid indication of 'faith integration' at its highest level. They have worked hard as scholars of literature while maintaining their Christian faith and ethics, not at all an easy accomplishment in a postmodern culture," Lambert said.

Pietka looks forward to the opportunities that the program offers. She hopes her research and the relationship with her mentor will prepare her for a future career as a professor at a Christian university: “I think the program is going to give me what I need to start out on the journey.”