As he awaits his inauguration this Tuesday, Divinity School Dean Gregory Sterling has already started to implement his vision for the school.
Sterling, who served as the dean of the University of Notre Dame’s Graduate School before he assumed leadership of the Divinity School in August 2012, said his plans for the school focus on inclusivity. He said he intends to bolster financial aid, which will help the school recruit students from a broader range of geographic and theological backgrounds, and he has begun working to meet current students and faculty in the Divinity School.
“Openness to engage one another is something we need to model for the rest of the world,” Sterling said. “We need to embrace people from across the theological spectrum, so that individuals can openly disagree with others in a civil way. This is often absent in ecclesiastic circles.”
In an effort to increase diversity at the Divinity School, Sterling aims to raise $35 million for financial aid and make it possible for some students with financial need to attend the school for free by 2025.
Sterling said financial aid reform is particularly pressing because Divinity School alumni rarely secure lucrative careers right after graduation, which makes many applicants hesitant to take out student loans to finance their education.
“The challenge is that many of our students will not immediately enter positions where they will make six figures after graduation, [but] they will make far less,” Sterling said. “My concern is, how do we keep student debt at a minimum? If one of our competitors offers full aid, we lose, and we are keenly interested in attracting the country’s and the world’s best students.”
Though Sterling said 95 percent of current students receive financial assistance, he said that some international students, particularly those from developing countries, may be deterred from coming to the Divinity School because they are unable to cover the costs of tuition and living expenses. He added that he hopes the school’s expanding financial aid program will draw students from continents like Africa and Asia to the school.
Nicholas Lewis DIV ’13, president of the Divinity School’s student council, said he is impressed with how open Sterling is about soliciting dialogue on campus, adding that the new dean has been encouraging students and faculty to participate in projects addressing the topics of race and inclusivity.
Sterling is also planning to create hour-long leadership courses taught by leaders from a variety of industries outside the Divinity School who have been shaped by a theological perspective, such as pastors, politicians, law firm partners and NGO leaders.
“This would offer our students an opportunity to engage not only with the faculty but also with people who have been phenomenally successful in society while operating in a theological framework,” he said.
Even as he contemplates broader initiatives for the entire Divinity School, Sterling has worked to become acquainted with the school’s community by having dinner with each faculty member and students in the incoming class in groups of 10.
Whitney Waller DIV ’13 said Sterling spent much of his time during student orientation getting to know both old and new students, adding that this willingness to interact with the student body has carried on into the school year.
“His regular presence during both daily activities, like chapel, and special events, like day-long inclusivity training, signal to me that Dean Sterling cares deeply about being attentive to and accessible for the students of our community,” she said.
Katharine Toledano DIV ’14 said she has enjoyed seeing Sterling worship alongside the students almost every day, and Corinne Ellis DIV ’14 said she thinks Sterling is approachable and responsive to student concerns.
Sterling’s official installation ceremony will take place Tuesday at 4 p.m. in the Divinity School Quadrangle.