As senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Gladewater, Texas, David Lee doesn’t have a schedule that allows him to attend seminary full-time on campus. He tried an online program at a respected theology school, but it didn’t quite click. Then he discovered Perkins’ Houston-Galveston Extension Program. It proved a good fit.   

“I need the convenience of an online program, but I didn’t enjoy engaging online with people I’d never met,” he said. “With the hybrid approach, you really do get to know people in the program.” 

Lee, 31, enrolled this fall, taking advantage of the newly-launched hybrid format of Perkins School of Theology’s Houston-Galveston Extension Program. The program allows students to earn the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) in three years, or Master of Arts in Ministry (M.A.M.) degree in two years, completely on-site in Houston through a groundbreaking distance-education approach.   

Like Lee, many other students found the new model appealing. Forty students enrolled in Houston in the Fall of 2018 – four in the Master of Arts in Ministry (M.A.M.) program and 36 in the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree program, representing about half of the incoming class of M.Div. students overall at Perkins’ combined campuses.  

Five students in the Houston-Galveston Extension program shared an AirBnB rental during the residential portion of the program in November. Left to right: Kaylee Vida, Megan Twyman, David Lee, Carlene Barbeau, Daniel Curry.

Houston-Galveston Extension program students take nine (9) credit hours, or three courses, each semester and attend three semesters (rather than two) per year —which was the way the program was originally designed. Students are required to be physically present for 20 hours of face-to-face instruction—10 hours at the beginning and end of each semester—per class.  In addition to these three hybrid courses, other courses will be offered in one-week intensives, typically in the January Term or Summer. Students who successfully complete each of these courses in the regular sequence will earn the M.Div. degree in three years and the M.A.M. degree in two years. 

The Extension program has been in place since 1995, but in February 2018, the Association of Theological Schools approved the new model, which waives the Dallas campus residency requirement. Before, Houston-Galveston Extension students were required to complete at least eight courses—the equivalent of one year of the M.Div. and one-third of the M.A.M. — on the Perkins-SMU campus. 

“The new format is a big draw for many students,” said Hugo Magallanes, director of the Houston-Galveston Extension program and associate professor of Christianity and Cultures. “Students who are employed full- or part-time can attend seminary. It’s helping reduce the strain on students’ time and money while providing quality instruction from Perkins’ full-time faculty.” 

That was the appeal for Megan Twyman, 21, who works as a teacher and tutor in Shreveport, La. Having recently married, she did not think seminary was an option. 

“I had to keep my job to pay the bills,” she said. “I knew I felt the call to ministry, but I thought it would have to wait until we were more stable. God had other things in mind, though.” 

The launch of the Houston-Galveston program full-time hybrid program changed her mind. She enrolled this fall as an M.Div. student with hopes of becoming an ordained elder in the Louisiana conference.  The format proved a good fit for Twyman’s learning style.  

“As an introvert, I like being able to soak in a lecture before responding to my classmates,” she said. “Introverts often do not get to become engaged in discussion in the classroom setting like they do in the hybrid program.” 

Magallanes notes that, while convenient, the online portion of the program is demanding.  

“It’s not easier than face-to-face classroom work,” he said. “Typically, students have constant interaction with each other and the professor by way of forum conversations. In an in-person classroom, a few students might earn a good grade without participating in class.  You cannot get away with that in an online classroom.” 

However, Twyman said, she doesn’t feel isolated. 

 “I have a group of five people that I talk to almost every day, through group message about assignments,” she said. “We lift each other up, and I love to see them in person during face-to-face sessions.” 

Top Profs

Over the past few years, David Kim, 30, has listened as his wife, Danielle, talked about classes at the Houston-Galveston campus with well-known Perkins professors such as Ted Campbell and Billy Abraham.  Danielle will graduate in May; now David is taking classes from those professors, too. He’s studying through the hybrid program while working part-time as director of communications and community ministries development at Aldersgate UMC at College Station.  

 “Those professors are there in Houston teaching,” he said. “Just being able to talk to Ted Campbell, hear his jokes, observe his thought processes – it’s amazing. That’s one of the things I find really important in this program.” 

While some hybrid programs lean heavily on adjunct faculty, Houston-Galveston students regularly receive instruction from Perkins professors, who also teach full-time students who attend on campus in Dallas.  Many of the faculty members have completed a course in online teaching through SMU’s Center for Teaching Excellence. Teaching the three M. Div. courses this fall are Campbell, Leslie Fuller, and Dallas Gingles, who is campus manager for Houston-Galveston.  Students also do coursework in Spiritual Formation (taught by Ruben L. F. Habito, Perkins’ Director of Spiritual Formation and Professor of World Religions and Spirituality, and the Rev. Mary Tumulty, Faculty Facilitator) and participate in internships, coordinated by Isabel Docampo, Co-Director of the Intern Program, Professor of Supervised Ministry, and Director, Center for the Study of Latino/a Christianity and Religions.

The launch of the new hybrid format this fall coincided with a move of the Houston-Galveston administrative offices to Houston Methodist Hospital, making it the only U.S. seminary located in a medical center.  Students have access to books and materials, now housed in the hospital’s library, and through the partnership, the Houston-Galveston campus will offer a one-week intensive in bioethics in January.   

The new location also capitalizes on a number of Methodist connections.  Perkins alumnus and Executive Board member Charles Millikan (M.Th. ’71), who was involved in founding of the Houston-Galveston campus in 1994, is Vice President for Spiritual Care and Values Integration at Houston Methodist and also holds the Dr. Ronny W. and Ruth Barner Centennial Chair in Spiritual Care.  Millikan notes that the hospital’s senior chaplain, BJ Hightower, was among the first students to enroll in the Houston-Galveston campus program, earning her M.Div.

Residential classes, spiritual formation and community engagement also take place in the program’s three partner sites: St. Paul’s UMC and St. John’s UMC in Houston, and Moody Methodist Church in Galveston. 

This year’s incoming class comes from the Houston area as well as Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Florida and other parts of Texas. The average age of students in the program is 40. 

“Generally speaking, the program tended to attract older students, but now because of the online portion, the program is attracting more younger students as well,” Magallanes said.  

Full-time Students

Another advantage of the hybrid format: students can now choose to attend full-time at Houston-Galveston, which was not an option until now, and those in degree programs are eligible for scholarships. 

 Dallas Gingles, who is a Ph.D. graduate of Southern Methodist University, adds that the hybrid launch coincides with another milestone for Houston-Galveston – the selection of Cynthia Fierro Harvey as the 2018 recipient of the Perkins School of Theology’s Distinguished Alumnus/a Award. Harvey, now bishop of the Louisiana Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church, was one of the first graduates from the Houston-Galveston program, earning an M.Div. in 1999. She is the first graduate from the campus to receive the recognition. He expects similar great things from the incoming class of students.  

 “I’m incredibly impressed with this class; they’re all hard workers,” he added. “The hybrid launch effectively changes the program to a full extension campus, where you can get everything you need for a degree here, without having to go elsewhere.  

To Learn More

Prospective students interested in learning more about the Houston-Galveston Extension Program are invited to this information session: 

Houston-Galveston Information Session
Tuesday, December 4
7 – 8:30 p.m.
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
5501 S Main Street
Houston, TX 77004

Please register at smu.edu/Perkins/visit/insideperkins 

Individual visits to both locations may also be arranged. 

For additional information or questions, contact Stephen Bagby, Director of Recruitment and Admissions, at sbagby@smu.edu or 214-768-2139. 

 

By Mary Jacobs, a Dallas-based freelance writer and former staff writer for The United Methodist Reporter and the Dallas Morning News.