Keneshia Colwell seems to have a limitless supply of energy – and she’s putting it to good use. The second-year M.Div. student is attending Perkins full-time and working full-time – and excelling at both. Colwell’s grade average hovers near 4.0 average. In June, she was promoted to her position as Senior Diversity & Inclusion Specialist at UT Southwestern Medical School.
“I don’t know how to sit down and do nothing,” she said. “I don’t sleep much, but I have a system to manage my time that seems to be working.”
Colwell’s interests are wide ranging and her ambitions are big. She is planning to pursue a dual degree at Cox School of Business, earning an M.B.A. in addition to her M.Div., and eventually a Ph.D.
“Originally I had planned to earn an M.B.A. alone,” she said. “But I was invited to preach at a women’s conference in South Africa in 2019, and from that experience, I understood clearly that God was asking me to preach.” In November 2019, she learned that Perkins offered the dual degree option with Cox, and that sealed the deal.
The roots of her calling began years ago, when Colwell began attending Queens of the Word Bible Study in Austin and fell in love with studying scripture. A few years later, after moving to Dallas, she felt called to start a co-ed Bible study.
“I loved getting into the word,” she said. “One day I realized, ‘I could go to school for this!’ Doors flew open, with one teaching opportunity after another, and I just walked into them.”
Colwell is a member of The Potter’s House in Dallas and hopes to one day pursue ordination in that nondenominational church. She’d also like to learn the business side of leading churches and large organizations to aid them in running efficiently and effectively. “I love data, metrics and making organizations work efficiently and effectively,” she said. “I want to learn how to do these things so that I can be a resource for communities that don’t have access to the tools needed to run organizations effectively.”
Colwell’s long-term professional goals are academic. She’d like to earn a Ph. D. and teach in higher education. For her Ph.D., she wants to study issues at the intersection of theology and mental health in Latinx and African American communities.
“I’d like to look into mental health, suicide and substance abuse,” she said. “Religion is painted as a resource for these problems, but we have no data as to whether religious affiliation actually helps recovery outcomes in the Latinx and African American communities. Right now this is my focus, I am continuing to allow that evolve as I continue in my studies.”
Perkins was a good fit, Colwell said, because of the community’s diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds.
“I have heard about seminaries where they tell you how to think,” she said. “At Perkins, no one is telling you how to think. I saw studying at Perkins as an opportunity to lean into the hard questions.”
Despite her packed schedule, Colwell manages to find time for extracurriculars. She’s involved with FACE (Feminists Advocating Change and Empowerment) and serves on a faculty-appointed university committee promoting equity and access at SMU for people of all races, genders and sexual orientations.
To help juggle all this, Colwell spends about five minutes meditating each day, a practice she adopted after taking Ruben Habito’s Spiritual Formation course. She also repeats daily a mantra she devised for herself with the help of a mentor (“This will end well. Whatever comes up, regardless of how this day feels, this will end well.”) and Hebrews 6:10 (“For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.”)
Colwell praised the work of Tracy Allred and Laura Figura in the Student Life Office for helping foster Perkins’ welcoming atmosphere and making her life as a student more manageable.
“I love the community here,” Colwell said. “Tracy and Laura have been intentional about extras like virtual study halls and massages on campus. I work hard and am stressed out all the time. This community values self-care and supporting each other. And differences are welcomed and appreciated.”