News & Insights

Activating Change Project

The Activating Change Project of Claremont School of Theology (CST) in Los Angeles, California, includes a comprehensive redesign of the school’s educational strategies, institutional practices, and financial operating model to achieve sustainability. This initiative focuses on developing skills and mindsets at the institutional level, community engagement, continuing education, and financial operating mindsets at the institutional level, ensuring that CST’s values are mirrored in its recruitment, processes, messaging, community engagement, non-degree programs, and partnerships with other academic institutions, Christian associations, and churches.

Dr. Yohana Agra Junker,  explains the specifics of the project and future expectations arising from the initiative.

Briefly describe the project.

The Activating Change Project has been reshaping CST’s operational frameworks and educational vision to embody its collective vision. It is not merely a single initiative but a comprehensive effort to align our institutional, educational, and operational models and practices with the core values of compassion, justice, and belonging. Over the last three years, it has delivered a comprehensive organizational assessment and design, engaged in human-centered strategic planning, and chartered a pathway toward a sustainable future. This project aims to cultivate agile, justice-oriented leaders dedicated to transforming the world.

What have you learned so far?

One of the significant learnings from the project is the value of a co-participatory approach in understanding and aligning the community’s values with CST’s operational culture. The Community Voices Survey, conducted in Fall 2022, revealed a strong alignment of our stakeholders with the values of justice, inclusion, diversity, and praxis rooted in compassion, justice, and belonging. With more than 260 responses from a diverse group of staff, faculty, students, donors, friends, and alumni, the survey highlighted that more than 80% of respondents felt highly or mostly aligned with CST’s values. This shared vision and language have empowered different stakeholders to embody Activating Change values and hold departments and programs accountable to these values, fostering a progressive, justice-oriented, and transparent community.

The establishment of the Activating Change Task Force has been instrumental in promoting shared leadership in decision-making processes by embracing a collaborative ethos, inviting diverse community members to actively participate in the school’s transformation. By adopting an inclusive and cooperative approach, the task force has navigated significant institutional transitions with honesty and transparency, centering the values of compassion, justice, and belonging throughout its community actions. This effort has resulted in the redesign of assessment practices, the school’s spiritual life, mission and vision statements, and the strategic plan, ensuring an alignment with CST’s evolving identity.

Another key insight has been the formation of the Strategic Planning Committee to craft CST’s new strategic plan. Approved by the Board in May 2023, this committee included various stakeholders such as faculty, administration, staff, trustees, executive team members, alumni, and students. Through regular and collaborative meetings, the committee has focused on reshaping CST’s future with integrity and transparency. Guided by the values identified during the audit phase of the Activating Change Project, the strategic planning team has diligently worked to redesign educational strategies, institutional culture, and the financial operating model, ensuring sustainable growth and community engagement.

Finally, the strategic planning process has underscored the importance of comprehensive research and community involvement in institutional renewal. Developed through a three-year process of active participation, the strategic plan involved several subgroups focusing on mission and vision, institutional patterns and shifts, data collection and feedback, and assessment. This extensive research and collaborative effort have allowed CST to plan for the immediate, near, and long-term future, addressing pressing needs and creating a road map for sustained growth. The culture of accountability and transparency established through this process has leveraged CST’s strengths to achieve transformative education and community engagement, positioning the institution for a sustainable future.

What has surprised you along the way?

One of the most surprising aspects of the project has been the profound level of engagement and commitment from the diverse members of the CST community. The co-participatory approach has not only invited community members to share power, visibility, and decision-making capacity but has also fostered a shared language and vision that resonate deeply across the institution. The Community Voices Survey revealed a high alignment of more than 80% of our constituents with CST’s values of compassion, justice, and belonging, underscoring the broad and enthusiastic endorsement of our transformative goals. The responsiveness and adaptability of the CST community have been remarkable.

The establishment and successful operation of the Activating Change Task Force and the Strategic Planning Committee have demonstrated a collective dedication to navigating significant transitions with integrity and transparency. The willingness of faculty, staff, students, and alumni to actively reshape the institution’s future has been surprising and inspiring.

A particular and noteworthy success has been the rapid integration and impact of the Ph.D. Colloquium into the CST curriculum. Initially a proof of concept, the colloquium has become an integral part of students’ academic and professional development. High relevance ratings, effective “Spilling the Tea” sessions, and personalized mentoring have created a supportive and collegial atmosphere that counteracts the typical isolation of academic study. The colloquium’s success in fostering a sense of community and belonging, along with its role in developing the forthcoming Activating Change Handbook, highlights its significant and unexpected positive impact on the CST community.

What have been a few of your successes?

One of the major successes of the Activating Change Project has been the creation of new mission and vision statements, along with revised Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs) and Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs), which genuinely reflect the core values identified in the first phase of the grant. Co-written by various stakeholders, these statements encapsulate the DNA of the school. The new mission statement emphasizes the formation of spiritual, academic, and community leaders through interreligious and intercultural graduate theological education, while the vision statement aspires to nurture communities of compassion, justice, and belonging by promoting learning in diverse contexts.

Another significant achievement is the establishment of revised ILOs. These outcomes ensure that CST graduates are equipped to engage critically with their traditions, integrate knowledge and practice to foster community values, engage in intellectual and spiritual formation, and apply liberative and interdisciplinary approaches to Christian beliefs and practices. These ILOs reinforce CST’s dedication to developing leaders who can navigate and contribute to a complex, interconnected, and dynamic world.

View Mission Statement, Vision Statement, and Institutional Learning Outcomes here.

Together, the mission statement, vision statement, and ILOs underscore CST’s dedication to forming leaders equipped to serve in diverse and global contexts. The core values of compassion, justice, and belonging reflect our dedication to cultivating leaders who transcend both the academy and religious institutions, resonating with the growing contemporary yearning for a spirituality that is deeply empathetic, socially engaged, and inclusively grounded. These values are not just theoretical concepts but actionable ethics that CST has embedded in its curriculum, pedagogies, institutional and creative practices, and sustainability strategies.

The emphasis on interreligious, inter-spiritual, and intercultural theological education underscores the school’s commitment to shaping leaders who are prepared to serve in an increasingly diverse, global, and multivocal world. At its heart, CST’s mission is about formation — developing the whole person to impact the whole community. The school acknowledges that effective leadership in today’s shifting theological landscapes requires an integration and alignment of spiritual depth, academic excellence, and community engagement.

What aspects of the projects are you hopeful about?

We hope to continue to foster a deeply connected, purposeful, and compassionate community at CST. Our project aspires to achieve significant institutional transformation, culminating in the completion and implementation of our strategic plan, and strengthening a sense of belonging and community among all stakeholders. By aligning our institutional practices with the core values of compassion, justice, and belonging, we are creating an environment where every member of the CST community feels valued and empowered.

Within the context of institutional alignment, the SpiritLab Initiative emerges as a spiritual movement for creative transformation. Embracing an inter-spiritual, intercultural, and interreligious ethos, CST recognizes the necessity of fostering new spaces for communal celebration and gathering. SpiritLab will serve as a laboratory, inviting our community to engage with various creative spiritual practices that nurture personal growth, communal transformation, and healing. These communal gatherings are seen as catalysts for compassion, justice, belonging, and co-liberation for all, embodying CST’s values.

SpiritLab’s mission is to create and nurture communities that deepen our sense of belonging by integrating intercultural, interreligious, inter-spiritual, intersectional, and compassionate practices. By building a diverse compendium of spiritual practices, SpiritLab equips individuals with the tools and insights to foster meaningful connections, rituals, artworks, liturgies, and other spiritual resources. These resources aim to advance transformation in the world through compassion, healing, and justice, aligning with the broader goals of the Activating Change Project.

SpiritLab envisions a world where communities thrive through deepened belonging and interconnectedness, embracing diverse spiritual and religious practices and compassionate engagement. By integrating ancient wisdom, religious traditions, sacred texts, and creative artistic practices with contemporary insights, SpiritLab creates spaces for transformative experiences. These experiences promote healing, deep awareness of human dynamics and challenges, and collective well-being, reflecting the aspirational goals of the Activating Change Project and its commitment to a compassionate and just world.

What are you learning that could help other schools?

One of the key lessons we have learned, which could benefit other schools, is our proficiency to build and sustain online communities. The Ph.D. colloquium at CST started as a proof of concept for community building and has since become an integral part of our curriculum. Grounded in the values of compassion, justice, and belonging identified during Phase I of the Activating Change Project, the colloquium was designed to create a supportive virtual space that promotes equity and a compassion-centered sense of belonging.

The Ph.D. colloquium has proven invaluable for students’ academic and professional development. Participants rated the relevance of the colloquium highly, recognizing its comprehensive approach in addressing both academic and personal needs. Practical advice on publishing, conference presentations, and maintaining work-life balance, combined with a supportive and collegial atmosphere, has countered the typical isolation of academic study.

Particularly effective were the “Spilling the Tea” sessions, which provided a safe space for open and honest discussions about navigating academia, These sessions humanized professors and fostered an environment of mutual support and learning among participants.

The colloquium’s intentionality, commitment, and responsiveness from students and faculty have been powerful models for a sustainable academic culture of peer mentoring as an ecology. Personalized interactions, such as virtual sessions, offered students guidance and mentorship they might not have otherwise accessed. This collaborative praxis has also led to the development of the Activating Change Handbook, tentatively titled, “Emergent Formations: Lessons from the Activating Change Project at CST.” This handbook will feature essays exploring CST’s institutional transformation, providing compelling narratives, critical analyses, and a roadmap for navigating power structures and achieving collective thriving.

By widely distributing this handbook among our stakeholders, other theological schools, and the Lilly Endowment Inc., we hope to extend the reach of our learnings and foster a broader impact beyond CST.

The insights gained from reshaping and sustaining our institution demonstrate the importance of intentional community building efforts in virtual programs. These lessons can serve as a valuable model for other institutions aiming to cultivate similar environments of compassion, justice, and belonging.         

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