Equipping Christian Scholars at Urbana 18: The ESN Urbana Fellows Program

“It was amazing seeing so many Christian graduate students passionate about integrating their faith and their academic work. The connections were invaluable and further spurred me on to persevere as a faithful witness to Jesus’ kingdom in the academy.” — InterVarsity ESN Urbana 18 Fellow


One of my [Hannah] most vivid memories of Urbana 15: sitting at a table of emerging scholars passionately discussing what it means to be missional in a humanities field, while the loudspeaker above blared regular announcements such as, “Those in the green area, you should be finishing your salad now. Those in the red area, you should start clearing your tables now.” I thought back to that moment this year as ESN welcomed the 2018 ESN Urbana Fellows, 30 Christian scholars participating in a program that grew partly out of that moment. I’m excited to tell you more about what God did through ESN’s Urbana presence in 2018, but first let me tell you a little more about that seminal moment at Urbana 15.


A huge thank you to Park Street Missions and American Scientific Affiliation, generous sponsors of the ESN Urbana 18 Fellows program.


At Urbana 15, I helped Tom Grosh IV and ESN launch a pilot program where we connected with about 30 emerging scholars and provided small group support in contextualizing Urbana’s call to missions for those in or considering grad school. We had videochats for the small groups before and after Urbana, and at Urbana we arranged for each small group to have dinner with a mentor in their broad subject area (natural sciences, social sciences, or humanities).

For those who haven’t been, the Urbana dinner team is amazing: in 2015 they fed 16,000 people every night and got it done in time for the evening plenary. Even as I marvelled at their efficiency and dedication, though, I wondered how our humanities conversation was going to go. The setting was a far cry from the average humanities seminar. To my joy and amazement, the students in the group and the mentor professor we had recruited to chat with them forged a deep and genuine connection on the spot. The mentor professor talked about the challenges and opportunities of welcoming others to consider Christ in one of the most atheistic cities in the US, where she lives and works.

The students responded by pouring out their own stories: how an encounter with a fellow student complaining about Christianity spurred a study of apologetics and then wider philosophy and theology, how meeting caring Christian students led to one participant’s coming to Christ and then living as a visible Christian in her graduate humanities program, and more. When “the voice in the sky,” (what the Urbana hospitality team calls the loudspeaker announcements) suggested that our table finish up, the emerging scholars eagerly found another place outside the dining hall to continue the conversation. I realized that even as someone who had deeply longed for Christian community in my own graduate program, and even as someone who worked for ESN, I had underestimated how excited these emerging scholars were to connect with other believers working in similar contexts.

That dinner conversation really stuck with me, and it’s one of the things that encouraged us to build on that pilot program to provide the ESN Urbana 18 Fellows Program this year. We recruited emerging scholars in four broad field areas (humanities; social sciences; math and natural science; and social science), then supported them through an advance videochat and a dinner at Urbana to help contextualize what it means to be missional in higher education and related professional fields. We are deeply appreciative of the financial sponsorship we received from Park Street Church Missions (Boston, MA), and from our frequent collaborator the American Scientific Affiliation. They truly made this program possible, and we are deeply thankful. This time, we were able to host dinner in the ESN/GFM Lounge at Urbana. For a taste of what this program meant to emerging scholars, we invite you to browse the quotes below and enjoy the pictures in this post. Thank you to all of you who support us through prayer or financial collaboration—you too made this program possible, and your generosity is making a huge difference for emerging scholars as they follow Christ and work for the common good.

We hope all of you can join us at an ESN event soon!

God bless,

Hannah Eagleson

Tom Grosh IV

InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network

More Quotes from ESN Urbana 18 Fellows:

The ESN Fellows Program introduced me to other faithful witnesses in the unique position of being a professing Christian in science. The experience of connecting with academics as well as simply seeing the number of people who are sharing in my struggles was a great encouragement.


The ESN fellows program at Urbana helped me in many ways. First, it encouraged me to come to Urbana; second, it helped me meet people; third, it contributed to translating the message of Urbana to a practical and relevant vision for myself.


Meeting with fellow Christians in academia and learning about how to be missional in our context was very inspiring. I am bringing what I learned at Urbana home to share with other Christian grad students on my campus.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  – 2 Corinthians 12:9

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Hannah Eagleson

Hannah Eagleson is Interim Associate Director of InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). She launched and still edits ESN's collaboratively written devotional for academics, Scholar's Compass. Hannah also crafts other community-building events and materials for ESN. She holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Delaware, and an MA from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. she’s working on a novel about a dragon who gave up fending off knights to become a tea importer in eighteenth-century England.

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