Reflection from Jax Collins, MTS ’20

Telling others that I am getting a Masters of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School typically prompts, almost without fail, the response, “and what do you do with that?” Asked enough times in my first year, I began to investigate this for myself as my original next steps to pursue a PhD shifted. I started to explore options at Vanderbilt: dual degree programs, expanding my network, mentorship, diversified coursework, etc. 

After a few months of investigative work and meetings with many folks around Nashville, I met Kathleen (TFC Assistant Director) by inquiring about the Turner Family Center. Kathleen and I talked about more than what I was reading or writing about, more than what I was doing; she asked me about who I was, what excites me, and why those things elicited joy. In reminiscing on past experiences, I felt like a change agent in my role as an equipment manager for the University of Virginia’s football department as an undergraduate student. It was clear that I had a heart for the student athlete population.

When exploring divinity schools, I was drawn to the flexibility of Vanderbilt’s MTS program. As an MTS student, I was not required to take a field education component; however, I opted in to this experience to broaden my degree and apply the theological ideas I studied to a hands-on environment. After my discussion with Kathleen, I set out to design my field education experience which led me to meeting Mario (TFC Director) at the Turner Family Center’s Annual Summit. 

Mapping the student athlete Accelerator program with Elliot Dawes, M.Ed. ’19

Together with Mario, the TFC, and Owen’s Accelerator Program, I began my field education as a team member on a mission to understand my ministry in athletics and higher education. While the term “ministry” is most commonly used in religious narratives, it also functions to and historically has described one’s position of service. My involvement as a part of the TFC allowed me to understand a different way to serve people. Through our work on the Business Fellowship for Student-Athletes, we worked hard to shift the narrative for student-athletes through offering an experience for them to investigate their futures as change makers in their communities, both inside and outside athletics.

Photo taken at initial planning conversation in spring 2019 with Kenny Hebert (’20, TFC Intern ’19), Braden Kopp (’20, TFC Intern ’19), Mario Avila (TFC Director), Andre Mintze (’20), Oren Burks (’18, TFC intern 2018), and Jax Collins (MTS ’20)

Through my studies, theology has come to mean a way of moving through the world. The Turner Family Center augmented my graduate career through questioning how individuals are able to do that movement and, in that sense, acknowledging theology in a different context. My involvement with the TFC expanded to my participation in Project Pyramid and the Annual Summits where I explored the foundations of my degree and graduate experience in new and different surroundings. I shared dialogue with individuals from different backgrounds and disciplines which offered me a tangible way to serve others. Specifically, I worked as the team lead in my Project Pyramid group and was able to collaborate with a diverse group of graduate students to deliver a unique branding strategy to an international partner. Our team was able to contribute to the work of Abeja Reyna, an organic honey Mexico-based social enterprise. Their participation with us and our consulting work was deeply influential as we brainstormed, communicated, and worked within our different cultures and countries.

Project Pyramid teams in Mexico City, March 2020

My role with the TFC afforded me the opportunity to collaborate with other advocates for our student-athlete population to enhance the college experience for student-athletes. As a new graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School and a part of the TFC life-long family, I am excited to continue this work as I help design a virtual summer experience for Vanderbilt’s student-athletes: Summer Immersion Experience. This program will serve Vanderbilt’s student-athletes to create a space where they can question how they move through the world: where they want to make change and how they can best implement that change. Not only will the Summer Immersion Experience supplement student-athletes’ summers, on or off campus, but it will provide the space to explore their next steps.

Published May 2020.