Candler’s annual Honors Day Convocation took place on Thursday, March 30 in Cannon Chapel, where awards were presented to students during a celebration of vocational and academic excellence. Click here for more photos from the event.

Honorees in Who’s Who in American Universities and Colleges

groupEight Candler students are being recognized through selection for Who’s Who in American Universities and Colleges: Sophie Callahan, Samaria R. Divine, Lawrence “Larry” West Gipson, Angela Mao Johnson, Ebo E. Quainoo, Karen Anne Sawyer, Kelsey Spinnato, and Stephen Taylor. This honor recognizes students who have made impressive contributions to Candler’s quality of life and education through service, leadership, scholarship and character.

Honorees for vocational excellence and community service

Hillary Frances Hillary Taylor received the Claude H. Thompson Award, which is presented to a student who demonstrates concern that the gospel of Christ comes to complete expression in the lives of men and women through acts of justice and reconciliation. A graduate of Furman University, Hillary is passionate about the intersection of pastoral leadership and community advocacy. Prior to enrolling at Candler, she served as a young adult missionary with The United Methodist Church in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa and Miami, Florida. At Candler, her activities been oriented towards justice, freedom, peace and the alleviation of human suffering: organizing an anti-death penalty education tour as co-president of the Social Concerns Network, serving as a teacher in the Certificate of Theological Studies program at Lee Arrendale State Prison, promoting farmworker justice issues on campus, and advocating for Emory’s status as an official sanctuary campus. After her graduation from Candler next year, Hillary hopes to become a community missional pastor in the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.

EstelliEstelli Ramos received the Berta and James T. Laney Award in Contextual Education, which is presented to a third-year MDiv student who has successfully completed both the first and second years of Contextual Education and whose engagement with the practices of ministry exemplifies H. Richard Niebuhr’s concern to do theology as simultaneous reflection and action carried out within the personal and social context of love of God and neighbor. Estelli’s professional background is in clinical social work, and he teaches a variety of courses at Georgia State University’s School of Social Work. He fulfilled his first year of Contextual Education at Candler at Lutheran Social Services of Georgia, working with refugees and learning more about embracing diversity through his interactions with Muslim families. In his second year, Estelli’s ecclesial placement was at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Grant Park. The Contextual Education faculty especially noted Estelli’s ability to both act and reflect than when he returned to his home city of Orlando to minister to the community after the Pulse Nightclub massacre in 2016. Upon graduation, he looks forward to the prospect of helping to found a new Metropolitan Community Church in Orlando, where Spanish-speaking members of the LGBTQ community can worship together.

CaitlynCaitlyn Cook Furr received the Charles Owen Smith Award, which is presented to a second-year student with exceptional promise for service in ministry in the Baptist tradition. A dual degree student at Candler and at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health, Caitlyn is pursuing an MDiv degree with a certificate in Baptist Studies, along with a Master’s of Public Health with a focus on global health. She feels called specifically to global mission work, and hopes to use her dual degree to aid churches and denominational groups as they coordinate their global missions initiatives. Active in the Baptist student community at Candler, Caitlyn serves as the student representative on the Baptist Studies Board of Directors. She is also a part-time Global Missions Intern at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s national headquarters in Atlanta.

Taylor ClaireTaylor Claire Bean received the Fellowship Seminarian Award, which is administered by The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts and presented to the graduating student who displays outstanding leadership in worship arts. Taylor Claire came to Candler with an undergraduate degree in music and worship leadership. She has served as a planning team leader on the Office of Worship staff, facilitating all aspects of worship planning—creating liturgies, producing service bulletins, and organizing volunteers to serve Communion, offer prayer, and read Scripture. Taylor Claire is also a three-year member of the Candler Singers and has served as a vocalist and instrumentalist in a variety of worship settings at Candler.

StephanieStephanie R. Milton received the Hoyt Hickman Award, which is presented to the senior who, in the opinion of the Emory Chapter of the Order of St. Luke, has most contributed to the worship life of Candler through liturgical leadership and pastoral care. Stephanie came to Candler with degrees in political science, and will graduate with an MDiv concentration in Justice, Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation. Her vocational aim is to engage in the full experience of pastoral care in congregational life, helping members and neighbors develop their spiritual and theological maturity. She has pursued a variety of opportunities at Candler to prepare herself for this aim, including studying for a semester at Stockholm School of Theology, and serving as a planning team leader in the Office of Worship. Stephanie is a longtime member of the National United Church Ushers Association of America and California’s Union Usher Board.

KarenKaren Anne Sawyer received the Community Service Award, which is presented to the graduating student who has given outstanding service to the Candler community. For three years, Karen has been a planning team member of the Candler Coalition on Racial Equality (CORE), which provides ways of furthering conversation at Candler about race, racial injustice, and challenging the status quo. She was secretary of the student organization Sacred Worth, and this year has served as Candler student body president through the Candler Coordinating Council. In this role, Karen and other Emory graduate student leaders worked successfully to restructure the Graduate Student Government Association to more ably serve Emory’s graduate student population. Karen has also been part of the Office of Student Programming team at Candler for three years, including a summer as hospitality coordinator for incoming international students.

NoeNoe Herren received the John Owen Smith Award, which is presented to the MDiv senior who is best able to communicate faithfully and imaginatively the gospel through preaching. Noe’s first career was in financial planning. Through Candler’s Contextual Education program, he has served at two correctional institution sites, first at the Helms Facility and then at Lee Arrendale State Prison, where he has served as an instructor and interim co-director of the Certificate for Theological Studies program. Noe’s preaching displays wisdom and ingenuity, connecting the Word with people who are marginalized in different ways. One professor notes that his preaching allows incarcerated individuals to experience life-giving encounters with the Word.

TylerTyler Dunstan received the Frederick Buechner Award. Established by the Frederick Buechner Center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the award is given to the student who, in the opinion of the faculty, best exemplifies the gifts of imagination, creativity and literary excellence in preaching that have been hallmarks of Buechner’s own preaching and writing. Tyler has an undergraduate degree in history with a minor in classical and ancient studies, and reads classical Greek, Hellenistic Greek, biblical Hebrew, and Latin. He’ll graduate from Candler with an MDiv concentration in Scripture and Interpretation, with research interests focusing on the Synoptic Gospels and New Testament Christology. He’ll continue to explore these after graduation as a PhD student at Duke University. At Candler, Tyler has served as a faculty research assistant and a Pitts Theology Library Scholar, and has presented his own research at the student-led Sophia Forum.

EboEbo E. Quainoo received the John W. Rustin Award, which is presented to the student who, in the opinion of the preaching faculty, best exhibits the capacity for prophetic preaching. His preaching professor says that Ebo excels at interrogating the text while being mindful of the preaching context. Following a career in civil engineering, Ebo enrolled in Candler’s MDiv program. He has been active in student leadership roles, serving as president of the Candler African Theological Students Association, audiovisual systems engineer for Candler’s chapel services, and on the Senior Class Gift Campaign committee. Originally from Ghana, Ebo also serves as youth pastor and counselor at Atlanta’s Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.

RuthRuth Ubaldo received the Ruth Sewell Flowers Award, which is presented to the senior MDiv student who has shown the greatest improvement in ministerial qualifications during three years spent at Candler. Ruth is a founding member of the Candler Latin American Community. She has also served in the Office of Contextual Education, on Candler’s Committee on Racial Equality (CORE) and as a student ambassador in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. Last year, Ruth studied theology as an exchange student in Göttingen, Germany, where she affirmed her vocational call to serve as a United Methodist pastor on the U.S./Mexico border.

AbbyAbby Bok received the G. Ray Jordan Award, which is presented to the MDiv senior who shows unusual promise for usefulness in ministry and demonstrates excellence in integrating academic study with constructive leadership and service. A Michigan native, Abby spent three years at a local parish as part of the Episcopal Studies Contextual Education program, where she was able to bring much of her coursework into preaching, facilitating small groups and working with youth. As vice-president of Candler Creation Keepers, she has tended the theology school garden, coordinated hiking trips, and planned educational events. Her passion for food, justice and community came together in a significant way through the Candler Advantage Program last summer, when she served a congregation in Michigan and contributed to the publication of The Christian Food Movement Guide.

Honorees for academic excellence

Jacob TavaresThe United Methodist Foundation for Christian Higher Education Award is presented each year to a rising MDiv junior, middler, and senior. Recipients must have been active members of the UMC for at least one year and must demonstrate outstanding scholarship and leadership ability. The Admissions staff will select a recipient from the incoming class for the junior award. Jacob Cogman and Tavares Stephens received the awards for a rising middler and senior. Jacob is a graduate of Claflin University, where he double majored in politics and justice studies and philosophy and religion. At Candler, he holds various leadership roles with the Office of Worship, sings in the Voices of Imani and the Candler Singers, and serves as an academic skills tutor in the writing center. Jacob has served as a Black College Fund Ambassador for The United Methodist Church for four years, and will study next spring at the Trinity Theological College in Singapore. Tavares is a candidate for ordained ministry in the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church. He is also a freelance writer, performance poet and songwriter, motivational speaker, and teacher. He currently serves as assistant student pastor at Wesley Chapel United Methodist Church in McDonough and as a monthly guest preacher at Lee Arrendale State Prison. A former middle and high school English educator, Tavares co-founded VerbalEyze, an organization that fosters the development and professional growth of teenage and young adult writers.

LuisLuis Mauricio Delaney Velasquez received The United Methodist First Career Seminary Award, which is presented to a student for whom ministry will be the recipient’s first career. Recipients must be planning to enter parish ministry and must demonstrate outstanding scholarship and leadership ability. Luis has been active in the local church, the North Georgia Conference of The United Methodist Church, the General Board of Global Ministries, and the National Plan for Latino Ministries. Prior to enrolling in Candler’s MDiv program, he volunteered at the Salvadorian Embassy in Atlanta and at a United Methodist Church teaching ESL and immigration-related classes. He has also worked at several medical and community centers, assisting migrant families. Luis was recently offered the opportunity to serve at Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church with a focus on Latino/a youth and new hospitality initiatives.

MatthewMatthew Johnson received the United Methodist Scholarship Seminary Award, presented to a member of the current first-year class who demonstrates outstanding scholarship and leadership ability and plans to enter parish ministry. Matthew is an MDiv student with a concentration in Justice, Peacebuilding, and Conflict Transformation, and plans to be ordained as an elder in The United Methodist Church. He is actively involved in the Reconciling Ministries Network at Candler and serves as a chaplain at Gwinnett Medical Center, his Contextual Education I placement.

WesleyWesley Smithart received the Myki Mobley Award, which is presented to the MTS student who demonstrates academic excellence and significant social concern. Before coming to Candler, Wesley served as a legislative intern in the office of U.S. Senator Richard Shelby and as an intern with the Alabama Sentencing Commission, researching sentencing issues and working on the implementation of the Alabama Prison Reform Act. At Candler, she taught a course on restorative justice at Lee Arrendale State Prison, and currently interns at the Henry County Drug Court Program developing curricula for alternative sentencing. Wesley has also participated in anti-death penalty work through Candler’s Social Concerns Network, and served as a YTI mentor on a Civil Rights tour for high school students. As part of her MTS degree, Wesley has completed an interdisciplinary certificate in human rights.

JRJ.R. Atkins received the Nolan B. Harmon Award, presented to the second-year MDiv student who has shown the most marked improvement during the first two years at Candler. J.R. came to Candler with an extensive background in business and consulting, providing training for business leaders in social media, sales, and marketing. At Candler, he is pursuing a path toward ordination in The United Methodist Church with a focus on church planting and revitalization. J.R. currently serves New Church Atlanta as part of his Contextual Education II site placement, and has just completed a two-year program in the Academy for Spiritual Formation and the Certification as a Lay Servant in The United Methodist Church.

Adam Tiffania Adam McDuffie and Tiffania Willetts received the James D. and Alice Slay Award, which is presented to the second-year MDiv student(s) who exhibit outstanding academic performance and promise for pastoral ministry. Adam is a graduate of Wake Forest University where he concentrated in religion and public engagement. He has provided leadership for Candler’s student-led Sophia Forum, presented papers at the annual meeting of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, and interns at Oakhurst Baptist Church. Tiffania earned her degree in economics from Princeton University with certificates in Latin American studies and political economy. She worked as a program and communications officer for the World Student Christian Federation in Buenos Aires and as a young adult missionary for the General Board of Global Ministries. Tiffania currently serves as a Family Ministries Intern at Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church. She is active in Candler student government as a graduate student government representative and as a liaison between the Candler Latin American Community and other Emory student organizations. She also works for Candler’s communications office. Tiffania plans to be ordained as an elder in the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.

LarryLawrence “Larry” West Gipson received the Chad Davis Memorial Award, which was established by Dr. Sara Mandell in memory of The Rev. James Chadwick Davis, a 1959 graduate of Candler. The Bible faculty selects a recipient who has done well in Old or New Testament courses. Before coming to Candler to pursue an MDiv with a concentration in scripture and interpretation, Larry spent almost three years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, teaching English as a foreign language. Fluent in Russian and with a reading knowledge of at least seven other languages, he has worked for three years as a writing and academic skills tutor in the Candler Writing Center, especially with non-native English speakers. Larry has held leadership roles in Sacred Worth and the Candler Coalition on Racial Equality (CORE), and has been a Peer Advisor, a co-chair of the Senior Class Gift Campaign, and organizer of a UCC student group. He plans to work as a pastor in the United Church of Christ.   

SamariaSamaria R. Divine received the American Bible Society Scholarly Achievement Award, presented to the senior with the best record in biblical studies. Originally from Liberia, Samaria earned an undergraduate degree in business from Georgia State University. As an MDiv student, she is currently writing a thesis on biblical and ancient Near Eastern prophets. Outside the classroom, Samaria has served as a student ambassador with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, was the co-founder of the contemporary singing group Broken Vessels, and is a co-chair of the Senior Class Gift Campaign.

Ji Ji Min Bang received the Boone M. Bowen Award, which is presented to the student who, in the opinion of the biblical studies faculty, has the best record in biblical Hebrew. He majored in political science at George Washington University, and has taught government and politics and provided interpretation services in Korea. His MDiv thesis focuses on “Scribal Hermeneutics of Exegetical Revision in Biblical Law.” At Candler, he has been a leader in the Emory Korean Graduate Student Association and a member of the Candler Singers. He currently serves as assistant pastor and worship coordinator in the Korean Ministry at Johns Creek United Methodist Church.  Next year, he will begin a PhD program in Hebrew Bible at Princeton.

BenBen Floyd received the Russell E. Richey Award, which is presented to the student who has demonstrated excellence in Wesleyan studies. Prior to beginning his seminary career, Ben was a kindergarten teacher in Asheville, North Carolina. Throughout his three years at Candler, he has served as a church plant pastor in North Carolina through the Teaching Parish program, then at Ball Ground United Methodist Church in North Georgia, and finally at City on a Hill United Methodist Church, a church plant in metro Atlanta. Ben’s MDiv thesis focuses on addiction and recovery as they relate to Wesley’s theology of salvation. Following graduation, he plans to seek ordination as an elder in The United Methodist Church.

The Academic Excellence Awards are presented to one MDiv senior and to one MTS senior who, in the opinion of the faculty, achieved the highest academic excellence. These students have the honor of serving as student marshals at Emory’s Commencement service, leading the procession of theology graduates and representing their fellow graduates on stage when President Sterk formally confers their degrees.

SophieSophie Callahan received the MDiv Academic Excellence Award.  Sophie will complete her degree with concentrations in Justice, Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation and Theology and Ethics, along with a certificate in Religious Education.  During her time at Candler, she has served as co-president of the Social Concerns Network and been especially involved in anti-death penalty activism, coordinating student participation in vigils and organizing community events to engage faith communities in this work. Through her Contextual Education placement, Sophie was the first woman to preach a sermon at Northlake Church of Christ. She also has worked as the communications coordinator in the Office of Student Programming, working to improve connections among members of the Candler community through the Candler Chronicle and social media. Formerly a Front Line Ambassador for the San Diego Padres, Sophie will be returning to California after graduation to serve in a new ministry with Church of the Nazarene.

KelseyKelsey Spinnato received the MTS Academic Excellence Award. Kelsey will finish her degree with a concentration in History, Scripture and Tradition. She has spent her hours outside the classroom as a Pitts Library Scholar, a planning member and subsequent co-chair of the student-led Sophia Forum, a member of the ASH Committee, and as MTS class representative to the Candler Coordinating Council.  An Office of Student Programming student staffer, Kelsey has served as a writing and academic skills tutor in the Candler Writing Center and worked closely with student life coordinators to enhance the experience of all Candler students. With a background in book production and editing, Kelsey has continued to work as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader for The United Methodist Publishing House.  Next year she will be pursuing a PhD in Hebrew Bible.

Faculty and Staff Honorees

Candler students select faculty and staff recipients.

Sarah Bogue, reference and instruction librarian at Pitts Theology Library, received the award for Staff Person of the Year. One nominator praised Bogue for being “supportive and friendly to all students, and constantly seeking ways to better serve the student body.”

Gregory C. Ellison II, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling, received the award for Faculty Person of the Year. One student nominator shared that Ellison has “made space for my colleagues and me to better tune ourselves as servants and scholars. Further, he has given himself selflessly as a supporter of the aims and goals of his students.”

Kevin Watson, assistant professor of Wesleyan and Methodist studies, and Steffen Lösel, associate professor of systematic theology, both received the On Eagle’s Wings Excellence in Teaching Award, conferred by the senior class in recognition of faithful and dedicated service. One nominator praised Watson for his lectures: “brilliant, both theological and pastoral, historically grounded and yet full of relevance for the contemporary ecclesial context.” Losel, one student said, is “one of the most truly pastoral professors we have at Candler. This has been such a gift as he continually demonstrates genuine care for students’ wellbeing.”