The Berkley Center welcomed Dr. Ryann Craig as its new director of student programs in fall 2019. Craig most recently worked as assistant director of academic support at the Catholic University of America, where she earned a Ph.D. on the use of Quranic proof texts by medieval Christian Arabic and Syriac authors. Center staff sat down with Craig for a brief interview about her new role.
We created the director of student programs position to strengthen student mentoring and research guidance. What drew you to this role?
The Berkley Center was such a perfect fit for my experiences, interests, and academic training. I came from working in academic support and running student programs professionally, advising students in co-curricular spaces and overseeing university-wide initiatives. My research examines how Eastern Christian traditions understood the Quran and engaged with their Muslim neighbors—effectively addressing ecumenical and interreligious concerns. Additionally, I’ve been involved in ecumenical and interreligious communities in the United States, Germany, and Jerusalem, as a participant and as a research-practitioner recording oral histories.
I think my academic formation at Catholic institutions, as well as my professional background in public service, has led me to an intuitive approach in developing student programming in a way that embodies the Jesuit value of cura personalis. There was a natural affinity with the center’s mission to deepen knowledge “at the intersection of religion and global affairs through research, teaching, and engaging multiple publics,” as well as with the Doyle program’s vision to equip students to engage differences. So the opportunity to support the work of the Berkley Center in developing student programming focused on religion and intercultural engagement was too good to pass up!
How did the shift to a virtual learning environment in March 2020 change your role, and what did you learn from this sudden move?
I’ve been so impressed with our dedicated faculty and students, as they have resiliently adapted to this new virtual learning environment. We’ve discovered new ways of upholding our commitment to engage students in order to prepare them to address global challenges. I saw the opportunity to shift our student research symposium to a virtual format that really allowed for meaningful conversation with our faculty and students, through an online poster forum as well as a roundtable discussion via videoconference. Throughout the year, including during this unusual spring semester, the center has offered courses; employed student assistants; provided fellowship opportunities; hosted student events; and supported students in our minor, designed specifically to educate students about the complexities of religion and international issues—as it does every year. I think the creative ways we’ve adapted to virtual learning will carry forward in how I shape our student programs.
What opportunities do you see for growth and expansion of student programs?
I see room for growth in all of our programs, both quantitatively and qualitatively. I’m looking for ways to integrate student voices more broadly by establishing a student advisory committee and launching an alumni network. For each of our student programs, I’ve sought ways to increase publishing experiences, integrating skills like digital scholarship and social media content creation. I’m excited to explore new models for expanding in-depth undergraduate and graduate research opportunities as part of the Doyle Engaging Difference Program, especially focusing on organizations addressing matters of social, political, racial, and religious differences. I look forward to strengthening our partnerships around campus as well. The Berkley Center is uniquely positioned to draw students into learning experiences that bring together our friends at the Initiative for Catholic Social Thought and Public Life; Campus Ministry; the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service; and the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship—just to name a few!
What do you hope to accomplish as the first director of student programs at the Berkley Center?
The Berkley Center is already known for its excellence in speaking to matters of global significance and organizing events that bring scholars, practitioners, and policymakers together. I want our students to be recognized as equally excellent, no matter what vocation they choose to pursue. Across our curricular and co-curricular offerings, my plan is to integrate core competencies, from intercultural knowledge and ethical reasoning to skilled research and digital outputs, creating center-wide learning objectives that are in step with the Berkley Center’s mission and the values of the university.