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.
What drew you to the Berkley Center to serve as director of student programs?
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. Though I’ve enjoyed each experience, these facets of my life felt very disconnected.
There was a natural affinity with the Berkley Center’s mission to deepen knowledge “at the intersection of religion and global affairs through research, teaching, and engaging multiple publics.” The opportunity to support the work of the center in developing student programming was too good to pass up!
How has your academic research in Quranic studies shaped your approach to student programming?
The fields of Islamic and Quranic studies have also grown rapidly over the past several decades, and I’ve been grateful to be in environments like the Catholic University of America, the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, and the International Quranic Studies Association, where there is tremendous support for graduate students coupled with academic rigor. I’ve studied the Quran, Islam, and Muslim-Christian encounters for over 20 years, but my work experience was always in data-driven environments, and I came to student programming through my background in developing databases. I’ve learned what data can and can’t tell you—both about student programming effectiveness and about patterns of scriptural proof-texting. There’s a gap in both that has to be filled in with really understanding the relational aspects of a given context. I think this pairing, researched information and genuine care for people, is what I strive to bring to my scholarship and to creating programs for students.
What Berkley Center program most excites you and why?
I can’t pick one! There are exciting elements to all of our programs. The Junior Year Abroad Network presents such a unique co-curricular opportunity for experimental and experiential learning. We’re changing the model to more guided discussion boards, creating spaces for students to truly engage with diverse opinions and approaches, and adding in social media skills development. We’ve also changed the deliverables of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship to incorporate digital scholarship tools, really positioning students to excel in research, and providing our partner organizations with dynamic feedback. We recently held a workshop for our incoming Doyle Seminar faculty, and it was energizing to hear how they plan to integrate engaging differences into their courses. The Religion, Ethics, and World Affairs minor continues to attract more students in Georgetown College and the School of Foreign Service, and I am working on plans to integrate student learning objectives into all of our student-facing 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. My goal this next year is to evaluate and (re)align all of our student programs with the Berkley Center’s mission and the values of the university, and integrate core competencies, creating center-wide learning objectives and outcomes. I’m most excited to see how this will expand our campus partnerships, deepen the relationships between students and Berkley Center faculty, and support university-wide conversations on key topics such as the environment, migrants and refugees, and global health.
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 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.
What's an interesting fact about you that your resume wouldn't reveal?
I was an usher at Wrigley Field in high school, back when we took tickets manually and counted them by hand for attendance numbers. My senior year of high school, I really wanted to work on opening day, just to say I’d done so. My dad agreed to let me work, but he would not lie to my school about why I was absent; they never asked for a reason. Though likely not the coldest home-opener in the Windy City, it was 29 degrees with a one-degree windchill. Brutal. But, hey, I worked opening day at Wrigley Field!