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From R-MC to Yale Divinity School: Essence Ellis ’18

Jun 05, 2018


Essence EllisThis fall, Randolph-Macon College alumna Essence Ellis '18 will begin graduate studies at Yale Divinity School. A religious studies major and transfer student, Ellis had a general interest in religion when she took a Biblical Hebrew course, taught by Professor Shoshanna Schechter (who now serves as director of Jewish Campus Life), during her first semester at R-MC. The course gave her a new perspective into religious studies, a multi-faceted discipline.

"I grew up in a very conservative Christian family and never had the opportunity to look at religion academically, especially not as a woman," she says. "Watching Professor Schechter function as an exceptional academic was inspiring to me."

Schechter says, "From our first day of class, it was obvious that Essence possessed exceptional critical thinking skills that allowed her to fully embody the study of religion from a variety of approaches and perspectives. It was not uncommon for her to challenge the way that I looked at a particular ritual or sacred text. I am excited to watch Essence take the skills that she honed at R-MC to the next level at Yale."

Academic Strides
"I've had a number of great professors, but Religious Studies Professor Sandra Goehring takes the cake," says Ellis. "She is amazing. I transferred from Sweet Briar College, so making sure I graduated on time got a bit difficult at times, but Professor Goehring was always there to help. The academic strides I've made in the last two years would not have been possible without her."

Goehring, Ellis' academic advisor, says, "Essence understands that religion is embedded in all cultures, therefore knowledge of world religions is an important component when interacting with people."

Campus Life
The recipient of the William F. Goggin and Robert Allen Thomas Scholarship, Ellis was deeply involved in campus activities and organizations. She participated in Relay for Life; was a member of the Black Cultural Society, Diversity Council, and Habitat for Humanity; and she worked as a student assistant in the Office of Student Life.

Hands-on Training + New Challenges
With the help of staff from The Edge, R-MC's four-year career preparation program, Ellis learned how to craft a résumé and write cover letters. She also did an internship with Partnership for the Future (PFF), an organization that provides high school students from challenging circumstances with the tools and experiences needed to attain a college degree. At PFF, Ellis assisted with lesson preparations and developed career-building activities.

"My internship really took me out of my comfort zone," she says. "Applying what I had learned in class to a real-world setting was a new challenge."

Patience and Resilience
Ellis studied abroad twice, traveling to Cambodia during January Term (J-term) when she was a junior, and to Ghana a year later. Both experiences helped her grow in different ways.

"Cambodia was my first time leaving the country without a family member and exploring a culture that I knew nothing about," she explains. "And studying abroad at the University of Ghana for a semester forced me to be independent: There was no R-MC class, and no professor to cling to. In Ghana I fell in love with the Black experience on an international scale, and I learned how to be patient and resilient."

Goehring says, "I watched Essence embrace the opportunity to study at the University of Ghana. The new academic setting challenged her to assess her interests from a different perspective and ultimately to clarify a vocational goal.

Duly Proud
Ellis is excited to begin studies at Yale Divinity School—and she is duly proud that she was accepted to all four graduate programs she applied to (Vanderbilt Divinity, Boston University School of Theology, Howard School of Divinity, and Yale).

"Being accepted to all four is surreal," she says. "I am thrilled to start a new journey at Yale."