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Alexandra Bolles '13 receives grant to explore her faith

"She's got her train on the tracks and she's going," says Claudia Highbaugh of Alexandra Bolles '13, a double major in sociology and religious studies and a scholar in the College's Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy. And this week, Bolles is in Nashville at the Leaders in Ministry conference where, as the recipient of an undergraduate fellowship from the Fund for Theological Education (FTE), she'll explore her own interest in ministry.

"Alexandra is a great fit for this fellowship because she is very focused on using her faith in an academic way," said Highbaugh, the College's dean of religious and spiritual life and a former member of FTE's selection committee, who nominated Bolles for the fellowship.

As a fellowship recipient, Bolles will receive a $2,000 stipend to cover expenses related to attending the Leaders in Ministry conference and to fund a project that will help Bolles further explore the ministry.

"The opportunity to look into ministry in both collective and self-directed, individualized ways sounded unique and, to be honest, really fun (if you're a nerd like me, at least)," Bolles said.

She hopes to find ways to connect her FTE project with her sociology major and her Holleran Center Program in Community Action initiative "Support for LGBTQ teens in faith-based organizations."

"I would really like to put together an event on the 'Conn' campus or in the New London community that relates to advocacy for the LGBTQ community in faith-based environments," she says. "Maybe that's a panel discussion, a movie screening, an informal conversation, a combination of these things, or something completely different."

She says the FTE is very flexible, allowing her to pursue the path that's right for her. "The grant guidelines are pretty open ended, which I love; they leave room for creativity so I can do something that's specific to me, my interests, and my understanding of ministry," she says.

This summer, Bolles also will begin work as a national news media intern at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). "I'm learning a lot about issues facing the LGBTQ community and different ways to advocate," she says. "A lot of what I've done in this role so far has included researching the positive and negative ways faith-based spokespeople speak about and interact with the LGBTQ community."

Bolles says her interests and involvement, combined with her academics, will prepare her for her future. "Ultimately-ideally-I'd like to be ordained as a priest with the Episcopal church," she says. "That's a big commitment to make, though, so the fellowship is providing me with much needed resources and space to think critically about what ministry is and if we're right for each other."

The Fund for Theological Education allows for that freedom and exploration, even for students who feel confident about using their faith in an academic way. Highbaugh says the fund is a testament to the College's students and their defined goals.

"If our students are really aggressive about they want to do, they will be able to find the resources to do it." Bolles agrees. "The whole thing has been an example of what a great resource the Holleran Center is as well as of the personal relationships students can build with faculty and staff at Conn."

- By Bailey Bennett '14

June 19, 2012