One of the great things about Georgia State University is there are so many opportunities for student success. One of the lesser-known programs is the GSU62 program, which allows individuals aged 62 and older to enroll in classes and pursue a degree for little to no cost. In the department of Religious Studies, we have had several amazing GSU62 students. In this post, we have an interview with Regina Davis-Sowers, a first-year MA student in Religious Studies. For more information on GSU62, please go to this website: https://admissions.gsu.edu/bachelors-degree/knowledgebase/gsu-62-program/
Introduce yourself! Give some background info- name, where you’re from, what you were doing before entering the MA program.
I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the second of two daughters. At age 21, I adopted two nieces and two nephews, ages 1-6, when my only sibling, their mother, died unexpectedly. Although her death was the worst event of my life, adopting her children motivated me to dream bigger than Chattanooga, to give them and my one biological son a solid middle-class life. I felt an obligation to raise us out of poverty when I agreed to be a guardian.
I consider Atlanta my home because this is where I have worked and raised my five children. Although I have taught in universities and colleges in Illinois, California, and Tennessee, Atlanta is where I returned to in 2014. This is where my children and grandchildren live. Before I entered the MA program in Religious Studies, I was a Sociology professor for nearly 20 years. I loved teaching, considering it a calling and not just a job.
How did you find out about the GSU62 program?
When I saw the advertisement in Facebook for the GSU-62 program in the Religious Studies Department at Georgia State University, I went to the department’s page, to examine the mission statement and learning goals, as well as the types of research being conducted. I liked the emphasis on practical knowledge, with learning opportunities in the community. Also, being able to meet people from different religions and interacting with them in classrooms and outside of classrooms will stretch my thinking beyond Christianity.
What do you think makes the GSU62 program great?
I think that what makes the GSU-62 program great is the opportunity to continue life-long learning but without the costs of college which can be prohibited for someone on Social Security and receiving a small pension. Also, interacting with the young students and professors keeps me feeling useful and my mind active.
Why did you choose the Religious Studies MA program at GSU?
After I was ordained to preach in 2005, I never had the monies to attend a seminary. Religious Studies at Georgia State University would allow me a more diverse study across disciplines, such as sociology, political science, and economics. I like the applied aspects of this program, courses that allow students to think of how religion can be used to solve some of the pressing questions of today, such as social justice, climate change, and problems related to aging.
What have been some of your favorite courses, lectures, and subjects over the past year? Why?
My favorite two classes have been Disability and Memoir with Dr. Andrew Walker Cornetta and Proseminar Course with Dr. Monique Moultrie. Both classes were reading intensive, and I learned a lot about theories of religion and how to utilize theory in my writing. Also, I had never thought about disability as an impediment to worship, and Dr. Walker-Cornetta assigned wonderful personal memoirs that gave students an opportunity to “listen” to the authors, as if they were face-to-face with us. You could feel their pain and understand their suffering so much better than second-hand knowledge. I wouldn’t know any of these issues if I weren’t in the program, and I love it!
What’s something surprising or interesting you’ve learned this semester?
This semester I am taking two courses from Dr. Jaako Takkinen on Buddhism, and I am surprised how alike many of the writings in the various religious traditions, such as parables and birth stories, from ancient times are alike. I am learning as much about Christianity as I am Buddhism.
What are some things you did in the program that you might not have done otherwise? Did you learn any new skills - tech, etc?
I have learned new skills in utilizing the library in researching final papers, how to use Webex for meetings, and Dr. Bell took us to the Oakland Cemetery, where I learned a lot about burial history. It was fascinating, and I never would have gone there if not for the class.
What resources have you found to be most valuable while working on your degree?
The resource that I am finding most valuable is the library. Being able to request the books needed and obtain them in a timely manner makes my life easier. I am amazed at the many religious offerings at the library. Another resource is the graduate lab in the Religious Studies department, where it is quiet and conducive to studying.
What has it been like to work with the faculty in Religious Studies?
Working with the faculty in Religious Studies has been wonderful. As a retired professor, I appreciate their professionalism and the high standards of expectations for students. Also, I have enjoyed being invited to have coffee and to get to know my professors better.
What do you enjoy most about living in Atlanta?
It is great to be back in Atlanta, because of the cultural offerings, such as the High Museum, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and various theater troupes. My husband and I like to attend plays, and there are many opportunities in Atlanta. We also have membership in the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and we love seeing the changes in the exhibits over the different seasons.
What is the grad student community like in the program?
The graduate student community is wonderful. I have attended events from the Religious Studies Student Forum, and I have liked each one. I was also impressed that on the first day of orientation, Religious Studies graduate students created a WhatsApp page, to help us communicate with each other and offer support to each other. I had to learn how to use it, so I am becoming quite technologically astute.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of applying to the MA program in Religious Studies?
I would tell anyone thinking of applying to the MA program in Religious Studies to do it now! I believe in life-long learning and service, and this is an opportunity to engage once again with people across all social categories, including the diversity of generations, learning from each other, and coming to appreciate that we are not so different after all. The courses offered will cause you to think and write critically about the place of religion in our lives.
What are your plans for the future?
At age 70, I am considering what’s next in my life, particularly how I can use the information learned in the program to help people in their religious walks. I want to enter a doctoral program in Religious Studies or enter a seminary, to obtain a more theologically based education, to combine with the more applied focus on religion in the Religious Studies program at Georgia State University.
What do you like to do in your free time? What are you reading/watching/listening to lately?
I am an avid reader of murder mysteries. I must have over 100 books on my Kindle that I probably won’t complete until after graduating. I also love binging shows on Britbox and Acorn. I am becoming quite British in the process! I look forward to times when I can bring my children and grandchildren together and share a meal. I love traveling, and I hope that the pandemic will end soon so that I can hop on a plane and see the world. My husband and I hike in one of the state or local parks at least three times a week, and I love hiking in wooded areas and nature. You can’t beat it for spiritual healing.