Sometimes the biggest impact can be made by those who are working behind the scenes. Colleen Smith, director of academic excellence and quality assurance at Cornerstone, is just such a person. Smith is a GRTS alumna of 1994. She visited multiple seminaries, including one in Dallas, before deciding on GRTS. She said she has "no regrets - I can't think of any place I would rather have gone."
Smith remembers there being only one other female student who attended while she was there. "There might have been a few others -- I was only there during class hours -- but we were the only two females in the classroom of new students at the beginning of the year." Smith especially remembers her time in Joe Crawford's Systematic Theology II class. She said Crawford would sometimes throw little pieces of chalk at students who were falling asleep. But his greatest impact was through his teachings on the doctrine of salvation. "We were studying the doctrine of soteriology, and Easter was approaching. I think that was the most memorable Easter I ever had," she said. "It was like letting the honey drip onto your lips. It was like he was preaching while he was teaching."
Smith also remembers having difficulty in Christian Ethics. "I bawled through that class," she said, laughingly. "There were all these terms, and each time Dr. Grier said one term, I would quickly write it down, but by that time he would already have moved on to something else." Michael Wittmer, associate professor of systematic and historical theology, was a classmate of Smith's at the time, and helped tutor her through class.
Smith is also one of three full-time staff members who founded Cornerstone's Professional and Graduate Studies (PGS), originally known as Adult Continuing Education (ACE) until graduate studies were included. Today PGS has its own building. In 1993, they were in what is now the Advancement office, located in the Seminary building. "We had no furniture. We were finally able to get three classroom tables and some chairs. We put our telephones on there and just started answering phones," Smith said. Some of the preliminary work also included assembling their own promotional materials. "We had a view book with different pages about our program," she said. "In order to put it together, we had to lay all this stuff out on the floor and we crawled along on our knees putting these together for students."
Keith DeBoer, director of student services in PGS, first worked with Smith in Student Development, and later in PGS as well, for a total of nearly 17 years together. Both he and Smith marvel at where God brought PGS since it began. The first cohort was started Nov. 1, 1993, and had eleven students. By the end of 2010, there were 1,038 students in cohorts all over the state. "When I started in PGS [in 1995] there were 100 students, and now of course, there are over 1,000, so we have seen a lot of growth through the years," said DeBoer. "I have enjoyed working with Colleen and she has always been a wonderful colleague and good friend," said DeBoer.
Smith said she's heard stories from professors of students coming to Christ through the PGS classes. "The students have to honor Cornerstone's background, but they don't have to be Christians, so we get a few students who are either not fully committed or have not made a commitment to Christ," she said. "We are very firm that our faculty fit the mission of Cornerstone and are grounded in Christ." Smith said once during a group presentation, the group shared more than their research. "One of the students that was going to do the reporting said, 'I just want to let you know that we have a new sister in Christ.' Those are the times that let you know that you're making a difference for Christ, even though you are sitting here pushing papers at your desk."
When asked what kept her at Cornerstone, she said "It's definitely the people, you know? It's the community. I only see my biological family three, four times a year, so for me, this has been my family. Whenever I meet with [students] in a small group setting, I'm just amazed by the spiritual depth...it ultimately comes down to the people with you, and it's about seeking the glory of God and the kingdom of God."