Laura Vander Velden is looking forward to getting some sleep.
“Well, to finish editing my dissertation, defending it and continuing my furniture refinishing business,” she says, listing off her post-graduation plans. “And sleeping.”
Vander Velden, originally from Innisfail, Alberta, completed her first Master’s degree from Providence Theological Seminary in 2009 when she graduated with her Master of Arts in Theological Studies. She lived on the Otterburne campus back then, after which she decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Toronto’s Wycliffe College.
She hopes to compete her doctorate this year—a feat that will be all the more impressive given that she will also graduate with her Master of Arts in Counselling from Providence this weekend. A distance student who has been part of Providence Theological Seminary’s Alberta Extension program since 2012, she is looking forward to serving Christ in an interdisciplinary capacity, combining her counselling and theology education.
“I have made it my policy to look for open doors in the direction of my calling,” she says.
As she considered graduate-level education in counselling—something she sought to satisfy her interest in “people-helping—Vander Velden looked into all of the seminaries in Western Canada, comparing their programs and evaluating what her options would be after graduating.
“I eventually opted for Providence because it seemed to offer the best combination of ministry training and academic rigour that would keep as many doors open as possible,” she explains. “This turned out for me to mean a multi-disciplinary adventure at Providence, where I have had the privilege of studying in depth in both theology and counselling.”
This time a distance student in Alberta, Vander Velden took advantage of the alumni bursary and enrolled in once course per semester.
“The long-term trajectory has been, well, long,” she says. “But it was the only feasible option financially and time-wise while I worked on my Ph.D. as well.”
Despite living nearly 1,400 km. from the Otterburne campus, Vander Velden was able to forge relationships with Providence faculty and fellow distance students based on the common bonds of study interests and faith. She says Providence is learning to better meet the needs of a diverse, off-campus student body and that the distance program does a good job of catering to students who are called into seminary education but are unable to move or commit to full-time study.
She also points to the women on the Providence faculty that, she says, had considerable impact on her.
“Dr. Lissa Wray-Beal has provided very wise and kind words of encouragement over the years as a woman in theology,” she says. “Dr. Sharon Pham has been a great resource. She is very well informed and genuine. And Dr. Glenys Wirch has been kind enough to work with me from a distance, and I have greatly appreciated her sharp wit and candour combined with insight and compassion. She has been an encouragement and a cheerleader.”
Overall, she adds, Providence professors care about their students and are deeply invested in Christ’s church. They want to equip leaders holistically.
As she prepares to graduate from Providence a second time, Vander Velden encourages other distance students, and prospective ones, to pursue the education to which they’re called, regardless of age, situation, jitters and fears.
“Take it one small step at a time,” she advises. “Learn from peers in the distance program. Take time to make connections and bonds. They can last a lifetime because we are striving together in service to Christ.”
(Second photo from top: Laura with husband Jordan Cole and puppy Lila.)