by Maggie Helmick, MTS ’23
Editor’s Note: Maggie is one of the 2022-2023 Graduate Assistants in HDS Admissions. She is a second-year MTS student at HDS studying the relationship between religion and human experience of the natural world.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you want the HDS community & prospective students to know about you?
The question of “who are you” is always such a daunting one! In relation to HDS, I am a second-year MTS student and an HDS Admissions Graduate Assistant. I have lived in a number of places, but West Virginia is the one I call home. For my undergraduate degree, I attended West Virginia University, where I majored in Religious Studies and minored in Philosophy and Political Science. After graduating, I took some time to just live and figure out what my interests really were and how I might want to pursue them, which ultimately led me down the long and certainly winding road to where I am now, in Cambridge studying religion. I have more academic interests that I can count, and that list expands with every class meeting I attend and reading I finish, but the main interest I am exploring here is the role religion plays in the relationships humans have with their natural environment. I am particularly interested in understanding how different religious and spiritual traditions lead people to feel a sense of stewardship over, responsibility to, or divine connection with the natural world. On a more personal level, I value the time I spend with the people I love more than anything in the world. I love anything and everything to do with food. I am filled with awe knowing that beautiful, nutritive, and delicious entities, like fruits and vegetables, exist in the natural world. I live in Cambridge with my partner of ten (!!!) years, who is also my best friend, and with my little pup, Harry. I am a bit of a homebody, but I feel most in tune with myself and the universe when I am immersed in nature.
How did you know HDS was the right school for you? What led you to apply here?
I applied to several divinity schools. At the time, I did not know anyone, aside from my undergraduate professors, who had gone through the process of applying to divinity school. Since I had no idea what to expect, I wanted to keep my options as open as possible. When it came time to make my final decision about where to attend, I focused on a few main factors: the size of the program (including students and faculty), the types of classes being offered, the financial aid, and the rigidity of the program. Coming from a very small religion program at my undergraduate institution, I really wanted to be part of a larger community of people with shared interests, and I wanted to learn from professors with diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise. I also wanted to ensure that the classes being offered would be able to support my academic interests. Financial factors, of course, hugely influenced my decision making: I wanted to ensure that the financial strain of graduate school would not compromise my experience of it or my future post-graduation. Finally, although I entered the application process with distinct interests, I really wanted room to explore outside of those interests and to find new topics of study that excited and intrigued me. Therefore, finding a degree program with a flexible structure was important to me. Ultimately, I found that HDS fit all my criteria better than any other institution I applied to: the MTS program was the right size to give me a strong sense of community, offered a diversity of classes to fulfill my interests, was fluid and flexible, and provided me with a financial aid package that made me feel confident in my decision to pursue a master’s degree. I am also someone who believes in following what feels right, and HDS, for me, just felt right.
What advice would you like to share with prospective students?
As difficult as it may be in practice, try to enjoy the process of applying and discerning the right direction for you. Choosing the path that will set you up for vast academic, professional, and personal growth should be an exciting endeavor, not one that leads you to criticize and belittle yourself. Know that you will find your way. Ultimately, it is most important to do what will maintain your own happiness and well-being – do not compromise on that.
What are you most looking forward to this year at HDS?
Without a doubt, I am most looking forward to the incredible personal growth I know I will experience this year at HDS. The past year here for me was marked by profound growth, and now, only a few weeks into this new academic year, I already feel that process underway again. I look forward to experiencing my time at HDS coming full circle as I graduate in May. I am already reflecting on just how transformative this experience has been for me. I know I will deeply miss my time here when I am gone, so I am looking forward to cultivating presence and living slowly this academic year. I do not want to miss a moment of the time I have left in this incredible community.
Please share with us one thing that is bringing you joy right now, as you start your fall semester.
At the current moment, there are several things bringing me joy, I cannot pick just one! I am thrilled with my classes this semester, with the professors, the subject matters, and my classmates. Both Dr. Ann Braude’s Issues in the Study of Native American Religions course and Dr. Kimberely Patton’s Encountering Motherhood: Sacred Histories course bring me joy every time I enter the classroom. I am a huge lover of fall, so the early autumn in Cambridge is something that brings me joy and peace every time I step outside. I have also really been cherishing each little moment of laughter and love I have shared with my partner and dog lately. Being so far from the rest of my family can be tough but having the two of them here is a little piece of home that brings me so much joy.