They win awards for their research. They write bestsellers. However, what sets the faculty at St. John’s University apart is their genuine concern for students, their desire to see them succeed in the classroom and life, and their passion for St. John’s mission. In this recurring series, we profile just a few of the many faculty members who make a difference in our University community—and our world.
Author, researcher, theology expert, and Fulbright Scholar, Meghan J. Clark, Ph.D., is best known around campus as a gifted professor who cares deeply about her students.
She is also known for bringing cupcakes to the classroom.
“I love to bake, so once a term I make cupcakes for class,” she said. “For me, it is a way of being ‘fully human’ in the classroom, in terms of my relationship with the students.”
So much of the academic content of my classes involves discussing difficult, overwhelming, and depressing injustices, so ‘cupcake day’ reminds us of the fun and beauty in life.”
While Dr. Clark even made cupcakes for her students when she taught in Nairobi, Kenya, this year has been different due to the pandemic. “Last semester was the first time since I began teaching that I could not make cupcakes for my students,” she lamented, “and I am terribly sad that I will not be able to for this semester’s students either.”
While the pandemic forced higher education to transition to a remote model last spring, Dr. Clark made other adjustments to her classes so that students could thrive in an entirely new environment.
“I did my best to avoid chaos and allow for flexibility,” she said. “I switched my plans from twice a week to a weekly course plan, and incorporated more videos and online lectures. Once students were fully online, I tried to vary things more and make discussion boards more interactive.”
Another modification she made was having students in her Catholic Social Teaching course maintain weekly journals—a practice she continues this semester.
“Students shared deep and personal thinking about economic justice and solidarity,” she said. “The journals also created a greater space for quiet and introverted students to dialogue with the material. It allowed them to see their development in thinking about dignity and the common good over the semester.”
In her years at St. John’s, Dr. Clark has been impressed with students and their commitment to issues of social justice. “St. John’s students want to critically engage the world around them and make the world a more just and inclusive place,” she said. “I think this is why theology classes resonate so much with students.”
She explained, “Theology—at its best—is a conversation about God, human persons, and the world. Theology courses create the space for students to ask big questions about who we are, how we should live together, and what kind of world we want to live in. We ask these questions without pretending to have all of the answers.”
Aware that people sometimes view religion as a source of global unrest, Dr. Clark focuses much of her research, instead, on the diverse ways that religious communities work for peace and justice around the world.
“The work of the Daughters of Charity is one example,” she explains. “I have spent time doing fieldwork looking at their programs to enhance the human rights of women and girls in East Africa—what they are doing and how that is part of their charism.”
While the pandemic presents a host of challenges to education at every level, Dr. Clark sees some positives emerging, especially concerning her students.
“They feel more comfortable about asking for help,” she said. “There is greater openness in communicating about our limitations, our needs, and the fact that we are all here trying to learn from each other.”
She added, “St. John’s students care deeply about each other and their community. The simple act of holding open the door, or the immense demand to participate in service activities such as the Midnight Run—these examples demonstrate how our students are considerate and eager to help others.”