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ETS Student Spotlight


Two Class of 2018 Grads Replace Loss, Challenges and Roadblocks With Caps, Gowns and Degrees

Both Pamela Shropshire and Alicia Skillman encountered challenges and obstacles during their studies at Ecumenical Theological Seminary (ETS). For Shropshire, it was a bad car accident and the loss of loved ones and a beloved professor. Skillman also experienced losses: several family members in a short time frame and job changes.

But both persevered and will be among the 22 graduates of ETS on June 2. Shropshire, 53 and originally from New Orleans, will receive her Master’s degree in Pastoral Care and Counseling. Skillman, 55, and a Detroiter and Saginaw native, is getting her Master of Divinity degree.

Shropshire, who grew up in the Crescent City’s tough Ninth Ward, said her teachers always encouraged her and told her she could be whatever she wanted. For many years, she was a pastry chef. Now, she said, “I’m a minister.”

Her pastor used to work at ETS and invited her to tour the historic building on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue.

“At the time I was still in my bachelor’s program and planned for my master’s to be in clinical psychology,” she said. “From the moment I walked in the building I felt as if I needed to be there. At the same time, my involvement with ministry began to grow. Once I had earned my bachelor’s degree and started to research other grad schools, I continued to be drawn to ETS.”

She chose ETS because of the diversity of the seminary and its faculty.

“The professors come from all walks of life and also many different religious and spiritual beliefs,” she said. “They never make you feel as if your beliefs are wrong. They teach with love, facts, diversity and sensitivity.”

Shropshire said among the memories she will cherish is the closeness between students as well as the faculty. She said everyone at ETS works to ensure every student succeeds. “The staff and faculty treat us not just like extended family but also brothers and sisters in Christ,” she said.

Another fond memory is the worship experiences.

“Each student has the opportunity to plan and execute a worship service,” she said. “The togetherness of that is a great experience.”       

Shropshire said after her car accident, the ETS staff worked with her to meet her needs. She, like many others at ETS, also mourned the death of Professor J. Harold Ellens. “He was very passionate about church history,” she said. “I learned things I will never forget.”

She said ETS “was a Godsend” during a period when she lost five family members in two months. “I shall truly never forget it,” she said of the faculty and staff generosity.

Skillman also fondly recalls the support from many of the ETS faculty and staff. “I could name them individually but it literally would take up the entire page,” she said. She credits them for helping her through the rough patches, whether it was the difficult coursework or the deaths of loved ones.

Every now and then I asked myself, ‘Why am I here?’ But with prayer that always got answered,” she said.

She said she felt called by God to attend a seminary and chose ETS because of the emphasis on understanding and uniting multiple faiths. ETS “is intentional about practicing it.”

She said the knowledge and understanding that she received from ETS “is unique and like no other curriculum I experienced.”

“I’m excited now when church members or seekers generally ask me questions, wanting to get closer to God and I actually have answers, patience, compassion, and love for them,” Skillman said. “Plus, who wants to let down their pastor and God?”

She likes that she can use her new degree “at a moment’s notice, not just on Sunday. It’s fabulous.”

After the two women graduate on Saturday, they plan to take divergent paths.

Skillman said she doesn’t plan to be a church pastor, but she enjoys “assisting others with spiritual development.”  

“My daily work is in ethics and a good number of my courses help to inform my work there,” she said.

Shropshire said she would like to use her degree to pastor a small church.

“As my ministry and ministry experience grows, I will go wherever God leads me,” she said. “I will forever be in God’s service.”