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March 21, 2018

Alumni Spotlight: Traci Coy Birge ’04 (English/Religion-Philosophy) and ’08 (NES Master of Theological Studies)

Traci Coy Birge ’04 (English/Religion-Philosophy) and ’08 (NES Master of Theological Studies) has been busy since graduating from Roberts.  She is the mother of two, Kylie and Lydia, and married to Jeff.  In her spare time she is completing her PhD in Christian Scripture, with a concentration in Old Testament, at McMaster Divinity College (Hamilton, Ontario) and has just accepted an Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies position teaching Old Testament at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.  She and her family will be moving from N. Chili to the Los Angeles area this summer.  Learn a bit about her journey from Batavia to Roberts and beyond in her own words.

What brought you to Roberts? 

I visited campus and really connected to the people of Roberts. People were authentic and down to earth. Whether talking to the professors who led departments, the folks who did all the admin work, or those cleaning… there was a sense that everyone was there for a reason and purpose. I wanted to know why.

How did your experience at Roberts shape your life and career path?

My experience at Roberts shaped me in more ways than I can describe. I began as a student, looking to get the degree that would lead to a job. By the end of my first year, I let go of such short-term goals and started to study just because I loved studying. My curiosity was ignited and shaped into something meaningful. I began to realize the difference between academic perfection and personal betterment; between memorizing and internalizing; between knowledge and wisdom. I never set out to be a college professor, I just didn’t want to stop being curious.

Sometimes I joke that I never really had any professional aspirations, I just stayed in classes long enough that they started to let me lead a few. Roberts not only educated me, they gave me my first opportunity to teach Bible to the next generation of Roberts students. I wasn’t merely given a classroom, but my professors continued to teach and shape me as I began my career. I will never forget the words of Harold Hurley on my first day of teaching, “you probably wanted to become a professor because you have been inspired by others (I know, I was one of them), but don’t be them. Be you and show them why you love it. That’s what makes an effective professor.” He was right in every way. I will be eternally thankful for the mentorship of Richard Middleton and Casey Davis who taught me that students don’t simply need to know what to study, but why it matters.

My professors modeled academic curiosity, but always connected it to the life of a believer. Knowledge without spiritual reflection is futile. It gets you nothing and leads you nowhere. In every academic pursuit, in every paper I write, in every prayer I pray… I keep that awareness ever before me.

Describe your current vocation and the way God is working in your life.

I have just accepted a position at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. I will be teaching Old Testament as an Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies. Years ago, when I began studying the Bible I could never imagine that God was leading me in this direction, but he did. This job is my dream job, but it is more than that. In teaching, research, and student mentoring I feel like my whole life has led to this. I feel like I’m exactly where God intended me to be and that is a fantastic place. I know that I am not working in this field because of my brilliance, there are plenty of brilliant (likely brighter) people, but every step of the way God has walked me through the process. He’s opened and closed doors. He’s been with me through heartache and disillusionment, as well as beaming with parental pride when I finally realized where he was leading me. Life has been a journey and I have never walked it alone.

Describe a person/professor at Roberts who made an impact on you.

In my PhD program, my fellow students called me a “Middleton-ite” because, apparently, I have been deeply influenced by his teaching, his research, and his friendship. I proudly wear that title because I was blessed enough to have him as a mentor (and I think he happens to be right on several key issues).

Richard Middleton, Casey Davis, Andy Koehl, Dave Basinger, Harold Hurley… all of these professors have had a continuing influence, impact, and interaction with my life. As an undergrad, they tore apart my faulty framework for viewing the world, but they did not leave it broken. They helped me to recreate a biblical framework, that loves and cares for people, and that allows room to continue to grow.

Share a fun story, memory, experience.

My favorite undergrad story happened in my first Bible class, in my freshman year. Casey Davis was teaching my OT class and running quickly through the well-known stories of the primeval history (Gen 1-11) and he said, “we all know who built the boat…” and I yelled (with gusto), “Abraham!” He just pointed and said, with a confused look, “noooo.” I guess it doesn’t matter where you start your academic pursuits, if you study hard enough you may one day be able to teach it.

What advice/insight do you have for current students interested in your career field?

It’s a long road, but it’s one worth taking. Being an academic can be a mixed bag—there are so many deadlines, so much pressure, so many people watching… but remember why you are doing it. I never thought I would be an academic, I’m just curious and I wanted to know more about who God is and what it means to be human in his world. Eventually, I knew enough to share. My curiosity became my spiritual gifting to share with the church. I don’t write papers and give lectures for personal acclaim or another bullet point on my CV, I write and I speak as an act of faithfulness. Despite the cost or the gain, my prayer is that I always remember why I am doing this. Honor your calling by doing your due diligence, but remember that if God has called you he will enable you to do what seems impossible.

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