May 15, 2012 - Riverside, CA
As master’s degree candidates at California Baptist University assembled to receive their diplomas, those who completed the first-ever master’s level program in Disability Studies were honored and given special recognition by the Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability (CID). These students completed their Master of Disability Studies with an emphasis in either disability ministry or policy. As far as the CID and CBU are aware, this is the first master's degree in disability studies ever awarded.
In 2007, the Joni and Friends International Disability Center established the CID in order to equip individuals with training and knowledge in disability ministry. The CID also exists to raise awareness and inform Christians about the lack of a biblical perspective on issues concerning the value of life (stem cell research, euthanasia, etc.) and motivate them to take action. The CID‘s partnership with CBU began five years ago when the curriculum for the Master of Arts in Disability Studies program was being constructed. This partnership will very likely grow to include undergraduate degrees in the near future.
There are many unique aspects to this program, one of which is the fact that it is entirely online, allowing for students to earn this degree from all around the world. Of the twelve inaugural graduates, ten were not from the Riverside area and came from different parts of the state and country to attend the graduation ceremony.
The Joni and Friends Christian Institute on Disability presented each of the graduates with a special award prior to the graduation ceremony during a celebratory dinner where Founder and CEO, Joni Eareckson Tada, greeted the students and congratulated them on their accomplishments. Doug Mazza, President of Joni and Friends, and Jeff McNair, director of the CID’s Public Policy Center, were both present as well. Jeff McNair also oversees the Master of Disability Studies program at CBU and received a Distinguished Leadership Award during the celebratory dinner as well because of his exceptional leadership in disability ministry.
“We are so proud of these 12 graduates and their commitment to disability ministry,” McNair said. “While four of the students did an emphasis in ministry, eight did an emphasis in policy, and we are excited to see how both groups will be used to affect their churches and their culture. We are also pleased with how well the program has turned out. I have found other certificate courses and programs online in this field, but nothing like the academic rigor of a graduate degree in disability ministry,” McNair added. “We discuss the same authors that would be discussed in a secular program, however, we also devote significant time to understanding disability/impairment from a Christian perspective, whether graduates are studying ministry or policy.”
There were twelve graduates this year, but that number is expected to grow. Twenty-three students enrolled in the program in the fall of 2011, effectively doubling the size of the program. These students come from all across the United States and Canada and they all share a passion for serving the disabled. Because of the rarity and uniqueness of this degree, the Master of Arts in Disability Studies from CBU will certainly continue to grow, educating future leaders and servants in the field of disability ministry and policy.