Master Chef: Sarah Conrad Sours
It’s spring, a season of at least two certainties in the life of Dr. Sarah Conrad Sours, associate vice president for academic affairs, associate dean of faculty, and associate professor of religion. First, it’s time to celebrate the academic accomplishments of students, graduates, and faculty at the Home We Love So Well. Second, she’ll exchange the academic regalia for jeans and a shovel—or an apron and whisk—as she emulsifies two of her other passions: gardening and cooking. “I love food …” she says with a wide smile. “… Making it, growing it, cooking it, eating it. Everything from Doritos to sushi, Indian, or fancy French cuisine. I love everything about it. Food is theology.”
This June, as summer begins, so will a new job. She has been appointed to the role of vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty beginning June 1, when current chief academic officer Dr. Tom Perrin resumes chairmanship of the Department of Languages and Literature and directorship of the Hobbs Honors Program.
Ideas are already simmering.
A member of the Department of Religion faculty since 2013, she’s had a decade of experience at Huntingdon, but the last three years have been like no other time in modern academic history. Thankfully, she says, Dr. Perrin’s leadership and her colleagues’ perseverance have left the oven warm. “The faculty love teaching, they love our students, and they work HARD,” she says. “I hope to continue the good things Tom Perrin has done. He has imparted grace and kindness to all and been conscientious and caring when he could have been otherwise—especially during the pressures of COVID. He pushed us, as faculty, to follow process and make decisions the right way.”
Dr. Sours was an ardent and engaged student, completing undergraduate majors in two of her other passions, English and music (voice), from the University of Delaware. A Delaware native, she transferred to the university after beginning her degree at Hamilton College (Clinton, New York), where she met fellow student Stephen Sours. They were married after her sophomore year. Both continued their education in the Master of Divinity program at Duke Divinity School. (He is now associate professor of religion and chair of the Department of Religion at Huntingdon.)
While Stephen felt called to ministry, academia became the richest soil for Sarah’s professional garden. “I knew this was what I was born to do,” she says, describing the exhilaration she felt at the opportunity to learn, study, and teach. “I found it fulfilling and rewarding to study things I cared about. Higher learning became something I did for myself, not just to be a good pastor’s wife. I love learning and you learn the most when you are teaching. I love knowing that my work matters. Education changes lives. It is profoundly meaningful.”
Following completion of their graduate degrees, the Sourses lived in France for three years while Stephen pastored an American-based church in Paris. Sarah learned some of the intricacies of French cuisine in the city that is arguably the center of the culinary universe. They returned to the states to enroll in Ph.D. programs at Duke, hers in Christian theology and ethics, and his in systematic theology. Both are John Wesley Senior Fellows through the United Methodist Church.
Babies coincided with degree and career highpoints in Sarah’s life—the first with her M.Div., the second with her Ph.D., the third with her dissertation, and the fourth after arriving at Huntingdon. Today, their oldest is in a Ph.D. program in political science and their youngest is in second grade.
Sarah’s doctoral dissertation, advised by Stanley Hauerwas at Duke Divinity School, focused on suffering and bioethics. She taught previously at King’s College (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) and Southwestern College (Winfield, Kansas) and has a developing manuscript, “O Give Me that Book! Scripture in the Wesleyan Tradition,” under contract with Cascade Books. At Huntingdon, she has taught foundational religion classes and courses on biblical ethics, as well as developing a course on medical ethics necessary for students who plan to enter healthcare professions after graduating.
Addressing the effects of the pandemic is the first step in the academic recipe as she assumes her new role. “We are still excavating the effects of the pandemic,” she says. “COVID has changed academia immeasurably, calling us to build scaffolding at an intensity and level we have never seen before. It’s not just hard, it’s an invisible hard because we are building support for students who are coming from disrupted educational backgrounds.”
Every garden is planted with a degree of hope and prayer, just as Dr. Sours plans to encourage her colleagues toward intentional hope for the tasks ahead. “First, we have to acknowledge how tired faculty are after dealing with the COVID crisis. At the same time, we have to face a new crisis addressing the deficits in learning COVID caused. Faculty showed how creative and responsive they could be during COVID and I trust them to continue that level of creativity, purpose, and intentionality,” she says. “I know we can do it. We are poised to weather the next few years better than any other institution like us because of the work we have already done and because we have personal and personnel resources that other institutions envy.”
With the right care, she hopes that the harvest will be abundant. “I think it’s important that we create more times for faculty and staff to gather and celebrate together. During the pandemic, as we’ve had to refrain from gathering in convocations and other large groups, we’ve lost some of the academic liturgy and the traditions that are such an important part of our shared memories of Huntingdon. We need to lift and celebrate our shared values as a United Methodist-related institution.”
Dr. Sours foresees expansion of the College’s graduate school offerings, now that Huntingdon’s first graduate program, the Master of Athletic Training, has achieved national accreditation. Purposeful and prudent changes in curriculum and academic programming are also on the academic menu.
Just like the beautiful aromatic breads she pulls from her oven at home, the process of creating the perfect loaf will take time, patience, planning, and careful execution.
“I have worked with Dr. Sours on the College’s Academic Management Council since 2020,” said President J. Cameron West upon her appointment. “I have been consistently impressed with her informed grasp of the strategic direction of the College’s mission and academic program, her appreciation of the interrelationships of academic and non-academic programs necessary for advancing the College, and her willingness to help foster and lead structural discussions and decisions necessary for implementing institutional strategy.”
In other words, she has the skills for her role as top chef, and a banquet of biblical proportions is in the making.
April 17, 2023
For more information, contact:
Su Ofe, (334) 833-4515; firstname.lastname@example.org