Continuing our series of interviews with various members of the SBC community, this week I have interviewed our Academic Administrator and Adjunct New Testament Studies Lecturer, Damian Szepessy, discussing his role at the college and his PhD Studies with us.
Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Damian – I recognise that we have a bit of familiarity with one another due to having been in the same denomination of churches, as well as having been your student in New Testament Greek a few years ago, but I figured it would be good to ask you a few questions about your role and time here at SBC so that everyone else might become a bit more familiar with you!
What is your role here at SBC and how long have you been in it?
Academic administrator. Sessional lecturer. I have been the academic administrator since November 2016, so that would make it one and a half years.
How did you “get into” this position here at SBC?
I had the job of administration assistant from October 2016. I also had previously been the Dean of Students at my denomination’s ministry training college. The role I had at that ministry training college was very similar to the academic administrator’s role at SBC, even though the ministry college was a VET provided rather than higher education.
What does being the Academic Administrator involve?
The job involves me helping those at the SBC to get to where they feel God is calling them to serve him. The role is often a responsive to situations that arise due to circumstances. I provide admin support to new student applications, requests for extensions, leave of absence and issues in relation to their subjects, such as accessing recorded lecture, providing information about College events. Organise catering for College events, such as the Commencement Service, end of year student and staff dinner, and any other event we might put on. I am one of the people who provides support for students and lecturers with Interact2 and Adobe Connect. I also make sure the recorded lectures are put on Interact2. I have responsibility for stocking the kitchen with soups, biscuits, tea and coffee, milk and cleaning the coffee machine. The photocopier is another area that I look after.
You are simultaneously working on your PhD (which to my understanding is very close to being finished) whilst you work in your position here.
Would you be able to elaborate a little on your focus of research?
I have finished my thesis. I am now responding to my examiners comments. The focus of my research is conversion and Christian identity in the first-century CE, particularly focus on Paul’s letters. I am interested in the reasons why a person in the first century would become a Christian and the psychological processes that it is involved in belonging to a new group.
If you could summarise it for us, what is the fundamental argument of your thesis?
My thesis used Social Identity Theory (SIT) to show how individuals choose to belong to a new social/political/cultural group as the basis for conversion. The basic premise of SIT is that individuals will choose to belong to group that either improves or maintains a positive self-image. My thesis argues that conversion in the letter to the Philippians was construed as belonging to a new socio-political institution, and that converts should consider themselves to be citizens of heaven. Citizenship would have appealed to those who did not possess it and would therefore give Paul’s converts a positive self-image.
What was your experience of doing your PhD here at SBC?
I really enjoyed my time as a PhD candidate at SBC – technically, I still am a PhD candidate. The staff were always helpful, and I had good supervisors. I really liked that I could come in and work in the Postgrad room because it was quiet, but I could still talk to other students when I had a break.
What is most challenging about your role here?
Trying to stay on top of everything that needs doing when things get very busy. Particularly at the beginning of the year; everything that needs doing seems to be either urgent or desperately needs attending to.
What do you like best about the College and your role here?
Everyone has a story of why they have come to study theology. I really enjoy engaging with students and finding out how they came to be at SBC. It interesting to hear the various stories about the ministries students are involved with now, but I am also interested in what they hope to accomplish in the future. I find it fulfilling that I can help them get to where they want to serve God.
On that note, I think we’ll end the interview here. It’s been a pleasure talking to you Damian!