Collegiate Academy Preps Christian Leaders of Tomorrow
“I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to gather under God’s name to be academically trained and to fellowship with others that share my same love and passion for our Lord.” – Alliance Defending Freedom Collegiate Academy Delegate
From the beginning, Alliance Defending Freedom staff knew what they didn’t want Collegiate Academy to be: summer legal camp for undergraduates. Or Blackstone Legal Fellowship, Jr.
Blackstone, now in its 13th year, brings well over 100 law students from all over the world to Phoenix for an intensive, summerlong immersion in the biblical and constitutional basis for religious freedom, followed by an internship on the front lines with Alliance Defending Freedom and its legal allies. And, admittedly, say the organization’s leaders, the phenomenal success of Blackstone in building relationships between these law students and the ministry stirred the first notions of offering a similar resource to college upperclassmen and recent graduates.
“After years of Blackstone,” says Jeffery Ventrella, Senior Vice President for Student Training and Development, “we realized that some of this teaching needs to occur before law school. We need to permeate college campuses. This younger generation is the future, and they’re not always aware of the sound legal policy arguments that support religious freedom, life, and marriage.”
"We’re helping them think through the big picture – to discover what God is calling them to do.”
Ventrella had been part of similar academies for college students in South Africa, Canada, and Great Britain, and brought the best of what he’d gleaned from those programs to his team’s plans for a unique Collegiate Academy. They used social media like Facebook to put the word out to Christian colleges and Christian groups at secular schools. And: they drew considerable help from Blackstone Fellows, many of whom contacted friends and teachers at their alma maters.
“We thought we’d initially draw mostly from Christian institutions,” says Tim Chandler, Vice President for Staff Operations, who helped lead the Collegiate Academy. But “it turned out that students from secular schools were especially drawn to the program. In fact, Harvard was by far our top ‘feeder school.’”
“I didn’t just learn about legal issues. I was challenged to follow God’s calling in my life and to build my own character and strengthen my own faith.” – Collegiate Academy Delegate
“At Blackstone, we give them the nuts and bolts of thriving at law school,” he says. But at the Collegiate Academy, “there’s a bigger emphasis on calling and vocation.”
“We’re helping them think through the big picture,” Chandler says, “to discover what God is calling them to do. ‘If you’re thinking of law school,’ we tell them, ‘come here and grapple with that.’ And hopefully, for many, they will be going to law school. But even if they don’t, if they leave here with a much clearer sense of God’s calling on their life, it will be worthwhile.”
“We’re helping them discern how, as believers, they are different from other students,” says Alan Sears, President and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, “and to determine how they may best serve God. And we’re identifying and developing future leaders in law and policy at an earlier stage.”
This year’s first Collegiate Academy drew 59 students from 42 schools across the country – and Ventrella’s team hopes many of those will one day return as law students for Blackstone.
“We’re making high-yield investments,” Ventrella says. “It’s not only fishing in, but stocking the right pools.” And, by deepening these students’ faith and their understanding of the Christian legal perspective on crucial issues, he says, the Academy is not only helping the students themselves, but cultivating “a brighter Christian presence on key college campuses.”
“The Collegiate Academy rekindled my passion for redemptive, intellectual, vocational work. It also put me in touch with some of the most high-caliber peers I’ve ever met. It feels like we’ve entered an alliance – it’s a good feeling.” – Collegiate Academy Delegate