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College’s first Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth to explore food security

Barry McNamara
Rev. Dr. Teri McDowell Ott and Associate Chaplain Jessica Hawkinson

The inaugural class of Lux Youth Scholars will explore one of the major issues of the 21st century.

Monmouth College’s Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth will bring together high school students from around the country this summer to explore “Feast or Famine: Thinking Theologically about Food and Food Security.” The institute, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis, will be held July 16-30 at the College. Rising high school sophomores through graduating high school seniors are eligible for the program.

“This is a great gift we have to offer people,” said the Rev. Dr. Teri Ott, Monmouth’s chaplain and co-creator of the institute with her husband, faculty member Dan Ott.

The institute’s topic for this summer was chosen because Monmouth is located in one of the nation’s food centers. The College is near a research farm operated by the multinational agrochemical company Monsanto, one of Smithfield Foods’ largest pork-production plants sits on the edge of town, and the community has several organizations that address food insecurity, including the Jamieson Community Center.

“We knew we could do this topic so well, and not just because of the College, but because of places in the area like Monsanto and the Jamieson Community Center,” Ott said.

The College is also home to the innovative Global Food Security Triad, an interdisciplinary academic program that aims to prepare students to change the world through studying and better understanding food security. The Lux Youth Scholars will get to interact with members of the Triad, who will return in late July from studying food security in Ghana.

Lux Youth Scholars will take field trips to some of the region’s food producers as well as organizations who work with area residents. Lux Youth Scholars will also visit the College’s educational garden and its research farm. In the College’s Center for Science and Business, Lux Scholars will learn about the Monmouth Coffee Project, and they will get to make communion bread in the nutrition lab.

The Lux Summer Theological Institute for Youth’s ecumenical experience is designed to nurture and equip students to become servant leaders who are spiritually enlightened, globally engaged, socially responsible and vocationally driven.

Monmouth was one of 90 colleges and universities to receive funding for youth theology institutes from the Lilly Endowment. The College is one of just two Presbyterian-affiliated institutions to receive the funding, and one of four colleges in Illinois, with the other three in the Chicago area.

The institute’s daily schedule is formed around morning and evening worship; intellectually challenging classes in which students are immersed in the study of scripture and Christian theology; opportunities to learn from people of different religious traditions; service in the community; field trips; and recreational events.

Students will meet daily in two one-hour classes to focus on “ethics and practice” and “theology and scripture.”

“Students will study Christian theology as well as other religious traditions,” said Monmouth Associate Chaplain Jessica Hawkinson.

Hawkinson and Ott will be assisted by two doctoral students in theology. Chuck Goodman, pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Ill., will serve as pastor for the institute. Ott said he will help students “unwind all the theological conundrums that come to them in class.” He will be joined by his wife, Lonna Lee, who is also a pastor.

“We are excited about not only using Monmouth College’s great resources, but being able to connect others to Monmouth College,” Ott said.

The institute will also welcome two speakers through the College’s partnership with Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Youth Core.

Ott and Hawkinson can’t put a price on the value of attending the institute, but they have named a price for the institute – it will be free of charge.

“Ours is one of very few of these institutes that are free,” Ott said. “We wanted students who perhaps wouldn’t even be able to afford an application fee to be able to come. We didn’t want any barriers. That’s the spirit behind this.”

In addition to free admission, the institute will offer free travel to students from the Chicago area.

The institute will accept up to 30 students each summer, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis. The deadline to register for this summer’s institute is May 1. More information is available at