Meet Truett Student and Student Regent JD McDonald
What brought you to Truett Seminary?
I had looked at Truett for seven years before I finally came here in 2020. I was interested because of the joint MDiv/MSW degree, but I ended up doing a different master’s degree in mental health counseling instead after finishing my bachelor of social work and bachelor of arts in biblical studies degrees. Then, I still came to Truett because I sensed that seminary was the right next step.
I wanted to be at Truett because it balances a lot of things well that are pretty unique amongst seminaries. We have a central view of Christ, a high view of the Bible, and care a lot about tradition and orthodoxy. At the same time, we’re able to engage with questions in the world here and now. We live out our faith on the ground in embodied ways. That’s why I came to Truett—because I couldn’t find anywhere like it.
How did you become a Student Regent?
Each year, both the Graduate Student Association and the Student Government will put out a request to all students to consider applying to become a Student Regent. This a selected position, not an elected position, and the Student Regents are selected by the Board of Regents. Any student who meets the basic qualifications is able to apply.
I was actually meeting with Burt Burleson, who is my chaplain supervisor and the University Chaplain, and we were talking about a lot of different things—about callings and giftings and deficits within myself, particularly ways I need new insights and depth of appreciation for institutions and systems and structures. Casually out of that conversation, he encouraged me to apply for the Regent position. I spoke with Dean [Todd] Still about it as well, and he also encouraged me to apply. So, I decided to throw my name in. I went through the interview process, and the Board ended up recommending me.
Why is it important for students to have representation on the Board of Regents?
I think it gets to the heart of the character of the University. It really shows what the University values. I was talking to a friend from another state at a different private Christian institution who was sharing how frustrated they are that the leadership of the university doesn’t represent the stakeholders of the university. It only represents a small percentage of the stakeholders, and it creates a lot of challenge and conflict.
At Baylor, we have two Student Regents and two Faculty Regents, and the overwhelming ethos that I’ve picked up on is that, yes, there’s “student” in front of “regent,” but Student Regents are every bit a Regent and treated with the same deference and respect. Their opinions are valued—not more than any other Regent, but just as much as every other Regent. I think this means that our university really does value the voices of students, and it gives us the chance to bring up good questions that just can’t be brought up if we’re not in the room.
How do you think your unique experiences support your work as a Student Regent?
I’m really grateful to be in a unique position of knowing graduate students as well as I know undergraduate students—and the concerns of each. In addition to serving as a Resident Chaplain, I also get to work with a lot of undergraduates through Mission Waco. I’m the Volunteer Coordinator for Children and Youth at Mission Waco, and 90 to 95% of our volunteers are Baylor students, many from Greek Life.
Especially as a Resident Chaplain, I’m not just rubbing shoulders with students, but I’m with them at some of the most vulnerable and challenging and personal moments of their Baylor life and experience. I really am able to hear the good, bad, and ugly—and there’s plenty of each because it’s a real, human place. I think this gives me special insight that I can bring to the Board.
How have you enjoyed getting to know the other Regents?
It has been so reassuring. I am a kid from Appalachia, a “salt of the earth” type of a person. There’s not much “schmooziness” to me. I didn’t know what the culture was going to be like because the people on our Board are just tremendously successful, gifted, influential. So, I was very curious what it was going to be like.
But every single person that I’ve been able to meet and talk with—particularly the folks who were on the committee that selected me—have been so kind and down-to-earth and very authentic. I’ve been really impressed. They’re a bunch of listeners, and they care about my welfare.
What are your future plans post-seminary?
I feel a strong sense that pastoral ministry is something that I’ll be doing in some capacity—whether bi-vocational or full time. The reason I did my counseling degree to begin with was because—especially in my context back in Tennessee—that’s kind of a deficit in our churches. We’re not well-informed in psychology and mental health concerns, so I needed that extra training to prepare me for ministry. So, I think pastoral ministry is probably where I’m heading in some way.