REDDING, Calif.—Simpson University graduating senior Lydia McGaffee experienced the academic opportunity of a lifetime during fall semester, living in Oxford, England, and studying at the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
The Scholars’ Semester in Oxford is one of nine off-campus study programs offered through the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ Best Semester program. Students at CCCU schools can spend a semester in Australia, Costa Rica, Los Angeles, the Middle East, Nashville, Northern Ireland, Oxford, Uganda, or Washington, D.C., as part of a faith-integrated study program that emphasizes experiential learning.
Lydia, who graduates this month with a degree in psychology, was one of about 40 students from other CCCU institutions who lived in a residence called The Vines and participated in rigorous individualized tutorials with Oxford professors in their chosen fields of study. She was there from Aug. 26 to Dec. 15.
“It was a great opportunity that prepared me really well for graduate school,” she said. “The setting was amazing – Oxford is a beautiful city that has so much to offer from a cultural perspective. And it is very much the cutting edge of academia.”
In addition to weekly one-on-one meetings with acclaimed Oxford scholars, Lydia and her colleagues attended Oxford lectures of their choosing and traveled the country during a monthlong British Culture Class prior to the start of the semester. Lydia chose a theology focus for that class to supplement her theology minor.
Lydia grew up in Africa, the daughter of missionaries, and moved to the States in 2014. Her older sister attended Simpson University, and Lydia chose the college because it offered similar financial aid options to other Christian colleges but was closest to where her parents lived in Chico. She lived on campus her first three years, serving as a resident assistant her sophomore and junior years.
She majored in psychology, initially wanting to become a child psychologist. That desire shifted over time, and now her focus is to be a trauma counselor.
“I like being able to help mediate with intense relational and emotional healing,” she said. “It’s the direction God has taken me.”
As a missionary kid (MK), Lydia has a longstanding interest in cultures and traveling. “My first year at Simpson I looked into whether they had a study abroad program,” she said. It took most of her junior year to complete the application, get finances in order, and work with the registrar’s office to line up credits and courses with the University of Oxford.
The Scholars’ Semester in Oxford is for students seeking an academically robust program, requiring a minimum 3.7 GPA, as noted on its website. As visiting students, participants have access to Oxford’s 119 libraries, 11 million books and electronic resources, as well as to athletic clubs and artistic organizations.
Lydia met eight times with a professor, who would give her a topic question and send her out to research and write an 8- to 10-page paper each week. A secondary tutorial required an additional four papers.
“It was very, very independent,” she said. “You have to be disciplined to stay on top of the work and have to be able to take feedback well.”
Along with the tutorials, students in the program were required to attend 32 lectures over the two months – no homework, just learning, in class sessions of their choosing.
“It really opens your mind and gets you out of your comfort zone,” Lydia said. “There is a crazy amount of progression in all study areas, and lots of seminars with experts in their fields. It was amazing to be part of it all.”
Due to her interest in trauma counseling, Lydia’s primary tutorial and research focused on psychological disorders, including what puts people at risk and how resilience plays a part.
One of the questions posed by her professor led to a paper that Lydia presented at Simpson’s Student Research Symposium in March. She won the Stanley Clark Research Award for Best Undergraduate Paper for “What is the evidence for PTSD as a Disorder of Memory? How Might a Cognitive Vaccine be Developed?”
“After you wrote a paper, they would discuss it with you at your next meeting,” she said. “Often they’ll go through it and pose questions to see if you really comprehended what you were writing.”
A highlight for Lydia was being able to attend a seminar led by Dr. Emily Holmes, an expert in the PTSD research about which she had been learning.
To round out the semester, students also did a two-week research seminar focused on a 14- to 15-page paper on a topic tailored to their interests. Lydia researched the efficacy of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in regard to women and children who had been sexually abused.
Having the Oxford experience on her résumé will be helpful as she applies to graduate schools, Lydia said. After graduation, she plans to take a year off before returning to school. Ideally, she’d like to get some experience working with individuals who have dealt with trauma.
“I would love to get an entry-level job in the field,” she said. “I don’t want to go right into more academic study without getting some of the practice side and experience.”
Lydia said she is grateful for the community she fostered while at Simpson University and the opportunities she had. And she would recommend study abroad programs to any student.
“It’s definitely worth it,” she said. “And it’s a good time in life to do it.”
Learn more about Simpson’s study abroad opportunities at simpsonu.edu/studyabroad.
Photos courtesy Lydia McGaffee
Simpson University, founded in 1921, moved to Redding almost 30 years ago and will celebrate its centennial in 2021. In addition to offering 25 majors in its traditional undergraduate program, the university has graduated almost 4,000 North State adults from its ASPIRE degree-completion program, and nearly 3,000 from its School of Education. It has a highly ranked School of Nursing, a seminary, and master’s programs in counseling psychology and organizational leadership.
Simpson is launching new athletics programs in track and field, swimming and diving, women’s wrestling, and men’s volleyball, as well as a bass fishing team. The university is also working to better serve transfer students from community colleges through its commitment to Associate Degree for Transfer agreements, and it is offering new scholarships.