2019 CBC Outstanding Young Alumnus: Eric Welch
Name: Eric Welch
Graduation Year: 2005
Major: Preaching with a minor in Biblical Languages
Current Position: Senior Lecturer of Hebrew Bible, History, and Archaeology in the Lewis Honors College, University of Kentucky
City and State: Lexington, KY
Tell us about your career and what you do now.
I am a biblical scholar, historian, and archaeologist. After my time at CBC, my education included graduate studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Penn State University, with a little bit of coursework at Harvard along the way.
My first academic job was a three-year post as Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Kansas, and I have just completed my first year as a founding faculty member in the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky. As a faculty member, my job is to bring an interdisciplinary focus to the study of the ancient Mediterranean world. That means on any given day we could be working from ancient pottery, the texts of the Old Testament or Neo-Assyrian annals to better understand the history of Israel and its neighbors. As a scholar, my mission is to use these various strands of evidence to help us better understand the world of the Old Testament. At the moment, I’m finishing my book on how the Hebrew Prophets develop and employ a theology based on agricultural futility language.
When I’m not in the classroom, I’m most likely working in Israel as an archaeologist. Since 2006 I have been excavating at the biblical city of Gath (Tell es-Safi) in Israel. I am a senior staff member at Gath, overseeing part of the excavations and contributing to publication efforts. I am also very involved in the American Schools of Oriental Research—the professional society for Near Eastern Archaeology—where I lead initiatives for Early Career Scholars and serve as a member of the board of trustees.
What is your favorite memory from CBC?
I had the “privilege” of living in Welch Hall. And my last name is Welch. And for four years I had to tell people, “No, I’m not related to John Welch,” the building’s namesake. One weekend night we were sitting around bored and decided to replace the large, framed photo of John Welch in the lobby with a photo of me. I tried on every pair of glasses we could find so we could recreate the image as accurately as possible. Our final product wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough that my photo stayed in the frame in the lobby for about two weeks.
I also fondly remember skipping classes so I could sit in the library and read Biblical Archaeology Review. It was fascinating to me that I could read the Greek and Hebrew inscriptions in the magazine. I suppose that should’ve been a sign that a career in archaeology was in my future.
How did CBC help you identify/develop your calling?
There’s no way I would have a career in academia without the experiences I had in my language classes at CBC. I think that was the first time that I realized my intellectual abilities could be put to good use in an academic setting AND benefit the Church. Language classes were also small and provided very close interaction with faculty. Perhaps the most significant point in my CBC career came from a conversation with my Greek professor, Fred Haltom. I was fairly certain I would stay in Springfield for graduate school and explained my “simple” timeline to Dr. Haltom. He looked me in the eye and told me “Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s right. You need to look at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and you need to look at their degree in languages.” GCTS opened so many doors for me, including the opportunity to take a significant portion of my MA coursework at Harvard. My Harvard experiences ultimately opened the doors to working in Israel and pursuing a fully funded PhD at Penn State. There’s no way I would be where I am today without my language classes and that specific conversation with Dr. Haltom.
How did your experience at CBC prepare you for life after graduation?
I think one of the things that CBC did extremely well was build community. The smaller campus allowed for close connections among the students, but also between the students, faculty, and administration, and even their spouses. Even though campus could feel too small sometimes, there was an enormous benefit to having dorms, classrooms, and dining spaces in such close proximity.
Spending the last decade working in large state universities, I’ve come to realize how lonely college can be for students and how lucky I was to have such an outstanding community at CBC. At every university I’ve worked in, I’ve made it a part of my personal mission to shrink the university and build community with my students. This is one of the reasons I’m so happy to be working in honors now. I have the opportunity to work with high achieving students with all the resources of a world-class research university, but in a smaller living-learning community.
My wife, Gretchen (Butler) Welch (CBC ’06), and I have taken this a step further. We have always approached my teaching profession as a team calling. Following the examples of our CBC professors, she is a constant presence in my professional life. She’s always baking cookies for the students, texting video encouragement for me to play to them during class, or showing up to hang around the Honors College. She has been amazing at opening up our home and just loving on the students of the University of Kentucky. In many ways, we feel like we get to do campus ministry from the inside.
What advice would you give a current student preparing for the workforce?
If you approach college with a passive mindset—with the idea that you’re an empty bucket coming to college to be filled with knowledge—you will waste a lot of time and money. I always encourage my students to reclaim their agency in their studies. As a student, the impact of these four years is directly related to how you act on the knowledge shared in the classroom. It’s up to you to fully engage in that process and become co-creators in the classroom space. Outside of the classroom, it is critical that students take advantage of opportunities for studying abroad, completing internships, and conducting research as an undergraduate. These are the experiences that give shape and meaning to what you gain in the classroom and that have the potential to open unbelievable doors for future employment.
What would you look for if you were in a position to hire a new graduate?
Hustle, Focus, Humility, and Gratitude. Every single one of us can control these four traits. Nobody determines how hard you work or the degree of your focus but you. A great employee is someone who can put their head down and work hard and then keep it down and share the credit at the end of the day. If you can work hard, but can’t be a team player or keep your ego in check, I don’t want you on my team.
Finally, I think whether you’re looking at archaeology, business, or a health profession, the ability to communicate is key. Plenty of people have the ability to speak, but the ability to listen and really hear what’s coming back to you is often overlooked by job seekers. People that learn to really listen to what is happening around them are extremely valuable to an organization and go very far.