Discover Theology Institute at Catawba College welcomes new director

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2018

Catawba College

Shannon Axtell Martin is the new director of Discover, the Catawba College Theology Institute. Her appointment, effective in late January, was announced by Catawba Chaplain and Senior Vice President the Rev. Kenneth W. Clapp.

In her role, Axtell Martin will be responsible for putting together the faculty for the institute; hiring, training and supervising interns from the participating colleges; and recruiting and screening participants.

Axtell Martin, a 2008 graduate of Catawba, majored in religion and philosophy with an outdoor ministries concentration and minored in psychology. As an undergraduate, she was a First Family Scholar (now McCorkle Scholar at Catawba), a resident assistant, a founding member of the Retreat Leadership Corps, a Lilly Scholar, a Catawba Ambassador/Tour Guide, and a telecounselor for the Aadmissions office.

She was also active in student organizations on campus, serving as treasurer for the Helen Foil Beard Society and president of Psi Chi National Honor Society. She was a hearing officer on the Student Conduct Board, sang with the Catawba Singers, served on the Religious Life Council, and was an academic tutor and a Chapel Scholar.

She earned her master of divinity degree from Wake Forest University School of Divinity in 2011 and was also active in the life of the university. She served as president of Mosaic, the student organization of the arts and as photographer for The Tablet, student newspaper, and she sang in the Divinity School Choir.

Her employment experience includes regional coordinator for Partners in Health and Wholeness, an initiative of the North Carolina Council of Churches; interim associate pastor for contemporary worship for Guilford College United Methodist Church; chaplain resident at Wake Forest Baptist Health; retreat planner for First Baptist Church; residence life and housing graduate hall director at Wake Forest University; minister of youth at United Baptist Church; teen day camp counselor at the YMCA of Northwest N.C.; and six years serving with Camp Hope in Connecticut.

“Shannon has a breadth of experience in different ministerial settings, particularly working with youth, that she will bring to bear in her new position at Catawba,” said Clapp. “She has continued her faith walk in deep and meaningful ways and will be a wonderful example to those Discover program youth of how to live a meaningful life of purpose.

“Plus, she is attuned to how to target appropriate programming and activities to young people to help them ponder their faith journeys. I was so proud of her as an undergraduate and graduate student, and even prouder that we were able to offer her this opportunity to return to her alma mater and serve in a capacity so in line with her calling.”

In 2016, Discover was created thanks to a $600,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment. For the past two summers, it has offered weeklong programs for middle and senior high school youth to educate them about theology and ministry and to help prepare the next generation of leadership for the church. More than 120 students have participated during the two years Discover has been offered.

The program has involved the successful collaboration from faculty at Catawba, Livingstone College, Hood Theological Seminary, and local clergy to create a curriculum for the youth who opt to pursue the study of God and of faith. Discover is part of the Lilly Endowment’s High School Youth Theology Institutes Initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues, and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

Discover has tapped Catawba, Livingstone and Hood students for mentoring and providing leadership to program participants, and for giving feedback during the curriculum development process.

This summer, Discover will again make it possible for 120 middle and senior high youth to attend a weeklong experience and will give college students opportunities for internships and learning in programs like outdoor ministries, education and even business management.

Clapp, the principal author of the Lilly Endowment grant, will oversee Axtell Martin’s work.

Youth are encouraged to apply to be a part of the 2018 Discover experience and will need a mentor, who may be a pastor or a church member from their denomination. Axtell Martin and Clapp will work to secure mentors for youth who do not have them.

Mentors need to be identified before participants engage in one of two weeklong programs planned for this summer. And the mentors would themselves have a session on Discover expectations for them, including making contact with their youth at least every six weeks and participating with their student in a reunion over Christmas break.

The summer experiences will include daily field trips designed to reinforce what is taught by the faculty from Catawba, Livingstone and Hood Seminary who are engaged in Discover, as well as a service project. There will also be a Ministry Fair where participants can learn about vocations involving ministry.

There are four weeklong programs offered this summer:

• For returning junior high youth, June 24-30.

• For first-time junior high youth, July 15-21.

• For first-time senior high youth, July 22-28.

• For returning senior high youth, July 29-Aug. 4.

Applications are available by contacting Axtell Martin at or 704-637-4725.