Dr. Brad East’s small office is filled to the brim with books – and I mean filled. Stacked on top of a completely full wall-length bookshelf are more books, and even more sit on the floor in front of the shelf. An extra few stacks fill the space under his desk.
Entering into his sixth year at ACU, barely enough time to even apply for tenure, East has already earned the designation of ACU’s Teacher of the Year for his scholarship, thoughtfulness and ability to make the difficult study of theology tangible for his students.
As Teacher of the Year, East will be honored in the 2022 Homecoming Parade and will speak at the December 2022 graduation commencement and spring 2023 University Scholars ceremony.
“I was shocked,” East said. “I suppose I would’ve been shocked in any circumstance but getting it at the end of my fifth year wouldn’t have even occurred to me.”
Thirteen years after his higher education began at ACU as a Biblical text major, East found his way back to the Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building.
“He’s just a fantastic fit for ACU,” said Dr. Rodney Ashlock, chair of the Department of Bible, Missions and Ministry.
The faculty of the College of Biblical Studies voted East as the Outstanding Undergraduate Professor for the 2020-21 school year, a designation that he said is meaningful in a different way than the student-voted Teacher of the Year award of the 2021-22 year.
Ashlock said although some professors are naturally good at either scholarship or teaching, East is a combination of both.
“He is constantly reading, constantly writing, constantly teaching. All those things, they just sync with him,” Ashlock said. “I think that’s what makes him such a good professor.”
Dr. Chris Flanders, professor of missions and intercultural studies, called East “amazingly informed,” and said he was impressed with East’s knowledge of theology. Flanders said that although some theology professors embody the idea of an “ivory tower theologian,” whose thoughts exist exclusively in the heavens and rarely make a visit down to earth, East is the opposite.
“He can translate eternal ideas into more understandable ways that the average student can get,” Flanders said.
East said his interest in theology sparked in middle school when his youth minister began giving him books about the Bible and God.
“I was a precocious kid. Although I didn’t have the language yet, I had theological interests,” East said. “Once I realized that there was thousands of years of rich reflections on this stuff, I was like ‘Whoa, I’ve got to get my hands on that.’”
Originally from Austin, East earned his undergraduate degree from ACU, graduating summa cum laude with a B.A. in 2007. He went on to earn his master’s of divinity in theology and ethics from Emory University in 2011, and his Ph.D. in religious studies from Yale in 2017.
For being a fairly new professor, East already has an impressive curriculum vitae. Among his large collection of soft and hardbacks of a variety of genres, two books written by East himself also sit on his shelves, with another one to join once it is published in 2023.
East said as a professor of theology for both majors and non-majors, his goals are to understand where his students are coming from, meet them where they are and to find ways to make the subject matter compelling, but in a way that does not sacrifice the rigor and depth teaching theology requires.
“It’s the knowledge of God. That’s a big topic,” East said. “We’re not doing something easy and simple. I’ve worked really hard to balance those variables.”
East had very little teaching experience prior to returning to ACU as an assistant professor. At first, connecting with his students in meaningful ways was difficult, he said, and something he thinks he did not do very well. His hard work has clearly paid off, as proven by the students who voted him to be ACU’s Teacher of the Year.
“It was very validating that at least with some students, I’ve been able to strike a chord and succeed in checking those boxes,” East said.
One of those students is Kaelin Winters from Austin, an ACU graduate student pursuing a master’s of divinity – who said she wouldn’t have even gone to graduate school without East’s influence. Winters graduated with her undergraduate degree in vocational missions and took two classes with East: The Church and Theological Ethics.
“He can always tell when I’m thinking something,” Winters said. “He forces me to think about things.”
Although he was designated Teacher of the Year, East said the award is a reflection on the quality of his department and the faculty and staff who have helped to shape him into the professor he is. East said that he cannot take credit for his success as a professor. Many of his teaching techniques are stolen from observing his fellow faculty members who have taught him just as much as all the books that surround him in his office.