When S. Tamar Kamionkowski, Ph.D., came to RRC in 1996 as an adjunct professor, she was immediately attracted to the caliber of the students. She also noticed the attention given to high-quality teaching, relevant learning and meaningful relationships with students. Today, as chair of the department of biblical civilization and associate professor of Bible, Kamionkowski says the same qualities continue to enrich her experience at the College. And they remain an area of intense focus for her as continues to set a vision for a place she now considers home. From 2004-13, she served as vice president for academic affairs and academic dean, and she launched the Re-imagining Rabbinic Education project.
Kamionkowski was no stranger to academics when she arrived at RRC, since she had been teaching at Brandeis University and Hebrew College while working on a dissertation. Yet what she encountered was very different from what she had experienced thus far in her career.
First, there were the students. "I found them highly inquisitive, engaged and motivated," she recalls. They also pushed back, encouraging her to make her teachings relevant to what they expected to encounter in real life. "What I discovered in my first year, which I've taken through all of my subsequent years, is that unlike graduate school, where we learn a lot of details for the sake of learning the details, the students here made me ask the 'so what' question during my preparation for every class. I really had to make that connection between critical methodologies, information about antiquity and contemporary meaning-making."
Second, the questions her students posed about relevancy made Kamionkowski realize that pedagogy was important at RRC. On this score, she felt she was not necessarily well equipped from her training. "Most doctoral programs, if you're not in education, don't teach you how to teach, although that's what most of us end up doing."
Finally-and she relished this-it was obvious that RRC expected its faculty to do more than just teach. The College underscored the word "community" in the often used but seldom acknowledged phrase "a community of learners." It was the RRC way for instructors to engage students on multiple levels. In so doing, instructors would become better at their craft, and students would become better rabbis by learning how to navigate the sometimes-tricky relationships between mentor and protégé.
Pedagogy, community and relevance continue to be important components of the vision Kamionkowski holds for the College.