- July 28, 2023
- ~ 7 minute read
By Nancy Huffine
“It was literally as if the Holy Spirit dropped me in that moment.”
When Eric Kelly looks back on his first connection with Moody Theological Seminary’s online graduate program, he’s still a bit awed by it. Eric earned his undergraduate studies in Communications at Florida State University in 1992. He received his Master of Science in Organizational Management from Florida Atlantic University in 2011.
“I recognized a call to ministry years prior when I was still living in Tallahassee,” Eric says. “I didn't really know the term ‘church planting,’ but I had gone into some beloved communities here in Palm Beach County and started working with folks, and they wanted to start a church. I thought to myself, if I'm going to be doing work in ministry, maybe I should go back and get a second master's—this time in ministry studies.”
By 2015, Eric had completed 15 hours at Southeastern University and 21 hours through Moody’s distance learning program. At that time, one Moody course stood out above the rest.
“Spiritual Formation, hands down, was my favorite class,” he says. “I grew up in a loving, single-parent home. But my wife and I wanted something different: two parents in the home. That Spiritual Formation class came just in time. It was literally as if the Holy Spirit dropped me in that moment to talk me through how to develop as a Christian leader in my home, in my church, and in my community. It was amazing!”
Eric completed most of his required courses, but his busy life was catching up with him. “I was married, working, and we had four young children,” he recalls. The second degree would have to wait for a while.
Entering the non-profit world
In the meantime, Eric began working at Quantum Foundation and now serves as the multi-million-dollar organization’s president. “We are a health conversion foundation. We were created out of the sale of a hospital here in Palm Beach County that took place back in 1996,” he explains. “It was a nonprofit hospital that sold to a for-profit entity, and the court said the proceeds had to be endowed for the betterment of the community.”
Quantum Foundation oversees those proceeds of more than $140 million. It distributes yearly grants totaling more than $7 million annually from the investment income.
“Quantum Foundation is exclusive to Palm Beach County,” Eric continues. “We work in the county’s communities to improve health and wellness—mental, behavioral, and physical—and we look at the construct and conditions of the community and those social factors that influence health.
“We primarily work in what's called ‘disinvested communities,’ which means fewer dollars have been invested there. (One focus is) a historically African American community where there could be more resources, but those resources are diverted to other communities.”
‘It was exactly what I needed’
In 2022, Eric began to investigate the possibility of completing the second master’s degree he had begun more than 10 years before. He had connected with a Moody distance learning advisor once or twice when he realized that the time was right not just for his personal schedule but for the needs of Quantum Foundation.
“I had started talking with our team about community-based participatory research, and we realized we needed to learn more about engaging with critical stakeholders, including beneficiaries of our nonprofit work,” he says. “My Moody adviser said to me, ‘The course that you need to take has two options, including Action Research.’ And I said, ‘Well, I'll do the Action Research.’”
But Eric admits, “I really didn't know what it was. Then I read the description and, I kid you not, it was exactly what I needed!”
Something else added to Eric’s success in easing back into the routine of studying. “The admissions folks were so great,” Eric says. “They accepted all of my credits from Southeastern, and I was able to jump back into the master’s program.”
Dr. Andrew Beaty, Moody’s dean of online programs and faculty support, appreciates hearing the program’s transfer guidelines support students like Eric.
“My thought has always been that if we can get students to come to Moody and take classes with us,” Dr. Beaty says, “we’re having a huge impact on them and their lives…even if they don’t take all of their courses from us. By combining a solid set of biblical, theological, and ministerial courses with a few courses taken elsewhere, online students are able to be well prepared to serve the Lord in their particular setting.”
Connecting with his professor
Eric not only loved the curriculum and the featured course book Talking About God In Practice, he loved Dr. Beaty, his professor.
“Dr. Beaty was so good!” says Eric. “He had time set aside for live feedback, and he would jump online live with me if I had a question. Assignments were graded using video responses, so I got a chance to hear feedback and not just read it.”
Those video responses encouraged and inspired Eric. “When Dr. Beaty was talking to me in his video, he’d get really excited about something. ‘That part was really good!’ he’d say. Getting that kind of feedback was incredible,” Eric says.
For Dr. Beaty, the feeling of inspiration was mutual. “Eric’s passion to use the position that he has as a manager of his philanthropic organization to revitalize his community is very energizing,” he says. “He has a solid grasp of the history of his area, the issues that caused it to go into decline, and then great ideas on how to partner with others to improve what is going on in his world.”
Eric also appreciated the challenging yet realistic curriculum. “The course content was vigorous enough to challenge me, but Moody recognizes that there are those of us out here like me, working and balancing family,” he says. “The workload was just enough to push me. I always felt challenged, but I never felt that I was about to break.”
Eric’s dedication didn’t go unnoticed. Dr. Beaty says, “In the midst of a very busy work and family life, he was conscientious about submitting his assignments on time and making sure that he worked with excellence in all that he did. When he did his final project and presented it to others on his team at work, it was obvious that they highly respect him and that he is leading his organization well day in and day out.”
All in for online learning
Eric knows that beginning an online education—or jumping back into one—can feel daunting, especially for those raising families and holding down jobs. For him, the ease of using the online platform and the freedom to work study times into his own schedule were key factors.
“I’m not the most tech-savvy guy,” he says. “But it’s so well organized. You can clearly see all the information for each week of the course. You click on it, and everything’s there. Because it’s asynchronous, there’s no specific time that you have to log on for class. It’s not like a Tuesday night class at 7:00 p.m. or a Wednesday morning class at 9:00 a.m. You’re going to create the timeframe, and the beauty of it is you have seven days in a week to accomplish assignments.”
Having just finished his final online course, Eric graduated in May 2023 with a Master of Arts in Ministry Studies. If anyone asks Eric what’s so special about online learning at Moody, he’s always ready with an answer.
“Online at Moody is grounded in our faith,” he says. “The learning is gradual with incredible professors, and although it’s all online, they make it feel really personalized.”
The Quantum Foundation serves the health and wellness needs of disinvested communities in Palm Beach County, Florida. Photo courtesy of Eric Kelly