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MALS Clergy: Billy Dennis and Christie Mabry

Billy Dennis, MALS ’11

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Billy Dennis

Please tell us what brought you to MALS? What was attractive about the degree? 

I have been a Baptist Minister for over 30 years.  While serving a church in Raleigh, I heard from a friend about the MALS program at NC State and was intrigued because I have constantly pursued learning throughout my adult life.  The reason I was attracted to this particular program was the ability to develop my own concentration and the flexibility of the class schedule.  While I completed most of the program in person, I was called to serve in the town of Manteo (over 3 hours away) before graduation.  I found the online classes and the ability to complete my project away from campus to be most beneficial.

Tell us about your MALS concentration. What was your concentration title? What significance did your concentration hold for you? 

My concentration was Pastoral Care and Community Advocacy.  As someone who had always attended private universities and completed programs through my denomination, I found the ability to take numerous counseling and liberal arts classes from a secular institution to be very helpful because much of the real world training I received there was not available to me in my previous studies.  My final project involved assessing the homeless community on the Outer Banks of NC and seeking to involve the religious community in helping alleviate this “dirty little secret” in a place that many tourists see as paradise.  I am proud to say that some of the efforts there continue to this day.

What are you currently doing? We’d love to know about your professional, personal, or volunteer activities that you want to share. 

I currently serve a church in my hometown of Rockingham, NC.  As an only child, I wanted to move back closer to home to care for my aging parents.  Thankfully I have a very supportive congregation and am able to care for my mother who is now homebound.  Our church is very missions-minded.  We offer various types of assistance to the homeless and many others in need here in our community, and through partnerships in other parts of NC, West Virginia, and Guatemala.  We also contribute generously to help others who are on the front lines in these efforts all around the world.

How does your MALS degree or experience enhance your work/life? 

I find myself calling upon my MALS training often.  I have pulled out class notes, have been in contact with classmates and professors for advice and encouragement.  I have particularly found the counseling professors to be helpful resources in referring members who are in need of specialized counseling.  The training I received in the MALS program has been most beneficial to me throughout the past decade!  I would definitely recommend any professional who is considering pursuing a master’s degree to explore what the MALS program has to offer.

What is your favorite memory from your time in MALS?

This can be a personal anecdote, a favorite lecture/class/topic? Anything you want. Some of the things that made my degree so special were the connections that were made.  Contact with classmates, professors, and others in the university have endured and I count those people among my cherished friends.  I recall a pot-luck meal that we had in one particular class at the end of a semester.  After the final exam, we ate and laughed and shared personal stories about why the dish we brought was meaningful to us, and for me, it was the highlight of that semester.  The class was an examination of American Outsiders Literature, and that one event helped each of us know that we were not “outsiders” in the NC State and MALS families.  It was a simple event that I will never forget!

Christie Mabry, MALS ’96

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Christie Mabry

Please tell us what brought you to MALS? What was attractive about the degree?

Early on in my career (about three years out of my undergraduate work), I was intellectually restless, and I knew that I wanted to pursue graduate work of some sort. I was not sure what I wanted to study at that time, and my career was still quite nascent (and so I did not yet have great career clarity). As such, I was really attracted to the interdisciplinary aspect of MALS and the ability to pursue a broader field of study, and to create my own areas of focus.

Tell us about your MALS concentration. What was your concentration title? What significance did your concentration hold for you?

It took me four years to complete my MALS degree, and I studied part-time in the evenings and on weekends, and worked full-time at a very demanding corporate job (with lots of business travel) during the day. During this time, some of my passions and interests came into clearer focus due to the work that I was doing in my day job and that which I was learning in the MALS program.

My company at the time, a division of General Electric, was embarking upon a massive, global Diversity and Inclusion body of work. Every single GE employee received training in this area, and this sparked a life-long passion for this work . This meshed nicely with my personal (and ongoing) activism in feminist causes. In addition, my day job had morphed towards work in training and organizational development. Thus, I combined my passions for feminist theory, DE&I and Organizational Development (OD) OD and Diversity.

By the fourth year of my MALS program, I had become an Employee Training Manager at GE. I loved this work, and decided then that I wanted to pursue a career in Training and Organizational Development. The very last class that I took in my MALS program was The Adult Learner in the College of Education and Psychology. I loved this class and my professor, Dr. Arthur Wilson. Dr. Wilson suggested that I should apply to the doctoral program in Adult Education. I was accepted to the doctoral program in Adult Education, and Dr. Wilson served as the chair of my doctoral dissertation (which I defended four years after graduating from the MALS program). This was, perhaps, the most fortuitous class I have ever taken!

What are you currently doing? We’d love to know about your professional, personal, or volunteer activities that you want to share.

By day, I am an HR leader for Biogen where I lead the HR function for about 650 employees across the world (in RTP, Cambridge, Mass, London, various locations in Switzerland, and Tokyo). Biogen is a biotechnology company in the neurology space, and we make drugs for devastating diseases such as MS, ALS, and Alzheimer’s Disease. I love working with our team of dedicated and brilliant scientists and engineers, and I love doing mission-driven work where our shared goal is to slow or stop some of these deadly diseases and to make a huge difference in the lives of patients and their families. I have been at Biogen for 14 years, and I have truly loved my time here!

In addition to my MALS degree and my doctorate, I received my Executive Coaching Certification from Duke University. I am a Board Certified Coach (BCC). In addition, I graduated from The Art and Practice of Leadership Development at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government where I had the great privilege to study with one of the foremost leadership thinkers in the world, Dr. Ronald Heifetz. I have written a number of academic papers and book chapters, and I have presented my research at national and international research conferences. I was a professor of Human Resources at Peace College (now William Peace University), as well.

I serve on a number of Boards of Directors including the Triangle Chief Human Resource Officers Association, and four different boards for NC State including the Employer Advisory Council for the Alumni Association, the HR Advisory board for the Poole College of Management, Women in Technology Leadership, and the Executive Education board.

In addition, I graduated from the NC Institute of Political Leadership, and I co-founded a political action committee, Lillian’s List (the NC version of Emily’s List). Our purpose is raise money and to train progressive women to run for seats in the NC General Assembly. We have raised millions of dollars, and have sent numerous women to the NC General Assembly and Council of State. Some of our more famous candidates include former US Senator Kay Hagan, former NC Governor Beverly Perdue, and current US Congresswoman Deborah Ross.

I graduated from an Interfaith Seminary in NYC, One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, in 2015, and I am an ordained Interfaith / Interspiritual minister. I attended seminary because of my deep interest in integrating wisdom from the world’s wisdom traditions into my work as a coach and HR leader. I would love to serve as a hospital or hospice chaplain once I leave corporate America (when I will have the time to get the Clinical Pastoral Education training and residency that is needed to do this work). For now, I officiate at weddings and funerals, I participate in interfaith prayers services with the Triangle Interfaith Alliance, and I teach Interfaith classes at my church.

Other hobbies include a newfound love of cooking (which has only intensified during the pandemic!), reading (I have about 1,000 books in my personal library) walking in nature, time with friends and family on Bald Head Island, and time with my husband, Charles, and our four cats – Karma, Henry, Rose, and Roxie.

In particular, what impact has your MALS training had on your career as a minister?

My MALS training taught me how to be a good graduate student – something that has been incredibly helpful in all of the ensuing education and training and I have pursued since then (including my time in seminary).

What is your favorite memory from your time in MALS? This can be a personal anecdote, a favorite lecture/class/topic. Anything you want.

I have so many great memories from my time in the MALS program! My MALS seminars were wonderful and stimulating (particularly my classes in Feminist Theory and Modern European Drama and Politics), and I loved the intellectual range and banter with my fellow MALS students! Dr. Korte did a masterful job running the program, and he gave each of us a book that was tailored to our interests as a graduation gift. The chair of my MALS graduate committee was Dr. Michael Vasu. Dr. Vasu ended up serving on my doctoral committee, as well. I remain eternally grateful for his wisdom and sponsorship!