ALUMNI PROFILE: Derek Schujahn, Operations Consultant and Human Rights Advocate
By Alex Tilsley
As a freshman at USC, Derek Schujahn learned quickly that Aerospace Engineering, his declared major, wasn’t the right fit. Searching for an alternative, he stumbled upon a class in Judaic Studies.
“I loved it so much,” he says. “It turned my whole heart around to studying the motivations of human behavior in terms of religious sentiment. From that moment on, from the spring of my freshman year of college, I realized, ‘I really want to study this full time.’”
Seventeen years after graduating with a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy, Schujahn says he has no regrets.
“My experience was more about personal development and education and learning to be a lifelong learner,” he says. “It wasn’t about getting a certification… rather, it really was about the experience.”
Schujahn has used that experience and his newfound love of learning in a variety of settings since graduation. He earned his seminary degree from Fuller’s Theological Seminary and has worked with a range of humanitarian organizations around the world, including House Church Networks in China; Stop Child Trafficking Now, based in New York; Freedom’s Promise, an anti-trafficking and community development program based in Cambodia; and the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. He has helped mobilize thousands of volunteers, has developed new charitable organizations in countries including South Africa and New Zealand, and, most recently, helped rescue child soldiers in Southeast Asia through his work with Project: AK-47.
Though he was never hired specifically because he was a religion major, Schujahn believes studying religion gave him the tools for success in his career. All of his work, he says, has relied on his ability to relate to people, and often he connects to people through his knowledge of religion.
“The dynamics of religion really do define cultures, and so being able to understand those religions has helped me to understand a lot of cultural dynamics,” Schujahn says.
Schujahn studied a variety of religious traditions at USC, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. He believes this has given him the ability to relate to people on a personal level in a way he might not have been able to without an understanding of religion.
He says he learned a bit about people and history from his philosophy classes, too, but he views the difference between the two fields as the difference between engaging the head and engaging the heart.
Because of its relevance to society and to people’s lives, Schujahn says he found religion to be the more practical of his two majors.
“You read the news, and so much of it – our ideals, our dreams our expectations – whether it’s explicit or implicit, a lot of them are based out of our religious experiences and understandings,” he says.
Schujahn’s appreciation for religion as forming a basis for people’s ideals, dreams, and expectations has been invaluable — both in his humanitarian and ministerial work and, more surprisingly, in the job-hunt.
Schujahn believes a liberal arts background can be useful in anything from teaching to business to non-profit work, and he encourages students to follow their intellectual passions.
“If [students] are looking for something deeper,” he says, they should consider the study of religion. “Major, double major, add it on. Do whatever you can do to experience something more than just a certificate on the wall.”