This summer concludes my first year as President of Indiana Wesleyan University. The opportunity to serve my alma mater and longtime home in this capacity ranks among the greatest honors and privileges of my life.
It has been an eventful year, with many remarkable developments for the University. I owe many of the signal moments of the past year to a very special team of collaborators. I could not possibly mention them all here, but I can think of a few who deserve special mention:
I thank God for the generosity of Ed Bastian, president of Delta Air Lines, who along with his wife Anna recently committed $1.5 million to help us create the Bastian Center for the Study of Human Trafficking. This center, the only one of its kind in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, will rely on the groundbreaking research and experience of Dr. Laura Lederer to bring reliable information to bear on the fight against global human trafficking. The Center will gather together the intellectual heirs of Wesleyan Church founders Orange Scott, Luther Lee and Leroy Sunderland–abolitionists who agreed with John Wesley’s maxim: “liberty is the right of every human creature.”
I thank God for Wayne Schmidt, Ken Schenck, Joanne Solis-Walker, and the rest of the faculty and staff of Wesley Seminary at IWU, who in April celebrated the graduation of the Seminary’s first Spanish-language cohort. This past year, the Seminary’s first international cohort began classes in Bogota, Colombia. Just recently, the Seminary achieved full accreditation with the Association of Theological Schools.
I thank God for all of those involved in designing and launching IWU’s Next Generation Digital Campus. This initiative includes a new learning management system, a new university portal, a new e-textbook system and access to student success diagnostics and new digital learning assets from Pearson publishing company. The world increasingly creates, manipulates, presents, and consumes information digitally. With this project IWU is taking its first steps to provide our students with a learning infrastructure that will prepare them for the cutting-edge organizations in which they will work.
I thank God for Bridget Aitchison, Duane Kilty, Greg Rough and Phil Cave. Through their initiative, dedication, and tenacity we are within weeks of formalizing our partnership with Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia to create an evangelical Christian university in that world-class city. This will be our first major international outreach to make IWU a global Christian learning community. Our global connections extend even further: we have signed an agreement to offer our Master of Education degree to the teachers of one of Indonesia’s largest Christian schools, with over 9000 students.
I thank God for Gary and Connie Ott, who have entrusted us with what will be the largest gift we have ever received from a living donor. Their names now grace the side of the brand-new Ott Hall of Sciences and Nursing.
I thank God for Diane McDaniel, our new vice president for multicultural enrichment and employee development. Her office will focus on the need to increase our multicultural diversity. This year we implemented MLK Day as a university holiday for the first time in our history, and held our first MLK Day Concert and Celebration. The concert was a major production and a tremendous success. We completed the first round of diversity conversations with all of our employees, and are in the process of laying the groundwork for a comprehensive diversity mapping exercise that will help celebrate our strengths and identify our opportunities for growth.
I thank God for the magnificent work of those who have created a new paradigm for retention at IWU. We have successfully launched several major retention improvement efforts for the residential and non-residential programs. College of Arts and Sciences retention has improved almost 4 percentage points in the last two years.
I thank God for the Lilly Endowment, who partnered with us to help our students to prepare for and to create and fill new jobs in Indiana. I thank God for our financial aid leaders, who have designed and implemented a plan that will allow good students from financially needy families to complete a four-year degree from IWU with no more than $10,000 in total debt.
I thank God for Audrey Hahn, Brock Reiman, Barbara Ihrke and David Rose, who worked extremely hard to launch the first of a new model of regional education centers in Naperville, Illinois. Perhaps most importantly, the non-residential team has created and is launching at least seven new academic programs. The College of Adult and Professional Studies has established an international division with administrative offices in Miami, Florida, and now has over 500 students taking degree programs in Spanish and French in the Caribbean as well as in Central and South America.
I thank God for Mark DeMichael and the Athletic Department, who with the help of many others planned and executed the largest mission trip in IWU’s history last summer. The New Zealand Sports Blitz changed countless lives in the city of Auckland and left an indelible impact on the students, coaches and staff who made the incredible journey with them.
These people, and more that I cannot begin to count, are essential partners in our mission to spread the knowledge of Jesus Christ. I am thankful for staff members (housekeepers, groundskeepers and office staff) who have written me heartfelt notes of prayer support and encouragement. I am thankful for university-wide leaders who lovingly invest far more time and energy in IWU than duty demands. I am thankful for the senior executive team who have come alongside me to shoulder the responsibilities of caring for IWU. Thank you to all who have been a part of IWU for this remarkable year.
Above all, I have been reminded of the majesty of God’s calling to a place of meaningful service. I have been awed by the power of God’s anointing on those who take that calling seriously. Our most sacred trust can be read in the eyes of our students as they look into the future of their calling.
Recently I was privileged to hear Pastor David Bisgrove preach at Redeemer Church in Manhattan. These words have reverberated through my mind and heart: “Everyone in this room is being converted by our loves. What converts us is not the rules of our faith. It is the cross of Christ. It is not morality that converts us, but the blood of our Savior.”
This is our high calling – to shepherd a truly great Christian university, centered on the person of Jesus Christ, captivated by the world that Jesus created and reveals to us in our passionate pursuit of wisdom and truth, fully dedicated to the success of our students.