Friday, September 15, 2017

Nationally Ranked, Christ-Centered Education

On Tuesday, the 2018 U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of "America's Best Colleges" were announced.

Once again, I'm proud to say, LeTourneau University moved up in the rankings, with this year making 24 years that LETU has ranked in the top tier, classified with other similar institutions that offer no doctoral degrees in a geographic region that spans all the way from Texas to Alaska.

LETU was honored by the following:
  • 23rd in the "Best Regional Universities in the Western Region." (LETU ranked at 27 in 2017 and 32 in 2016.) And, among only Texas schools on the list, we were in the top 10-ranking 6th.
  • 11th among "Great Schools, Great Prices," a listing of schools that provide best value for similar regional universities in the West.
  • 15th among "Best Colleges for Veterans."
  • 29th among "America's Best Engineering Schools," in a category of over 200 ABET-accredited engineering schools nationally whose highest degree is a bachelor's or master's degree. Among Texas schools, LETU was at the top.
We also were listed alphabetically among "A-plus Schools for B-students," which is a list of schools that provide great opportunity for students to thrive with hard work and spirit, even if those students' test scores and class standings were not A's.

To rank so well in all of these areas speaks to the quality of our faculty and staff.

These rankings are released each fall and, while no rankings are unflawed, these are considered the most notable of the annual published college rankings.

But there is other good news.

Our LETU Fall 2017 enrollment total is 3,003, up 10% over last year's enrollment of 2,721 and showing significant increases in our aviation, nursing and high school dual credit programs. Enrollment numbers are official after the 12th class day.

We can be proud that we are making a nationally ranked, Christ-centered education affordable for families, a record number of whom are from right here in East Texas.

As more high school students choose to earn college credits before they finish high school, they enroll at universities with credits that save them time and money toward their degree. And many of the dual credit students who study at LETU, choose to come here after they finish high school.

And while we are attracting more local and Texas students, we are still increasingly a global university with 90 international students from more than 30 countries-showcased by the parade of flags carried by our international students at our opening convocation.

For all of these points, LETU is blessed, indeed. And as if all of these blessings weren't enough to make the week special, Wednesday I was invited by my 6-year-old granddaughter Linley to sit beside her at a special grandparent's lunch at her school. I am blessed to be her "Poppy."

Friday, September 8, 2017

Meet the Rothfus': New Missionaries-in-Residence

New Missionaries in Residence Ed and Debbie Rothfus with Dr. Lunsford in Ed's office in the Belcher Center, where Ed has on display some of the pottery pieces he has created, including the piece seen hanging on the wall behind them. 
LeTourneau University's new Missionary-In-Residence Ed Rothfus has been collecting specific prayer requests in the wake of Hurricane Harvey from our students, faculty and staff and is providing community prayer opportunities. Many families within our LETU Nation have been affected and will continue to be affected for the foreseeable future.

Ed and his wife, Debbie, have served in overseas missions for 16 years. They have recently come to LETU from Kijabe, Kenya, East Africa, where Ed has taught high school art and pottery at the Rift Valley Academy, a Christian boarding school. Debbie is the school librarian.

The Rothfus' are originally from Cuba, New York, south of Buffalo, where Ed taught art for 11 years in public school. Their calling into missions was to "stand in the gap" for the children of other missionaries. Founded by African Inland Mission in 1906, Rift Valley Academy's purpose is to meet the educational needs of missionaries' children. More than 500 students from over 20 countries and 70 mission organizations attend RVA. A friend of Ed's reminded him that "God needs good art teachers at Rift Valley Academy, too."

Besides providing spiritual insights and interaction with missionary and "third culture kids" at LETU, Ed is also teaching an honors seminar on Art and Imagination to about 25 LETU students this semester.

Ed and Debbie have not served at LETU as Missionaries in Residence before, but they are not new to LETU.

Two of their three children have attended LETU. Their older son graduated from LETU in 2014 with a computer science engineering and network services degree and their twin daughter is currently enrolled, scheduled to graduate in December with her degree in kinesiology K-12. The Rothfus' other twin, a son, graduated in May from John Brown University in Arkansas with a degree in construction management.

Ed's office is in the Belcher Center. Be sure to give Ed and Debbie a warm LETU welcome. We are blessed to have them here.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Lord is my Shelter

The aftermath of Hurricane Harvey is heart-breaking. Yet, look closely and see God's mercy coming through the heroic and unselfish service of His people.

Twelve years ago this weekend, I was part of a team assembled to provide a Tyler shelter for those evacuating from New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. The experience changed my life.

One vivid memory is the arrival of two busloads of evacuees. Someone on staff had made a handwritten poster and mounted it on a wall just behind the registration table. As they entered the shelter building, each saw the eternal promise on that simple poster board: "The Lord is My Shelter." Indeed He was their shelter that day and He continues to be shelter for all victims of Harvey.

Harvey has impacted LETU in several ways. Our Houston site is closed until further notice. While we have no water in Houston building site, the flooded areas surrounding the building make it difficult, if not impossible, to access. We've communicated with our Global faculty and our dual credit partners to provide necessary accommodations to students who are unable to meet their class assignments as planned. We are on standby to provide temporary shelter to patients from a network of skilled nursing facilities should their evacuation from the Houston metro become necessary.

We've designated these on-campus points of contact as the tragedy of Harvey continues to impact our students, faculty and staff.
  • COUNSELING: The LETU Counseling Center is ready to help (Contact Treva Barham, 903.233.3490) 
  • PRAYER: Our Missionary-in-Residence, Ed Rothfus, is organizing opportunities to gather prayer requests and pray together (Contact Ed Rothfus, 903.233.3118)
  • DONATIONS: Opportunities to donate from our abundance will be coordinated (Kaylee Salser, 903-233-3115) 
  • SERVICE: Opportunities to serve in relief and recovery efforts (Tracy Ketrow, 903.233.3160)
Let's keep praying for God's promises: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear... (Psalm 46:1-2 KJV)

Want to help?
You can donate online at:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

2017 Poverty Conference

LeTourneau University was pleased to host the Junior League of Longview's 2017 Poverty Conference featuring Liz Murray, author of "Breaking Night," her story of going from homeless to Harvard. Poverty is a big problem in our area, with one in five families in Longview falling below the poverty line of $24,000 annual income for a family of four.  

Poverty is a thief. It uses different weapons (hunger, homelessness, mental illness, addiction) to steal hope. A young person loses hope that a college education is possible for her. An elderly family loses hope when they must choose between needed medicines and the monthly rent. And an entire community can lose hope when poverty goes unchecked.

I was honored to welcome the nearly 1,600 who attended the event, many of whom were teachers and administrators from five area school districts.  

Liz Murray's story was one we talked about the rest of the day. As a child of drug-addicted parents, she developed coping skills to deal with life. She shared about how her circumstances shaped her attitudes and behaviors, how it shaped her thinking. She told about living for the welfare check at the beginning of every month . . . about dealing with hunger from having no food in the house . . . about becoming homeless as a teenager and eventually dropping out of school. She told about feeling "less than" others.  

She also spoke about the day when her life turned around.  

She told of being accepted to attend a charter school that was run by an educator who helped her believe in herself and held her accountable for the things she said and did. She put it this way:  people will grow into the conversations they have around them. A teacher's power to bring hope is world-changing.

Tuesday's Poverty Conference concluded with a panel discussion featuring local educators and leaders of nonprofit agencies to discuss strategies for combating poverty locally. For Murray, education was a key to helping lift her out of poverty. Murray won a scholarship contest through The New York Times to study at Harvard University. I daresay that many of us can relate to the fact that education was the key to a better life.

Kudos to LETU's Parent and Student Relations Officer Lauren Land, who was the Poverty Conference chairwoman, and to LETU's Director of Student Support Services Carlton Mitchell, who moderated the panel discussion following Murray's remarks.

LeTourneau University is proud to be part of Longview and to share the community's burdens, including poverty. In our faith in Christ, we have an important testimony to the power of hope.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Welcome, New YellowJackets!

Welcoming new students and their parents this morning was truly a joy, despite the rain. I talked with some parents who were dropping off a child at college for the very first time. I remembered how that felt. For first-time parents, it can be an emotional and stressful day. For other parents I talked to, this was their third child they had sent off to college, so they were much more relaxed.

I talked to one mom who said her son had actually chosen another school as his "first pick," but while waiting for a response back from that school, he came to visit and tour LeTourneau and changed his mind and chose LETU. She said the day after he was accepted at LETU, the other school sent him an acceptance letter, but by then, he felt LETU was where he belonged. She said she felt God's hand was at work providing that time for him to visit LETU. 

I met two materials joining engineering majors, and both of them were excited about the prospects and demand for professionals in their field of study. Another student I met was from McKinney, Texas, coming to LeTourneau because he was introduced to LETU by our aviation program there. It was a joy to reassure these parents and encourage these students that they have made a great choice in selecting LETU. 

Every incoming class is unique. This year's incoming class of new freshman and transfer students represent 35 states and 12 countries. About 70% are coming from within the state of Texas, with 52 students coming from right here in Longview, Texas, the most common city represented. The second and third most common states, after Texas, are California and Colorado. 

Nearly 40% of the incoming students moving in today are female, which is a stark contrast to decades ago when there were ten male students to every female student on campus. One dad I met today was proud of the fact he and his wife met on the LETU campus back then. He told me, "The odds were 10 to one, and I got one!" I smiled and gave him a fist bump. They told me they have three sons, two of whom are now enrolled here. 

Days like today don't just happen. I am grateful for all who make LeTourneau University a place where God is at work.

Huge thanks today to LETU new student orientation volunteers, from left, Kai Kiefer, Benjamin Hoos and Sam Kriebel, for their enthusiastic welcome and assistance as new students came on campus today.     

Friday, July 28, 2017

Summer Preparations

For many of us at LeTourneau University, summer is a time of preparation for the next academic year. Nowhere on campus is that more evident than in the work of our Facilities Services department.

About 90 full-time Facilities Services employees and student workers this summer have worked diligently to clean and refresh the campus with new paint, lighting, carpets, cleaning, landscaping, air conditioning replacement and so much more.

Our custodial staff has done deep cleaning at all of the dorms, honors apartments, married apartments and Glaske Engineering Center, where they have waxed floors and shampooed carpets. They have cleaned up the dorms and buildings during and after summer residential camps. The Allen Family Student Center and Corner Café are still to come before classes begin next month.

The summer started off with a major clean-up after storm damage around Memorial Day in May left the campus littered with leaves and several downed and damaged trees. Within only a few days, a joint effort from our grounds, trades and custodial crews had the campus cleaned up and beautified again.

The work hasn't slowed down. Twenty new trees have been planted on campus, and all of the mature trees have been trimmed to a height to enable walking under them.

Over 80,000 square feet of walls have been painted this summer, with locations including the Business Services/Marketing Building, Davis Hall, the Civil Engineering Lab and the AO House. Pressure washing of exteriors at the library, Glaske Center, Allen Family Student Center, Belcher Center, Longview Hall and the brick façades on the metal buildings on Glaske Drive have all made a significant difference.

Longview Hall has probably experienced the most significant facelift, beginning with outside landscaping.

Grounds crews this summer have removed overgrown trees that obscured the building from view and had roots threatening some expensive sidewalk and driveway repairs. Sidewalks that were littered with acorns and bird droppings at the entrance of the building are now clean.

Benches in the circle in front of the building can now actually be used for sitting without threats from overhead. The grounds crew also pressure-washed the mildew from the sandstone façade, restoring a new and brighter look.

New landscaping in the front of the building includes some replanted trees and a lower-maintenance rock garden, similar to the entrance of the Allen Family Student Center. The rock landscaping is mirrored on the mall-side of the building, providing a scenic view of the bell tower.

Inside Longview Hall, the carpet has been replaced, painting of all the classrooms has been completed, and overhead lighting has been upgraded.

The Solheim Center is closed this week for upgrades including new flooring, new air conditioning in the office areas and classrooms, and new LED lighting in the gymnasiums and natatorium to brighten those areas.

All of these--and many other projects that are being done--are being noticed and deeply appreciated. None of these projects get done without hard work. We are grateful to those who make our campus such a lovely place to be.

Friday, July 14, 2017

2017: The 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

500 years ago -- on October 31, 1517 -- Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed his "Ninety-Five Theses" to the wall of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, criticizing the Catholic Church.

The Roman Catholic Church had become a money-making enterprise. Luther's Ninety-Five Theses were designed to start a dialog with the Roman Catholic Church about serious issues on salvation, grace and the Gospel.

That cataclysmic event heralded what would become over the next hundred years a historic movement that would reshape the world with a complex set of reforms throughout Western Europe. What the Reformation did was create a new branch of Christianity: Protestantism, from which sprouted Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and many more denominational churches.

The movement that became known as the Protestant Reformation set in motion a century of change that would transform Christianity, government, politics, banking, capitalism, literature, education, and work, making an impact on our lives even today.

To commemorate the quincentennial of this history-altering time in human history, LeTourneau University's School of Theology and Vocation will host "A Day of Common Learning: Reflections on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation" on Tuesday, Oct. 31.

Classes will be canceled to enable maximum participation in a day-long scholarship event to provide 45-minute presentations, papers, panel discussions and book reviews that will enable the LETU community to better understand what the Reformation was and why it matters. Some proposed topics include: the Reformation and politics, statehood and government; Reformation and music; how the Reformation influenced scientific knowledge and exploration; the Reformation and the university; the doctrine of grace and the Reformation; vocation and work in Reformation thought; global perspectives on the Reformation; and the relationship between the Reformation and American Evangelism.

More details on the Day of Common Learning will be forthcoming.

Kudos to Dr. Kelly Liebengood, dean of the School of Theology and Vocation for organizing this event in the life of our university.

I hope you will all make plans to attend some of these events and learn about how the Reformation reformed Western culture and the lives we live today.