Thursday, September 3, 2015

Poverty Conference Coming to LETU

I've been thinking about poverty this week.  The struggle is a daily routine for many of our campus neighbors.  In the 70 years LETU has been in existence, our society has advanced in many ways.  Think of how the technology of today compares to 1946!  Yet, when it comes to poverty, has our society really made any progress?

Poverty steals hope.  It robs this and the next generation of a brighter future. And poverty engenders violence.  Right here in Longview, we read headlines of increasing violence and shootings in our community. It is a complex problem but one important key to combat poverty is education. 

This week, we've been planning our part in an upcoming conference.  LeTourneau University is proud to be one of the sponsors of the Junior League of Longview's October 15 Poverty Conference, featuring Dr. Geoffrey Canada, who will speak on "The Crisis Facing Our Youth: What Adults and Communities Can Do to Save Our Children."

An educator, author and social activist, Canada is renowned for his work in education in Harlem, where poverty strikes deep.  He knows poverty personally.  He grew up in the inner city.  New York's South Bronx district was his home, as the third of four sons being raised by a single mom.  In his mid-teenage years, she sent him to live with his grandparents to get out of the inner city.  Reports say he understood his calling at an early age.

Canada went on to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology and sociology from Bowdoin College and a master's in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education.  He has been prominently featured in the award-winning 2010 documentary on education titled "Waiting for Superman."  He has also been featured on TED talks and on the CBS News' 60 Minutes for the revolution in education he has begun in Harlem, New York, which is called the Harlem Children's Zone to increase high school and college graduation rates among students there by providing social, medical and educational services. 

The impact of his school has grown from a neighborhood to nearly 100 square blocks, reaching an estimated 10,000 inner city students, providing hope and a future.  His school has a 95% college matriculation rate. Fortune Magazine named him in 2014 among the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.

He is quoted as saying that these inner city children succeed because they get what middle-class and upper middle-class students get:  safety, structure, academic enrichment, cultural activity and adults who love them and are prepared to help them succeed.

The Poverty Conference is for anyone who has concerns about how poverty and crime are affecting our area, from educators and church members, to business leaders and elected officials, to parents, friends and community volunteers.  Canada will speak in the morning, with breakout sessions in the afternoon, on topics including community revitalization, economic impact and local opportunities for engagement.  Some of our own LETU professors will be involved in leading some of those sessions.

LeTourneau University has a stake and a part to play in the well-being of the Longview community.  I hope you will encourage those you know to attend.  For more information and to register for the conference, visit

Friday, August 28, 2015

Building New International Opportunities

I was pleased to meet with a visitor from India this week to discuss a potential international partnership. Ashok Daryani is President of International Relations at Sharda University in Nolda, Delhi. Shardia University has over 20,000 students and 1,200 faculty across three campuses in India.

India is second only to China in the number of students sent to the United States for higher education.  With many Indian students selecting majors in information technology, engineering and technology related fields, LETU is in a prime position to welcome students from India into these programs here in Longview. 

The number of Indian students studying in the United States has nearly doubled to over 102,000 in the past 15 years, reflecting both a demand for quality higher education among Indian students and the growth of the Indian economy.  Today, LETU hosts more students from India than from any other foreign country except South Korea.

Thanks largely to Kelly Liebengood, Alan Clipperton and Rebecca Haesecke in our Office of Global Initiatives, in the past few years, LETU's international student enrollment has grown from about 50 students in 2011-2012 to maintaining an enrollment of over 100 each semester since Spring 2013. LETU now has active matriculation agreements and exchange programs with more than 13 institutions in 7 countries. 

We are currently pursuing opportunities to take quality Christian higher education abroad into countries like Sri Lanka and South Korea.  Just last fall, our Rwandan students led us in a Walk to Remember the Rwandan genocide, which allowed them to become our teachers as they shared stories of the devastation and reunification of the people of their homeland.  We currently continue to host government scholarship students from Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. 

This fall, our newest international students come from over 18 countries from as far away as Mongolia and as close as Canada.  Most of them are here for our engineering program.

These accomplishments emphasize that our commitment to become a university of global influence continues.  Our every workplace every nation vision requires us to be a global institution where our students, our faculty and, most importantly, our Christ-inspired love and Christian values, can flow across national borders and cultures.

Ashok Daryani of Shandra University traveled all the way from India to visit with LETU President Dr. Dale A. Lunsford about a potential educational partnership.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Welcoming the Class of 2019 to Campus

New Student Orientation is underway!   

These incoming students bring with them energy and excitement for this life-changing journey.  Their arrival reminds me that the year ahead is full of new promise, new friends and new experiences.  Not just for them but for all of us.

LETU new students are a diverse group.  They include first-time freshmen, transfer students, graduate students and online students.  Many come from Texas but also from 19 nations in Asia, Africa, North and South America and Europe.  You've seen many of them moving into our residence halls today.  There are many others who are new but not residential students.

The new students are joining our student leaders and YellowJacket student athletes who are already back on campus.  Returning residential students will be arriving this weekend and classes begin Monday.

The average SAT of this incoming class is 1140 (the U.S. average is around 1000).  Many arrive with a love for math and science, others come motivated to solve the equations of human relationships and explore the mysteries of our faith.  In that way, we are carrying on our tradition of educating the future movers of men and mountains.

Student Life has organized a new student orientation program with three objectives:  confidence, competence, and connections.  There is much anxiety in these types of transitions for students of all ages and level of experience.  And there is anxiety for parents also.  I'll host a coffee for parents tomorrow morning ahead of a number of orientation experiences designed just for them.

Tonight, the faculty will gather in the Belcher Center in full academic regalia to welcome new students and parents to LETU.  One of our traditions is the ivy planting:  students are symbolically planted into this learning community where their growth is our objective.  It is also a night of worship and mutual dedication to honor God in our new work together.

When the planned events of this orientation are over; when the parents are gone; when the first conflicts with a roommate or with family have become evident and the first homework grade is disappointing, let us remember that we can continue with the orientation work of building confidence, improving competence, and creating connections. 

Our "Welcome to LETU, We're glad you're here" might be more powerful on those days than it is even this week.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How is Beekeeping like Education?

A friend in town keeps bees. He allowed me to help him harvest honey and see firsthand the industrious work of the honey bee. It's really fascinating. Beekeepers and educators have something important in common.

I've been in Austin this week where I serve on the board of directors of ICUT:  the association of 40 Independent Colleges and Universities in Texas. The group includes large institutions like Baylor and TCU and much smaller colleges like Parker and Wiley.

ICUT completed an impact analysis to quantify the important contributions of independent colleges and universities in Texas. We do much to make Texas a better place. That's where the beekeeper analogy comes in.

The bees cared for by beekeepers  make honey but more. Those same bees pollinate nearby orchards making fruit possible and that fruit benefits humans, animals and birds. Colleges exist to educate students but those students contribute much to make our communities better.

For example, did you know college graduates are much less likely to smoke, be obese, or suffer from prolonged illnesses?  They are less likely than non college graduates to abuse alcohol or use illicit drugs. College graduates are much less likely to become incarcerated and cost society.

So much good happens in our society when we raise the educational attainment of our communities.  College grads bear fruit of many kinds beyond higher salaries. I'm proud LETU is part of Texas independent colleges enrolling 175,000 students and making a better Texas.

Friday, August 7, 2015

LETU Partners for the Future with Longview ISD

Increasing the affordability for local students to attend LETU has long been one of our goals.  For example, a few years ago, we announced our Future of East Texas Grant to lower costs and provide incentive for local students to come live on campus.

Last week, I signed a new partnership agreement with Longview Independent School District that will lower the cost of a LeTourneau University college education for qualifying Longview High School students. 

Longview's incoming 9th grade students this fall may begin earning college credit hours from LETU, free of charge, since the school district pays the costs of tuition, textbooks and transportation, as part of LISD's Early College High School program.  The program is made possibly, indirectly, by House Bill 5 that requires incoming high school students to select a vocational endorsement entering high school.

During four years of high school, students start out slowly, taking 3 to 6 college hours their first year, then ramping up to 18 to 30 hours of college courses in their sophomore, junior and senior years, accumulating up to 60 credit hours, or an associate degree. 

The first direct degree pathway that LETU is offering is toward a degree in aviation management.  Other programs are being discussed to announce in the future. 

Depending on academic program, a student could save as much as $50,000 in college-related expenses by participating in Longview's ECHS program with LETU.

Longview ISD is one of only 154 school districts across the state that the Texas Education Agency has designated as an Early College High School.  It is the only ECHS in Gregg County.

This program makes college more affordable, but also gives students an opportunity to find out earlier about career opportunities.

Students who enter this program can transition seamlessly into campus when they finish high school, qualifying for more lucrative freshmen scholarships, even though they will already have hours to classify as juniors.  They would not be considered transfer students, who are identified as those who have completed up to 12 hours of college credits after having graduated from high school.

I want to thank LETU Dean of Aviation and Aeronautical Sciences Fred Ritchey, LETU Vice President for Enrollment Services Dr. Terry Cruse and our dual-enrollment coordinator Sharleen Hunt for their work in making this partnership a reality.

This partnership provides the opportunity for LISD students to take classes on our campus, similar to the opportunities we already provide home school students.  And it is similar to the program we announced earlier in the year with Pine Tree ISD for students interested in our nursing program. 

What a great way for high achieving students to experience one of the nation's leading Christian institutions first-hand.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Summer Reading Recommendations

I'm writing today from northern Oklahoma, where Marsha and I are spending some quality time together at the family wheat farm. This land of small towns and big skies is special to us. The pace of life slows here. My hope is that each of you, too, have been blessed with renewal as you spend time connecting with family and friends this summer.

Summer is also a time for me to enjoy reading. Some of my favorites this summer have been:

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown

While Hitler was taking control of Germany and planning the 1936 Berlin Olympics to showcase his Nazi regime, a strong, young Joe Rantz was working to survive the Great Depression, earn an engineering degree from the University of Washington, and make sense of a troubled relationship with his father. This true story tells how nine young men from Seattle won the gold medal in rowing and stole some of the spotlight from the Nazi public relations effort. What you learn about rowing will make you wish for a rowing team here at LETU.

Called by Mark Labberton

This book by the president of Fuller Seminary reminds us that in our quest to find God's call in our life, we shouldn't miss the clear essential charge he has given us: to love God and to love others. LETU has been equipped with a unique calling to claim the workplace for Christ. Yet, we only understand that calling in the context of our mission to love God and the neighbors God has given us.

My Promised Land by Ari Shavit

From the chaos of the holocaust to the present danger of Iran with nuclear arms, the history of Israel is more complicated  than I had understood. This narrative history of the modern nation of Israel is written by Israeli journalist and commentator Ari Shavit from interviews, personal diaries and letter, as well as historical documents that tell a compelling story of the Israeli-Arab struggle. Shavit writes:

"The act of concentrating the Jews in one place was essential but dangerous. If another historic disaster were to strike here, it might be the last. The founding fathers and mothers of Zionism realized this. They knew they were leading one of the most miserable nations in the world to one of the most dangerous places in the world." This dramatic story is still being written in the headlines of our daily news coverage.

Many of you may have read other great books you have enjoyed this summer. Send me your favorite books. I always keep a list of what to read next.

Friday, July 10, 2015

LETU Lands Spot on Beautiful Campus List

LeTourneau University is a beautiful campus.  We all know that.  But it sure is nice when others take note, too, like this past week when Online Christian Colleges website listed LETU as one of the top 50 in its "Most Beautiful Campuses."

The website ranked LETU 19th in its list, ahead of some other campuses you may know: Baylor (37th) in Waco and SMU (49th) in Dallas.  The honor was also featured this week in the Longview News-Journal and local television news.

While our campus doesn't boast expansive "ocean views, majestic mountains, stained-glass windows and enchanting cathedrals" (like many of the campuses ranked ahead of us), we do have a beautiful campus steeped in history as a former World War II-era military hospital.  Our campus is a special place set aside for the important work of higher learning. This "most beautiful campus" is the work of our Facilities Services Department, led by Ben Haywood.

Their time and talent (and sweat!) have gone into the careful planning and meticulous upkeep of our university buildings and grounds. Their work was recognized only a few months ago when the local Keep Longview Beautiful Award was presented to the campus. 

All work done well can bring glory to God.  Our facilities team demonstrates this truth -- and it's thrilling to see the world notice.

I hope the world knows that the most beautiful thing about our campus is the life-changing moments that happen here.  Marty Lane and her Conference and Events Services team have welcomed hundreds of campers so far this summer.  She reported that in the past two weeks of IMPACT camp, 55 students made first-time decisions for Christ, along with 40 other re-commitment decisions, here at LETU.  We still have two more residential camps coming this summer, so let's all pray for the Holy Spirit to continue this work.

All of this reminds me of Isaiah 40:  "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever."  Now that's beautiful!