Friday, December 14, 2012

One University

We recorded our 2012 Christmas card email this morning on video which you will receive in the coming week. Emailing the university's Christmas card saves LETU many thousands of dollars in printing and postage expense. This is one of many ways in which we are trying to be strategic in the way we spend our limited resources.

Sending a digital Christmas card is also a reminder of the many new opportunities being created by technology. When I graduated from college there was no such thing as emailing Christmas cards. In fact, I'm sure I would not have recognized the word "emailing" and certainly not as a verb.

In the same way, most of us would not have understood a decade ago that LETU would enroll more than 1,000 students in online degree programs. Our reputation for online programs has grown to the extent that organizations such as named us among their "Top 25 Best Online" universities and ranked us #1 in their rankings of the "Top Online Christian Colleges." We've been successful. We believe we can be even more successful in recruitment, retention and learning outcomes.

Dr. Coyle is leading a comprehensive effort to prepare our online and other non-traditional programs for the future. We can't anticipate all the changes ahead in technology, but we do understand that operating as "One University" is essential for our future. In his Nov. 8, 2012 email to campus, he said  online delivery combined with high quality faculty engagement can be central to accomplishing our mission. He wants to eliminate our thinking about "GAPS students" and "traditional students" and instead just focus on "LeTourneau students" who are given options to complete their degree programs on ground, online or in some combination of both. I wholeheartedly agree!

Several organizational changes are in motion now to put this into practice. My thanks to all of you who are busy crafting our two programs into one.

As you have creative ideas on how we can make LeTourneau University the best One University, please share them with us by email to  

Technology will change the "classroom" and the way we teach, but our mission remains the same: we are called to claim the workplace for Jesus Christ and we do that one student at a time with an education that transforms each into a competent professional with Christ-like character, one who sees their work as a holy calling with eternal impact.

Friday, December 7, 2012

One Word

If you were to describe the mission of LETU in one word, what would be that word?

The Salvation Army is a ministry I respect very much. We think of them at Christmas time as we see their red kettle bell ringers everywhere (trivia alert: in high school I volunteered as a bell ringer). Beyond Christmas, the Salvation Army quietly serves the neediest among us -- caring both for material needs and eternal destinies. Nearly 30 million in 5,000 communities are served by The Salvation Army annually.

Once when asked to describe the mission of the Salvation Army, founder William Booth walked to the podium, spoke one word, and sat back down. That one word was "others." This focus on "others" motivates Salvation Army staff and focuses their operational decisions. There is no confusion within the organization as to the reason for their existence: an extraordinary commitment to serve others.

Here at LETU, we are moving to combine our traditional and GAPS marketing efforts into one unified communication strategy to advance the LETU "brand." The public relations firm of Lovell-Fairchild have been listening to many of you as they help us to better define the core elements of the LETU brand. Nancy Lovell and Julie Fairchild challenged me Wednesday morning with the above question: "What one word would you use to label the mission of LETU?"

I'm not sure I answered the question well: it is difficult to reduce this institution and our reason for existence to one word. I'd like to know your thoughts. How would you answer that question?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Conveying the Wisdom & Mission of LeTourneau

Marsha and I have been in Tulsa most of this final week of November.

Our Tuesday night alumni reception was well attended with nearly 50 guests from across the years.

1958 industrial science graduate Charles Lucas and his wife, Mary, were there, along with May 2012 alumnus Charles Harris, who now works for Covington Aviation. Other alumni included 1978 welding engineering alumnus Jon Arrowsmith and his wife, Ruth, a 1980 chemistry alumna.

Sisters, Rebecca Currington and Elece Hollis, both met their husbands, Dennis Currington and Ron Hollis, respectively, at LeTourneau, and they were all there. We also welcomed parents Craig and Delia Bennetts, whose son Caleb is now a freshman mechanical engineering major. It was a good cross section of people whose lives have been enriched by LeTourneau.

Trustees Paul and Betty Abbott and Sheree and Jose Cosa hosted the event at Paul's church, First Baptist Church Broken Arrow. Our current LETU student president James Hilbish was also there with us and spoke to our alumni.

The Tulsa event was just one stop in our many national events to introduce the For Such A Time As This campaign. It was a special event for Marsha and me. Tulsa is my hometown, the place where Marsha and I met and where our daughters were born. I was surprised by four of my former colleagues from the University of Tulsa who came out on a very cold November night to say hello and learn something about LeTourneau University. What a joy it is to see old friends!

LETU Director of Development Randy Yeakley and I also visited the Mabee Foundation, which has participated in seven LeTourneau University construction projects dating back to 1980. These include funds for building the Trinity residence halls; Heath-Hardwick Hall; Longview Hall; Glaske Center for Engineering, Science and Technology; Solheim Recreation and Activity Center; S. E. Belcher Jr. Chapel and Performance Center and now, they have contributed $1.4 million to our new Allen Family Student Center. Each of these facilities has transformed the university in a positive way, and I am so thankful for the investment this foundation has made in LETU.

On Wednesday, I spoke at FBC Broken Arrow and spent time with their senior pastor Nick Garland. Pastor Garland and his staff have recently come to the conclusion that workplace evangelism should be a new focus of their overall ministry program.

The wisdom of R.G. LeTourneau and the mission of LETU continue to encourage others to claim the workplace for Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

LETU Trustees: A Legacy of Leadership

Another successful Board of Trustees meeting completed Friday. New officers were elected and include Pat Bertsche as Chair, Larry Mercer as Vice Chair, Paul Abbott as Secretary and Merle Stoltzfus as Treasurer.

Nancy Mendez has served as chair for the past two years and has been an outstanding leader as LETU's first female board chair. As the assistant city manager of the City of Whittier, Calif., Nancy oversees major projects and ensures the city council's goals are accomplished. She brought those leadership skills to LETU, where she has served on the LETU board since 1990. 

She loves LeTourneau as a place that encourages students to grow spiritually and be equipped to serve Christ in every workplace in every nation. Her role as chair of the LETU board of trustees was perhaps a little unique, since her father served as the board chair in the 1970s when Nancy was a student here. 

Nancy's love for the Lord and her love for our students is evident in her service to LETU and in the godly example she is to other women in leadership. I am grateful for her leadership.

Our new incoming chair Pat Bertsche earned his industrial management degree from LETU in 1989 and has been involved with financial management, strategic planning and business operations. He has most recently served as the superintendent of the Westminster Christian School where he formerly served as board president. Prior to his work with Westminster, he served as vice president of operations at Camcraft, Inc. In January, he is returning to Camcraft, Inc. in Chicago as the chief financial officer. 

Pat loves LeTourneau and has been actively involved with his alma mater, from hosting alumni meetings in cities across the country to hosting many in his home in Illinois. He has been an LETU board member since 1996 and served on the 2010 Trustee Committee for the Strategic Plan.

Also at the November trustee meeting, three new trustees were named. Dr. Gene Frost is a business executive who serves as Head of School at Wheaton Academy in West Chicago, Ill. James Nolt is a business consultant who sold in 2010 the company American Hydro Corporation he co-founded that designs and manufactures hydraulic turbines for the power industry. Dean Waskowiak is president and founder of Encore Multimedia, a leading regional advertising agency in Longview, Texas.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sowing Seeds of Support

Our Board of Trustees is on campus today for their Fall meeting. These men and women come from all across North America: from Alaska to Orlando and from Toronto to Los Angeles. They have business to do here, of course, and when they leave to return home, they will continue to spread the word of the good things happening here at LeTourneau University.

There's just no substitute for sowing the seeds of support for LETU.

Recently, I recommended that our development officers read The Sower, a book by Gary Hoag and Scott Rodin about redefining how we raise funds from a biblical perspective. In it, the premise is that we are servants who plant seeds and water them, but that we give God the glory to make things grow.

Sowers work hard and work smart. It requires planning and sacrifice. While sowers accept the responsibility for planting, they know only God can bring the harvest. We sow. God brings the results.

Trained as New Testament scholars, Hoag and Rodin are experienced fundraisers. Their focus is not merely to raise money, but to disciple people to become godly stewards through transformed hearts. Giving is, after all, not the result of a ministry's work, but God's work in people. It relies on a dependence on prayer and relationship-building as tools for success. Our role at LETU is to raise up givers for God's work through sowing biblical stewardship principles in people's lives.

And we are not alone in our work, because as we share the story and vision for what God is doing through LETU, we encourage our trustees, alumni and others to partner with us. Community is one of the greatest gifts we as a Christ-centered university have to offer.  Inviting others to serve with us is a privilege.
We know that true generosity flows from transformed hearts that are conformed to the image of Christ.. Our ultimate goal in the LETU Development Office is encouraging spiritual transformation, helping people become rich toward God through giving.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Running the Faith Race

Next week is Election Day in the U.S. (I voted Tuesday, have you?) Nov. 6 is the finish line for what we often call the "presidential race." It must be an exhilarating experience to manage these multi-billion dollar campaigns as they rush to the end of the race. Yes, that's BILLION - the presidential campaigns have spent $2 billion so far.

(Just for fun: a $2 billion endowment would generate enough annual earnings to allow every student at LETU to attend for free!)

We should care about this election and our responsibilities in a democracy. Yet, as followers of Christ we are in another race that is far more important: the race of faith.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2a)

Running the race of faith begins by considering the saints who have gone before us. From Abel through the prophets "who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised," we have evidence of God's desire to work through men and women like us. In the lives of others, we see evidence of the world-changing power of our faith.

Effectively running our faith race requires considering ourselves as well as those who have gone before us. We can be our own worst enemy in this race: underestimating our abilities and availabilities, carrying burdens of guilt, limiting our vision of what God can do. Our faith race requires us to navigate a maze of sinful distractions that will only slow us or stop us.

Most importantly, we can run our faith race only when we keep our eyes on the goal. The object of our faith is Jesus Christ. Candidates in the presidential race will be busy counting 125 million votes on Election Day. But in the faith race, only one vote is important. Jesus has voted and he voted to claim you for all of eternity. That's the object of our faith.

Last weekend, senior Nicole Leman became the first LeTourneau student athlete to win the American Southwest Conference championship in cross country running. She will compete at the NCAA regional championships in Atlanta later this month. As Nicole is a champion in her race, I pray I can champion the faith race marked out for me. I pray LeTourneau University can finish the race marked out for us.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Global Students, Local Connections

It's no secret that I have long been outnumbered by the women in my life. Marsha and I were blessed with our two daughters, Rachel and Hannah, and our granddaughter, Linley.

Tuesday's lunch meeting was no exception when I had the pleasure of introducing four of our international students to the women of the Zonta Club of Longview.

Zonta International is a global organization of executives and professionals working together to advance the status of women worldwide through service and advocacy.

I was pleased to tell the group that since I have been at LETU, we have elected the first woman chair of our Board of Directors and have hired our first woman engineering professor and our first woman aeronautical science professor.

I was also pleased to tell these women that this fall we have doubled the number of international students and that they hail from places as far away as South Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Madagascar, Togo and Sri Lanka. Attracting more international students is one way we provide a rich educational experience for our campus, but also for the Longview community.

Speaking to the group on Tuesday were four of our students from across the globe.

Miriam is from Kenya and is in our aeronautical science program. She told the group that she wants to encourage women in her country to be aircraft mechanics and pilots to open doors for other women to follow.

Jane is a finance major from Vietnam. She hopes to advance the economic system in her country when she returns after college.

Hope is from China and is studying civil engineering. She knows that since she was the second child, she is a miracle baby who was allowed to survive despite the "one child" policy in her home country. She shared her concern that suicide is the number one cause of death for women in China.

Hanna is from South Korea studying to earn a certificate to teach English. She talked about how she has learned about special education and the importance of inclusion for students.

It was a joy to share these women with Longview. Every great city needs a great university, and for Longview, that university is LeTourneau University.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Global Service Learning Opportunities

This week, 50 years ago, our nation was faced with what we now call the "Cuban missile crisis." The Soviet governments secretly began to build bases in Cuba to launch nuclear missiles into the United States. It was a tense confrontation. We now know how close we were to nuclear war with the Soviet Union. God was merciful.

Five decades later, God is working in Cuba.

An LETU delegation was invited there this fall. One of the aims of LETU's Center for Global Service Learning is to partner with indigenous churches around the world that are seeking to demonstrate God's redeeming love within their local communities. Dr. Kelly Liebengood and Dr. Steve Mason traveled to Cuba to discover areas where the research, expertise, training and skills of our LeTourneau professors and students could help equip particular churches to fulfill the mission God has placed on their hearts, now that an unprecedented window of opportunity is open.

What Dr. Liebengood and Dr. Mason discovered is that entrepreneurial business skills, personal counseling skills and theological training are all desperately needed by pastors to enable them to sustain their ministries during this time when the Cuban church is growing in spite of persecution and scarce resources. LETU has expertise in each of those areas.

Dr. Liebengood reports that the Cuban church has turned a page from being isolated and insular to being a place where Cubans are looking to meet their most fundamental needs. He reported that this movement of God within the Cuban church has occurred simultaneously with a new openness on the part of the Cuban government, which is now slowly allowing Cubans to start and own their own businesses.

Through our Center for Global Service Learning, perhaps LETU can join God in his work there. Please pray for opportunities to create unique learning experiences, ease human suffering, and bring glory to our God who seeks to redeem every workplace and every nation.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Graduates of Christ-like Character

This week, we had the pleasure of having Karisa Kaye, a 2009 graduate who is now a professional marriage and family therapist, come back to campus to teach as a guest lecturer in some of Dr. Melanie Roudkovski's and Dr. Phil Coyle's psychology classes.

Many of you might remember Karisa. She earned her bachelor's degree at LETU three short years ago in interdisciplinary studies with minors in Christian ministries, biology and psychology before attending Richmont Graduate University in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she became well-acquainted with Phil and Judi Coyle before they came to LETU.

As a transfer student from Alpena, Mich., Karisa initially came to LETU to play soccer and become a doctor, but she found her calling was more as a "doctor of the soul."

When talking about her undergraduate experience at LeTourneau, Karisa shares that members of the faculty her became like family to her, describing one as "like a second mom."  

She describes her experience in front of the classroom this week as a guest lecturer as "surreal" when she realized that just three years ago, she was on the other side of the lectern, and now, her professors have accepted her as a colleague.

She sees that her Christian faith is integral to the work God has called her to do. She understands that relationships matter, and in her work as a Christian marriage and family therapist in Maryland, she counsels hurting people dealing with trauma and intimacy issues.

Karisa is an excellent example of our LETU vision statement. She is a professional of Christ-like character, who is pursuing her calling and claiming her workplace as her mission field. She truly sees her work as a holy calling with eternal impact.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Quality of Urban Life

LeTourneau University sponsored a visit by Longview civic leaders to Chattanooga, Tenn., early this week. It was my pleasure to lead the group, and we were well represented on the trip with Bob Wharton and former Chattanooga residents Phil and Judy Coyle joining me. Why visit Chattanooga?

In a 1969 CBS evening news broadcast, famed newsman Walter Cronkite described Chattanooga as the "dirtiest city in America." The city was one of America's first industrial centers, but years of economic changes and accumulating water and air pollution had left the city a real mess -- especially in its downtown riverfront center. In the decades since Cronkite's report, Chattanooga has been one of America's great turn-around stories. The Chattanooga of today is beautiful with a redeveloped vibrant downtown, a beautiful river park, and a citizenry that obviously has great pride in their hometown.

When Volkswagen chose Chattanooga for its new auto assembly facility in 2008, it was because America's dirtiest city had transformed itself into one of America's most livable cities. It was the quality of life that attracted VW, but thousands of others have made individual decisions to move to Chattanooga. Our delegation heard the story of a young marketing executive from Atlanta who had visited Chattanooga as a tourist 12 years ago. He and his wife were so impressed, they made the choice to relocate and raise their young family in the city. It wasn't a job that brought him to Chattanooga; it was a decision to seek quality of life.

Longview's next several decades will be a time of redevelopment. Our city can't just keep expanding into unincorporated pastures. Instead, we must learn to redevelop many of the neglected neighborhoods within our city limits. Economic redevelopment is an opportunity in nearly all corners of our community and certainly in the South Longview neighborhoods that LETU calls home. Chattanooga demonstrates that with focus and patient, diligent work, even the dirtiest city in America can be redeemed.

There are many specific things we learned on our visit -- too many to list here. In summary, I was reminded that change begins with vision for a better community, one that details the quality of life we want for our children and grandchildren.  From vision comes a comprehensive master plan that directs the city's transportation, parks, utilities, land use and other essential programs into one unified direction toward the future we desire. With the master plan as its guide, Chattanooga demonstrated the need for a city to use creativity and collaboration to implement the plan, one project at a time, one neighborhood at a time, with realism that change takes time.

I have a vision of an attractive and business-filled entry way that connects our campus to Estes Parkway, I-20, and the airport beyond. I can imagine a comprehensive city bike and walking trail system that connects us to the rest of the community and a pedestrian and bike friendly path that would connect LETU to a redeveloped "Junction" neighborhood and then beyond to downtown.  If that vision is shared by others, then the next step would be the development of a master plan to guide change for years to come.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Global Reach, Local Impact

If you didn't get a chance to read yesterday's Longview News Journal editorial, I would encourage you to do so. Describing LeTourneau University as a "flourishing jewel" for our expanding global reach and local impact, LNJ Editor Ric Brack noted many of the great strides we have made in the past few years, including the construction of the Belcher Center, the Abbott Center, South Hall, the Joyce Athletic Village and, now, the new Anna Lee and Sidney Allen Family Student Center.

The editorial reads:
Make no mistake: These are major efforts that have a big impact on the economy of our city and region. And the student center represents a marquee addition to the tally of major construction projects in the Longview area, which also include expansions of our city's two hospitals, construction of streets and highways and a continuing strong home construction market.
As chairman of the Longview Chamber of Commerce this year, I have seen how blessed East Texas has been in comparison with so many other communities around the country since the economic meltdown of 2008. We are blessed, and we know it. And we are making the best use of this time to prepare for when the economy does turn around, and we seek to grow to 1,600 students on campus.

The LNJ editorial also notes that our new $27.5 million fundraising campaign is part of our growing outreach that supports our Center for Faith and Work and our Center for Global Service Learning. I was especially glad to see this:
One of the many things we appreciate about LeTourneau is how it finds ways to reach beyond the typical classroom and laboratory learning experience to give students a chance to put their imaginations and their faith to work in real-world situations. By so doing, it creates an exciting and rewarding learning experience for its students. But it also provides an example for all of us about how we might make our faith and our work more entwined. 
Every great city has a great university. Isn't it great to know that our fellow citizens are noticing the value of LETU? We can be proud to be seen as a "jewel" because we know our work will point some to the "pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:45).

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Joyful Day of Celebration

Monday was a joyful day of celebration for our university. Dozens of LETU faculty and staff members worked diligently to make it a very special day for our guests and students. I will always be grateful to you.

As we celebrated the gift of a new student center and of $18 million already pledged to our fundraising campaign, God added the gift of rain to farmers and ranchers worried about our parched land.

Mark Jonah reminded us in chapel Monday that celebration is one of the spiritual disciplines for everyday people that John Ortberg includes in his book, The Life You've Always Wanted. It is a study many of us are using with our life groups this fall.

Ortberg writes this:
True celebration is the inverse of hedonism. Hedonism is the demand for more and more pleasure for personal gratification. It always follows the law of diminishing returns, so that what produced joy in us yesterday no longer does today. Our capacity for joy diminishes. Celebration is not like that. When we celebrate, we exercise our ability to see and feel goodness in the simplest gifts of God. We are able to take delight today in something we wouldn't have even noticed yesterday. Our capacity for joy increases.

The celebration begun on Monday can continue in our hearts and daily draw us closer to a God who is the provider of all gifts. We can celebrate the 500 construction jobs that are being created in our community and the paydays those families will enjoy over the next 18 months. We can celebrate the work God is doing in the lives of hundreds of alumni and friends who will give to this building and to the other pillars of our "For Such A Time As This" campaign. There is so much joy awaiting us when we celebrate how God will transform the lives of students who will use the Allen Family Student Center. (Watch the construction progress here).

So, let Monday's celebration continue in our lives forevermore. In big buildings and small butterflies; in loud applause and in quiet hugs, let's take delight in His every gift. It will draw us closer to Him.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Pursuing Success: Rangers, Rankings & Retention

Last night, Marsha and I took our granddaughter to her first Texas Rangers game. It was a fun time. As you can imagine with a not-quite-three-year-old, Linley was in motion the entire game. A Josh Hamilton homerun gave her the opportunity to enjoy fireworks and to say sometime in the distant future that she saw a Hall of Famer hit one of his many homeruns.

It is simple to rank order major league baseball teams. Each team plays by the same set of rules with the singular goal of scoring more runs than the opponent. It is much more complex to rank order universities. Universities can have such vastly different missions and define success in very different ways. Reporting one university to be "ranked higher" than another is inherently a questionable task. Nevertheless, prospective students give attention to college rankings and so we must also be interested in what they imply about LETU, especially to those who don't know us well.

This week, U.S. News & World Report again ranked LeTourneau University in the top tier among "America's Best Colleges" for the 19th consecutive year. We ranked 6th among Texas "Regional" schools, and 36th among all western regional campuses across 14 states from Texas to Alaska.

The ranking includes LETU with universities such as Cal State-Sacramento and West Texas A&M - campuses with very different missions than us. Yet, we can learn some things from these rankings.

Take for example the percentage of students we graduate in six years. Among the 35 colleges ranked ahead of us, only two (New Mexico Institute of Mining and University of St. Thomas) graduate fewer students. According to U.S. News, only 48 percent of LETU students will graduate in six years.

We can do better. Our mission compels us to do better. That's why I was most impressed by our student retention performance in our official enrollment numbers which are just now being finalized. The percentage of our freshmen who returned for their sophomore year increased from 74 to 79%.

Better graduation rates begin with better first-year retention rates, and we've made big progress over the last year.

Congratulations to the many of you who have been helping our students be successful, persist and graduate.

Next week promises to be a great week for LeTourneau University. Monday we will have a major announcement during chapel and a groundbreaking celebration at 11:45. I encourage as many of you who can attend to be there.

Classes on campus are canceled until 3 p.m. Monday for the campus-wide celebration on the mall where there will be lunch and games for all. It will be a day to celebrate our God who has assembled us here for such a time as this.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Preparing for Celebration - September 17

As I am sure many of you have noticed, work crews and earth moving equipment are churning the dirt at the location of the old Skipper Cafeteria near the center of campus. This work is in preparation for laying a foundation on our new 60,000-square-foot student center.

Preparations are also well under way for our big, university-wide campaign announcement and ground breaking celebration on Monday, Sept. 17.

In chapel that morning beginning at 10:50, our worship arts professor Dr. Mark Jonah will speak on the topic of celebration. It is one of the messages based on the chapel theme of spiritual disciplines for ordinary people from the John Ortberg book, The Life You've Always Wanted. It is an especially fitting topic for that day.

Just before the end of chapel, we will make some exciting announcements that will have a positive impact on the university for years to come. The university community will then join together at the construction site, and with shovels in hand, we will hold a short groundbreaking ceremony and photo op, giving our students an opportunity to celebrate with an outdoor lunch and activities.

It will be a day for celebration, a day of joy and gratitude, a day to come together as a university family.   I hope you will all mark your calendars and plan to be a part of this special celebration.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Labor Day: Focusing on Work as Worship

Closing the gap between Sunday worship and Monday work is central to the mission of our Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University. Our goal is to help churches, small groups and individuals develop a biblical perspective on work. It is a vital part of our vision to reflect Jesus Christ in every workplace in every nation.

Our work matters to God. It's as simple as that.

Research shows that 93 percent of pastors say they want to help members of their congregations integrate their faith and work, but most of them realize they are not doing a good job of it.

Our executive director, Bill Peel, has done a commendable job of providing resources for churches and individuals to use to focus on work as worship for this coming Labor Day Sunday, in cooperation with The High Calling.

The Labor Day Sunday website provides free resources for churches to celebrate the gift of work. It provides video resources and sermon outlines for pastors on making Mondays meaningful, managing workplace anxiety, integrating faith and work in ways that can result in eternal value. These important messages deal with ways we can glorify God and serve others through our work and how our work is significant economically, morally, socially, relationally and even evangelistically.

These resources are available at the website here.

I hope you will take a few moments to personally visit the website and share it with the pastors at your churches. If you do, I believe you will be refreshed and blessed.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Taking Inventory

Monday's State of the University address truly brought closure to my first five years as president here at LeTourneau University.

I'm generally not good at stopping and taking inventory of life's events, but preparing my report this year forced me to do so.

From my first few months living on campus in apartment 17-B to the last few months I've spent on the road telling friends about our student center construction project, this past five years has been quite an exciting time for me professionally and personally.

When I review what we have accomplished, I see campus enhancements that have made an impact on student life here, like the Corner Café, the Abbott Center, South Hall and our new 60,000-square-foot Student Center on which we will soon break ground.

We also have launched our new Center for Faith and Work and our new Center for Global Service Learning, both of which are expanding LETU's reach into the world.  Our endowed scholarships have doubled.  Soon we are launching the public phase of our largest comprehensive fundraising campaign to date.

I am proud to be leading the LeTourneau Nation to embrace our unique calling to claim every workplace in every nation for Jesus Christ.

Pausing to take inventory and report to you on our progress toward our strategic vision was helpful and encouraging, but my greatest encouragement came afterward, when a friend sent me a reminder of the truth from 1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV):
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Whether I count a day's work as gain or loss toward our strategic goals, whether I consider my first five years a success or not, the truth of our faith is that no labor in the Lord is in vain. Each day with Him and for Him is a day of gain.

The full text of Monday's State of the University address is available here

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Sacred Work of Education

Over the years as a business school professor, I have come to respect Walmart and especially the story of founder Sam Walton (a native Oklahoman like me). But here's an admission: I really don't like to shop there! Too many people and too many lines I suppose.

This may be the only time of year I like to go to Walmart. Why? I like to look at the back-to-school supplies! I still get a kick out of browsing through new pencils, crayons, notebooks, and Pink Pearl erasers. I like to think about young children heading back to school with new backpacks and big hopes; and refreshed teachers returning to begin their good work in a great ministry  the classroom. In my opinion, education is a sacred work.

Just two weeks from today, on Aug. 23, we will welcome a new class of incoming freshman students to campus. Dr. Steve Condon and the Enrollment Services team are finishing work on what will be a very impressive new class. And our Office of Global Initiatives, under the direction of Dr. Robert Hudson, has recruited a record number of new international students to campus this fall. I know you will all be intentional about welcoming these new students from near and abroad, with broad smiles and genuine hospitality for which we are known at LeTourneau University.

This summer marked the completion of my fifth year as president. During my recent vacation with Marsha, I had some quiet time to reflect on the initiatives we have accomplished during this past five years, and where I feel God is leading us for the next foreseeable future. I look forward to sharing with you more about those reflections at my State of the University address in the Belcher Center on Monday, Aug. 20.

That address each year brings the entire LeTourneau Nation together. It is a special "family time" for us to greet some of our friends from other educational sites, to meet some of our new faces, and to kick off the new semester with a picnic lunch and stories of our summer adventures.

I pray that you feel as I do that we are blessed to be doing this sacred work of education, using the knowledge, skills and passion God has given each of us, to equip a new generation of graduates who will see their life's work as a holy calling and who will reflect Christ in every workplace in every nation.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Recruiting Ambassadors for Christ, With Honors

We are in the final days of recruiting our Fall 2012 cohort of new traditional program students. It will be September before we know new and returning enrollment totals, but two exciting characteristics of this new class are already known.

A record number of prospective students have applied for admission to LETU. This demonstrates a growing interest in the quality of the educational experience we offer here in Longview. We are making progress in more widely and effectively communicating to prospective students, and they see the value in an LETU degree.

The incoming class looks to be not just larger but also includes a record number of honors students.

Nearly 50 incoming freshmen honors students  double the number of honors students in any previous year  are scheduled to become a part of the LETU Honors College.  

The quality of these students, who bring a 1,400 SAT and 4.0 grade point average, is among the finest in the country!

Drs. Coyle, Mason and Condon are leading a reinvention of our honors program. This new program is now known as the LeTourneau Honors College.

Designed to promote spiritual, intellectual and social growth and service opportunities in line with LETU's Christ-centered mission, the Honors College is an academic and extracurricular community of highly ambitious and accomplished students who are already thinking about the leadership roles they will assume in the next two decades and how they will prepare for them. They come from a variety of majors. Just imagine the potential of this group as ambassadors for Christ in their chosen professions!

To be considered for acceptance into the LETU Honors College, these students provided applications featuring their accomplishments, extracurricular activities, church involvement, international experiences and spiritual commitment, as well as telephone and Skype interviews.

The first floor of Davis Hall was known as the Honors Commons for incoming freshmen last year, and with the expanded honors class, this year the first TWO floors will be designated as the Honors Commons. Steve Mason is currently serving as the Honors College director, assisted by Kate Gronewald.

God has blessed these students with high abilities. Join me in praying that these students will hear God's call for their lives and fully use their time with us to prepare themselves to be ambassadors for Christ wherever God may lead them.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer Storms & Lightning-Fast Recovery

Monday afternoon a strong summer storm erupted over the LETU campus in Longview.

Lightning caused some damage on campus that left several buildings without power and air conditioning. Power was turned off for about 15 minutes to the entire university Monday night while blown fuses were replaced.

The power outage shut down all the desktop computers on campus, but our IT generator kept the server and data operations running seamlessly until power was restored, so students in our online programs would not be adversely affected. Our IT teams were here late Monday to ensure no technology disruptions remained, and we appreciate their efforts.

Several heating and air conditioning motors needed to be replaced, including two in Tyler Hall that burned up and caused smoke, setting off a fire alarm and alerting the local fire department. Power was turned off to all of Tyler Hall East and West for safety reasons. Power there was restored by Tuesday, with work on the air conditioners at Tyler Hall to be completed before students return next month.

The air conditioning was out in Belcher Center, Education Building, Longview Hall, Heath Hardwick Hall, MSC and all the residence halls. Most everything was back up and systems were all reset and working by Monday night. Only Longview Hall and the Education Building remained, and they were restored by midday Tuesday. We owe a big thanks to Dan Fiedler and his facilities team for responding quickly to serve those of us at work and the campers who were staying in our Rez halls.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Serving Students with Excellence

Customer service matters.
It makes all the difference in how valued we feel by the world around us.

You may not think of yourself as an expert on good service, but I'm sure you are. After all, you are likely a customer somewhere on a daily basis. You've been satisfied and dissatisfied with the way you've been treated. You've been blessed by wonderful employees with warm servant hearts, and you've been cursed by employees who seem to blame you for all the ills of life.

We all know good service when we experience it — and our students know good service when they see it on our campus. So, what principles define good customer service? 

I just read "25 Principles of Good Academic Customer Service" by Dr. Neal Raisman & Associates. Here are some of their principles for service excellence on a college campus:

  • "Students can never be an inconvenience."
  • "Satisfaction is not enough and never the goal."
  • "Be honest in all communications. Do not patronize.
  • "Fulfill all promises."
  • "Everyone deserves an environment that is neat, bright, welcoming and safe."
  • "Train, trust and empower all employees to do what is right to help students."
  • "Care about graduating students, not just recruiting them."
  • "Every student and person on campus deserves a greeting and a smile from you. Provide them."

And my favorite:

  • "Do unto students as you would have done unto your son, your daughter, your mother or your father."

Why not define your own three or four good service principles and look for every opportunity to put them into practice? The next time I have the opportunity to help a student, I will ask myself, "If this were my daughter, how would I want someone to treat her?"

You might enjoy visiting their blog site for other helpful ideas as we seek to serve students with excellence.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Power of Personal Connections

A recent study indicates that something as simple as a student being an invited guest into a faculty or staff member's home can have a huge, positive impact on that student's entire college experience.

It's so simple. People matter more than programs.

The research was conducted over the past 10 years by sociologists Dan Chambliss of Hamilton College and Christopher Takacs of the University of Chicago. They wanted to learn what had the greatest effects on students' college experiences, what interventions led to student retention and success.

What they did was track a randomly selected cohort of Hamilton College students beginning in 2001, interviewing them every year in school and each year after they graduated, seeking to know what made the difference in their retention decisions and what things didn't matter.

They discovered that as student motivation fluctuates up and down, a key to motivating students is face-to-face contact - and it doesn't take much to make a big impact on a student's career.

In their interviews, the researchers were amazed how students and alumni could point to a single one-on-one conversation with a faculty member that made a difference.

It's a low-cost intervention that makes a huge impact on students. Being the right person at the right time for a student seems to have a disproportionate impact on their success and retention rates.

At LETU, we have the opportunity to improve student retention, to be the right person to listen, speak encouragement and provide motivation in a student's life when they need it. People, not programs, motivate students to stay with their LETU studies and to graduate. It is those personal connections that are crucial for students to succeed.

Results of this study will be included in a forthcoming book, "How College Works."  The authors' research was reported by Nick Pandolfo for MCT News Service in a recent issue of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) newsletter.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Changing History

Sometimes history changes so quietly, few notice. I believe we are living in such times. In just the last few years, new technologies have made it possible for our nation to become energy independent. For a generation now, we've made economic and political decisions based on the stark reality that the oil we needed to drive our cars was controlled by countries who exploited our dependence. In 2011, we spent $450.8 billion to buy foreign oil — nearly $1,500 for every American.

Now in places with names like Barnett, Haynesville, Eagle Ford and Marcellus, we have discovered enough natural gas to meet the needs of our nation for the next 100 years. Our discoveries have been so significant that the price of natural gas has dropped to record lows. One can now envision a future in which natural gas allows our nation to become energy independent with a fuel source that is less expensive and cleaner than foreign oil.

In my role as president of the Longview Chamber of Commerce, it was my pleasure yesterday to lead a delegation from our city including City of Longview Mayor Jay Dean and Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt to Mansfield, Louisiana, where we toured a facility and learned more about the conversion of autos from gasoline to CNG (compressed natural gas). Honda, Ford, Chevy and Chrysler are all building vehicles now that are adapted to run on CNG and for good reason: yesterday I saw customers filling their tanks with CNG for $1.79 per gallon rather than the $3.50+ most of us are paying for gasoline. Eventually, we will have a CNG fueling station in Longview to save local drivers money and create jobs in our region where much of our natural gas reserves have been found.

All this is really good news and we are blessed here at LeTourneau University to be in the middle of it all. From our Texas home, we will have exciting opportunities in the years to come as history changes, and cheap, clean energy fuels economic expansion and national security.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Commencement: Joy & God's Goodness

After 27 years of working in higher education, I've attended many graduation ceremonies. The commencement exercises we orchestrate here at LeTourneau University are the best I've seen anywhere. I like the balance we achieve in our ceremonies: we celebrate human achievement yet also clearly give God the glory for it all. Thanks to all of you who organized our three recent graduation ceremonies in Longview and Houston.

A graduation ceremony I will always remember happened this past Friday, and I wasn't on the stage or even dressed in mortar board and gown. My daughter Hannah graduated from Kilgore College Friday with her degree in nursing. The proud papa in me must brag that she graduated with honors and was recognized for the highest achievement in pediatrics study. God blessed Hannah with both beauty and brains, and I'm her biggest fan. Marsha and I were very happy that many family and friends came from afar to make the day even more special for Hannah.

College graduations are special events because college degrees are difficult things to earn. It requires sacrifice and patience; money and time. Marsha and I saw Hannah get up early for clinicals and stay up late to study for exams. We saw her fret over poor grades and celebrate good grades. We saw her balance the demands of being a full time student and a single mother. Because we were with her every step of the way, we wanted Friday's graduation to be one of the most special days in her life - a time for her to clearly see God's provision in her life.

I think when we have our next LETU commencement in December, I'll look differently at the proud papas in the audience.  I'll understand their joy and God's goodness just a little better than before.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Celebrating a Year of Achievements

More than 500 LETU graduates will proudly walk across the stages at Belcher Center in Longview and Houston's First Baptist Church to receive their degrees during these next two weeks. Adoring family and friends will watch the commencement services and celebrate these graduates' notable achievements. 

This year, we as a university have some notable achievements which we, too, can celebrate.

This year, we will award our first two Master of Science in Engineering degrees, and several new graduate programs have been approved for launch in the fall: marriage and family therapy, healthcare administration and school counseling. All of these degree programs help us expand as a university. And let's not forget that we began this academic year reaching over 1,000 in our online programs for the first time in our history.

LETU students excelled in so many ways this year, making us proud of them and of our university. One of our mechanical engineering students finished in the top 10 in a 3D computer modeling competition. LETU aviation students won First Place at the 2012 Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA) competition-for the second consecutive year. Our "Sting" Precision Flight Team won First Place at regional SAFECON competition, qualifying to compete nationally. Our engineering students recently competed in IEEE robotics competition and won first place for designing, building and testing a robot to harvest energy. Four LETU business students presented research at 2012 Economics Scholar Program conference sponsored by Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

Our scholar-athletes also excelled. The men's soccer team qualified for post-season play. Men's golf placed second in the American Southwest Conference. Softball had notable wins over three nationally ranked schools. Women's basketball missed the conference tournament by only one game. We held our first nighttime games in the history of the university and have seen an increase in awareness and of and attendance at LETU sporting events. And we started a new tradition of turning the bell tower lights blue to celebrate home game wins.  

We can all take pride in our faculty member Becky Teerink being named 2012 Teacher of the Year by the Association for Women in Aviation Maintenance. And we all have reason to celebrate that two of our biology graduates were accepted to medical schools for the fall. Several students this year competed and won valuable scholarships, such as Whitney Brouwer who won a $4,500 NBAA scholarship, Noelle Linstad who won an NSF grant to study green chemistry in India this summer, and Joy Cooper who won a $5,000 airbus leadership scholarship.

Also this year, we opened South Hall to its first residents. We renovated our Kielhorn welding/materials joining lab to make it the largest stand-alone facility of its kind in the country. We expanded the Glaske Building to provide much-needed faculty offices. And we completed and dedicated the Joyce Family Athletic Village to serve our intramural and intercollegiate athletic teams.  
For the third consecutive year, we continue to produce more classroom teachers than any other private school in the state. And we continue to enjoy a top tier U.S. News ranking as one of "America's Best Colleges," and are listed prominently among the 2012 best engineering schools and up and coming universities. The website ranked LETU as the top online Christian university in the nation this academic year, and ranked our Master of Arts in Counseling as the 8th best in the nation.

There are numerous reasons to celebrate what God is doing at LETU, and at May 2012 graduation ceremonies, we will witness over 500 additional displays of God's good favor upon us.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Trust in God

I recently returned from Washington D.C. where it was my honor to lead a Longview Chamber of Commerce delegation. It was an opportunity to learn and also educate federal officials on issues of significance to East Texas: oil and gas, transportation, and small business.

It is a difficult time in Washington. We are in the midst of a passionate debate about the scope of federal government and how we should pay for the government we want. On a special visit to the floor of the House and Senate on Monday, I saw that it is physically impossible for our legislators to do their work without seeing the nation's motto "In God We Trust" above their heads as they speak and deliberate in their chambers. It feels to me that we need this guiding principle now more than ever.

Trust in God is something we understand at LETU. One of our honors students, Julia Thurber, writes in her blog post on that she is trusting God to heal her as she undergoes chemotherapy for Stage 4 Hodgkin's lymphoma. She writes that she misses her friends at LeTourneau and that there are days when she's scared, but she trusts that God is always in control and is taking care of her.

Julia knows she is not going through this struggle alone. Several LETU students shaved their heads last week and Skyped with her to show their love and support. They even donated their cut hair to the same nonprofit that provided Julia with a free wig. If you haven't seen this story on our local TV station news, you can see it here.

Throughout all of our daily struggles, whatever they are, we are encouraged to live our lives trusting in God, as Proverbs 3:5-6 reads, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Unveiling the Joyce Family Athletic Village

Today we celebrate a special moment in the history of the university. We have the opportunity to thank some generous donors for making an investment in the lives of the university that will directly benefit our students and the athletic programs now and for many years to come.

We are unveiling the new Joyce Family Athletic Village, which includes more than $1.5 million in renovations over the past two years, including improvements to grading, irrigation and drainage for all of the athletic fields used for soccer, baseball, softball and intramurals. Improvements also included new scoreboards, new brick field backstops for baseball and softball, expanded seating for spectators, ornamental fencing and monument gates.

One of the most significant upgrades included lighting the fields which enabled LETU teams to play their first home nighttime games in the school's 65-year history. Because the lighting allows us to schedule games at night, we have been able to reduce the number of hours that student-athletes have to miss classes for games.

These new fields have already served hundreds of student-athletes, as well as more than 700 outdoor intramural participants this academic year.

We are grateful to Joe Bob Joyce and his wife, Lou Ann, and their family for their generosity in providing a significant lead gift, but also for encouraging the many others who have provided this much-needed funding for this project. Without their leadership, this project would not have been possible.

Our gratitude also extends to Eastman Chemical, after which we are naming our intramural fields as The Eastman Intramural Fields.

Others who have partnered with us significantly on this project include Joe and Paula Nowiczewski, Texas Bank and Trust, Bill Hibbs of Hibbs Hallmark Insurance, Trey Patterson of Patterson Nissan, AEP/Southwestern Electric Power, Community Bank, East Texas Mack Sales, Nancy and Al Mendez and Dean and Brenda Waskowiak of Encore Multimedia.

To all of these donors, we say thank you!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Eternal Impact

Business owner Bill Job may have studied philosophy in college, but a short conversation with him reveals an entrepreneurial and self-made engineering mind in the mold of our founder, R.G. LeTourneau. It was an honor to have Bill visit LeTourneau this week. He came here hoping to find an engineering intern for his composites manufacturing company.

He believes business should have an eternal objective. Yes, profit and job creation are important, but something much more is possible. We call it "eternal impact" in our LETU vision. Bill sees the potential of Christian love demonstrated in workplace relationships to change eternity for those involved. It is his personal story. He became a Christian while serving in the U.S. Navy. As he tells the story, his "drinking buddy" in San Diego eventually led him to a church where he experienced genuine loving relationships he had never known. Relationships in the workplace changed Bill's eternity, and he wants that for others.

This vision led him to China where he was one of the first to create a business that demonstrated Christian principles. This short video shows images of Bill's work there.

Bill's business in China did not escape the worldwide economic collapse of 2008. He told me of the pain of saying goodbye to many of his Chinese workers whom he could no longer employ. God taught Bill in these tough economic times that the love of God continues for his former employees even after Bill can no longer love them in his workplace.

And now Bill is recreating his business in China with a new manufacturing process. That's what brings him to LETU: in hopes of finding engineering students with an interest in applying their LETU ingenuity in China. I have always had a special love for the Chinese people. I am amazed to see what God is doing there. What might God do with Bill's visit to LETU this week?

As you read this, I'm traveling to Seattle where I will meet with LETU alumni and spend time on the campus of Seattle Pacific University. I will have to miss the fun at LETU's 2012 Homecoming events this weekend as we welcome the 50th reunion of the Class of 1962, our "Golden Jackets." Other reunions include those who, over the years, sang in LeTourneau choirs and bands, as well as Tau Kappa Delta, Delta Sigma Psi and Club. There are many activities planned. A complete schedule of events is located here

I hope you will all take a moment to welcome our returning alumni when you see them, and let them know how glad we are that they are returning to their alma mater this weekend.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

He is Risen

As servant leaders in so many churches throughout East Texas, many of you have been busy preparing for Easter Sunday.  

There will be special music and messages. In some churches, there will be additional services. Pews will be crowded and parking will be at a premium. The Luby's cafeteria will have a long wait for lunch this Sunday.

And mothers will have the treat of being surrounded in church by children and grandchildren who have come from far and wide to share this special day. For some, Easter will be the only time this year that their spouse joins them in worship and prayer. This Sunday will be the only Sunday this year for many to step into a community of believers.

Our neighbors and friends will be in church this Easter, but where will they be Monday morning? For those not connected with a church family, where will they find family and friends?  For those not blessed to experience the Word of God regularly, where will they seek wisdom for life's challenges?

As crowded as our churches will be on Sunday, workplaces on Monday will be even more crowded. As intentional as we will be to greet visitors Easter Sunday, we can touch even more lives in our work during the other 364 days of the year.

What if we prepared for our daily work in the same way we prepare for Easter Sunday? The same God who seeks to touch hearts this Sunday, also seeks to redeem lives Monday through Friday.  

I dream of what God might do with an army of Christ followers who begin each and every workday with a heart fixed on the truth that "He is risen. He is risen, indeed!" I know the workplace where most people seek friendships, wisdom for living, and self affirmation would be a changed place.

View my special Easter message to the LeTourneau Nation here.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Faith & Fanciful Footwork

As a large organization, LETU makes a significant economic impact in East Texas. However, I believe an even bigger impact is made by the servant leadership of our staff and students. Take Melanie Roudkovski, Pat Mays and Jeninne McNeill for example. They serve on the board of directors of East Texas CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children. CASA volunteers are adults in the community who are trained to be advocates in court for abused and neglected children facing foster care placements. For more information on East Texas CASA, see their website:

With respect for the sacrifices Melanie, Pat and Jeninne were making at CASA, I had to say 'yes' when they invited me to be a 'celebrity dancer' in an upcoming fundraiser. This has required me to step outside my comfort zone and learn something about ballroom dance.

Here are a few lessons I've learned from ballroom dance:

  • Dancers keep their eyes in a window as they move around the floor. No, real ballroom dancers don't get lost in the eyes of their partners. Instead, they are fixed on a window over their partner's shoulder that allows them to move without bumping into others.  
  • While the feet and even the arms may be moving quickly, the core of the body remains steady and strong. 
  • The audience wants to see a big smile even more than fancy footwork.

Perhaps I shouldn't be searching for life lessons in this new experience for me, but the above does seem to ring true of the dance floor as well.  

We are all more resilient when we keep our eyes looking ahead rather than at the ground below us. We can't afford to stop thinking about where we are going. Especially when things are moving quickly around us, we need a stable center, a core of values that we know to be true. This is one of the most wonderful parts of our Christian walk: the knowledge that real truth exists and that our Christ holds all things together. Finally, I've been reminded that a smile goes a long way in reaching out to those around us.

The CASA event Saturday night is a sellout, which means much money is being raised to support abused and neglected children in East Texas. I will really need to smile BIG, because my footwork will be far from fanciful.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Professionals of Ingenuity and Christlike Character

Last week, Marsha and I spent several days with LETU friends in San Antonio and Austin. I really enjoyed sharing dinner with LETU alumna Amy Davis. When Amy came to LETU in 2002 as a freshman from Boerne, Texas, she had plans to be an engineer but credits LETU with helping her find her true calling in the legal profession.

After earning her undergraduate degree in history and political science from LETU and serving as LETU student body president, she earned her law degree from the University of Texas in 2010, where she was editor in chief of the Texas Review of Law and Politics. Today she is an attorney with Cox Smith Matthews in San Antonio.

Amy talked to a group of LETU friends about how much she valued her LETU education. She talked of the encouraging mentoring of professor Paul Kubricht who opened her eyes to law school. She reported how well prepared she was for law school. Extensive research papers and oral presentations required of her at LETU gave her an advantage over other new law students.

Amy is wise to understand that the LETU experience must include both Christ-centered spiritual growth and academic excellence. As we say in our vision statement: our graduates are professionals of ingenuity and Christlike character.

Tom Leppert has also noticed the quality of our students. As mayor of Dallas, he honored our MBA students in 2009 for their work for a nonprofit organization in Dallas known as the Ferguson Road Initiative.

Our LETU business students provided valuable strategic analysis and outcomes assessment studies that were useful in the organization's successful proposal to acquire a $1 million grant from the United States Department of Justice. The grant helped the organization expand its neighborhood clean-up program and ensure long-term economic growth and a better quality of life.

Leppert visited campus yesterday to speak in chapel to students about his experience integrating his Christian faith and his professional work in business and civic service. His visit was organized through our Center for Faith and Work, which continues to promote the value of integrating these vital areas of our lives and to see our work as a holy calling with eternal impact.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Hopefulness of Spring

I've traveled three of the last four weekends. Today, I head south to visit with alumni, friends and trustees in the San Antonio and Austin area. A number of us from campus will be in San Antonio for what looks like a rainy retreat of nearly half our Board of Trustees.

The Longview downtown Rotary Club invited me to speak this week. They were interested in hearing my perceptions of our students. I told the group that this generation is very different than mine. This "iY Generation," as author Tim Elmore labels them, is overconnected, overserved and overwhelmed.

I also find that while struggling with worry to be sure, our students are willing to serve, to lead and to face the problems they inherit from my generation. Their optimism makes me hopeful.

We must be hopeful as we watch over 100 of our students leave on Friday for Spring Break Missions trips around the country. We have groups going all across the country to help where their talents and interests can be used to assist ministries all working to expand God's kingdom. Two new trips this year through Buckner International will take our students to South Texas where they will help a local church build a home for a needy family, and another group will conduct a church sports camp to teach leadership, sportsmanship and share the Gospel with local children. Friday's chapel commissioning service will be a great send-off.

Next weekend I'm staying home to enjoy the budding azaleas all around my yard! Our God, the creator of the universe, who makes all things new is demonstrating rebirth for us again this spring. It's a great time to live in Longview, Texas!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Integration of Faith & Work

I'm traveling today to Washington, D.C. with our Center for Faith and Work director Bill Peel. We will spend the weekend with a group of men very interested in this goal of integrating their professional lives and their faith lives. The New Canaan Society is a network of men committed to living pure, speaking truth, righting wrong, and worshiping the King. People like Tim Keller and Bob Buford will be there to speak. I'm looking forward to learning more about how our Center can serve men who have been ministers in their workplaces.

A reminder that the integration of faith and work is a timely issue came in the news yesterday. Northeastern University in Boston announced that Chick-Fil-A restaurants would not be allowed to come to campus as part of their renovated student center. The Student Senate at Northeastern voted against inviting Chick-Fil-A because the company has been funding anti-gay organizations. The "Equality Matters" website reports that the restaurant and its WinShape Foundation gave $2 million to anti-gay groups like the Marriage and Family Legacy Fund which is seen as being against gay marriage.

We've been honored to have Chick-Fil-A founder Truett Cathy on campus. His son Dan, who is now president of the restaurant, responded that Chick-Fil-A is not anti-anyone.

For the record, if anyone from Chick-Fil-A is reading this, LeTourneau University would be more than happy to have you on our campus. Come on! We would be happy to be associated with a great organization that seeks business excellence with faithfulness to God and His institutions like marriage.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Joy of Learning With Students

It's been such a long time since I taught my first college class. That first lecture was given in August 1985 to a Principles of Marketing class at Oklahoma State University. For someone who had graduated from a small, private university, it was intimidating to lead a typical OSU business class with over 200 students. I felt very inadequate and was convinced my new career was over before it started when I realized that the daughter of the Governor of Oklahoma was one of my students. Certainly, she was with her Dad on the weekends complaining about that graduate student teaching her marketing class!

Somehow I managed to get through that first semester without a call from the Governor. Eventually, I discovered that I loved to teach and had a God-given talent for it. This semester, I'm teaching my first class at LETU and rediscovering the joy of learning with students. It's been a joy interacting with our fantastic students in a new way.

The Marketing Research class I'm leading this semester has nothing in common with that 1985 class at Oklahoma State. I have 23 students this term rather than over 200. In that first course, I focused on being an effective lecturer and exam writer. Now, I see myself much more as a facilitator or learning coach. Most of the learning in the course happens in the context of a marketing research project being designed and implemented for Texas Bank & Trust. As is the great historical strength of an LETU education, it is a hands-on class of learning by doing. Perhaps in 1985, students needed me to serve up facts. Students today have phones in their pockets that can serve up the facts. What they lack is the experience in using the information. That learning experience is what I can orchestrate.

The student groups presented their research proposals to Texas Bank & Trust marketing executives Wednesday, and each of the four groups that presented were impressive! With the feedback they received at the bank, they will complete their research in the remaining weeks of the term. With a few lectures and much more coaching, I am enjoying teaching these students much more than I enjoyed that first intimidating class so long ago.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Student Center Project Update

We've erected signs at the site of our new Student Center, and so it's an appropriate time to provide you an update on our progress in meeting the needs of our residential campus. A student center has been on our campus master plan for over a decade.

Why do we need such a facility? Currently, our 1,200 Longview students have about 1,200 square feet of student center space they can use in the MSC. The Hive, Common Grounds, and limited tables are just not adequate for a student body that comes from all over the nation to call our campus home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our residential students need adequate space to study together, play together, talk together, and take full advantage of this wonderful Christ-centered community that we enjoy here at LETU. Likewise, our commuter students need space to be productive while on campus.

Our new student center will provide such a space. The center will include a beautiful commons gathering space with a variety of comfortable furnishings, lit by a dramatic 2-story glass wall that will provide a panoramic view of the campus mall. The Hive and Common Grounds will relocate to this building and will be a popular location to meet over a cup of coffee or a sandwich and enjoy conversation with others from across campus. Outside the interior commons, the large terraced patio will offer an ideal location for programmed events or just for relaxing outdoors. A game room that students have already been active in designing will provide a fun space for them to enjoy and build friendships and make lasting memories. A number of conference rooms will be available for students to study together in groups. A multi-purpose meeting space will be a busy place within this facility providing opportunity for small or large group gatherings and events. Student services and administrative support will also be conveniently placed in this building which is being constructed at the crossroads of student and faculty traffic between the Belcher Chapel and the Corner Café.

You get the idea: this center will change the way we work and study together. We expect this 60,000-square-foot building to cost $14 million to construct. The Board has previously identified $7 million in financing, and we have been working to seek the final $7 million from donors. We have already received a large naming gift, a significant foundation gift, and many other generous donations. In fact, we are about 80% to our fundraising goal, but we won't start construction until our fundraising is complete. Once construction is started, we anticipate the project to take 18 - 20 months to complete.
Why are we building new residence halls and student centers when our operating budgets are so tight? The decision to build South Hall was made when we were effectively at capacity for residential students. To not build South Hall would have been a decision to not grow enrollment or to grow only by adding commuter students. Likewise, the student center is required if we are to recruit and retain residential students. I don't see it as a luxury but a necessity to create the type of special Christ-centered experience that we seek for students. Our non-residential academic programs in GAPS are very important, but the heart of LeTourneau University is the unique experience we can offer students at the corner of Mobberly and Green. Facilities are important.

Why do we want to grow enrollment? First and foremost, we want to graduate more students each year because we are called to claim workplaces in every nation for Jesus Christ, and our students can be God's redemptive agents in those workplaces. Additionally, we need to grow enrollment to keep our residential campus economically viable. Today, our enrollment is too small to finance the type of outstanding educational experiences that we all want to provide our students. We have capacity to grow and if God so provides, you will see a difference in the funds available for our operating budget.

The student center is not the only fundraising effort underway. In fact, we are now talking with important friends about a comprehensive campaign for the university: a campaign that seeks gifts for student scholarship aid, faith and work programming, faculty development, and global service learning programming. We have needs in all these areas.

Fundraising has and will make a difference, but enrollment growth through more effective student recruitment and retention will make the biggest impact on the future of our campus. So many are hard at work to make this goal happen, and we will be successful. I am absolutely confident that God will complete the good work that he has started here at LeTourneau University.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

LeTourneau Heritage

Today we are honored to welcome nearly 100 of the brightest high school students from all over the country to LeTourneau University as they compete for our most prestigious scholarship--the Heritage Scholarship.

The Heritage Scholarship is applied toward tuition costs and is renewable for up to eight semesters, with a value in excess of $96,000. Ten Heritage Scholarship recipients will be selected.

To qualify to attend this invitation-only event, these high school students are required to have scored a 1300 on the SAT or 29 on the ACT exam and have a cumulative high school grade point average of at least 3.65. They compete by writing essays and participating in a team-building leadership challenge judged by LETU faculty and staff and former Heritage Scholarship winners.

Very good news: this group is one of the largest in the last 10 years to come to LETU to compete! Not just impressive in size, the group is impressive in quality also: 53 class valedictorians, 10 National Merit Finalists. These students are coming from 27 states, including Alaska, and from nations as far away as Kenya and Japan. The students competing this year plan to major in engineering, aviation, business, the arts and sciences. They will be staying with our students in residence halls all over campus.

The success of this program doesn't happen by accident. It is a campus-wide effort. I especially want to recognize Dr. Steve Condon and the Admissions team of counselors who identified and called each of the "Heritage eligible" students several times to encourage them to visit LETU. Our provost and associate provost have called and sent emails to parents of these bright students. The deans are accompanying the students to tonight's performance of "Riverdance."

I encourage you to give them all a warm LeTourneau welcome. And join me in praying that each and every student God has called to LETU will join us next fall.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

In God We Trust

Marsha and I are with the CCCU presidents at our annual meeting in Washington, D.C. this week. It is always a helpful time to reconnect with our broad cause of Christian higher education.

With a free couple of hours this week, I visited a new small exhibit in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History where the "Jefferson Bible" has been restored and is now on exhibit. I have always been fascinated with this product of Thomas Jefferson's life.

Created by our nation's third president in 1820, Jefferson's Bible is a book of passages from the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, that he cut and pasted in four columns in Greek, Latin, French and English.  

A work of his own hands, he made the book for his own reading and reflection and not as something he ever planned to publish. Only a few in his closest circle even knew about it. The book remained in his family until 1895 when his great-granddaughter sold it to the Smithsonian Institution where it eventually became too fragile to be displayed. In 2011, its restoration was completed and it was returned for display. See it here.  

It seems that the same 'cut and paste' continues to be underway in our culture and in our church. Our nation tries to embrace our heritage but cut away our faith in God. In response, Congress last November had to reaffirm 'In God we Trust' as our national motto. (See Fox News story).

Even within the community of believers, we struggle with what to take from the Holy Scriptures and what to cut away.

One particularly regrettable note about Jefferson's Bible is how it ends. He includes no passages about the resurrection of Christ or the power of His sacrifice over sin.  

After Jefferson's cutting of God's word those parts that he found contrary to reason, Jefferson's Bible ends:

"Now in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulcher, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher and departed. "

I'm convinced the story didn't end there.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Learning Beyond the Lab

I hope you had the opportunity to read about our engineering professor Norman Reese and his "Frontier Wheelchair" project on the front page of Sunday's Longview News-Journal. (See it here.)  And I hope you didn't miss the newspaper's editorial on Tuesday, "Good works: LeTourneau wheelchair project offers a lesson all can learn from." (See it here.) Local television station KETK also interviewed the students working on the project. (See their story here.)

Professor Reese's mechanical engineering students are working to improve wheelchairs used in developing countries -- where terrain and streets (or the lack of) are quite different than here in the U.S. His students traveled to Guatemala over Christmas break where they worked with Hope Haven International Ministries to improve the wheelchair being manufactured there.

Karen Rispen and students in the School of Arts & Sciences have additional wheelchair research underway. Professor Rispen's "Wheels" project has been at work in Africa now for a couple of years. Both Norman and Karen are focusing on the unique needs of the disabled in developing nations.

The Longview News-Journal editorial writers captured the spirit of LeTourneau ingenuity when they wrote:

"As often is the case at LeTourneau, this teaching project is going far beyond the typical classroom and lab learning experience. It is teaching students cultural sensitivity and giving them experience working with those who have different abilities.

And it should teach all of us that sometimes seemingly small changes and caring, along with a willingness to use our own skills for a greater good, have the potential to make big impacts in the lives of others."

As Professor Kelly Liebengood leads the development of our Center for Global Service Learning, that's our focus: creating unique learning experiences where lives are improved and God is given the glory.