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.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Creating the Future

The gavel was passed to me as the new chair of the Longview Chamber of Commerce Tuesday night by 2011 chair Anne Hugman at the annual Longview Chamber of Commerce banquet at the Maude Cobb Convention Center.

During my remarks, I spoke about the bright future ahead for Longview. We have avoided the terrible economic downturn that many cities now face. Our employment rates are much better than the state and national averages. Our housing market has remained strong. Our Longview Chamber of Commerce was recognized this year as one of the best in the nation -- in fact, we were runner-up for "Chamber of the Year" honors.  

Our goals are to build opportunity for businesses to grow and prosper. Everyone wins when our business community can do what it does best -- create jobs. One of our goals is educating small businesses on best practices to help ensure their success. We want to encourage in even the smallest businesses a commitment to continuous improvement. I hope to also work with the Longview Economic Development Corporation this coming year to stimulate entrepreneurship and new business start-ups.

Another goal is to organize a group of city leaders to travel on a visioning trip to another city -- to see first-hand how others have created economic development and improved the quality of life.

Peter Drucker, the late renowned management expert, said the best way to predict the future is to create it. I hope Longview will seize that grand idea in the same way we are seizing it here at the university. We are balancing budgets in today's challenging economy while also making investments for future growth -- looking past today and toward tomorrow with a vision for what is possible.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Spiritual Development: A Community Endeavor

"Many people are rejecting our gospel today, not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial." The late John Stott's observation really challenges me. I shared it in our first chapel service of the Spring 2012 term yesterday.

We can inadvertently "trivialize" the gospel when we see our spiritual growth as a purely personal experience. When we talk about growing spiritually as a personal discipline much like we would describe attending yoga class or learning a foreign language, it will seem trivial to those around us. It seems to me that we must think about spiritual development as a community endeavor. The gospel is relevant not because it changes me personally, but because it has the power to change you; it has the power to "make all things new."

Our university strategic plan emphasizes the spiritual development of our students. Spiritual growth happens when students commit to grow with each other, when faculty commit to disciple students, when faculty and staff seek to grow together.

Bill Kielhorn certainly understood the power of growing together in a Christian community. He invested 45 years in the lives of our students. I've had more than one alumnus tell me that Bill was "just like a father to me." There was nothing trivial about the way Bill lived a life of faith and learning. He never missed a class and he gave God the glory every opportunity he had. He understood that a LeTourneau education is about information and formation -- the equipping for professional competence and the development of Christ-like character. As we celebrate his legacy this week and mourn with his wife, Betty, I understand better the opportunity we have to make an eternal difference here at LETU.