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 CafĂ©.

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.