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.