Thursday, September 29, 2016

Remembering a Faith & Work Leader

Howard E. Butt, Jr., a leader of the Faith and Work movement, recently died in his home in San Antonio at the age of 89. Link here.

If you don't recognize Howard Butt's name, you probably know his business, the H-E-B grocery store chain, which also operates Central Market grocery stores, and the H.E. Butt Family Foundation.

H-E-B was founded by his grandmother, Florence Butt, in 1905, when she moved her sick husband and three small sons to Kerrville, Texas, from Memphis, Tenn.

Today, H-E-B is a $20 billion enterprise that is ranked in the top 20 of Forbes' list of "America's Largest Private Companies" and operates more than 350 grocery stores throughout Texas and Mexico. Until 1976, H-E-B stores remained closed on Sundays.

The late Texas business executive and our founder, R.G. LeTourneau, had a similar worldview. They both saw their daily work as a holy calling. They both learned to rely on God's provision in their families and businesses. They both were well acquainted with Billy Graham and both traveled around the country as preachers on the church revival circuit.

Our LETU Center for Faith & Work has partnered with the Butt Foundation on a number of projects including articles for The High Calling of Our Daily Work, Making Mondays Meaningful (a curriculum to help churches make whole-life disciples), and most recently the upcoming Faith@Work Summit in Dallas on Oct. 27-29, which will bring together speakers from all over the world to discuss advancing the call to find God in our workplaces--which is something that R.G. LeTourneau and Howard E. Butt understood so well.

Also like LeTourneau, the Butt family had an eye toward philanthropy, contributing a percentage of its earnings to improve the communities where it operates, from promoting education to supporting food banks and disaster relief efforts.

H.E. Butt Family Foundation was first established in 1933 with a mission committed to "the renewal of society through the renewal of the Church; Church renewal through the renewal of the family; family renewal through renewed individuals."

In 1961, Butt founded the 1,900-acre Laity Lodge in the Texas Hill Country to provide a mental and spiritual retreat center where Christians could decompress from their frenetic lives and find God and experience peace of mind.

Laity Lodge ministry may be one of Butts' greatest legacies, along with his "High Calling of our Daily Work" radio ministry that provided insights and practical biblical wisdom.

God is redeeming all of creation - including the workplace and the marketplace. Like R.G. LeTourneau, Howard Butt was called to be part of this re-creation. It's our joy to also be part of God's renewal.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

LETU Nursing: Healing East Texas

East Texas is not a healthy place. Residents of the 35 counties of Northeast Texas are more likely to die from stroke, heart disease and cancer than other Texans, according to a recent study. In fact, if Northeast Texas was its own state, the research concluded, we would rank worst in the U.S. for stroke deaths and 49th in fatal heart disease.

The report reminded me of the potential of our new LETU School of Nursing. The students we educate here can make a real difference to our region.

Our School of Nursing Dean Kimberly Quiett and her nursing faculty, Jennifer Bray and Shirley Ballard, recently hosted a successful visit by a three-member Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education accreditation team that was here last Wednesday through Friday.

CCNE is the autonomous accreditation arm of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The CCNE is officially recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as a national accreditation agency that contributes to the improvement of public health by ensuring the quality and integrity of undergraduate, graduate and residency nursing programs.

The CCNE accreditation team was here to verify information in our self-study that was submitted to them back in July. Their primary purpose is quality assurance and they came to confirm that what we say is evidenced in our work.

For example, they reviewed student assignments, our policies and procedures, and the university handbook and the nursing school's handbook. They looked to see what kind of support the school received from the university administration, both physically and fiscally. They reviewed budget reports, toured our physical layout, our lab facilities to make sure that we deliver on what we promised in our self-study.

The CCNE team met with people across the university to ensure we provide good customer service to our students, including our library services, tutoring and student life support. They were also interested that we participate in quality assurance and institutional effectiveness programs.

To meet national accreditation, we have to show connection between our course objectives and our program outcomes and our school goals and our university goals.

So, why is this CCNE accreditation important? Students can qualify for outside scholarships that can only be used at nationally accredited schools. Students interested in going into the military need to graduate from a nationally accredited school. And graduate nursing schools generally prefer applicants from nationally accredited schools, which makes our students more competitive.

Although I'm sure our program was well regarded, the final results of the team's assessment and the CCNE's decision will not be revealed until around April.

I expect LETU nursing to become the premier Christian nursing program in this region, and CCNE accreditation will help us reach that distinction.

Dean Quiett and her faculty have built a curriculum that integrates Christian virtues into the practice of nursing. We've just begun to market our new program and recruit the best students to LETU. Let's pray God uses our work to heal East Texas.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

70 Years of Spiritual Development

We've reached our official "census" date for this new academic term and God has provided 2,712 students for us to serve in Fall 2016.  That's down slightly from last year at this time but significantly more than the handful of students who gathered for LETU's first academic term 70 years ago in Fall 1946. 

Our alumni now stretch all across the earth:  it's literally true to say the sun never sets on the LeTourneau Nation!  Our university's impact into workplaces and nations has grown significantly since our founding.  Praise the Lord for what He done, is doing, and for what He will do in the next 70 years.

1,236 of our Fall 2016 students are enrolled in the residential campus program and 856 are living on campus.  The spiritual growth of these students through our Chapel is a long-standing element of the LETU experience.  Today was the first meeting of our Chaplain Search committee, formed to conduct a national search to fill the vacancy created when Dr. Harold Carl left us this summer after 14 years of noteworthy service.  Harold and Gwen are now living close to their son near Kansas City and have assumed the most fun role of life:  being grandparents!

Dr. Kristy Morgan, our Dean of Students, will chair the search committee.  I'm grateful for the students, faculty and staff who are willing to serve on the committee.  Our goal is to identify top candidates, bring them to campus for interviews, and have a new chaplain in place for the Spring 2017 academic term.  I'm so grateful to our missionary in residence Marv Smith and others who are administering our chapel programs in the interim.  It's been a thought-provoking Spiritual Emphasis Week with distinguished visitors guiding our students in asking the hard questions of our faith.

Please join me in praying for an approachable leader who will lead and facilitate the spiritual formation of our students.  Because that is the core task of this position, we will update the position title to "Campus Pastor" in place of the current "Chaplain."  Our students need a shepherd; someone to lead them and feed them as they develop intellectually and spiritually during their LETU years. 
The Campus Pastor will continue to manage our chapel program including worship, our growing small group "Life Group" opportunities, and ministry with LeTourneau Student Ministries (LSM) through our great tradition of spring break mission trips. 

Join me in asking God to bring someone who understands the unique context of spiritual formation in the life of a college student and someone equipped to pastor students who come from a growing diversity of faith backgrounds and cultures.  The Christian virtues are best taught and transferred in community, and so let's pray for a Campus Pastor who understands the process of spiritual formation in community.

Even as we seek a Campus Pastor, let's also affirm that the spiritual formation of our students is the responsibility of all of us -- it's not just something that happens in Chapel. On this 70th anniversary of LETU, let's recommit to our own spiritual development and the discipleship of all those in our community.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Hands-On Virus Hunters

As I mentioned in my state of the university report August 15, our biology students have an extraordinary opportunity to participate in research.

It's the latest example of the unique educational experience at LETU. 

When Blake Maxfeldt arrived as a freshman biology major and baseball pitcher, he didn't know he would get to do hands-on research his first year in college, or that would get his name in the newspaper for finding and naming a new virus. But that's just what he did.

Maxfeldt found a new virus after digging in the dirt in a flowerbed by the Solheim Recreation Center to get a moist soil sample as part of a research project in Dr. Greg Frederick's freshman biology class.

LETU is one of only a handful of universities in Texas, and the only one in East Texas, working on this "virus hunter" project in coordination with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Maxfeldt decided to name the new virus the Solheim virus, and it is one of the first novel viruses to be isolated on the LETU campus.

Hands-on learning is one of the hallmarks of a LeTourneau University education. This is one example where LETU students learn through hands-on research and real world applications that many students at other universities only get to do as graduate students.

Frederick says the goal of the HHMI program is to identify new viruses that can infect and kill bacteria that cause diseases, like tuberculosis.

Maxfeldt, who is now a sophomore, says he already knows the work he is doing will stand him in good stead in a few years when he applies to graduate schools. He wants to be an orthodontist.