Friday, April 27, 2018

Living Testimonies of God's Grace

We are just over week away from Spring commencement, and while every graduation day is filled with wonderful stories of achievement and God's grace, this graduation day features a student story I will never forget.

Maria Alchammas arrived here from Syria in 2013, and next week, she will graduate with her Bachelor of Science in biology. As their home country fell into war, Maria's father sent his daughters, son and wife out of the country to save them. Maria and her siblings were enrolled in a Catholic school in Damascus; a school that became a bombing target for radical Muslim terrorists that had invaded Syria. As a young girl, Maria saw church friends murdered. Each day, every decision to shop or go to church or visit family was done in fear of a car bomb or a terrorist shooter in a public place.

Maria's parents made the difficult decision to send their children far away to save their lives. As Maria left for the U.S., the family had real doubt they would ever be together again.

Maria's mother and their youngest child were able to follow Maria into the U.S., but Maria's father, who was a dentist, was repeatedly denied a visa to leave.

Over the years, many of us prayed with Maria that her father would soon be reunited with their family. Each day of her years studying at LETU, Maria would wake to check the death reports from Syria, fearing the worst for her father.

Just a few months ago, the U.S. awarded Maria's father asylum, and he has joined his family in Longview. It's an answer to prayer, and it came in time for him to see his daughter graduate.

As Syrian Christians, this family has horrors to tell. But, they now also have a testimony of God's grace in bringing them all back together again and safely away from danger. Thank you LETU for standing with Maria during these difficult years of her life. What was meant for evil in Syria, God will turn into good for Maria and her family and their new life in Texas.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Critical Need: Aviators of Excellence & Character

I enjoyed meeting today with our Aviation Advisory Council. It is noteworthy that this meeting of industry leaders is occurring just days after the tragic death on a Southwest Airlines flight en route from New York to Dallas. See the New York Times story here.

Dean Fred Ritchey has assembled a distinguished advisory council. They represent organizations such as American Airlines, Boeing, Cessna, Covington Aircraft, Dynamic Aviation, the FAA, FedEx Express, JAARS, MAF, Rockwell Collins, United Airlines and more.

So much of what happened earlier this week on Southwest Flight 1380 has captured my attention. I'm so very sad for the family of Jennifer Riordan, a young mother of two, who was killed by engine debris that entered the cabin at her seat on the 17th row. I'm encouraged at how fellow passengers, strangers really, responded with unselfish and deliberate aid to Jennifer while the plane was still in rapid descent.

And there is Captain Tammie Jo Shults, a graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University and the Navy's first female to fly the F/A-18 fighter plane. Her professional and competent handling of the emergency, as well as her authentic compassion for her passengers, is very inspiring. It's God-honoring.

I'm so very proud that Dean Ritchey and his faculty prepare professionals of this same caliber. Aviation professionals do take responsibility for thousands of lives when they go to their workplaces daily. Nearly 2 million passengers fly each day just in the U.S., and worldwide today, more than 100,000 airline flights are scheduled. That's much responsibility on these airframe and power technicians, flight controllers, aviation managers, and, of course, pilots. And then there are the engineers behind the design of an aircraft that can suffer the loss of an engine and a large hole in the fuselage and still return passengers to the ground safely from 30,000 feet.

This world needs aviation professionals who are professionals of both competence and character.

For the sake of millions who fly daily, we need to graduate a new generation of aviation professionals who will see their work as a holy calling with eternal impact.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Welcoming Special Visitors to Campus this Spring

The Board of Trustees are on campus today for the Spring meeting. These men and women have come from across the United States to provide leadership to LETU and the cause of Christian higher education. It's my privilege to work with such a distinguished group of individuals with very different talents, united by a common appreciation for the work we do here at LETU.

The Trustees are just the latest in a series of visitors we've hosted recently.

I was very proud that the university hosted yesterday's free Holocaust remembrance event, sponsored by our Department of Humanities and Social Sciences. The event attracted hundreds of students from local middle schools and high schools, as well as many other members of the Longview community, to hear from Holocaust expert Dr. Carrie Burns and Holocaust survivor family members Vicki and Richard Hornok. Our students and guests were able to hear important lectures and testimonies about the inhumanity that led to the death of over six million Jews leading up to World War II. Public events like this help educate the community to ensure that atrocities like this never recur.

Over the weekend during LETU Homecoming, one of our distinguished guests was Greg Sankey, the commissioner of the Southeast Conference (SEC), whom Forbes magazine describes as one of the most powerful men in college sports. He attended LETU, played baseball, and was transformed by the relationships he built here. He spoke of playing baseball for LETU, and how his former LETU coach Roger Kieffer helped him learn important, life-changing lessons about leadership and being a good team player.

Another group of visitors to campus recently were the inductees into the new LeTourneau University Academy of Engineering and Engineering Technology. This distinguished group of LETU Engineering alumni are too many to list here, but include Donald Bell, the Chief Engineer at Pratt and Whitney Canada; Dale Hill, the founder of Proterra, the leading manufacturer of electric powered bus vehicles; Michael Kessler, the dean of engineering at North Dakota State University; and Stan Settles, a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering.

I appreciate that in the last two weeks, it has taken an army to plan, host and welcome these special visitors to campus, and I'm very grateful for each of you who have been involved. Each visitor is a testimony to how our service to God here at LETU stretches into many workplaces and touches many lives around the world.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The Impact of Christian Higher Education

Christian higher education makes a huge impact on our world, and a new study from a Philadelphia-based consulting firm has calculated the annual economic impact of Christian higher education at around $60 billion annually.

The study was commissioned by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, of which LeTourneau University is a member. The study found that the 142 Christian colleges and universities across the country educate 445,000 students, employ 72,000 faculty and staff and serve 3.5 million alumni around the world.

Key findings of the national CCCU study reported that for every $1 in federal grant money a student receives, CCCU institutions provide $5 in aid to that student through grants and scholarships. LETU alone provides nearly $16.5 million annual in institutional scholarship aid, including a new dual-credit scholarship for $16,000 for high school students who attend LETU after taking dual-credit courses.

The student loan default rate among students at Christian colleges and universities is nearly half the national average. Even though CCCU schools are tax exempt, they still generate $9.7 billion in federal tax revenue each year. For every $1 in federal grant money a student receives, CCCU institutions generate more than $20 in federal tax revenue.

The report also showed that 1 in 3 CCCU students are first-generation college students and half of them come from families making less than $50,000 annually.

More than 1 in 3 CCCU students do community service while enrolled in college, and CCCU students perform an estimated 5.4 million hours of community service annually. To read the entire CCCU report, visit:

But beyond the economic impact, Christian institutions like LeTourneau University have a profound effect on the lives of our students as they discern their vocation, advance their faith and integrate their faith and their work in every workplace and in every nation where God may call them to serve.

The value proposition is clear: LETU graduates get jobs and an excellent return on the investment they've made in a college education.

We are a private university, but we do much public good. We graduate classroom teachers, nurses, law enforcement officials, and mental health counselors who contribute to the welfare of our communities. We graduate builders who create jobs with their innovative ideas. And we contribute to the quality of life of East Texas through the Belcher Center, NCAA sports, and in ministries and churches.

LETU employs over 870 faculty and staff, mostly in Longview, but also including those at locations in the Dallas and Houston areas, as well as online faculty who can teach from anywhere. We contribute to the local economy daily through shopping at local retailers, restaurants and more.

In the past decade, we have made more than $54.1 million in capital improvements which have added more than 177,000 square feet to university facilities, with many of the construction being done by local workers and craftsmen. Our students have made an impact on this area through volunteering nearly 69,000 community service hours each year, and our counseling center has provided more than 8,700 counseling sessions since it opened in October 2013. Many of those sessions provided counseling to local members of the East Texas community on a reduced fee scale to assist those needing financial assistance for counseling services.

I am proud of the work of our university and the role it plays in educating the next generation. As the Christian Polytechnic University, we are an international university that attracts students from East Texas, from around the U.S.A. and from around the world. Our significant impact for God's kingdom will only increase in the years to come.