What’s Your Bandwidth?

If someone had asked me 20 years ago about a university’s bandwidth, I would have thought they were asking about the size of our marching band. Today, this question has a far different meaning, relating to the width of a range of frequencies or to the rate of data transfer. Internet connectivity and speed are big issues on college campuses.

bandwidthIncreasing a university’s bandwidth requires significant resources. Students enter college today with an average of seven electronic devices (after the holidays it may be as many as 10), each requiring a certain amount of capacity to receive and send data. Consequently, we are regularly changing and upgrading our infrastructure to improve the user’s experience. We are committed to “delivering the gold” with technology and we are making great progress in an ever-changing and increasingly demanding environment.

It is amazing how our vocabulary expands to embrace new terminology as our environment expands to embrace new technology. “Increasing your bandwidth” may also refer to the resources required to respond to a need. In other words, a university’s capacity to meet the needs of students. I guess in dealing with technology, it would be a university’s bandwidth to meet its bandwidth! Again, MU has expanded programs and facilities to maximize student potential. After all, that’s the definition of a university that will never go out of style.

Now I want to go back to my original definition. I am increasingly asked about the MU Marching Monarchs, our marching band, which is gaining recognition for their talent and gaining in size, or “band width.” Most recently, I was proud of these students as they represented Methodist in the Veterans Day Parade in Fayetteville. So, whether it’s our ability to transfer data or musical performance, we are about maximizing the capacity of our students to benefit from a Methodist University experience. And thanks to our donors and as a strategic priority of the University, we are assigning more resources to expand our band width.

It may be apparent to the reader that when it pertains to the modern definition of bandwidth this President is out of his comfort zone. However, you can rest assured that I understand the investment required to meet our students’ needs, technology and otherwise, and to continue to build an exceptional marching band. Bottom line, the best universities are about increasing students’ bandwidths, thus enabling them to get the most out of their experience. And no university does this better than Methodist.

What’s your bandwidth? I challenge our students and each of us to expand our definition with the times and in doing so, broaden our horizons. That’s the fundamental mission of our University.

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A Shared Vision for Methodist

This past week, I convened the first meeting of the 39-member Strategic Planning Committee. Comprised of representatives from the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the group is charged with developing a bold new Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, which will be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval in February 2015.

 As early as the last academic year, we began campus-wide discussions about the future of the University. These roundtable meetings and other exchanges were designed to stimulate dialogue about the future of our University in anticipation of the completion of the current 2010-2015 Strategic Plan. These year-long discussions culminated with a special session held during the May 2014 Trustee Retreat, briefing the Trustees on key elements of the next strategic plan that had been identified by members of the University community, and asking Trustees for input in preparation for a year of planning for the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan.

In seeking suggestions from every constituency over the past year, a number of key principles began to emerge that will help guide us through the strategic planning process: 

  • Representation on the Strategic Planning Committee from across the University
  • Transparency in the planning process
  • Multiple opportunities for University community input through roundtable discussions, town hall meetings, interaction through social media, outreach to alumni, parents, and friends, and a request for vision statements from all members of the Community
  • Maintain our emphasis on a “culture of excellence” and stay the course with current Strategic Plan goals that are still relevant, while adding new quantifiable targets
  • In an environment of “continuous planning,” ensure a seamless as possible transition from the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan to the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan
  • Align plans with the strategic objectives of Board of Trustees
  • The new Strategic Plan should take advantage of various planning initiatives already under way
  • The goal should be to produce a succinct and relatively short document
  • The Strategic Plan and process should be aligned with the SACSCOC (our accreditation body) timetable for the upcoming 5th Year Review in 2015 and 10-Year Accreditation in 2020


“My Methodist”

 Given the fact that one of the guiding principles of the strategic planning process is to maximize participation by members of the University community, I would like to extend an invitation to every member of the community to submit a statement of 500 words or less, summarizing what you believe are the most important elements that we should incorporate into the next Strategic Plan. In essence, this invitation is intended to provide a statement of what Methodist means to each member of the community – now and as we move forward.

 Submitted statements will be shared with the members of the Strategic Planning Committee early in the process. Therefore, the deadline for statements to be submitted is Nov. 3. Those interested in participating, are encouraged to send them to me at bhancock@methodist.edu as soon as possible to ensure full consideration by the Committee. I ask that you please include your name with your statement in order for it to be shared with the Committee.

 “We Want to Hear from You”

 Ever member of the Strategic Planning Committee shares my commitment to the strategic planning process being as open and participatory as possible. While we believe that we have many outstanding initiatives underway that should be continued in the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan, we must remain open to new ideas and perspectives in shaping a bold vision that will ensure the University’s long-term viability and relevancy, while staying true to our mission.

 Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions – now and throughout the strategic planning process. I look forward to hearing from you and, together, making Methodist University the best University it can be. Through this process and with your help, the best is yet to be.

 I will continue to share updates on this new exciting Strategic Plan as it evolves in the coming weeks.

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Thanks for Taking a Chance on Me

Every student has a story.

Earlier this week the First Lady and I hosted a group of students in our home for a picnic supper on our front lawn. As is customary after a student dinner, I like to ask students what is on their minds – what they like about MU, what concerns they have, or just general observations about campus life.

At this particular dinner, the comments started with concerns about expanding Wi-Fi on campus, increasing the hours at Starbucks in the Berns Center, improved lighting in dark spots behind buildings, and more trash cans. They then went on to express their appreciation for more food options in the dining hall, landscape improvements, increased collaboration among University organizations, and excitement about all that is happening on campus.

Then one particular student raised her hand and quietly expressed her appreciation for the University “taking a chance on me.” She went on to say that there are students at Methodist who may have not necessarily performed as well as they should have in high school or achieved the best test scores, but nonetheless have promise. In essence, on behalf of all the students at Methodist who might have been considered “at risk” when they were accepted, she was expressing her thanks.

This was perhaps the most gratifying comment a student could have shared with this particular president, as I responded by saying that I, too, had enrolled at my university with the same sense of gratitude for that institution taking a chance on me, and for my family and friends believing in me. I also noted that Methodist University’s mission is to provide such opportunities to prospective students, and the history of this place is one of “taking chances” on students who come with difficulties but show promise. Once enrolled, MU is committed to working with them to ensure their success in overcoming their unique hurdles.

Every student and, indeed, every person has a story. I feel very blessed to be president of a University that takes the time to listen to these stories and embraces students where they are and helps them succeed on their MU journey and life’s journey.

That’s the Methodist way. That’s the only way.

Ben Hancock


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Best Year Ever

This week marks the beginning of the new academic year at Methodist University, and the first thought that comes to mind is that this will be our Best Year Ever.

There are so many ways to define “best” for a university campus, and in a society that freely uses superfluous rankings and descriptions, one could easily dismiss this claim as yet another example of a strategy to gain attention.

So let me share a few reasons why I believe this is without question an exceptional year:

Highest Freshman Enrollment Ever. We expect a record number of new students this fall with great geographic diversity, representing most of the 50 states and over 55 countries.

Highest Total Enrollment Ever. There is every indication that we will have a record overall enrollment, exceeding last year’s record of 2,478 students.

New Doctorate in Physical Therapy Program. We have received approval for our first doctoral program, thus continuing to meet the needs of our local health care partners and prospective students interested in entering the health care field.

New Health Sciences Building. We will be breaking ground this fall on yet another new  building. It will be a stunning facility located near the entrance to campus and adjacent to our nationally-recognized Physician Assistant Program’s facilities.

Community Appearance Award. Methodist University will receive an award this week from the City of Fayetteville’s Joint Appearance Commission for its improvements along Ramsey Street that have helped enhance the City’s and University’s appearance. We will make further improvements this fall, including new banners and signs at the campus entrance.

Best Tennis Facility. Methodist University was recently recognized by the American Sports Builders Association and will receive an award for the Gene Clayton Tennis Center as a winner in the Outdoor Tennis category. The University continues to invest in the quality of its facilities as a part of its new Master Plan and commit to providing the very best facilities for teaching, learning, competition, recreation, and the arts.

More Campus Improvements. Additional landscaping, repaving of parking lots, new fitness equipment, improvements in the Berns Center, and new furnishings in the residence halls are just a few of the other improvements that will greet students and guests who come to the campus this fall.

Best Athletic Program. Methodist is proud of its strong athletic tradition and is celebrating its selection as the best athletic program in the USA South Athletic Conference, having won the 2013-14 President’s Cup in the Overall standings. Among our fall sports, those teams coming off of conference championships include Men’s Soccer and Football. Our MU Cheer Squad also returns with a national championship earned this past year.

Best Financial Position Ever. With another balanced budget for the past year and recent renewal of our BBB bond rating from Fitch, we are excited about the University’s strong financial position which sends a message to our community and donors that we are an exceptional institution.

Most Successful Campaign Ever. With two years remaining in our Building Excellence Campaign, at the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year, we had reached the $27.5 million mark in our capital campaign. This surpasses the highest amount ever raised in any Methodist University campaign. We are so appreciative of the many contributors and volunteers who have made this fund-raising effort so successful.

Best in Technology. The University has made major improvements in technology over the summer. We are now a “wireless campus” that serves all of the University buildings, and have created a number of areas across the campus that showcase our use of technology, including the Library, residence halls, and academic buildings.

Unequaled Transformational Experiences. What better way to demonstrate our commitment to preparing our students for successful careers and lives of meaning and purpose than to provide them with transformational experiences while they are still at Methodist? As we partner with area businesses and organizations, we offer an unmatched opportunity for each and every student to be involved in an internship or community engagement experience that will give them the “competitive edge” in securing employment after graduation or being admitted into the nation’s best graduate and professional schools.  Our Career Services Office has recently expanded its staff to include a coordinator of internships, and they will be rolling out a new and expanded internship program. Our goal is for EVERY MU student to have the opportunity for an internship before graduating. And there’s more. Through the MU Journey, students can study abroad, conduct research, participate in leadership programs, and be part of a community engagement team. What awesome opportunities!

Best Faculty and Staff Ever. What would a University be without exceptional people? With the new appointments we have made to the faculty and staff who have joined our ranks, we believe this is by far the best group ever assembled on the campus. We are so proud of their accomplishments and commitment to our students. Time and time again, I am told by alumni that what they appreciated most about their Methodist University education was the caring attitude of their professors, coaches, and mentors who were committed to their success.

With this being the Best Year Ever for Methodist University, is there any wonder why I frequently say that I have the Best Job in America? I invite you to come to campus for the first time, or if you haven’t been to MU in a while, please return for a visit. You will be truly amazed at the growth of our University and how it is transforming students’ lives every day in so many different ways.  Join us for one of the many lectures, athletic contests, concerts, and other events on campus. You’ll quickly discover and then agree, that this may indeed be our Best Year Ever. And the Best is Yet to Be!

Ben Hancock

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The Importance of Place

I took my usual early morning walk around the campus today, and I was struck by how much quieter, how much emptier the campus feels during the summer when so many of our students are away for summer employment, internships, and other experiences. I couldn’t help but think about many college campuses today that are like this year round, as they have embraced an alternative to the residential campus or even the standard classroom experience, having invested heavily in online or distance learning.

Some institutions have been very successful with this form of educational delivery (at least in terms of the number of students enrolled), and Methodist is indeed investing in the latest technology and learning strategies to complement classroom experiences with online learning opportunities. But how different we would be if this was the core of our existence and we abandoned our more traditional classroom delivery in favor of distance learning. This is because Methodist believes fundamentally in “the importance of place.”

During a normal class day, I walk across the campus and greet students as they move from one place to another. Would that nursing student have the same opportunity if not for this place?  Would that football player be able to be a member of the Monarchs online? Would that PGM student develop her game in the same way if she didn’t have “Down Back” and our wonderful facilities? Would that SGA senator be involved in a leadership activity in a different environment? Methodist University has continued to grow because of niche offerings that have become signature programs. Our health sciences programs, NCAA Division III sports, professional management programs, and student organizations are just four examples of those successes. Without the “portal” that MU presents to prospective students, they might not be here or on any other university campus for that matter.

David Brooks of the New York Times, a skeptic of online learning, believes that college students need to find a home for character building. He also believes that faith-based institutions (like Methodist) are generally more involved in shaping character and force students to deal with moral dilemmas and values. He goes on to note that the culture of a university is what affects students and makes them who they are. Could this be done online? One of the fundamental missions of Methodist University is to prepare students to live lives of meaning and purpose.  We think we can do this best by spending time with faculty, staff and fellow students on the campus, especially given our vibrant campus ministry program with all of its options and the MU Journey which encourages engagement in the community, leadership opportunities, undergraduate research, and study abroad. Each of these experiences is maximized by interacting with others in a shared space.

This blog post is not intended to bash the many wonderful benefits of technology, including its role on a university campus. This includes Methodist where we recently moved to make the entire main campus (other than athletic fields) wireless, expanded the bandwidth to increase speed of access to technology, and provided additional resources and staffing to serve our students.  We are also investing in technology to enhance the classroom learning experience, made possible, in part, through a Title III grant that has supported instructional technology. And finally, we are launching a new initiative this fall to expand our online capabilities to assist our students with degree completion. But these investments and initiatives are meant to complement our place-based education and to enable students who face special challenges to pursue a hybrid model that will make it possible for them to earn an MU degree.

Methodist University is about place. More important, it is about people who call this place home.  It is about a “culture of excellence,” which is comprised of signature people, programs, and facilities. And as I have said many times before, without signature people, the other two wouldn’t matter. Without signature people, place wouldn’t matter.

Methodist University is so blessed to have this place and signature people who care. That is why, at this “place-based university,” the “Best Is Yet to Be.”

Ben Hancock

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Methodist University’s Year in Review: “Excellence Redefined”

14190971763_2d447afec8As we wrap up another successful academic year at Methodist University, we congratulate the Class of 2014, our largest class of undergraduate and graduate students in the university’s history. We were honored to have members of the first graduating class in attendance as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Class of 1964 with 17 of the 43 original class members on campus to participate in the hooding ceremony.

Throughout the year, we are committed to a “culture of excellence” at the University in everything we do. Let me share just a few highlights that have helped “redefine excellence” for everyone associated with Methodist and have set the stage for a bright future as we move forward:

- In addition to a record enrollment (2,478), we experienced a record number of residential students (nearly 1,100) and international students (150 from 55 different countries).

- The graduation of the first cohort of students from our new Nursing Program and the Master of Education program.

- Progress on our first doctoral program in Physical Therapy and the receipt of a naming gift from the Thomas R. and Elizabeth E. McLean Foundation for our new Health Sciences Building.

- New majors in Entrepreneurship and Applied Forensic Science and further development of our Cyber Security and Digital Forensics program, thus responding to increased interest in these areas by prospective students and employers. This demonstrates Methodist’s continued commitment to creating and expanding academic programs to meet demands from current and potential stakeholders.

- The opening of the newly renovated Library and expanded Trustees Building.

- A spectacular Igneous Expressions glass exhibit and Picasso ceramics show in the David McCune International Art Gallery.

- Holding the third annual Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium, featuring student’s research projects, and the addition this year of a graduate and faculty component to the program.

- Winning the USA South Athletic Conference Overall and Men’s President’s Cups after winning conference championships in football, men’s soccer, and women’s tennis along with strong seasons in our other sports. Women’s tennis and women’s and men’s golf also qualified for the NCAA national championship competition.

- Kicking off our $35 million Building Excellence Campaign with over $25 million raised. This would not have been possible without the generosity of so many individuals and organizations who believe in the mission of our University.

- Hosting Dr. Sanjay Gupta as the inaugural speaker in the Presidential Speaker Series.

There have been so many memorable moments this year at Methodist, but none surpass the expressions I saw on the faces of the graduates and their sponsors as they crossed the stage at Commencement to be hooded and receive their diplomas. The true measure of excellence at a University should be the success of its students, beginning with their undergraduate experience, followed by earning their degrees and embarking on their chosen careers or graduate school. The expressions that day conveyed a mixture of pride, accomplishment, sadness in leaving MU, and excitement about what lies ahead. These are the ones who will go on to “redefine excellence” in the next leg of their journey, fully equipped to do so, thanks to their MU Journey.

Indeed, I have the Best Job in America, as our University meets America’s needs while raising the bar on excellence. Record enrollment, record graduates, and record financial support confirm we are getting it right where it matters the most—providing transformational experiences and preparing tomorrow’s leaders.

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Where else?

Where else will you find opportunities for students across six disciplines to participate in a simulation of a disaster, giving them experience that will prepare them for their internships and clinical experiences, and ultimately making them very competitive for professional positions?

Last Saturday, the Office of Planning and Evaluation, funded through a Title III grant, brought together more than 100 students together to address different elements of an accident through a disaster simulation drill. Students in our Physician Assistant (PA) program, Nursing, Justice Studies, Forensic Science, Environmental Management, and Athletic Training programs participated. By doing so, they collaborate with professionals through an integrated exercise that required a team approach to problem solving.

disaster simWhy are such simulated experiences important? With each experience, students become more familiar with their proposed discipline, they learn to minimize risks, and they are ready to assume more responsibility. They also become skilled problem solvers who will be assets to any team.

Let me share just one example of why these experiences are so transformative and should be considered “best practices” for all educational institutions. Shortly after the accident, the “victims” were transported to the simulation hospital in the Nursing Building, where they were joined by high-tech manikins, providing multiple scenarios for teams of PA and nursing students. The scene was similar to a real-life hospital emergency room, with 10 simultaneous stations in operation. While the students worked on their “patients,” the entire exercise was being taped for debriefing afterward in order to maximize learning through the experience.

The scenes for the other teams of students were equally compelling, and they acted like professionals dealing with a situation, followed by a debriefing with faculty to enhance future outcomes.

When we designed the Nursing Building that opened a little over a year ago, it was with such integrated experiences in mind. These same features and capabilities are being built into our planned Health Sciences Building that will be constructed during the 2014-15 year. Such an approach is about more than state-of-the-art facilities. It is about preparing and graduating state-of-the-art professionals across disciplines.

How do we define “Culture of Excellence?” Simulation, collaboration, integration. Where can you find this? Where else but at Methodist University.

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Building Excellence

It’s not about the money. A university fund-raising campaign never should be.

Last week, Methodist University launched the most ambitious capital campaign in the institution’s history. The long-anticipated “Building Excellence: The Campaign for Methodist University” will generate $35 million for new facilities, endowment, and special projects. More than $23.4 million, or 66 percent of the goal, has already been received from generous donors who are committed to ensuring excellence.

campaign blog

The real story, however, is the transformational experiences that will be possible for every Methodist student as a result of these funds. A culture of excellence requires signature people, programs, and facilities, so we will be putting philanthropy to work through endowed scholarships, professorships, and new buildings to support programs.

I hope every member of the University community will join us in celebrating our heritage and the exciting plans for the future by attending one of the many “Building Excellence” events scheduled during the twenty-eight months of the public phase of the campaign. We will be traveling across the country and indeed around the world sharing news about the University and inviting people to participate in our bold journey.

Please view the Methodist University website for more information and news about the campaign, or feel free to write to me personally at bhancock@methodist.edu to share your story with me. This is truly an amazing place, and through your engagement in the life of the University, our students will directly benefit.

There has never been a better time to be a Monarch. “Building Excellence” has never been more relevant or critical. Your support has never been more needed.

I have the Best Job in America because of these amazing students and their stories of commitment, sacrifice, and dedication. I feel truly blessed to be president of our University at this time in our history. We need to be successful with this Campaign to ensure our students success. We have a promise to fulfill – a promise we make to every entering student that we will do all we can to maximize their university experience and prepare them to live lives of meaning and purpose.

It’s not about the money. It’s about the students. It has always been that way, and always should be.


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Snow Day

Having come from the Midwest, where they measure snow by the foot rather than the inch, I must admit that I had to make a few adjustments in my thinking when it came to making decisions on cancelling classes due to inclement weather. After all, the 3 or 4 inches we received overnight would have been thought of as a “dusting” rather than cause for national coverage by the Weather Channel and the Today Show. I really had to go back to my Virginia roots and remember that a similar snow when I was growing up would have been enough to cancel school for a week.

I don’t know about other businesses or universities, but at Methodist we have the tradition of gathering at the flagpole at 5 a.m. to make the call for the day. This gives each of us time to cover his or her assigned territory to check the roads, and of course we have all used our phones to check the weather patterns. And while the call Tuesday morning was to proceed, by mid afternoon the call had been revised to close at 4 p.m., thus allowing employees to get home before the bad weather arrived and enough warning so our evening students wouldn’t embark for campus. This was then extended yesterday morning to an all-day closing, or what is commonly and excitedly referred to as a “snow day.”

So what does a “snow day” mean to a university campus, where some students have never experienced snow, let alone had a day off because of it? I walked down to the dining hall for lunch today (Presidents who live on campus don’t get snow days) and engaged in a conversation with a few students. One student was from Myrtle Beach and had never been in snow. His friends had been trying to teach him the art of snow ball making, but according to their report, he failed miserably. Another group of students were in search of cafeteria trays (my personal favorite when I was in college), but we no longer use them on campus, so the students were trying to improvise with garbage can lids and other flat surfaces. And some of our international students were just flabbergasted by the fuss that everyone was making over a snow day as much as their first glimpse of snow!

I guess we never get tired of snow days, and that sense of having an unexpected day off, sort of like playing hooky (not that I ever did so). We can sleep in, spend the time catching up on that paper that’s due, or simply search for any nearby downhill slope and play in the snow like we did when we were kids.

Now back to those Midwestern compared to North Carolina winters. I know that here in Fayetteville in a matter of days this cold weather will be behind us, with the promise of spring right around the corner. In fact, our spring sports begin their seasons this coming weekend. Meanwhile, a text message just in from my daughter in Grand Rapids, Michigan: “2 feet of snow and 3 more months of winter.”

I’ll take a day of snow in Fayetteville any time! Tennis, golf, baseball, softball, track, or lacrosse anyone? Go Monarchs!

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Season of Giving

Greetings from the MU campus, where it is rather quiet now that the Fall Semester is over and the students have headed home for the holidays!  During this season of giving and showing our appreciation for all that has been bestowed upon us, I think of the role philanthropy has played in helping to shape the future direction of our University.

212 Students Participated in Commencement

Saturday, before a standing-room only crowd, we celebrated the academic careers of 212 undergraduate and graduate students. Highlights of Commencement included having Charles Holmes as our speaker and recognizing Mrs. Dot Wyatt by awarding her the University Medallion. Rev. David Blackman, pastor of Hay Street United Methodist Church, delivered the Baccalaureate address earlier in the day.

Methodist Mission Trip to Haiti

Rev. Dr. Mike Safley will be leading a group of Methodist students, faculty and staff on a mission trip to Haiti over the holiday break. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as they improve the lives of those in need and have a truly transformational experience. We look forward to sharing those experiences with you when the group returns to campus in January.

Health Sciences Building

We are on track to break ground for the new Health Sciences Building in 2014, thanks to the $2.6 million commitment by the McLean Foundation and the funding of a number of named gift opportunities within the new facility. This building will expand the academic space for the School of Health Sciences at Methodist University, including the proposed Doctor of Physical Therapy program. If you are interested in supporting this project, please let us know.

$250,000 Softball Challenge

We are excited to announce that an anonymous donor has committed to a dollar-to-dollar match, up to $250,000, for donations made to the Softball Fieldhouse by Dec. 31, 2013. Both pledges and completed gifts count towards the match. You can double your contribution by making a pledge or donation online through www.methodist.edu/giving.

Tim Richardson to Head Loyalty Day Drive

Tim Richardson, a member of the Foundation Board and National Campaign Committee, has agreed to chair the 2014 Loyalty Day Campaign, our annual drive for student scholarships. Loyalty Day will be February 25, 2014.

Community Engagement

We are grateful for the many community partners who support Methodist University throughout the year. Thanks to a $10,000 grant from Cumberland Community Foundation and support from many community partners, Methodist University’s Center for Community Engagement has had a productive and organized year. Because of this support, more than 600 students have played an active role in the community by volunteering and partnering with area non-profits. Next year’s projects are already being planned. First, in collaboration with students from Fayetteville State University and Fayetteville Technical Community College, students will participate in a Day of Service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Day on Jan. 20. Then, students will participate in a roadside clean-up on Jan. 25.

In closing, I would like to thank you for your support of Methodist University this year. We have so much to be thankful for. As the individual who has the “Best Job in America,” I truly believe the best is yet to be. Best wishes for the holiday season and New Year!



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