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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Great Expectations

As we prepare to celebrate the success of 210 Methodist University students earning a degree at our Winter Commencement this weekend, I am reminded of the words of encouragement we offer students when they began their Methodist experience. We challenge them to maximize their experience by being engaged citizens on and off campus, knowing that by doing so they are more likely to graduate, to be successful in their career or graduate school pursuits, and to live lives of meaning and purpose.

Perhaps my most important responsibility as president is to challenge students to exceed their initial expectations as they enter the University. Often these expectations focus on a single purpose or goal, like “being a nurse,” “playing football,” or “being a PGA golf professional.” Should these students experience any disappointment in reaching their single goal, they are often so discouraged that they consider discontinuing their university education. Having witnessed this phenomenon for several generations, Methodist has developed initiatives to encourage students to be involved in multiple ways on the campus, to “put in roots” that anchor them and help them weather any storm they might experience during their educational career. This is why programs like the First Year Experience, strong residence hall experiences, robust student activities, and the Methodist University Journey have been developed; all are designed to engage each student and raise his or her expectations for outcomes of an MU education.

During the opening dinner of their freshman year, I encourage students to find their “one thing,” meaning to develop a passion for a program of study or career goal that will give them direction and drive to succeed. Equally important, however, is for each MU student to meet the greatest expectation of all, which is to earn a Methodist University degree. The gratification that comes from this achievement is unequalled. As I shake the hand of each graduating student on Saturday, I see the sense of pride in their eyes and in their families and friends who are present for this momentous occasion. From knowing your ”one thing” to meeting the “greatest expectation” is quite a journey, but well worth the investment. Just this week, I was in Atlanta for an alumni event, and as I listened to the stories of graduates from the 1970′s to the 2010′s, I was reminded of the impact of this feat and the life-long relationship that is created among these graduates and with their alma mater.

To this weekend’s graduates, well done! We are so proud of you and your accomplishments. Congratulations on having “great expectations” of yourselves, and on reaching them. We look forward to hearing about your future success in the next leg of your journey.

 

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Are You Going to Sing the Alma Mater?

A University is and should be defined by its people. On many occasions, I have emphasized how “signature people” are the ones who insist upon excellence and will settle for nothing less, especially at a place they love.

 

Dr. Louis Spilman was one such person. He let you know spilmanwhere he stood with his faith, his family, and his university. There was no middle ground. He gave all he had to the people and things he believed in, and expected the same from others. During the time that I knew him, if he ever felt that Methodist was not living up to his high standards, he wouldn’t hesitate to let me know. I respected and loved him for it. So did so many others, as this first graduate of Methodist College served for more than 40 years as a trustee and received the University’s highest honors – an honorary degree and the University Medallion.

 

At a recent Board of Trustees dinner, the Methodist University Chorale was performing, and before they concluded their program, Louis yelled out, “Are you going to sing the Alma Mater?” Fortunately, the Chorale already had planned on this being their closing number, so they happily responded to his request. After all, how could you have a Methodist University event and not sing the Alma Mater?

 

This past week, Louis passed away. The tributes in the media and at the memorial service reminded everyone what he meant to this community and to the University. So many have been inspired by his spirituality, his generosity, his sage advice, and his humanity. We will miss him greatly.

 

My last memory of Louis was from Friday, Nov. 1, when he was on campus for the annual Scholarship Luncheon. He always enjoyed visiting with the students, especially the recipients of the Spilman Scholarship. Before lunch, the MU Chamber Singers were singing the Alma Mater and I looked over toward him and saw the look of pride on his face as he sang along to honor the University he loved.

 

Louis, the University community loved you as much as you loved them. Thank you for making us a better place as we heeded your advice and put our faith and people first. Signature people are what build and sustain signature facilities and programs. Methodist University gets it right, because Louis Spilman wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

From now on, whenever I sing the Alma Mater, I will think of you. The closing line of the song is so appropriate, “God go with thee for eternity.”

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Best Homecoming Weekend Ever

blog photo - homecomingThere were so many things about Methodist’s recent Homecoming and Parents’ Weekend that made it special. Clearly, the record numbers in attendance for our football and soccer victories contributed to the successful weekend. Having so many alumni and parents on campus was also very exciting. But what truly made it an amazing experience were the stories.

When a graduate tells you she hasn’t been on campus in 40 years, you can imagine she has a story to share. When a mom and dad see their freshman son for the first time since dropping him off in August, he certainly has a story to tell. When eight distinguished individuals receive alumni awards, you can believe they have stories to convey. And when outstanding athletes are honored at the annual Hall of Fame Banquet, you can imagine they have incredible athletic feats to relive.

But the stories that mean the most to me are not those recited in front of an audience or during a special ceremony, even though they are heartwarming and memorable. What I treasure are the “small things” that every alumni and every parent tells you about a faculty or staff member – in the days gone by or just yesterday – that lets me know that Methodist gets it right. It reminds me that the reason former and current students came to Methodist in the first place was because of the people, and yet again during Homecoming Weekend those stories were retold and new stories were shared.

“Good people doing good things” is a phrase I use quite often at Methodist. Some of these people are recognized with awards, and it is great to see them recognized for outstanding accomplishments over their lifetimes. But there are many, many others who quietly make a difference on the MU campus without expecting or desiring any acclaim. They do it because it is the natural thing to do.

The greatest compliments I receive are when visitors go out of their way to tell me how impressed they are with the people at Methodist. Parents tell me that the good feelings they had during the admissions visit have continued during the matriculation process. Alumni tell me how impressed they are with the hospitality they are shown when they return to campus, making them feel truly welcomed.

We have a wonderful campus community here at Methodist. As president, I am certainly proud of our record enrollment and record turnouts. I am very excited about the expansion of our facilities and what it will mean for our future. But I am most proud of our people, and how they “deliver the gold” every day.

I’m the luckiest president of any university in the country.  It’s also one of the main reasons, along with the amazing students here, that I have the best job in America.

P.S.  Please feel free to go to our flickr page to check out the many photos from Homecoming and Parents’ Day and see why it was the “best weekend ever.”

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I’m Not Supposed to Be Here

Every student has a story. All you have to do is ask.

One of my favorite things to do each day is to eat in the dining hall with the students. Usually (and much to their initial chagrin) I will just approach a group of unsuspecting students who are eating and engaged in conversation, and simply say, “May I join you?”  I’m sure they are thinking, “What do you say to the president of our university other than, ‘Of course!’”

As one might expect, conversations usually begin with information about home towns and majors and then progress to discussions about how the semester is going. And they could easily end at that point as the students politely excuse themselves to head off to class. But if the conversation continues a little longer, I find that the students are more than willing to tell you “their story,” and open up to tell you why they are at Methodist. I find these to be some of the most fascinating conversations of my day.

One such meeting occurred recently over lunch. I noticed a student eating by himself so I invited myself to join him. After exchanging pleasantries, and understanding that I was not going to leave lunch without more of a conversation, this student stated, “I’m not supposed to be here.” I asked him to tell me more.

It seems that at an early age this student had some medical difficulties that led his physician to indicate to his family that he would never be able to do certain things. These included going to college or playing sports. What this doctor didn’t take into consideration was the power of a loving family and the personal drive of this student who was committed to succeeding. He went on to tell me that the day he received his acceptance letter to Methodist, he went to see the family doctor and showed him his letter. Yes, he was going to college, and yes, he was going to play football.

There are many stories like this one that I am privileged to hear as president, just by asking. I often say that I have the best job in America – because of having the best students in America. Every student has a story, and I find that they come to our University because of the opportunity to write the next chapter in their story. What Methodist does so well is provide opportunities for students to succeed. Many of them have hurdles to overcome – and one by one they learn that MU is committed to their success and to helping them create their own personal journey.

More than 40 years ago, as a first-generation college student with many hurdles to overcome, I, too, felt that “I’m not supposed to be here.” What made the difference in my journey were wonderful faculty mentors, capable staff, and engaging classmates who brought out the best in me. It’s amazing how little has changed in over four decades. The things that mattered to me still matter to today’s students.

So here’s my answer to these students who might say, “I’m not supposed to be here.” I say, “Welcome. You are supposed to be here. We have been waiting for you and are prepared to provide you with an amazing journey.”

Every student has a story. I am so fortunate to be president at a place that is so student-centered and provides opportunities for students to tell their stories and write the next chapter based on their MU experience.

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Game Day

There is something special about a Saturday in September on a university campus. Such was the case this past weekend when MU hosted its home opener in football, along with soccer matches for our women’s and men’s teams. The campus community, alumni, parents, and other visitors saw our university at its best. Our new students were introduced to “Game Day” and all the excitement. School spirit was abundant, as everyone watched the teams, marching band, cheer squad, and dancers.

DSC_0077Saturday was also “Gwen and Tim Holtsclaw Day,” recognizing their service to the university and community. One of my favorite things to do is to thank people, so what a wonderful occasion to celebrate the ways the Holtsclaws have contributed to Methodist and made it a better place.

This has been a wonderful opening of the year for Methodist University. We have witnessed a record enrollment and our highest number of residential students, who will enjoy the many activities that are available to all members of the campus community. To see these same students enjoy their university experience as they begin their educational journey and create lifelong friendships with classmates, teammates, and roommates is something to behold. They will remember their experiences during the first weeks of college and be loyal Monarchs forever.

At the end of the football game (after Methodist defeated Guilford, 41-34), new MU Football Head Coach C.J. Goss started a new tradition. He asked the football team, band, cheer squad and dancers to gather in the end zone. After the playing and singing of the alma mater, he asked me to address the group. I congratulated them on their victory and their perseverance, but most important, I thanked them for being such wonderful representatives of our university as they conducted themselves with class throughout the contest. The fans, including their families and fellow students, were very proud of them. And what a thrill to see a new tradition started and such a wonderful, positive experience shared.

It made a Game Day to remember and relationships to enjoy for a lifetime.

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It’s People That Matter

During my time as Methodist’s president, I have often remarked that a “culture of excellence” is best ensured by the acts of signature people. This has never been more true as we begin the fall semester.

During New Student Orientation and through subsequent email messages and letters, I have received so many compliments from new students, families, and other visitors about our University. While they have been very impressed with the physical improvements we continue to make to the campus, what impresses them the most are the people at Methodist. Admissions and financial aid staff, student tour guides, faculty members, business office staff, student affairs staff, and coaches have all made a difference.

Compliments have been specific and in detail, and include one of our housekeeping staff members introducing herself to the family and offering to be of assistance. This family was simply “blown away” by the genuine hospitality and sense of caring that was expressed at every turn. As one mother of a new student told me, there are many good colleges between our home in New York and here in North Carolina, but it was the people who brought us here and why our son decided on Methodist.

officerJ

During last week’s Opening Convocation, I had the pleasure of awarding the University Medallion to Lorenzo Josephs who is the “official greeter” at the entrance to campus. His warm welcome and positive attitude epitomizes MU hospitality, and was worth singling out through this award that recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to our community. Mr. Josephs received a standing ovation from a packed Linda and Ralph Huff Concert Hall audience, as we all called out his favorite phrase, “I hope you have a nice day.”

It is not by accident that Methodist University will witness a record enrollment this year. It will be directly because of the people here who make a difference. People matter to prospective students and their families. People matter to visitors. People matter to all of us who want to transform the lives of students who enter our gates and are welcomed by Mr. Josephs. That’s the Methodist way, and that’s why I have the best job in America – because we at Methodist have the best people in America.

 

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A Monarch Heart

Thai2Earlier this summer, Debbie and I joined University Chaplain and Vice President Mike Safley on an extraordinary trip to Thailand. Two years in the making, we were not disappointed in any aspect of the journey.

Many members of the Methodist family are unaware of our deep roots in Thailand. Since the 1970’s we have attracted students from this beautiful country – a tradition that continues today as one of our current students, Noon Kantapasara is benefiting from a Methodist education. Noon was home for the summer, and we had the pleasure of meeting her father and sharing stories about Methodist.

The Thai people are known for their hospitality, and our hosts for the visit, two Methodist alumni, Kreetha Matitanaviroon ’74, and Kittinant Cholwibul ’74, far exceeded our expectations. We had an opportunity to meet other alumni and friends, including Suthathip “Benz” Suanmali ’02, who was our first United World College graduate and presently serves as Assistant Professor at Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology (SIIT) in Bangkok. Benz hosted a meeting for us with the leadership of the Institute, and we shared information about our two universities.

A highlight of the trip was a dinner held with our alumni and friends and hosted at Kittinant’s (Kit’s) restaurant. It was so wonderful to have traveled half way around the world and feel so much at home.

During one of our many excursions hosted by Kreetha, Mike Safley asked his former roommate why he had such strong feelings for Methodist University, which were so clearly evident, as he shared story after story of his undergraduate days on campus. Kreetha’s response was, “Heart of a Monarch.” He went on to talk about his transformational experience here, as everyone at Methodist was so welcoming, even though his language, food, and culture were so different. This had such a profound impact on him that he coined a phrase that has stayed with him to this day, as he feels it is his duty to “give back” and continue the tradition of the Heart of the Monarch.

This morning I greeted the new group of approximately 50 international students joining our community, and as they introduced themselves and mentioned their country of origin, I couldn’t help but think of Kreetha and how some 40 years ago he was sitting in a similar place, experiencing Methodist (and the U.S.) for the first time. We hope they will all have transformational experiences and leave with “A Monarch Heart.” Hopefully, they too will make a difference in this world based on the education, perspective, and life-long relationships they will develop here at Methodist.

 100 Partnerships

 As a result of our visit to SIIT an agreement is being developed between SIIT (as a part of Thammasat University) and Methodist University that will include faculty and student exchanges. We look forward to moving forward with this program once the memorandum of understanding (MOU) is finalized, creating opportunities as early as the 2014-15 year for our two institutions to benefit from this partnership. And through our outreach to our alumni and friends in Thailand, we will expand our recruitment efforts to attract future Thai students to Methodist so they can benefit from an MU education. We look forward to these partnerships and all they will do to further our university-wide commitment to global education.

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There’s Something Going On Behind That Wall

Photograph08I have been delighted by the many comments the University has received from community people, alumni, parents, students, employees, and visitors about the new brick wall and banners that are visible along Ramsey Street. These streetscape improvements have “dressed up the campus” and resulted in many more people noticing the University than ever before.

While the brick wall, banners, and landscaping represent modest improvements at best, they suggest that “something new is going on behind that wall,” and that has people talking. The substance of these improvements is far from modest and represents the hard work of the campus and the support of the Board of Trustees and many other friends of the University. One only has to drive or walk around the campus to notice real progress on the Campus Master Plan. The renovations suggest MU is on the move and expanding its offerings through the availability of these renovated facilities.

The best compliments we’ve received have been the frequent comments from visitors about the friendliness of the campus and how excited everyone seems to be about what is happening. As I have often said, a Culture of Excellence depends on signature people even more than signature programs and facilities. As we move forward with our focus on all three elements, we are in the strongest position in the history of the University.

If you haven’t visited Methodist lately, I invite you to drive on the campus – past the wall and banners, past the new lines of trees, and past the buildings under construction. Park your car and strike up a conversation with one of our employees or students. They will be happy to share with you all the exciting things happening “behind the wall.” And stay tuned, as all of us associated with Methodist University believe “the best is yet to be.”

100 Partnerships

Last Friday, we were fortunate to host Womack Army Medical Center’s Summer Commencement in Reeves Auditorium. Womack has been a key partner with Methodist in the health sciences. They often use our health science facilities and are the largest provider of clinical rotations for our PA students. The Commencement ceremony gave me an opportunity to thank the leaders at Womack for their assistance and to celebrate our mutually beneficial relationship.

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