It’s a Wonderful Life

One of my favorite movies of the holiday season is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The lead character, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart, faces life’s disappointments regarding fame and fortune, only to find in the end that life’s real treasure is best realized through your family and friends. One need not travel to the four corners of the earth or climb the proverbial ladder of ambition to find success, as the key to living a life of meaning and purpose may be waiting for you in your own home town.

This past weekend, Methodist University not only celebrated the accomplishments of 240 graduates at our 40th Winter Commencement, but also acknowledged the contributions of two individuals who have devoted a significant portion of their lives to Fayetteville and the University community, and we have all been the beneficiaries of their commitment and love. Gene Clayton has devoted the last 50 years as an employee of Methodist – the longest serving employee in the history of the university – including his present position of vice president for Business Affairs. How different the University would have been if this Stewart-like character had chosen to leave earlier in his career rather than invest in this place he and his wife, Pat, chose to call home. For his many contributions, the University awarded him an honorary degree and invited him to be the commencement speaker.

Ms. Terri Union has given new meaning to the phrase “engaged citizen.” Whether through her leadership as owner and president of Union Corrugating Company, chair of the Fayetteville Public Works Commission, as tireless advocate of the arts, or leadership on the MU Board of Trustees, she has left her indelible mark on our “home town.” How appropriate that she received the Methodist University Medallion in recognition of her record of community engagement.

What great examples these two individuals have provided to our graduates and all present for Commencement. As I have described on many occasions when referring to the MU Journey, one of the fundamental principles of a Methodist education and indeed to American democracy is civic engagement. We are so fortunate to have these two “signature people” in our midst who exemplify our “culture of excellence.”

At this time of sharing our gifts and blessings with others, we have so much to be thankful for. Yes, real life can even be more inspiring than the movies, especially when we have such colorful and giving characters who enrich our lives and remind us that it is so much more blessed to give than to receive.

From the Hancock household to yours, many blessings for this holiday season and the New Year.

100 Partnerships

In this season of remembering children and wishing them bright futures full of love, understanding, and growth, it is appropriate to feature Methodist University’s partnership with Partnership for Children of Cumberland County, Inc., led by President Eva Hansen. We have had numerous opportunities to work together in efforts to improve the quality life for families in our community.

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An Environment of Care

This week, we dedicated the new building for our Professional Nursing Studies Program. What an amazing facility with all of its latest technology and state-of-the-art equipment in a simulation hospital that would be the envy of any medical facility in the country, let alone other educational institutions. The turnout for the ceremony was nothing short of phenomenal, as hundreds of students, faculty, staff, trustees, health care professionals, and community members squeezed into the space in front of the facility to witness the occasion.

What a beautiful setting. Thanks to the loving touch and generous gift from Dot Wyatt, we have a lovely landscape at the entrance, including gardens and a waterfall—the perfect atmosphere for our nursing students to enjoy and reflect. It represents yet another unique feature that you will only find at Methodist.

During my remarks at the dedication ceremony, I spoke of a “culture of excellence,” a phrase coined by Trustee Al Cleveland that is a fundamental guiding principle that drives what we do here at Methodist. This occasion provided the opportunity to emphasize the connectivity between health care excellence, health science excellence, and more specifically, nursing excellence. Indeed, the prescription for excellence, as defined by this special event, consists of signature people, signature programs, signature facilities, and signature partnerships—yet another unique feature you will only find at Methodist. It is not enough to do buildings right or bring exceptional programs into fruition. Without the right people—those who teach our students or our health care partners who mentor them—signature facilities and programs won’t matter.

“An environment of care.” That’s what those in attendance at the Nursing Building Dedication witnessed this week. That’s what we feel when we approach the building and its gardens. That’s what we notice when we see how the simulation hospital has been designed. That’s what we learn when we talk to the MU nursing faculty as they share their approach with the students. That’s what we know when it comes to what we do so very well at Methodist. There may be other universities who claim to do it as well, but no other university does it better.

If you were a prospective student searching for a nursing education, or a health care professional hiring a new nurse to join your team, or a patient needing care, what kind of nursing program would you embrace? For me, it would be that nurse who benefited from that “environment of care” at an institution that was guided by a “culture of excellence.”

100 Partnerships

As we celebrate “100 partnerships” between the university and the community, it is appropriate to highlight three of the many partnerships we have with health care institutions. We are so grateful to these organizations that provide clinical rotations, internships and wise counsel to our programs in the School of Health Sciences. Many thanks to the VA Medical Center and its Director, Elizabeth Goolsby; to the Cape Fear Valley Health System and its CEO, Michael Nagowski; and to Womack Medical Center and its Director, Col. Steven J. Brewster for their commitment to health care excellence and partnering with Methodist University as we create and promote an environment of care.

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Best Year Ever

Was it 1974 (the year I finished college)?
Was it 1975 (the year I married Deborah Weaver)?
Was it 1976, 1978, 1981, 1983, or 1985 (the years our children were born)?
Was it 2011 (the year I became president of Methodist University)?
Or is it 2012?

Each of us have had special years that mean a great deal to us. Sometimes, when we are in a nostalgic mood, we refer to days and years gone by as “the good ole days.” Our very own highlight reel will replay and we are flooded with thoughts of memorable occasions—births, weddings, significant occurrences, personal successes.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that there are so many things to be thankful for, and each passing year brings blessings of one sort or another. It is the hope for continued blessings—for ourselves and those we care about—that motivates us to move forward. In this respect, I think of 2012 as the “best year ever.”

So what was or is the best year ever for Methodist University? Was it the year of its founding? Was it the year it became a University? Can the case be made that 2012 indeed is the “best year ever?” If I truly believe that I have the best job in America because of the best students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members in America, then it is hard to argue about which year is the best.

I hope our students believe that this is the best year ever for Methodist University and for them. Faculty, staff, and community members have strived to make each student feel that way through a personal, “hand crafted” educational plan where no two students’ experiences are the same. The goal of the “MU Journey” is to create that “best year ever” experience year after year after year. Then, of course, there are the new programs and facilities to enhance their educational experiences.

So what’s the right answer to the question of “best year ever?” For those here at Methodist who believe they have the best job in America, there is only one answer. This (2012) is the best year ever, and with a motto of “the best is yet to be,” it is exciting to know that next year will also be the “best year ever.”  When our current seniors look back on 2012, I hope their first answer will be like my own: the year I graduated from Methodist University. Then after further reflection, I hope they will come to the same conclusion: “This is the best year ever because of the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me and because of my experience at MU that has led me to a fulfilling life of meaning and purpose.”

Update on 100 Partnerships

Strong community partnerships are critical to providing unique, hand-crafted educational experiences for our students. Making this the “best year ever” is contingent in part on creating 100 new partnerships with businesses, organizations, and institutions that share our commitment to our students. I would like to celebrate the newest partner, who will be assisting the University through the “MU Exclusive Program” developed by our Office of Career Services. With a commitment of providing each student with the opportunity for an internship, we have recruited partners who will provide an exclusive internship for a Methodist student. We would like to thank Finish Line for being Partnership #12.

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A Letter to Dr. Neatrour

Note: Dr. Elizabeth Neatrour was Professor of Russian at James Madison University. She opened my eyes to a world that this first generation kid from Southside Virginia didn’t know existed, including two study abroad experiences to Russia that she led in 1972 and 1975. Dr. Neatrour passed away last year.

Dear Dr. Neatrour:

This letter is long overdue. I have been thinking about you lately and reflecting on the profound effects you have had on my life and career. Little did you know that the naïve college student who took all of those Russian classes and joined you on the tours to Russia would someday head a University and be encouraging his students to take similar journeys.

Dr. Neatrour, I want you to know how much I appreciated the way you pushed me to consider opportunities far beyond my limited imagination. I have been truly fortunate to have had a number of amazing experiences, including the Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in Comparative and International Education, the Fulbright at the University of Edinburgh and visiting university fellowships at Oxford, Auckland and Melbourne. What’s more, I have shared the world with my five children who have also traveled and studied abroad. Perhaps this has been one of the greatest gifts that I presented to my children; in a way, I was simply passing along the same gift you bestowed upon me. In fact, I had the opportunity to take my family to Russia in 2000, 25 years after my last trip with you. My Russian was a little rusty, but the memory of standing next to you on Red Square was vivid.

I share all of these personal accomplishments with you not because I want you to be proud of me, but because I want you to know that you have had such an influence on my philosophy of education and some of the guiding principles I use in leading the University. I have made a promise to deliver the very best education to every student, and I believe this includes an understanding of our world and its many cultures that is only realized through engaging in international experiences.

I am so excited about what is happening here at Methodist University. You need to know that your influence lives on, as the promise that you made to me is one that I am passing along to these amazing students. We have created the Methodist University Journey, and one of the “pathways” that we offer students is found in the Center for Global Education. Here we focus on the appreciation of other cultures and preparing graduates to be successful in a global society by increasing the number of international students studying at Methodist (we presently have 128 students from 55 different countries) and offering every MU student the opportunity to study abroad.

College students often don’t appreciate what they have until way after the fact. This is certainly the case with this former college student, as it has taken me forty years to write you this letter. I want you to know how much your support and encouragement meant to me then and means to me today as I work with Methodist University students to help them realize their potential as they map out their own “journey.”

Finally, I wish that I had written this letter even a few months earlier so that you could have read it personally. Still, I needed to write it so that others could read about you and understand the amazing impact one faculty member can have on a single student. Thank you so much for being there when I needed you and for helping me take the first steps in my journey—a journey that continues to this day.

With great admiration and appreciation,

Ben Hancock
Methodist University

Update on Partnerships

During an on-campus luncheon yesterday, the Office of Career Services launched the MU Exclusive Internship Program. This program, led by Antoinette Bellamy, Director of Career Services, underscores our commitment to provide every student with an internship opportunity.

Here are just a few of the partners who will be participating in this program, offering exclusive internship opportunities to our students during the 2013 May Term. These represent just the latest examples of the “100 Partnerships” to be created during this academic year.

Partnership #7: City of Fayetteville, represented by Adewunmi Lewis, HRD Assistant Director.

Partnership #8: Fayetteville Observer, represented by Diane Cain, HR manager.

Partnership #9: US Army Special Operations Command, represented by Michelle Barnes, EEO Specialist.

Partnership #10: PWC (Public Works Commission), represented by Magie Fishburne, Compensation Analyst and Bobby Russell, HR Director.

Partnership #11: The Arts Council, represented by Anne Rawson.

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Matt’s Journey

This weekend I head to Traverse City, Michigan, for the wedding of my son, Matthew.  It will be a grand occasion that will bring the entire family together in celebration of this event. Those who know me understand how close I am to my family, so this is a big thing for me. (Is it okay for fathers to cry at weddings?)

Matt is a 2006 college graduate, and his story on the surface is not unlike that of any other college graduate who is searching for his or her place in life and in a career.  He met his bride to be in college and they have chosen Denver as their place to live and seek their fortunes. He faces the same challenges in finding that perfect position that pulls together his passion and skill sets, and he shares the same frustrations as other college graduates who are waiting for that right job to come along.

There is one significant difference between Matt and his journey and the rest of the college graduates out there: he is my son and he is one of a kind. Thus, I believe he deserves every opportunity to succeed, in part, because of his unique experiences and passion for his chosen field.

Why am I sharing this story beyond the fact that I am a proud and loving father to Matt?  It is because I feel the same way about each Methodist student, who is also one of a kind.  In fact, each Methodist University student’s journey is “nurtured and hand crafted” and far from an “assembly line” product that often comes with larger universities. Methodist University graduates are different; they have benefited from the MU Journey and related experiences that have prepared them to be successful in their careers and to lead lives of meaning and purpose.

Methodist University is taking its commitment to its students to the next level. Not only are we offering experiential learning to our students; we are on a course of ensuring that each student will have an opportunity to be involved in leadership, study abroad, undergraduate research, and community engagement. Furthermore, we are committed to every student having the opportunity to participate in an internship experience.

This coming Saturday is indeed a special day in Matt’s journey and hopefully just one of many he will experience over a lifetime. Likewise, our MU students will have special days associated with their Methodist hand-crafted experiences and others during their lifetime due to the foundation established at Methodist.

I guess this also entitles me to cry at commencement as I shake the hand of each graduating student and celebrate his or her accomplishments. I will be glowing with pride then as I will be on Saturday as Matt walks down the aisle.


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Chicago Marathon

Weeks ago I made a decision to participate in the Chicago Marathon this weekend. What started as a father-son experience (my fleet-footed son, Ben III, joined me but finished way earlier) turned into much more, as I decided to use this race to emphasize wellness on the MU campus.

I have enjoyed writing in my weekly blog, updating the University community on my progress.  This hasn’t been about my unusual accomplishments, rather, the thrust is on what each of us can do to take better care of ourselves if we just take a few minutes each day to exercise.  Clearly I am not an Olympic athlete, as my 15-minute mile pace will never be entered into the record books.  But it will improve the quality of life of this president who believes he has the best job in America!  I have pledged to give MU my very best, and that includes taking care of myself and encouraging other to do the same.

I challenge our students, faculty, staff, and greater community to participate in the university wellness program that is being launched.  I hope you will find opportunities for you to adopt healthy lifestyles that will not only assist you in dealing with life on campus, but also help you develop a life-long interest in fitness.  I believe such practices are very much a part of the MU Journey, and each of us can chart our own course to sustained wellness.

So what’s in store for me now that the marathon is behind me?  Well, there are no immediate plans to do another one—not until my aching body recovers!  But I do plan on continuing my workouts and watching my diet as a part of my personal wellness plan.  I also plan on continuing my advocacy of wellness for the campus and look forward to sharing future updates on activities that feature accomplishments of other community members.

Best wishes from one exhausted marathoner,

Ben Hancock


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A Trip to the Governor’s Mansion

Last week, the Methodist University Women’s Golf Team was invited to the Governor’s Mansion to meet with Governor Beverly Perdue as she recognized their 2012 NCAA Division III National Championship – their 15th in a row. It was a privilege to be in attendance along with Coach Tom Inczauskis, Athletic Director Bob McEvoy, Trustee Chair Mary Lynn Bryan, NCICU President Hope Williams, and other MU representatives.

This was a proud day for the Lady Monarchs, and one they will not soon forget. Not only were they greeted by Governor Perdue, but she also took the time to talk with them about leadership and their responsibility as role models to girls who may aspire to reach their level of achievement. She also challenged them to strive to the highest levels of success, perhaps as a university president, chair of the board of trustees, governor, or U.S. president.

These ladies are no strangers to leadership, as they lead all MU athletics in their team grade point average and are very involved in campus and community activities.  And they have begun their quest to repeat as national champions through fall tournaments that are already underway.  When asked if they felt any pressure in repeating, the uniform response, was “no,” as they plan on focusing on their game and letting the results take care of themselves.

Spoken like true leaders. Focus on what lies in front of you and let the results reflect your hard work and mental toughness.

It was truly a proud day to be a Monarch.

Methodist University provides informal and formal ways for students to be involved as leaders and to develop their leadership skills. Through the MU Journey and the Lura Tally Center for Leadership, every student at Methodist has the opportunity to be involved in leadership activities. At the end of their university career, students will possess a co-curricular transcript that will reflect these leadership experiences.

Update on “100 University Partnerships”

Partnership #6: United Way of Cumberland County, represented by Mr. Robert Hines, President & CEO. Methodist University will developing pilot projects that can be utilized in various community campaigns. A team of MU students will be designing a campaign at Methodist University and creating a “United Way Day” and “United Way Fair” that will bring representatives of United Way agencies and MU employees together, thus increasing their awareness of the benefits received through their contributions.  We also hope to develop a student organization that can be a model for other student groups.  In the end, the student group will develop a comprehensive campaign that will enable them to create similar campaigns in other settings.

Marathon Update

Just one week to go until the October 7 Chicago Marathon. I’ll be doing short distances this week, conserving my strength for the 26.2 miles on Sunday. Wish me luck! I look forward to sharing my experience next week. In the meantime, please contact me with your own ideas of how we can promote wellness on the MU campus.

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The Next Phase of the Master Plan Begins

As I sit in my office in Horner Administration Building, I can hear the sounds of construction, as crews begin their work in installing the new “streetscape” that will run the length of the campus that borders Ramsey Street. A brick wall is the first to be built, along with new signage at the entrance at Lowdermilk Drive, welcoming visitors to the campus. A new sidewalk will follow, along with attractive light posts and banners. In the future, those driving down the street will know when they pass by Methodist University.

Soon, the work will take the crews to Lowdermilk Drive and Joe Stout View Drive, as new sidewalks and the next generation of trees are planted, ensuring that we will continue to enjoy the natural beauty of this campus for many years to come. It will also make for a much more pedestrian-safe campus, as walkers will have access to sidewalks as they travel from their autos to buildings or are simply out for a stroll along one of our attractive streets.

By next month, the expansion of Trustees Building will be under way, with new offices and an expanded lobby being added to the north end of the building. Those visiting the Library will also notice an extensive renovation is underway, providing much improved spaces for the university community to conduct research and study. Renderings that depict the renovated space are on display in the lobby.

These are but the first phase of construction and renovation projects included in the 25-year Master Plan that was approved by the Board of Trustees this past spring. They complement the construction of the 100-bed North Hall and the Nursing Building that opened this fall. Planning of the next phase has already begun, as we meet with the architects to discuss the design of the expanded Berns Student Center, expanded Reeves Auditorium, and new health sciences building.

It has often been said, “Show me a campus under construction and I’ll show you a campus that is growing.” This certainly applies to Methodist University, as the implementation of the Master Plan is the physical manifestation of the commitment of the Board of Trustees and the entire University community to take Methodist to the next level.

Update on “100 University Partnerships”

Partnership #5: Fayetteville – Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce, represented by Mr. Doug Peters, President & CEO. Teams of students from the MU Center for Community Engagement will be working with the Chamber’s staff and members on a series of projects. The first will be a community image survey and re-branding efforts.

Marathon Update

With two weeks to go until the October 7 Chicago Marathon, my last “long run” is behind me and I have begun tapering for the event. The training has been helpful to me in continuing my exercise regimen. I have also been pleased with the progress the Campus Wellness Committee is making in developing a University-wide plan. It will be just what I need coming off the marathon training.

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100 Partnerships

During my Opening Convocation remarks this week, I talked about the importance of partnerships to the community and to the University. These partnerships will help us deliver on the promise to provide an exceptional educational experience to each MU student.

Partnerships are another way to say “relationships,” and we are very fortunate to have so many caring people who have invested in the University and want to see our students succeed. In fact, they have joined various advisory boards so that they can maximize their effectiveness as partners.

This year, as we strive to implement so many initiatives that will move Methodist University forward, I will be highlighting the many benefits from our partnerships and celebrating their contributions to the University. My goal is to identify and then recognize 100 Partnerships over the next 12 months and illustrate how they have played a pivotal role in meeting our strategic priorities—priorities that will benefit our students and prepare them for success during their time at Methodist and beyond.

Here are the first four partnerships I would like to highlight. Each of them was noted at the Opening Convocation and was represented in order to receive public recognition:

Partnership #1: The Methodist University Board of Trustees, represented by Dr. Mary Lynn Bryan, Chair. They are recognized for their service to Methodist University through leadership and sound financial stewardship. No other group is as engaged in the life of the University or has as profound an effect on the future of the institution.

Partnership #2:  Methodist University Alumni Association Board of Directors, represented by Rev. Dr. Jerry Jackson, 1st Vice President. They provide the leadership of Methodist University’s 10,000 alumni in support of MU through the development of new programs and sponsoring alumni events.

Partnership #3:  Methodist University Board of Visitors, represented by Mr. David Baskett, Chair. By sponsoring events like the annual Board of Visitors Golf Tournament and the MU Women’s Basketball, Cheer & Dance Experience, this group of individuals generates financial support and visibility for Methodist University.

Partnership #4:  Methodist University Foundation Board, represented by Mr. Steve Driggers, President. This Board generates financial support for Methodist University, and sponsors the annual Loyalty Day Campaign that provides funds for student scholarships. This illustrates that through partnerships we can be successful at building a culture of philanthropy that benefits the University.

I look forward to celebrating other University Partnerships in the future and reminding all of us how important it is to engage people in order to achieve the highest level of success. Methodist University is indebted to its initial founders whose legacy is a strong sense of community engagement. So much has been accomplished in five decades through their commitment, and the next 50 years will prove to be equally exciting and full of promise.

Marathon Update

I’m down to three weeks before the Chicago Marathon scheduled for Sunday, October 7. I am enjoying my weekly 6:00 a.m. Thursday morning walks around the campus as a way to promote our new University Wellness Program. I wish I could say I am also enjoying my weekly “long runs” in preparation for the marathon! This week I’m up to 20 miles, but relief is in sight, as I begin my tapering next week. :0)

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Eleven Reasons I Have the Best Job in America

I have started a list of positive things that are happening at Methodist, and the list is growing so quickly that I decided to share a number of them at one time, creating a “top eleven list.”

11.  I saw Alex Socinski on campus several times this week and each time we talked about his Semester at Sea experience this summer. I call that look the “smile of discovery,” as Alex came back a different person, possessing a new-found perspective on the world and a better sense of who he is as a global citizen in this world. I hope many members of our community will take the time to talk with Alex about his journey—a journey made possible because of his time at Methodist.

10.  As I was working in my office this morning, a group of ROTC cadets ran by during their morning exercise and chanted, “Good morning, Dr. Hancock.” What a great time to be at Methodist and in the United States of America. The future of our country is in good hands.

9.  At the Wednesday Chapel Service this week, a student commented on how excited she was with the creation of the Student Alumni Association on campus. Here we have a group of students who are already excited about being graduates of MU. Amazing!

8.  Enrollment Vice President Rick Lowe commented at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting that he has the best group of Student Ambassadors (formerly known as tour guides) ever. As he mentioned their names, other Cabinet members noted that these are the same students who are serving as peer mentors and campus leaders for a whole host of organizations. Our students are fully engaged and making us proud.

7.  Academic Dean Del Crisp shared an article with me that featured a jacket from a new book co-authored by our own Christopher Cronin entitled, Mormons in American Politics: from Persecution to Power. What timely research and publication! Congratulations, Chris.

6.  Zack Sweet spoke at the Freshman Convocation today about his amazing Center for Community Engagement experiences. This pathway of the MU Journey has transformed Zack, and his outlook on citizenship and his future career.

5.  Nyomaclement Nicknora spoke at the Freshman Convocation today about his experience this summer as a volunteer in South Sudan, creating a library for school children. His testimonial for the Center for Global Education was inspirational, and challenges each of our students to consider studying abroad and being more involved with other cultures.

4.  Jennifer Perez also spoke to students at the Freshman Convocation about her work in the Lura S. Tally Center for Leadership Development. She spoke of her personal journey during her time at Methodist where her leadership experiences have increased her confidence.

3.  Erin Fegley asked the students at Freshman Convocation if they had ever wanted to spend time with a teacher on research, and a number of hands went up. She went on to talk about the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creativity and how the University helped create opportunities to have hands-on opportunities.

2.  I had the opportunity to attend the memorial service for Lura Cowles Self Talley yesterday, and was so moved by the tribute. What an amazing woman who meant so much to North Carolina and the people she served, mentored, and inspired. We are so fortunate to have our leadership center named in her honor, and to know that so many individuals in this community and beyond consider this one of the most significant ways to recognize her life of public service and caring.

1.  Debbie and I attended Wrightsboro United Methodist Church this past Sunday at the invitation of Rev. Dr. Jerry, ’75 and Annette Jackson. What an amazing experience. We enjoyed their service, complete with a wonderful choir and praise and worship band, and taking advantage of all the latest technology. The level of engagement by the members of the congregation through this progressive and inspirational service was unparalleled and we left not only with renewed optimism for the future of the Methodist Church but also a sense of longing to return soon to enjoy the genuine hospitality and spirit of God that filled the sanctuary. 

Eleven current and past members of the MU family. Eleven stories under one university banner.  Eleven opportunities for engagement worth celebrating. Eleven reasons why “I have the best job in America!”

Marathon Update

This weekend the long run is 16 miles. (I won’t share how long it takes me to cover this distance!) Five weeks from this Sunday I will be in Chicago for the 26.2 mile race. What was I thinking?

I mentioned in last week’s blog entry that I would begin a “morning walk” around campus and invited anyone who would like to join me. On Thursday, September 6, at 6:30 a.m., I will be making a loop around campus. Please feel free to join me, no matter what your pace, as I will make a point of walking this particular course which may amount to about a 5K. We will start at the entrance to my driveway across from the Nimocks Center.

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