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

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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 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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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

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!



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment