A Happy Anniversary to the President Who Has the Best Job in America

Today marks my second anniversary as president of Methodist University. What a wonderful ride it has been. I pinch myself each morning and think about how blessed I am to have a wonderful family, good health, and the Best Job in America. Not everyone has the opportunity to enjoy their “dream job,” and I want to thank every member of the MU community for making it possible.

We all have much to be proud of as we reflect on what has happened at Methodist University over its history, and I can comment from experience on the last two. There is much to celebrate as we look at the signature programs and facilities we have put into place and the individuals—those “signature people” I like to talk about—who have led the way without fanfare, just doing their own part in making Methodist University the best university it can be.

Earlier this week, and in light of last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, I sent individual updates to faculty and staff, students, parents, and alumni, highlighting the many activities at the University and noting actions taken at the meeting. There was so much positive news that I decided to save some for a later update.

Why do I believe there is so much good news, in spite of all the reported challenges facing our country and our world, including concerns about college accessibility and affordability? First of all, I am “bullish” on America, and believe that our country has flourished and will continue to flourish because we have the best problem solvers on this planet. Secondly, I am “bullish” on Methodist, because not only do we graduate generation after generation of some of the best problem solvers in America, but also because we add value. Simply put, those who come here to study, to work, or to attend an event or an athletic contest gain a great deal from that experience. With our emphasis on providing an environment that is committed to a “culture of excellence,” we do it better than any other university in America.

In closing, let me make the same pledge on the first day of my third year as I made on the first day of my first year. I promise to do all I can to move this University forward and to lead our collective efforts to deliver on the promise we make to every student and every visitor who enters our gate. We deliver the finest University experience, period. We are student-centered as we are people-centered. Signature people educating signature people. One student at a time. Preparing for the next generation.

What a wonderful time to be associated with the Best University in America. And to think the best is yet to be. I think I’ll pinch myself again!

100 Partnerships Update

This week I was fortunate to attend the regular meeting of the Advisory Board to the Health Care Administration (HCA) Program, a group comprised of healthcare professionals from a variety of disciplines. At a time where Methodist is expanding its health science programs, such input has never been more vital. The best health care educational programs in the country gain that status by responding to the needs of health care providers as well as the interest of prospective students. This and the other advisory boards associated with our programs ensure that we are on target and that our students will be successful in their chosen careers.

Ben Hancock

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Supporting a Student’s Faith Journey

Elevated VisionsLast Sunday, Debbie and I had the opportunity to visit the First United Methodist Church of Cary (FUMC) as the guests of University Trustee Rev. Dr. Carl Frazier, and his wife, Mary Ellen. Joining us were University Chaplain Mike Safley, and Dr. Michael Martin and the MU Chorale. In total, we spoke at five different events, and the Chorale performed at two services.

During my remarks, I spoke about Methodist University’s commitment to delivering on the promise we make to every student who enters our gates to ensure they succeed in every aspect of their University experience. This includes our understanding that a student’s faith journey may also be a part of their growth. This is in keeping with my opening remarks to students that I present each fall, when I share with them that from a faculty and staff perspective they are “our one thing.” This is meant to communicate to incoming students our commitment to their having a truly transformational experience.

In speaking with the FUMC Youth Assembly, I asked them if they thought they were members of the “Best Church in America,” and I repeated the question to the congregation at each of the subsequent worship services. The overwhelming and enthusiastic response was yes, which gives credence to my statement at every University event that I have the “Best Job in America” because I am President of the “Best University in America.” Should any of us want to be associated with institutions that we do not feel are the best in America—for them?

One of the fundamental principles of our faith is that we believe that our God sees each of us as his “one thing,” meaning that he has time for us and that we benefit from a hand-crafted faith experience like no other person experiences. I firmly believe that Methodist University delivers on a hand-crafted university experience like no other university. This includes a rich variety of campus worship options that engage over 400 of our students on a weekly basis, making it perhaps the largest youth ministry program in the state. Service learning is also an important component of this ministry, as these same students are active in volunteer opportunities, including mission work teams. 

Chaplain Mike Safley often comments that those students participating in these experiences have a 100% graduation rate from Methodist, which means that students who are involved stay at an institution and earn their degrees. Indeed, if we are to truly deliver on the promise, we know that one pathway for students to ensure their success is through their faith journey.

The future of Methodist University is bright, in part, because of its affiliation with the Methodist Church and its support for the expression of faith by all students. Signature partnerships like the one with First United Methodist Church Cary are key. With plans for a new Chapel on the horizon, we will be able to accommodate the increased interest by students in understanding and expressing their faith. This opportunity is what makes America strong and Methodist University strong, and supports our claim of being the “Best University in America.”

100 Partnerships

We are pleased to count First United Methodist Church of Cary as one of our signature partnerships and are grateful for the support of Rev. Dr. Carl Frazier and his staff.  Through such partnerships, we are able to serve young people at these churches and invite them to join the MU Journey.


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It’s Personal

A great deal of my time is spent working with my colleagues here on campus to identify ways we can increase student success. There are many retention activities under way— all designed to deliver a personalized approach to issues facing our students. In the end, no two students are the same, and thus the response to addressing the challenges they face must be “hand crafted.”

Methodist gets this right. We are delivering on the promise we make to each student who passes through our gate to maximize his or her chances of succeeding. Sometimes the issues are academic; other times they may be financial. But whatever the issue, we have developed an “all hands on deck” response to ensure that no student falls through the cracks.

In a few more weeks, I will celebrate my two-year anniversary as president of Methodist University. I am often asked what has surprised or impressed me the most during my tenure. Without hesitation, I always point out the “signature people” we have here at MU who are committed to our students and their success.

My coming to Methodist was a very personal decision and remains very personal, as Debbie and I have embraced this campus and community. We are dedicated to enhancing the “culture of excellence,” which is a hallmark of this University. And what an amazing feeling to know that for our faculty and staff, “it’s personal.” Our 2,200 students are the beneficiaries of this hand‑crafted approach, and not only will they have amazing university experiences while they are at Methodist, but they will go on to lead successful lives full of meaning and purpose.

It’s the Methodist way.

Partnership Update

We continue to celebrate the “100 Partnerships” that we have with the community that also contribute to our students’ success through providing many opportunities for experiential learning. One group that is truly making a difference is the Advisory Board for the Center for Entrepreneurship. This diverse group of business people get together several times each year and is working with Center Director Marty Cayton in developing an expanded vision for the Center. Many thanks to the CFE Advisory Board chaired by Tom Keith, President, Tom Keith & Associates, for their dedication. We look forward to hearing more about the CFE’s plans for the future.

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New Year’s Resolutions

We all make them—promises we make to ourselves of things we plan to improve during the coming year. However, we are more likely to keep those promises if we share them with others.

I remember in January 2005 I made an announcement to my family that I was going to run a marathon. There was a look of disbelief around the room, which actually increased my commitment to delivering on this New Year’s resolution. Eleven months later I crossed the finish line (along with my son, Ben) at the Richmond Marathon, and since then I have gone on to complete another full marathon (this past fall in Chicago) and six half marathons.

As president, I also make resolutions—some privately and others publicly—on ways I hope to improve the quality of life at Methodist University. As another calendar year begins, I thought I would make a New Year’s resolution for MU, knowing that by making this a “public resolution,” I will do everything I can to meet this goal.

My New Year’s resolution for Methodist is to improve our freshman retention rate and make sure we are on track to reach the goal of 65% as outlined in the 2010-2015 Strategic Plan. We were as high as 62% last year and we are making great progress through our Center for Student Success and other initiatives.

Why have I selected this area for my resolution? Because nothing is more important in what we do as a University than to deliver on the promise we make to every new student who comes through our gate that he or she will receive an exceptional education. If we don’t deliver on this promise, the rest of our goals will not matter.

I look forward to reporting further progress in future communications, and to meeting with various constituents as we first identify and then address the various hurdles that prevent students from succeeding.

A University committed to a “culture of excellence” develops signature programs that will foster excellence. Our Student Success Program is one such program and we will invest the time and resources necessary to maximize our results in this endeavor.

100 Partnerships Update

Partnerships with community organizations enhance our retention efforts as Methodist University creates opportunities for experiential learning through organizations and corporations. As we highlight “100 partnerships” during the 2012-13 year, it provides an opportunity to say “thank you” to those who are making a difference in the lives of our students who will in term make a difference in their communities.

We are fortunate to have the support of Fayetteville and surrounding communities. There has never been a great university without a great city, and we are fortunate to have progressive cities and leaders accessible to our students, faculty and staff as they enjoy a terrific quality of life, as well as benefit from a quality education. We salute the All-America City of Fayetteville and Mayor Tony Chavonne, and Spring Lake and Mayor Chris Rey for their support and interest in Methodist University.

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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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