Recognizing Excellence: COBA 2020-2021 Award Winners

We’ll admit it, we are biased. We think that we have some of the greatest business and technology faculty and staff in the country. This past year they went above and beyond to pursue excellence and care for students during the challenging school year. We’re excited to announce those faculty and staff who were named as 2020-2021 COBA award winners for the Department of Management Sciences, the Department of Accounting and Finance, and the School of Information Technology and Computing.

Dr. Phil Vardiman

By student vote, the 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year for the Department of Management Sciences is Dr. Phil Vardiman. Dr. Vardiman is a beloved professor who is known for his jokes, his enthusiasm, and his care for his students. He is often seen engaging with students in his office, the classroom, or on walks around campus. Presley Davis (’21) shared, “He has continued to be my number one supporter throughout my time with COBA. He cares for his students and wants to share our successes. He’s a lovely professor and friend.” 

Skylar Morris (’21) expressed his gratitude for Dr. Vardiman saying, “This man is single-handedly the reason I am happy where I’m at with my choice of major and career. He is so exciting, passionate, and happy to be teaching us. He is also the reason I am pursuing grad school because he has made me feel like I can be better. Every time I have an accomplishment, I want to tell him because he cares so much about his students and gets so genuinely excited. This man is truly the best professor I’ve had.”

Dr. Jody Jones

By student vote, the 2020-2021 Teacher of the Year for the Department of Accounting and Finance is Dr. Jody Jones, another widespread student favorite. A newer addition to the COBA faculty, he stands out for his engagement with students and his ability to simplify hard topics. Senior finance major, Jon Bennett, explained, “He makes the topics interesting and applicable to real life. He goes above and beyond for his students. He makes going to class seem fun even at 8:00 AM.” Dr. Jones shared that it is a blessing and honor to know you are appreciated by your students and peers and to know one is valued.

Rebekah Jones, a senior finance and marketing major, expressed the impact Dr. Jones has had on her. “Jody goes above and beyond to ensure his students’ success not only in college but also post-graduation. His class has offered the most real-world applicable information in my COBA experience. Additionally, the level of difficulty is at a perfect point where you are motivated to try hard and learn, but he always offers grace with grades if you show that you are willing to work hard and redo assignments. Jody has a great sense of humor which makes him very approachable and easy to talk to before or after class. I appreciate getting to know him a bit each class and learn from his experiences. So much of why I love ACU is because of the opportunities there are to get to know professors who truly care about you – Jody has exemplified that.”

Dr. Brian Burton

By student vote, the 2020-2021 SITC Teacher of the Year is Dr. Brian Burton. Senior digital entertainment technology major Camila Rodriguez shared, “Dr. Burton is an amazing mentor. He always pushes us to do our best work and encourages us to pursue our goals and ambitions.” Dr. Burton is a valuable member of the SITC team and SITC Director Dr. John Homer shares why. “Dr. Burton has led the DET program for more than a decade, mentoring and working with every student who has gone through. He is dedicated to his work and cares deeply about his students. I think this award shows that his students feel similarly about him.”

Dr. Mindy Welch

Finally, the 2020-2021 Online Teacher of the Year is Dr. Mindy Welch. As a member of the ACU Dallas online team, Mindy has been a valuable asset to her students. Dr. Jennifer Golden explained that Dr. Welch loves her ACU students. “She is patient, encouraging, helpful, and a great professor overall. She receives consistent exceptional feedback in her classes. It is a pure joy to work with her because she is always coming up with new and innovative ideas to make the online classroom engaging, challenging, and spiritually encouraging. I cannot think of a better person for our Online Teacher of the Year.”

Director of the online MBA program, Dr. Vardiman, expressed, “Mindy is a teacher who not only wants her students to learn but also succeed in life. She loves teaching!!! Mindy is willing to go the extra mile for each of her students. She is wonderful to work with and sets the bar very high in her teaching style. She shares the example of Christ in how she cares for her students.” Upon receiving the award, Dr. Welch shared, “Honestly, it means so much to me! I know that Christian higher education is an act of service in God’s Kingdom. It is about preparing the next generation to show passion and leadership. Getting an award like this is just an affirmation from God that I am where he needs me to be.”

The Dean’s Award for Research was given to Dr. Monty Lynn for his outstanding research that resulted in the publication of two books this summer. Dr. Lynn hopes his research results in helping others. “Having these books recognized with the Dean’s Award for Research is an honor and adds to the hope that these works make a contribution to scholars, practitioners, the church, and students.”

Dr. Monty Lynn

Dr. Lynn’s research and the resulting books were born from his own experiences in the classroom and his desire to teach others how to use their vocation to reach out to help a hurting world. “Several years ago, a couple of ACU business students inquired about how they might apply what they had learned in business within developing economies. Because of their inquisitiveness, we created a special topics course in the class, International Poverty and Development. The course was cataloged a couple of years later and we still offer it today. Although my training in this field was limited, I looked for learning and research opportunities. Two observations became clear along the way. One was that while many Christian congregations engaged in relief and development activities, they often did so without the benefit of international development insights. A second observation was that a wonderful history of Christian engagement in relief, development, and advocacy existed but few knew the actors or ideas that flowered through the ages.”

Dr. Lynn went on to explain how the books came to fruition. “I pursued these two questions and two books were published in summer 2021 which are the fruit of that labor. With the help of Rob Gailey (Point Loma Nazarene University) and Derran Reese (ACU), Development in Mission was released by ACU Press. It attempts to surface fresh insights in missions and development that can aid churches and individuals who engage in global poverty alleviation. The second book, Christian Compassion published by Wipf & Stock, recounts in quick procession, the thoughts and actions of Christians endeavoring to extend the love of Christ to others, from the first century to the present.”

Steph Brown

The 2020-2021 COBA Staff Person of the Year was awarded to Professional Development Manager Steph Brown. Steph has taken the COBA professional development program to the next level with the implementation of COBA EDGE which helps prepare students for internships and jobs beginning their freshman year. She keeps business and technology students engaged and on track as they learn and grow professionally during their time in the college. Dean Brad Crisp explained why Steph is such a valuable member of the COBA team. “Steph took on two significant challenges for the college over the last year. First, she took over the Internship for Credit courses for each major, both administering the growing program and teaching the academic portion of the students’ internship course experience. Internships make a huge difference in the professional development and career placement of our students. Second, Steph partnered in the pilot of the Suitable platform, which was initially called Accelerate in the spring and will be called Compass this fall. COBA believes strongly in holistic student development, and we appreciate Steph’s contributions to not only help our students grow professionally but in all parts of their lives.”

Steph was humbled by the honor. “The award is, of course, sincerely appreciated. In all transparency, however, I have a difficult time accepting an award for myself when I have witnessed our other staff members have such a positive impact themselves. The past year has shown how every staff person in COBA has risen to the occasion and taken care of business, no pun intended. They have taken more responsibilities on top of their existing initiatives and done it with such a spirit of collegiality. I care for my colleagues and feel cared for by them. That, in itself, is better than receiving a reward.”

Dr. James Prather

The Outstanding Junior Faculty Member Award was given to SITC professor Dr. James Prather. Dr. Prather is known for engaging with students both inside and outside the classroom to help them pursue their goals. He said, “The Weathers Fellowship for Outstanding Junior Faculty is indicative of the excellent support we have here at ACU for teaching and research. I’m excited for what this award will enable me to do with my students over the next year. Many talented faculty have received this award in the past and I’m honored to be counted among their number.”

Dean Crisp added, “Drawing on his education in computer science and biblical studies, Dr. James Prather combines his passion for faith and technology in ways that inform and strengthen his teaching, scholarship, and service. He actively mentors students spiritually, inside and outside of class. James engages students in undergraduate research, supervising students as they present research at international conferences. And, he is a fun and loyal colleague. Dr. Prather shows that the future is bright for the School of Information Technology and Computing.”

Finally, the Dean’s Award for Service and Leadership was given to all of the COBA faculty and staff. Juggling what the year brought forth was not an easy task. Dr. Crisp was proud of the way the faculty and staff members showed students and their colleagues’ dedication and perseverance throughout the challenges of the pandemic.

Dr. Brad Crisp

“As I have watched COBA faculty and staff navigate a pandemic over the last year or more, I have seen our faculty and staff serving and leading in so many ways beyond their normal roles. Faculty learned new skills in online teaching, taught in classrooms scattered all across campus (while also engaging the students on Zoom), engaged in important and difficult conversations about how we can better serve our students, and all the while cared for students dealing with health challenges and other disruptions. And, our staff continued to advance their individual responsibilities while rising to unique challenges related to the pandemic, building renovations, the winter storm, and so much more. I couldn’t give the Dean’s Award for Service and Leadership to just one individual this year because all of our faculty and staff are so deserving.”

As a college, our vision is to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. The past year has taught us that this vision is more than words on a page. This vision came alive in countless classrooms and offices all over this campus and inspires us to be the change we want to see. Let’s go change the world, Wildcats.

 

 

 

 

 

Alumni Spotlight: Chris Clark

“See a need, fill a need.” That’s a phrase used often when talking about leadership, particularly servant leadership. It’s a phrase Chris Clark (’01) has put into practice since graduating from ACU as a management and marketing major. 

As the co-owner of TimelyMD, an online telehealth provider focusing on colleges and universities, Clark has searched for ways to serve others while offering help and healing to often marginalized communities. Along the way, he’s continued to show his gratitude to his alma mater saying, “ACU helped us and now we want to give back.”

TimelyMD might never have been born were it not for ACU. Founded by alumni Clark, Luke Hejl (’01) and Dr. Alan Dennington (’01), the university not only brought the three partners together but offered the opportunity to see their idea launched. The company’s seed investors were all alumni. ACU was the first client, signing a contract for what is now known as “Wildcat Care” before the company’s operational launch and encouraging other institutions to engage the company’s services. 

Now TimelyMD serves almost 100 institutions and half a million students. Not only has its growth been exponential, but what started as a medical-only company five years ago has pivoted to serve students in a broader way, adding mental and behavioral health services.

In the beginning, behavioral health wasn’t even on the partners’ radar, Clark said. However, when they started canvassing colleges, the message from higher education institutions was clear: “It’s great that you can treat pink eye, but our real needs are on the behavioral health side.” 

Pre-pandemic, 60 percent of TimelyMD visits dealt with medical issues and fewer than 40 percent involved behavioral health. When the pandemic hit, the numbers were reversed; two-thirds of the visits now involve behavioral or mental health and one-third are medical.

Stressors brought on by the pandemic served to accelerate the business’s growth. As a former pharmaceutical sales rep, Clark understood how long it could take to build relationships with potential clients. Pre-pandemic, the sales cycle with colleges was generally 12 to 36 months before a decision would be made to engage the company’s services. 

When COVID-19 hit, many students were sent home as institutions turned to online learning. As students returned to their home states, colleges and universities that wanted to continue offering health services faced a dilemma: How would they provide care in a state in which their campus providers might not be licensed? 

At the same time, students’ anxiety levels increased, compounded by social isolation and loneliness, as they worried about their academic performance and their future. As many institutions remained closed for the remainder of the academic year in 2020 and into 2021, telehealth came into the spotlight.  

TimelyMD was ready for the challenge and the much-shortened sales cycle. The company had already been working on a national infrastructure plan for expansion. The blueprint was in place and allowed the company to rapidly deliver short-term, customized solutions for institutions such as Duke and Johns Hopkins. 

Although TimelyMD was founded initially to fill a gap in the higher education healthcare system, Clark says his fulfillment and inspiration comes in seeing how the lives of students are transformed. 

“People are so passionate about what we are doing,” he said. “I realize we truly may be saving a life, intervening in crises or changing the world in a positive way. We’re working with some institutions with a very high percentage of first-generation college students who aren’t accustomed to the level of care we’re providing, especially on the mental health side. It’s definitely what makes me wake up in the morning, knowing we are truly improving the health of students.”

As TimelyMD continues to grow, Clark sees an opportunity to reach marginalized communities in a way virtual health has not been able to do before. “When I was in school, behavioral health was swept under the rug; today we are dealing with it in a different way,” he said. It’s been especially fulfilling to see the mental health services embraced by students and institutions alike, he said. 

The lessons Clark learned on the ACU campus have equipped him for marrying his academic knowledge with his faith as he has grown his business. 

“In COBA, specifically, learning how to lead and learning from Christian leaders is probably what equipped me to help lead TimelyMD today,” Clark said. “The presentations we had to give, the debates, position papers and learning to stand behind our position were all really helpful.”

He especially appreciates the lessons he learned at COBA’s Leadership Summit. 

“Leadership Summit was really about servant leadership,” he said. “I can’t tell you the content that was shared, but what I do remember is that faith was important to the business leaders who came in. They talked about how they incorporated their faith into their daily lives in leading an organization and it was really powerful for me. I don’t do a perfect job of that but I try to lead in that way, too. While I won’t shove it down anyone’s throat, for people to know that my faith is important to me, that it does guide me in what I do and how I do it, is important.” 

Aside from meeting his wife, Merry (Lacy) Clark (‘00), his favorite memories from his time at ACU involve the student opportunities offered to him. Clark encourages current students to look at their college experience holistically. 

“It’s much more than going to class and group projects,” he said. “It’s things like participating in committees, going to Leadership Summit, going to professors’ homes for meals. It was an amazing experience to be able to do that. Outside of class, I would say it’s getting as involved as you can. I was involved with SGA serving as the freshman and sophomore class president. Whatever it may be, Sing Song, Wildcat Week, etc., it’s important to find all the different ways to build community.”

Jozell Brister Leaves Legacy As COBA “Vision Keeper”

At a time when society can change as frequently and quickly as the Texas weather, Jozell Brister has been a stalwart presence in the College of Business Administration over the last three decades. Her steady presence, excellent eye for details, knowledge of the subject matter and compassion for her students have established her among alumni and peers as a “vision keeper.”

Brister came to ACU in 1980 to teach microeconomics, macroeconomics, and money and banking and became a trailblazer for female faculty members as she led a number of firsts for the college. In addition to teaching, she served as associate dean and as director of the first advising center for business students. She was instrumental in planning the design of the Mabee Business Building and went on multiple fundraising trips with COBA’s dean at the time, Dr. Bill Petty. Dr. Monty Lynn reflected, “She helped keep things running during a time of growth and with a college that was bursting at the seams.”

She’s helped educate generations of ACU students, seeing the children of parents she once taught occupy the same spot in her classroom. She’s been a mentor and role model for faculty as well. Lynn was grateful for the way Brister not only welcomed him to COBA but showed him how to be a teacher as well. The pair developed a strong friendship and would later collaborate on numerous research projects. 

Jozell’s knowledge of economics is deep and precise,” Lynn said. “When I was a young faculty member, I felt the need to do some catch-up work in microeconomics. I’ve never had the opportunity to take the course in my undergraduate studies. A psychology professor I knew had the same desire. We teamed up and sat side-by-side in MBB 201, sweating it out on all of those challenging exams next to our sophomore colleagues. I’m not sure who was more intimidated by whom.”

We asked Brister to share with us some of her memories and recollections about her time teaching at ACU. 

What are some of your favorite memories about your time teaching at ACU?

My favorite memories are from the classroom. There were funny things that happened and some endearing things that I remember so fondly. Let me share what was a funny classroom experience for me.

One time on the first day of class, a student came down after class to talk to me. Typically, students would never ask certain questions in class. For example, after class, they would ask me about a test day scheduled in the syllabus when they had to be in Arkansas to be the best man or maid of honor in a wedding. They would want to know if they could make up a test scheduled on that day. This time a tall, handsome, young man was standing with a group of students waiting to ask me questions.

When it was his turn, he said, “Miss Brister, I’ve heard this rumor about you.” I thought he was going to say, “I’ve heard your tests are impossible,” or something like that. Instead, he said, “Is it true that the reason you always wear long sleeves to class is because you have so many tattoos?” Well, I do not have even one tattoo and have never been inclined to get one. So, I just burst out laughing. I imagine some of this young man’s buddies put him up to asking me that question. As it turned out, this very bright young man graduated with a 4.0 GPA and I had him as a student in macroeconomics, microeconomics, and money and banking. We became good friends over his years at ACU.

Many of my endearing classroom experiences were from my international students. For example, I had this clear plastic bag with samples of international currencies and coins from all over the world. Whenever I started the unit on money and banking, I would pass this bag around the classroom so the students could see what other countries’ currencies and coins looked like. Many other countries have beautiful currencies that are colorful and exquisite with intricate designs. My international students would look through the samples I had collected to see if their countries were represented. If they did not see their country’s currency, they would bring some samples to add to my collection. I was touched by their pride for their countries and their joy in helping me to complete my collection of international currencies.

Who were the people that inspired you?

There are so many people who have inspired me. I cannot list them by name because I would be sure to leave out someone very dear to me. So, I will just describe them in groups:

  • My colleagues in COBA. They are such genuinely good, talented and wonderful individuals.
  • My former student assistants (teaching assistants). They saved me so many times. They were competent, diligent, loyal and honest; and they knew more about the computer and how to use it for grading, etc., than I did.
  • All the former and current deans of COBA. They had the vision and the leadership skills to lead the college into the future. All COBA owes a great debt of gratitude to these outstanding men.
  • The staff of COBA. They are the people who made the college work properly each day. They were the internal combustion engine for COBA. Working behind the scenes, they guided students, helped the faculty with all their needs and set the standard for excellence throughout the college.
  • The wonderful people who donated to COBA. Their unselfish gifts helped the college with special programs for students, research and travel for the faculty, and current technology for classrooms and faculty offices.

What did you find most helpful in connecting with and inspiring others? 

I have found that a big smile goes a long way in this old world. Put humility together with a big smile and things tend to work out for the best.

What did you hope each of your students would learn from you?

I hoped every day that my students would see a spark of Christianity in the things I said and the way I treated my students. My discipline was economics and with respect to my teaching in that area, my goal was for students to have a strong idea of how to make the economy work for everyone and especially for the poor and disadvantaged.

If you could name what your legacy would be, what would you hope others would say about you?

I would hope that others would say that I was a Christian teacher, a helpful colleague and a happy, loyal Wildcat! In addition, I would be so pleased if others said that I was a good friend, someone without deceit or pretention.

COBA is honoring Jozell Brister by naming the second-floor classroom wing after her, a place where she spent so much time and invested so heavily into her students and colleagues. If you’d like to honor Jozell by donating to this campaign, please email coba@acu.edu.

Judith Barajas (’16) Lives Out International Dream

Judith Barajas in BarcelonaJudith Barajas (’16) knew working and living abroad was something she wanted to do eventually after she traveled to Oxford with COBA as a student in the spring of 2014. She just didn’t expect to be back in England so soon.

Barajas, a marketing major with a minor in international business, became very involved at ACU through Ko Jo Kai and the ACU chapter of the American Marketing Association. She traveled abroad again in 2016 when she led a team of 10 students on a mission trip to Honduras with Mission Lazarus as an officer for the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

After graduation, Barajas moved to Dallas, Texas, and accepted a job as an account manager at PFSweb, an eCommerce fulfillment provider. During her three years with the company, she worked with multiple accounts that helped her learn about different business models. As she grew professionally, she knew she wanted to expand that knowledge. So, in the summer of 2019, she took a leap of faith, quit her job and moved to Barcelona, Spain, thanks to her love of different cultures and travel.

Barajas continued her education in Barcelona, receiving her master’s in international business from EAE Business School in the summer of 2020. With the uncertainty of world markets during the pandemic, it became almost impossible to find work abroad. However, her experience with PFS in Dallas had gone so well that the company reached out to her after graduation and offered her a job in its new office in the UK. Barajas moved to London in October 2020 and is contracted to work there for three years.

While the last few years have been a roller coaster, Barajas is extremely grateful for where she is right now and looks forward to more adventures ahead, noting that “God’s timing is simply the best. It was definitely a challenge, but I had faith it was the best time of my life to make such a decision. I am extremely happy to have had a great experience and learned so much about business in other countries, not only through school but also through my classmates. My graduate school class represented 28 nationalities!” 

It is not lost on Barajas that she is living in a place where she once studied as an ACU student. “The craziest thing is that after I studied abroad in Oxford, I promised myself to move back one way or another. Oxford will always be in my heart. Little did I know it would happen this soon.”

Barajas continues to stay in touch with professors like Dr. Monty Lynn and Dr. Ryan Jessup to offer ways she can help educate and mentor COBA students who hope to live out their own adventures. 

Noah Brinegar Chooses Grad School as His Next Step

Noah Brinegar, senior marketing major from Round Rock, Texas isn’t ready to say goodbye to the classroom just yet. Brinegar was recently accepted into North Carolina State University’s graduate school in Raleigh, North Carolina where he will be pursuing a Master of Science in Analytics. The experiences that Noah was able to partake in both inside and outside of the classroom have fueled his desire to pursue graduate school and apply his marketing degree to the more specific field of analytics.

One of COBA’s Strategic Initiatives in the 2022 Strategic Plan is to encourage holistic student learning and development. Noah says that the way COBA works in tandem with the classroom and professional development for students helped him to better understand concepts that were being taught and apply the knowledge he was learning. “Specifically the hands-on learning from projects within the marketing classes made me feel really confident in my ability to handle large amounts of work as well as consulting.” An integral part of preparing students is the professional development program, COBA EDGE, headed by Professional Development Manager Steph Brown. “She helped me get an internship over the summer and in this semester that gave me valuable experience and connections.” Noah expressed his appreciation for the ways that Brown encouraged him to discover his values in order to create purpose statements and helped him build his resume for graduate school applications. 

Another holistic student development experience for Noah was being a part of the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy as a participant of the Fellows program. “I gained a passion for entrepreneurship and doing it in a way that redeems the wrongs of this world.” Noah says that the Fellows program grew him in many ways throughout his time here. “I had my eyes opened to many different perspectives from students and leaders of different races, backgrounds, and convictions that challenged me to open my mind and humble myself before others.” More than the programs that Noah was involved in, he also looks back on how ACU became the keystone community that pushed him to achieve personal and professional goals.

As every entering college student makes the transition into their university, there is always the initial challenge of finding community and understanding your purpose within that community. Noah told us that when he found his place within the ACU body, it quickly became his favorite part of his college experience saying, “It is truly a blessing to be a part of.” One of the memories he will take with him is of Dr. Ryan Jessup’s “Cheese Day”, held in his Data Mining class. Data Mining is a very challenging upper-level marketing course and “Cheese Day” is a learning-centered celebration day looked forward to all semester by Jessup’s students. One might even define the day as an “experiential learning” opportunity as Jessup allows students to work on their final projects in class so they can ask any last questions, while at the same time tasting different cheeses and filling out a form that collects opinionated data on the different qualities of the cheeses. Jessup always brings it back to analytics… as he students can attest.

Noah will take a part of ACU with him when he heads to North Carolina and advises students who are considering attending graduate school to look for a place that will help them continue to grow and develop. “When seeking grad schools, look for the programs that fit you the best (classes offered or jobs that often come from that specific program according to your goals), then tailor your preparation and application to their desires instead of trying to do everything and spreading yourself too thin.“ Congratulations to Noah as he prepares to graduate from ACU and on his acceptance to North Carolina State University. We can’t wait to see how he uses his talent to honor God and bless the world.

 

How ACU’s Online MBA Program is Fueling Educator’s Startup Dream

Cesar Manzano

Julio Cesar Manzano loves education. Cesar is in his third year as an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher at Vanguard Academy, a charter school district in South Texas where he also helps coach 8th-grade track and field, high school cross country, and currently serves as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) sponsor at his campus. Before becoming a teacher, Cesar worked in recruitment at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, Texas where he majored in English receiving his bachelor’s degree in December of 2017. While at UTRGV, he was an outreach representative for their primary feeder high schools in Brownsville, Texas, and worked closely with the admissions and financial aid departments. Cesar enjoyed meeting new students and helping them transition into higher education. This love of education also sparked a new desire in himself – to pursue his MBA.

Cesar said that the decision to enroll in an MBA program was unorthodox since he doesn’t come from a business background. But after teaching English language arts for two years at a Title 1 charter school, he thought about the different ways he could serve his community and school district. “I knew I wanted to go back to school, but I wasn’t sure how and when. I decided to go for an MBA because of the skillsets in leadership, decision-making, and organizational behavior that could be useful within my school district’s administration. I want to work in human resources eventually, and I believe this degree will open new career opportunities. I am looking into switching careers, and a graduate degree in business will help me land a job in the business field. The Bible teaches that we make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9), and I remain hopeful that He will continue to use my life in the service of others, regardless of my job title.”

Once Cesar made the decision to enroll in an MBA program, he began searching for one that aligned with his values. ACU rose to the top of the list as the program that was the best fit for him saying, “ACU’s mission aligns with my Christian values and its commitment to service resonated with me. Plus, its fully-online MBA program meant I could have the flexibility of working full-time and learning from home. What solidified my decision, in the end, was its accreditation by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the highest accreditation body for schools of business. I thought to myself, ‘This is the best of both worlds!’”

It’s important to Cesar that his faith and his vocation are connected. “I like to think of my work and ministry as one because the work I do is unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24), and the people I serve have God’s very own fingerprint. At Vanguard Academy, my faith impacts my work directly since we are a faith-based charter school. Walking with Jesus means loving God and loving people, and in my everyday work, I like to make that my goal. C.S. Lewis puts it this way, ‘There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal’. That means the work I do for my students, parents, and community transcends into eternity! My faith translates into service, and my workplace is my mission field.”

Cesar was not unfamiliar with ACU, hearing about the university when he was a high school student. For his bachelor’s degree, he chose The University of Texas-Pan American, now known as UTRGV, and had a good undergrad experience there. But, even though UTRGV offered an accelerated online MBA program, he chose ACU for his graduate degree because of the faith-based foundation. Cesar has not been disappointed in his experience with the ACU program saying that it has been “beyond amazing. Even though this is a fully-online program, I feel just as connected as I would be in-person because my professors have been available to me.” Even though he doesn’t meet with them in person, Cesar has felt supported by his professors and the academic MBA team. “From my academic advisor, Mrs. Krystal Jackson, to our program director, Dr. Phil Vardiman, everyone has been so supportive. I will be forever grateful to my ACU family for the encouragement, prayers, and lessons they have provided me.” Cesar said that out of the eight ACU professors that he has had for a class so far, each of them “has been great” and has individual gifts and talents which makes choosing a favorite professor an impossible task. “I love Dr. Don Pope’s humor, and I like how passionate Dr. Vardiman is. It seems like each semester that passes, I get to meet another great professor.”

Cesar’s background in education combined with his entrepreneurial aspirations are helping him form his next dream, a startup company called Rio Grande Valley Learning Solutions (RGV-LS). RGV-LS will be a fully online and affordable personalized tutoring business for 3rd through 12th-grade students who are English Language Learners. “As a teacher, I see the need to support students in reading and writing, especially for our bilingual students.” He is in the beginning stages of marketing RGV-LS, using the marketing skills he has learned from the MBA program to launch the project. Cesar would also like to return to work in higher education one day, with a focus in recruitment, where he hopes to leverage his teaching expertise with the lessons he has learned in the MBA program.

For Cesar, recommending the ACU online MBA program to others is easy to do. “Whether it be to start your own business or advance your career goals, this fully-accredited program will provide you with the tools necessary to be an effective leader. For someone who’s on the fence about completing their MBA, I would say the fully online program is doable. As far as the coursework, you get to log on to a live session once a week. The consistency of the assignment deadlines through the program allows you to set a routine. You will learn a lot more about yourself than you expected. For example, in our leadership class, we learned about our personal leadership style and how to leverage our strengths and weaknesses in the workplace. In my experience so far, much of our classes include project-based learning and essay writing. If you enjoy applying concepts to projects, then this would be a good fit.”

As a first-generation student, Cesar is grateful to the ACU family for their support and encouragement and has some advice to current students as they prepare for their future. “My advice is simple: Be faithful in the little things (Luke 16:10), whether at work or school, or home. We serve a faithful God, and He will honor the work we do when we do it wholeheartedly. Remain steadfast, continue studying, and finish strong.” Cesar Manzano is a wonderful example of a student living out the mission of the College to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. We can’t wait to see how he changes the world around him. If you’d like to learn more about the ACU online MBA program, click here.