Alumni Spotlight: Dustin Marshall

When Dustin Marshall (’07) graduated from ACU with an undergraduate degree in accounting and a Master in Accountancy in 2008, he wasn’t sure how the work he was going to do would allow him to put his faith into practice in the workplace. Thirteen years later, the answer is clear. 

One of the tenets of the College of Business Administration is encouraging students and alumni to see all work as ministry. Marshall, now a CPA and Assurance partner at Ernst & Young LLP, can see now that the size of the firm along with the flexibility he has at the company allows him to do Kingdom work both inside and outside of the office. 

“One of the things I really struggled with right out of college was feeling as if what I was doing for a living did not have a direct or significant impact on the world or even my community, so it was hard to feel like I was honoring God or blessing the world,” Marshall said. “After much prayer and self-reflection, it was revealed to me that God gave me the gifts he did for a reason and that there are numerous ways that I am able to honor him and bless others in my day-to-day activities at work.” 

Faith is important to Marshall in his day-to-day interactions. 

“So much of my work is building relationships,” he said. “There are multiple opportunities to connect with individuals on both a professional and personal level, and though I cannot openly discuss my faith unless directly asked, it is ever-present in every interaction that I have. One of my values is building relationships based on doing the right thing. My faith is the basis for living out that value.” 

Marshall understands that his success in the business world is built on interacting with others, whether it be building professional relationships with co-workers and clients or the apprenticeship-like model that is public accounting. Not only did COBA give Marshall the foundation of knowledge to enter the business world, but his time at ACU and in the college helped shape him. 

“COBA gave me the solid business foundation to confidently carry out those interactions and helped develop me as a person to do so with compassion, kindness and caring for those I interact within a business setting,” he said. “It is impossible to build up without having a firm foundation, and ACU provided that foundation.”

Marshall advises current students to get plugged in at ACU and build their support system, saying, “Don’t be shy! There are so many opportunities at ACU to get plugged in and involved. Find your spot and allow yourself to grow. Join a fraternity/sorority. Join other clubs on campus. Play every intramural sport possible. I was lucky enough to make friends at ACU that I have been able to rely on heavily after graduation.”

The friends and mentors Marshall gained at ACU have created lasting memories for him. 

“I enjoyed every second spent with my fraternity,” Marshall said. “Sing Song was a great experience – not so much Sing Song practice. The long study sessions that were spent in the COBA atrium while taking numerous breaks to talk to friends walking through. Time spent in the Quiet Place. The most specific memory I have is my last semester in the MAcc program when it was difficult to stay motivated and I felt like I couldn’t wait to graduate, only to spend my very last class at ACU sitting in Dr. Perkins’ class listening to him play his guitar and read Oh, the Places You’ll Go! to us and wishing that class would never end because I did not want to leave.”

Marshall gives special mention of two professors who greatly impacted him. 

“I enjoyed all of the accounting professors but I would have to give specific acknowledgment to Mr. (Bill) Fowler and Dr. (John) Neill,” Marshall said. “Fowler was invaluable in helping us keep everything in perspective and always taking the time to discuss topics outside of accounting. Dr. Neill was a great teacher and his jokes always kept me laughing. I still talk to both of them on a fairly regular basis.” 

Marshall says he “could not recommend ACU highly enough” and touts the university as being the perfect size where the opportunities are boundless. ACU became the place where he grew his own faith. He encourages current students to be introspective and active in their spiritual journey.

“Growing in your faith-life is hard after school,” he said. “Reflecting back, I was essentially ‘spoon fed’ faith from the day I was born. I grew up in the church, and I was surrounded by like-minded individuals, which only increased when I stepped on ACU’s campus. At ACU, you have daily Chapel, you pray before class and Bible studies are plentiful. It was a huge adjustment after graduation when I became a lot more responsible for my own faith walk.”

While the adjustment outside of the ACU campus might have been hard, Marshall is living out his faith in the workplace as a quiet ambassador for COBA alumni who “honor God and bless the world.”

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.

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.

 

Gbemi Adebesin Receives Award for Highest CFE Score in Africa

Gbemi Adebesin

When Gbemi (pronounced Bemi/Bimi) Adebesin (’17) came to ACU, she was no ordinary freshman. Gbemi came to ACU as an international student from Nigeria at the tender age of 15. Prior to that, she had spent 6 years in boarding school so the adjustment to a new place, a new culture, and a new style of learning was a shock. Gbemi began her academic career as a biochemistry pre-med major but in her sophomore year, she says she gained more insight and clarity into her personality and purpose and changed her major to accounting graduating in 2017 with a Masters in Accountancy.

Being such a young college student meant that ACU played a huge part in shaping Gbemi and her future as an adult. She said, “I remember being so super shy when I arrived and having a lot of doubts in my faith and career; but my time and experiences at ACU definitely helped me broaden my horizon and gain more perspective, direction, and confidence. I can’t overemphasize how much the knowledge, culture, and skills I gained from ACU and COBA continues to be so relevant and important to me to date.” 

Part of the vision, mission, and values that COBA hopes to instill in students is “Excellence and Impact” which means upholding high moral and professional standards of excellence for faculty, staff, students, and alumni, calling each person to a life of service and leadership that glorifies God and transforms communities and society. Gbemi is a shining example of that excellence. She obtained her CPA (Certified Public Accountant) in 2018 and her CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) in 2020, receiving the notable honor of Top Achiever Africa Award from the ACFE (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners) South Africa chapter for having the highest overall score in Africa. Adebesin recognizes how special receiving the honor is saying, “It feels amazing and that’s partly because I had never expected to receive such an award. The exam is designed such that you never really know your scores, you only know if you pass or not, so I didn’t think such an award existed. Taking the exam was out of my deep interest and passion for the field, so to have that reflected by the award is truly special.”

Gbemi is currently working as an external auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Nigeria but gained experience in the accounting field working at Eide Bailly in Abilene for a year before moving back home and enrolling in a one-year nation-building program during which she joined PwC as an auditor. Like most new graduates, Gbemi found the transition from being a student working full time to be a bit jarring. “Having spent the majority of my life at school with no internships in my career field, I felt like a fish out of water every day for the first few months. I really loved and enjoyed school so transitioning from that secure ‘bubble’ environment was a big step out of my comfort zone and a paradigm shift. Let’s just say reality hit me.” Along with the adjustment to work, there have been other challenges she has faced. One of those challenges is something that’s felt by many but rarely discussed – Imposter Syndrome. She said, “I feel the challenge I struggled with the most and for the longest time is Imposter Syndrome, which has held me back in some ways; but I’m learning to just show up with my best foot forward and leave the rest. The other notable challenge I experience, being in the working world now, is finding ways to integrate all facets of my life with my work and ensuring my faith and relationships don’t suffer.”

Adebesin’s faith is integral in her career and her relationships with colleagues and clients. “My faith plays a huge role in my work and is what keeps me going. Apart from cultivating a greater sense of meaning in my work, it has shaped and improved my values, work ethic, and relationships with people like my colleagues, clients, etc. It drives me to continually strive to be better in everything I do and contribute as much as I can to a better world and environment. Since I spend most of my time at work, work is one major way I’m able to express and fulfill my faith through leading by example and letting my life and work tell the story of my faith and trust in God.”

The people and places of ACU were formative for Gbemi in many ways. Some of her favorite memories at ACU are those “little moments like walking across campus, even though sometimes it’s while rushing to class, hearing the chapel bells ringing, being in class, the activities and events (homecoming with the fireworks, tailgates with amazing food and activities, international student events, theater, etc.), the Bean and campus center food, snow days, chapel worship, and most importantly the time I got to spend with all the wonderful people I met at ACU.”

Adebesin said that some of her best memories come from her time at McDonald dorm in the spring of 2013 saying, “I was so shy back then, but I still remember how welcoming everyone I met there was.” She cherishes the friendship of the people she encountered while working at the ACU Foundation and Advancement office, as a tutor in the University Access Programs, and at Residence Life, who were so kind to her, saying how much she deeply appreciated them. She is also thankful for the kindness and support she received from her academic advisors, the ACU Career Center, and Student Financial Services.

Gbemi also has high praise for her former professors, saying, “Wow, I love a lot of different professors for different reasons and they all left memorable impressions on me in various ways. They were so admirable, kind, patient, and always willing to help, even beyond the classroom, which really enhanced my ACU experience. I guess I can use this as a form of a shout-out to all my professors from COBA (in no particular order): Professors Perkins, Vardiman, Stewart, Fowler, Little, Clements, Stovall, Neill, Wertheim, Brister, Burton, Easter, Phillips, and the Popes. I didn’t have Professors Marquardt and Tippens for class, but they were also really caring on other occasions. There were also quite a number outside of COBA too that I appreciate. For example, I’m always grateful for the Powells, who took my siblings and me in as part of their family, Professor David Merrell, who always cared for me and my sister, and Professor John Willis who was such a loving person. I know I mentioned many names and there are still more I could mention. It was truly a blessing having these wonderful and brilliant professors and I just want them to know that I always remember and appreciate them beyond words, and I can still mention a thing or two that I learned from each of them that stuck with me.”

As the saying goes, “hindsight is 20/20”. Gbemi’s advice for freshmen comes from looking back on what she experienced and learned while at ACU. “I’d say ‘be water’ and be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Get involved in campus activities and keep up with the meaningful relationships you form but obviously not to the detriment of studying and classes. The professors and students are so helpful and there are numerous resources and tools on the ACU campus, so be open to asking around and being vocal about your needs. One of the most important things for incoming COBA freshmen is to make use of the Career Center early.”

As business students look to their future careers, she encourages them to take advantage of all that the ACU Career Center and COBA’s Professional Development program have to offer.I’d advise them to be curious, open-minded, and continue to challenge themselves in as many ways as possible. They should try to get practical experience and exposure through networking, jobs, and internship opportunities. An internship was something I didn’t experience and now know its value in hindsight. The career center is a great resource to take advantage of for this. Also, this is a great time to start taking a holistic view of their life and being mindful to have a clear life vision for their future.”

Adebesin knows that attending college in a foreign country is a challenge for many international students. She advises international students to “be open because most people at ACU are always ready and willing to help. The international student community has many wonderful people as well as a lot of activities such as international student dinner, ethnos, Hispanic Unidos, etc. I always had an amazing time at these events and would encourage every international student to participate. In light of this, I would like to give a special shout-out to Lucy Dawson, Laura Blake, Daniel Garcia, Susan and Art Green, and the other international student office staff who made ACU feel like home.” Gbemi was also enrolled in the Friendship Family Program where she met Karen Douglas, a counselor at ACU. “Karen and her family have been such a blessing in my life while at ACU and after in more ways than I can thank her for. I’m very thankful and blessed to have met someone so loving and amazing and to have another home and family away from home.”

Gbemi Adebesin truly is living out the vision of the college to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world as she lives out her calling in her vocation and in her community. “My time at ACU has been so memorable, even the littlest experiences, so I experience a lot of nostalgia when I look back. I will forever feel blessed to have been a part of that community and to have these spectacular people in my memories, including those not mentioned here.” Congratulations to Gbemi on the honor received – we can’t wait to see the ways she changes the world.

COBA Welcomes Dr. Julia Dare

We want to give a warm welcome to Dr. Julia Dare, Visiting Professor of Management Sciences. Before Dr. Dare began teaching, she worked in corporate strategy consulting and global management in the biopharmaceutical industry. Since Dr. Dare made the transition into academia, she says, “Inspiring and equipping my students is pure joy.”

Dr. Dare currently teaches courses in Strategic Management, and International Business, integrating Business Ethics and CSR, which are the fields that she worked in before she began teaching.I fought some serious corporate ethical battles with God as my shield, compass, and strength. He never fails. My passion for traveling to different countries and enculturation began in the spring semester of my junior year at SMU. I studied abroad in Paris, and all of our courses were taught in French. I lived with a French family and quickly became a Parisienne. My friends and I decided to buy a Eurail pass and left every weekend to a different country. Our backpacking adventures were unforgettable. I stayed the summer in Europe to dive into as many countries and cultures we had yet to explore. None of us returned to America the same. We had become citizens of Europe and rather fearless. What seemed critical to us before our experience overseas seemed like foolishness after coming home. It’s a great analogy of the transformation we experience in laying our old life down with its rituals and idols to follow Jesus. He turns our worldly desires upside down when He opens our eyes to true riches as we radically pursue Him. When we become Kingdom citizens our lives are never the same. All other adventures fall short of life with our omnipotent Savior.”

Dr. Dare says what she enjoys most about teaching students is that They come to class seeking truth, wisdom, and their calling. My students are excited to learn about global business, different cultures, ethical dilemmas, and how to navigate their careers with purpose and pursue God. We dive into these areas in each course but go deeper outside of class.  After graduation, helping my students flourish as they pursue their unique calling is pure joy.”

Moving to Texas to teach has been an adjustment but Dare said that she is looking forward to learningthe depth and width of this assignment. My students teach me every semester and the hearts of my colleagues are Texas-sized. ACU is a powerful force for God’s Kingdom. I’m thrilled the Lord planted me here in this season of creation and transformation.”

Dr. Dare’s world-wide experiences have greatly influenced her passions and hobbies outside of teaching. She told us she really enjoys, Skiing in Tahoe & the Swiss Alps, scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef and French Polynesia, connecting with God’s people and the ones He’s pursuing in countries around the world, Hope & Grace (my longhaired blonde and black & tan mini dachshunds), my irreplaceable family & friends who have become sisters, sailing to Catalina, hiking to hidden waterfalls through unmarked terrain, writing poetry, rugged coastal beauty, and getting lost in worship.”

Something that students might be surprised to find out about Dr. Dare is that: My sister-in-law & niece are Taiwanese and my husband is South African. We have all lived & traveled across continents, so we are a very international family!”

To close, Dr. Dare wanted students to know, “Coming to Abilene from California is such an adventure. I specifically came for ACU students, so please don’t be shy. Join our small chapel group, stay after class, ask to meet, or find me walking Hope & Grace around campus. You are the reason I’m here — to strengthen and inspire you to pursue Jesus and His will for your life.” 

Teaching in the Time of COVID-19

Pre-COVID-19: Dr. James Prather with SITC students

COVID-19 has brought changes and challenges all across the country, including the ACU campus. From the middle of the spring semester to the current fall semester, our faculty have continuously adjusted how they deliver their class material and how to interact with their students. We interviewed Dr. Laura Phillips (’88), associate professor of management, Clint Buck, assistant dean and instructor of accounting, and Dr. Don Pope, associate professor of management to hear about their experiences teaching during the pandemic and how they are working to overcome the challenges that it has presented. 

What challenges has COVID-19 brought to the classroom? 

Phillips: “My challenges were in the spring and Maymester terms. In the spring I was teaching two semesters of stats that were supposed to start the week after spring break. When we took that extra week off to regroup, I lost 14% of my semester. Also, since we’d never met in person, I didn’t know any of the students and we had not been able to create a class culture before shifting to online. My other class was supposed to be a one-week Maymester in Dallas with about 20 guest speakers and several field trips. That class went virtual as well, which was a huge shift.”

Buck: “FACE MASKS! While I understand the need for face masks, they pose a great challenge in the classroom. It’s hard to ‘read’ the classroom and see if concepts are making sense, if jokes are landing, etc., and it is also hard to teach while wearing a mask. Seeing people’s faces, sending and receiving smiles, and shaking hands are all actions relied upon in the past to establish and nurture connection and community – hallmarks of the COBA and ACU experience. The current realities are forcing us to rethink how we establish and nurture our community, which is very challenging.”

Pope: “The inability to talk with and help students face to face, along with reduced interaction with faculty and staff colleagues.”

Dr. Laura Philips

What did you do to overcome those challenges?

Phillips: “Lots of trial and error! We’d try some things for a week in stats, and if it wasn’t working, we’d make adjustments for the next week. My coworkers were all very supportive but since we were working remotely and everyone was scrambling, there wasn’t a lot of time to sit around and think philosophically about how we should approach our classes. My schedule didn’t always allow me to attend but the weekly COBA Zoom prayer times have been great! And throughout the summer, the staff in the Adams Center and the crew they assembled to provide resources and training for the faculty have been outstanding.”

Buck: “My teaching colleagues have been invaluable in navigating these issues, and they have also been helpful in the tactical aspects of the job (great suggestions for teaching online and in a distanced classroom, things to look for, things to avoid, etc.). My administrative colleagues have been very good to normalize the challenges we face. It is not easy to be a good employee, a good spouse, and a good parent while navigating a global pandemic, and I am grateful for their faithful demonstration of grace throughout this season.”

Pope: “Through the use of technology tools – online teaching in Canvas and Zoom, we carry on and push through. I would like to compliment the IT people in the background here who work tirelessly ‘below the radar’ and receive little thanks. I would also like to thank the educational technology support staff in the Adams Center and the Library. They are amazing.”

Clint Buck

What’s different about the current fall semester?

Phillips: “I can’t really address this question because I’m teaching online this semester. I am taking German, so I’ve experienced the classroom as a student, but not as a professor.”

Buck: “Can’t shake hands or see smiles; can’t see if a concept or idea is resonating or not. Things I took for granted – like handing out printed material in class! – are very noticeable in their absence. Also, I used to enjoy having a very special teaching assistant in class at least once each semester, but my eight-year-old daughter (Lillian) is unable to do so this semester.  :(  EVERYONE is very sad about this.”

Pope: “My classes ended up all being online this semester, so obviously that is really different. But when I/we return to in-person classes again, I plan to utilize many of the recorded lectures and clarified teaching materials that have been developed during the pandemic. In the past, I relied too much on being able to verbally explain something, and now I see that some of my notes are not very clearly written. So, the current situation is an opportunity to see things differently and learn and grow.”

COBA’s vision is to inspire, equip, and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. How are you integrating the vision with your students when you can’t always be with them? 

Phillips: “I don’t start teaching until October this semester so most of my interaction with students is coming through a community group I’m leading for some COBA freshmen and meeting with students about study abroad next fall. I’m trying to stay connected to students even though I’m not in the classroom. I guess right now I’m spending a lot of time trying to inspire them to spend a semester abroad. It is such a transformational experience but sometimes it’s hard for students to visualize themselves doing something so vastly different from their normal life. I’m also trying to help some of our freshmen connect in our small group. They have such a great attitude but I think it’s harder to get to know people with the masks and social distancing in the classrooms. I’m hoping that our community group helps them get to know a handful of their COBA peers and that they will have a few classmates with whom they have connected at a deeper level.”

Buck: “I’m working hard to use Canvas better so information is accessible and organized for students.”

Pope: “In terms of connection, I am trying to encourage more emailed thoughts about prayer needs, scripture, and other personal concerns. My wife has, for 20 years, invited students into our home for meals and we typically have had large groups. This fall, she is going to considerable effort to plan, prepare, and host multiple smaller groups in a safe manner.”

Dr. Don Pope

What are you excited about for this semester?

Phillips: “Getting to know some of our new freshmen, seeing students get excited about spending a semester abroad, ‘meeting’ my students – even though we will not be gathering in person.”

Buck: “Seeing how we expand our vision of community. We’ve relied on very traditional definitions and expressions of community (e.g. shaking hands, sharing a meal, attending a sporting event or attending the performing arts) for a long time, and the current moment forces us to rethink them. When things return to something resembling what we used to call ‘normal’, we will hold these definitions/expressions even more sacred and special than before.”

Pope: “‘Excited’ is probably not a word that we would use about this situation.  But, I do think that we are all learning some valuable lessons about the human need to be with other people, to accept each other’s different perspectives on things, and live together in community.  It will be interesting to see how family, education, business, and church are changed long term by this experience.”

While the ACU campus looks and works differently in 2020, COVID-19 hasn’t stopped faculty members from looking for ways to put students first. Echoed in the comments of each of our faculty members is the theme that is so central to ACU – community. We value our students and our relationships with them as faculty and staff. We will continue to strive to connect in the best ways possible this semester and we look forward to the day that we can see those smiles in the classroom.