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.”
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.
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.
Jenni Trietsch, Director of Administration
We want to give a warm welcome to Jenni Trietsch (’98), the new Director of Administration in the College of Business Administration. Jenni comes to us with a wealth of accounting and administration experience having worked as a CPA for the past 20 years. In this new role, Jenni assists and supports the COBA Dean and leadership in strategic and operational initiatives, and oversees COBA’s human resource functions, finances, building, and technology resources.
We asked Jenni what drew her to this current position in COBA: “My dad worked at ACU for 30 years, so I’ve been on campus most of my life. I graduated with a BBA in Accounting and Finance in 1998 and a Master’s of Accountancy in 1999. I’ve always loved the idea of giving back to COBA and ACU and, when the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t pass it up.” Looking forward, Jenni says, “It is so interesting to me how higher education has evolved since I was a student. I’m looking forward to seeing that in action and learning how our faculty integrates faith and learning in the classroom in new ways.”
We asked Jenni to share a little about herself and she told us, “My family is very important to me – I have two nieces and spend much of my time and energy with them. I love to travel and explore new places. The art of Dale Chihuly particularly captured my interest a few years ago after a trip to Seattle. Something surprising [about me]: one interesting experience I had in a former job was visiting an oil production platform offshore in the Dutch sector of the North Sea.” Jenni was also one of the first students to enter the MAcc program at ACU.
As a product of COBA and ACU, Jenni is a living, breathing example of alumni that carry the vision of the college, to honor God and bless the world, into the workplace. We’re excited about the experiences and ideas that she brings to the college and look forward to the ways that she will contribute to our mission to educate business and technology professionals for Christian service and leadership throughout the world.
The Lytle Center is excited to welcome Nick Gonzales (’20) to the team. Nick will serve as the administrative coordinator for the Lytle Center for Faith and Leadership. Nick will be handling all administrative tasks while working alongside Director Dr. Dennis Marquardt to plan, prepare, and execute events for the Lytle Center such as Leadership Summit.
Nick received his undergraduate degree in ministry and vocation this past May before he began working with the College of Business Administration. He told us that he is excited to learn about everything that goes on in COBA and to be a part of some of the events that he was not involved in as a Bible major.
Nick said, “I became interested in this position because of my previous experience working with SGA (Student Government Association) and Midnight Worship last year as a student at ACU. While I was Chief of Staff, I had a lot of administrative tasks that I learned that I really enjoyed doing and I was also part of a team that helped create strategic yet meaningful events and ideas for ACU’s campus. The position at the Lytle Center combined the best of both worlds!”
Nick and his wife, Sarah
Nick recently married Sarah Ross Gonzales (’20) who he met during his freshman year at ACU. His hobbies “Include loving photography and actively taking pictures with my camera, playing guitar and drums, as well as being the most avid John Mayer Fan.”
Nick is a great addition to the COBA and Lytle Center team. We encourage our students to come by, meet him, and learn how you can become involved with the Lytle Center.
Leadership Summit 2020
Leadership Summit 2020 is complete and the students have cleared out and come back to ACU with jaws wide open and a new mindset. This year I (Katie Norris ’22) joined my fellow classmates in experiencing Leadership Summit at Frontier Ranch in Buena Vista, CO in early January. If you don’t know much about Summit, the most important thing to know is that it is a challenging process that pushes you to do the things you are passionate about but haven’t had the courage or tools to step up and do yet. We call this our “River Crossing” on the mountain. Luckily, we didn’t have to cross any actual rivers in the rather icy weather.
My purpose in writing this blog is to recap the trip and give a student insight as to what happens on the mountain that leads so many people to come away from Leadership Summit with a new perspective and motivation.
A typical day at Summit would begin at 8:00 am and end about 9:00 pm with a nice two hour break in the middle of the day. Students spent the time participating in case studies, listening to speaker sessions, interactive breakout sessions, small group processing time, worship, and various activities like archery tag, taking hikes, and the Screamer (picture attached).
What’s beautiful about Leadership Summit is that it is all about utilizing your leadership potential (whether that be a role as a leader in your organization or something as simple as being a son or daughter) and being a servant to the communities you are a part, for their betterment. Not only were we given a charge from Dr. Dennis Marquardt and Dr. Rick Lytle to make an impact using our leadership roles, but we were given astonishing examples of people who have done so themselves and who gave us tools to succeed in our own visions.
This is done through the testimonies of distinguished guest speakers. We spent much of our time listening to accomplished people from different backgrounds speak on a variety of topics. This year, we were blessed with the opportunity to hear Mo Isom Aiken (New York Times best-selling author), April and Mark Anthony (founders of Encompass Home Health and Homecare Homebase ), Kathy Crockett (professor and consultant), Wendy Davidson (President of Away From Home, Kellogg Company), Elise Mitchell (Entrepreneur, CEO, consultant, and executive coach), Carlos Sepulveda (Chairman of Triumph Bancorp, Inc.), Rick Atchley (preaching minister at the Hills Church of Christ), Tim Goeglein (Vice President for External and Government Relations at Focus on the Family in Washington), David Eaton (founder of Axis), Stephen Quinn (Chief Marketing Officer of the CEO Forum), Janeen Uzzell (Global Technology Executive at Wikimedia), and Mike Willoughby (Chief Executive Officer at PFSweb). To show our thanks for the words spoken over us, we sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” over each speaker after their session. On top of all of this, one of the perks of Leadership Summit was also the opportunity to sit with these speakers at meals, get to know them, and ask them questions.
Mo Isom Aiken
Each and every River Crossing project was uniquely crafted based off of each individual student’s passions, life journey, and values. In order to bring us to a place where we could recognize each of those factors, we completed assignments before our week on the mountain that allowed us to consider what we truly value based on how we spend our time. We also were asked to write down major points in our life that shape our perspective and what we are passionate about in something called a “Journey Line”. I had no preexisting expectations of what Summit would be like and found some assignments to be what I thought was simple busywork. Dr. Marquardt quickly challenged that idea when we worked through our values session. He presented a statement based off of that assignment that gave the realization that we may not always value what we say we value over other things that we choose to make time for. This made everyone in the room rethink how they spend their time day to day, to think about what they truly value, and what they need to value more.
One really unique experience came from completing a “Journey Line” that showed the points in our life that we felt like were pivotal moments in a “highs and lows” sort of fashion. At the beginning of the week, we were asked to write this “Journey Line” on a giant paper that we hung on the walls where they remained for the week. This was a neat experience as we got to walk around the room during free times and read our peers’ journey lines. In my observations, it gave us a mindset of understanding and an excitement to dig deeper with each other throughout the week.
We were continually astonished by the relevant and practical speaker sessions that were faith focused. Speaking for everyone at Summit, I can say it was refreshing to hear people boldly talk about the true and hard things in life. As students, we were especially grateful to hear professionals speak more into life than business plans and profit maximization.
Over the course of the week we participated in activities that grew our friendships, relationships, faith, knowledge, and inspiration to do great things. To close out the week-a graduation ceremony. Not quite what you would expect from a business short course. Maybe that’s why we students found it so impactful. God seems to work even on the mountains in life.
Zach Jennings is a Management major from Abilene, Texas and graduated in December 2019. Zach interned with Edward Jones this last summer. “I learned the basics of what it takes to be a financial advisor. I got to work with other offices and two other interns in town. There were about 200 interns nationwide, so having even one intern in Abilene was awesome, but we had three!”
As Zach prepared for graduation, he also prepared to begin work with Edward Jones as a financial advisor. He says, “I believe my time at ACU helped me find out what I wanted to do moving forward. Not only did it prepare me for my future career, but I grew so much in my relationship with God because of the wonderful people here.” Zach found that he wanted a career with Edward Jones after his experience as an intern and is looking forward to the great opportunities laid before him.
Zach enjoyed his college career at ACU. We asked him what his favorite thing about being a part of COBA was and how the environment influenced his growth throughout his time here. “My favorite thing about COBA was attending Leadership Summit. I grew a lot in the Lord and made so many good friendships as well. It was a refreshing and soul-quenching experience. I would say that ACU offers not only some of the best education programs out there, but what makes ACU great is the community. You actually get to know your professors and you’ll realize they want to get to know you too. The community of ACU is welcoming, inclusive and Christ-like. The people here are what sets ACU apart from the rest.”
Helping students find how their gifts and talents can be used for God in the workplace is something COBA is passionate about. For those students who aren’t sure what career path they want to take, COBA and ACU provide exploration through the COBA Edge professional development program and the guidance offered at the Career Center. To learn more about the COBA Edge program, students can email Steph Brown at email@example.com. Students can also learn more about internships, interviewing, and career search information by reading the COBA student newsletter, looking through Handshake, or contacting Steph Brown or the ACU Career Center.