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.

Young Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Bacon

When Sarah (Hailey) Bacon (‘13) graduated with an undergraduate degree in accounting and then with a MAcc degree in 2015, she likely did not imagine that she would become the Vice President, Accounting Officer at First Financial Bankshares, Inc. at such a young age. Sarah’s passion for numbers, her diverse background in accounting, and the pull of being close to family all had a hand in shaping her future career path.

During her time at ACU, she worked in the COBA Dean’s office as a student employee and also held a job as a controller for a local insurance agency. Bacon was able to apply many of the principles she was learning in both her undergraduate and graduate classes during this time. She also gained a firm understanding of the business world which she says helped tremendously at her first post-graduation job in public accounting as an auditor at a firm in Dallas. “I could relate to clients having been one myself. Ultimately, the combination of industry and audit experience lead me to my current position with First Financial.”

In early 2018, Sarah and her husband Michael (’12) decided they wanted to move back to Abilene to be closer to family. It didn’t take long for her Abilene connections to notify various people at First Financial that the Bacons were moving back to town. One morning, Sarah received a call from the previous CFO of First Financial Bankshares and, after interviewing in person a week later, they created a position for Sarah. “I was very excited because I had dreamed of working there since I first went to college.”

As most new grads find out, learning to navigate the world of working young adulthood can be hard. Sarah said, “Learning to balance work and life has always been a struggle for me. I’ve learned that there is a balance, however. That balance is different for everyone and is ever-evolving throughout the different stages of life. My best advice to anyone, including myself, is to be patient with yourself.” One of her favorite take-aways from ACU was a quote that came from Dr. Gary McCaleb to “be a life-long learner”. “This is so prevalent in today’s world where things are constantly changing and evolving at an unprecedented pace. I must always strive to be better and more knowledgeable in my field and in general. My time at ACU provided me the tools and the drive to be a life-long learner.”

Bacon said that one of the biggest surprises she’s encountered since leaving ACU is that she’s found ACU alums everywhere she has gone. “There have been ACU alumni at every company I’ve worked for, lots of networking events and several places that I’ve traveled. It’s so fun to reminisce about common professors, social clubs and Sing Song.”

COBA believes in empowering students and alumni to weave their faith into their vocation. This is something that truly resonated with Sarah as a student and now in her current position. “My faith has impacted my work most from the standpoint that I have long-believed accounting has been my calling. I try to use Christian beliefs and strong morals in everything I do, and every decision I make. I had a strong faith in Christ before I was a part of COBA, but learning in a Christian environment only helped strengthen that faith.”

Along with growing deeper in her faith, some of Sarah’s favorite memories were made at ACU; most importantly meeting her husband, Michael Bacon, in the Fall of 2014 in Dr. Paul Lakey’s communication class while they were both in graduate school and then marrying him in the Chapel on the Hill on ACU’s campus in 2016. To top off the magical day, the ceremony was conducted by Sarah’s dad, Joe Hailey (’69). Sarah also has a special place in her heart for the ACU tradition of singing “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”. She said, “I can’t narrow down one specific time that is my favorite, but the feeling of unity and common love felt when this song is sung at ACU is something that will stick with me forever. It’s the kind of feeling that gives me chills and brings a smile to my face. I associate this song with ACU.”

During her time at ACU, Sarah enjoyed being a COBA Dean’s office student employee. “I had the opportunity to get to know several professors and back-office associates better than most. I learned how down to earth they are and how much they really care. Dr. Jonathan Stewart is one of my favorite professors. His podcasts were a big deal before podcasts were a big deal and made learning fun. I loved how several COBA professors integrated fun, out-of-the-box ways of learning. Dr. Bill Fowler’s audit stories always made me laugh.”

Sarah encourages students, especially freshmen, to spend time talking to their professors. “Invest not only in your studies but in your relationships with the people around you. The content of studies is always evolving but your connections will only go away if you let them. Building a network of professionals and fellow students can be more valuable than you could imagine.”

Bacon also has some advice for current accounting students preparing for their future. “I suggest current accounting students evaluate early on if they plan to sit for the CPA exam. Adjust your class schedule so you have the right classes completed in order to take exams while still in school. Take advantage of the resources COBA provides for study materials and take as many exams as possible prior to beginning your career after college. It’s helpful to do this while you’re still in the habit of studying.” And for all COBA students, she suggests, “Participate in the practice job interviews and learn to keep up with current events in your field.”

As part of the vision, mission, and values of the college, COBA strives to create excellence and impact by 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. Sermons aren’t just lived out from the pulpit. Sometimes, the best sermons are seen at places like banks. Thank you to Sarah Bacon for making the world a better place by living out faith in the workplace.

Right Hand Media Joins Wildcat Ventures

RHM Team

Accomplishing their goal to add a new venture this semester, Wildcat Ventures acquired Right Hand Media (RHM), making it their sixth student-run business on campus. President of Wildcat Ventures, Riley Simpson, originally founded Right Hand Media as a freelance videographer. However, seeing that it would thrive in the market Wildcat Ventures caters to, the team made the decision to bring the business on board, hiring Tres Cox as the CEO. 

Tres is a marketing and management major from Lewisville, TX. Working alongside Tres is account manager Bekah Penton, content creator David Mitchell, creative designer Ashley Lang, videographers/editors Emily Shafer and Tavian Miles, and videographer and web designer Matthew Jungling. 

Tres sees RHM as helping to fill a communication gap on campus. “In this season, everyone is looking for an effective way to connect with their audience, and visual media is one the best ways to do that. Our services help our clients make an impression and make connections.” RHM specifically works in video production, digital marketing, photography, and design. 

CEO, Tres Cox

Cox said that their customer base is varied. “Our services are businesses and organizations who want to present themselves and express their message with quality content. At Right Hand Media, we encourage our partners to play their best hand.” 

RHM has worked on many projects over the semester that encapsulates the mission behind that statement. Every project has elegant evidence to show for the team’s workmanship. The company has been working closely with Dr. Dennis Marquardt and Nick Gonzales from the Lytle Center to produce the Leadership Link podcast. Nick is a fan of the work of RHM, saying, “What is unique about Right Hand Media is that they are an organization that is very easy to work with. Their adaptability is a trait that no one should take for granted. They have worked with the Lytle Center for multiple episodes and each time we pitch a new idea or have second thoughts on something they are quick to go with the flow, brainstorm, and even build upon ideas.” Gonzales noted that working with RHM means “working with excellence” and gives high praise to the team’s professionalism and collegiality.

RHM filming Mary Gregory’s Class

Another great testimony about what RHM is helping clients accomplish is the growth of painter Mary Gregory’s online painting class, Egg, Feather, Nest. Cox detailed how RHM has worked to help Gregory market her talents. “Our team films and produces the video lessons that go into her courses, creating graphics and promotional content, and managing the digital marketing strategy for the company’s online presence. It’s been an incredible journey, taking Mary from teaching only small workshops when she had the time to now teaching hundreds of students online.”

Account Manager, Bekah Penton

Not only have these client accounts created experiential learning opportunities for RHM student employees, but the students are also building on their strengths and gaining valuable experience for their future careers. Bekah Penton said, “Working at Right Hand Media has been different than any other position I have held before, but I have learned something new every day. While I have done freelance social media management before, this position at RHM has allowed me to take more of a leadership role on a team instead of independent work. It has also allowed me to continually grow in my knowledge of digital marketing such as social media, email, and content creation.”

Creative Designer, Ashley Lang

Ashley Lang told us that she loves her team because “Our people are diverse and incredibly creative in unique ways. Everyone has something different to bring to the table, and we get to utilize those strengths to create killer projects that cater to the needs of our clients. Each of us is heavily involved in things outside of RHM, and I think that reflects the potential for leadership and the amount of talent that exists within our team. These are people that come willing to learn and try new things together, and I couldn’t be more excited about it!”

Inspiring and equipping students is part of the vision of the College of Business –  to connect business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. The creative spark that the Right Hand Media team shows through their work to help others shine while continuing to learn and excel at their professional skills is something that COBA aspires to instill in all of its students. To follow RHM’s team on their Instagram page click HERE.

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.