Destanie Crist, senior financial management major from Valley Center, CA, hit the ground running when she stepped foot on the campus of ACU. She quickly became involved on campus and is active in leadership roles for multiple student organizations and currently serves as the fund manager for STAR (Student Trading and Research). This past summer, Destanie interned for J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. in Irvine, CA where she was able to learn about a variety of roles at the organization. “During my internship, I was trained in four rotations under the Commercial Real Estate Bank division. Each week I would hear from a variety of executives and senior managers about their line of business whether it was Treasury Services or Commercial Term Lending. After my training, I was given a specific case study where I had to take everything that I learned and apply it to a presentation, loan decision, and underwriting process. At the end of that week, I had to present the final decision that I made alone or with a team to a group of senior executives. The final two weeks were immersion weeks where I conducted real loans and sat with sales teams. I also had many networking opportunities where I learned from people both inside and outside of the commercial bank and made some really sweet friends.”
The internship experience was valuable for many reasons. Destanie said, “The people I met, connections I made, and friends developed over this summer were by far my favorite part. JPMC and specifically the Irvine office has some of the most incredibly hardworking and driven people I have ever met. The immersion weeks where we worked with real clients and finally got to put all that training to the test was truly fulfilling. I pitched an idea to improve one of the processes in the bank with a few other interns and spent most of my internship working on that idea with a senior executive who I respect and greatly appreciate to bring this project to life!”
With so many great experiences to choose from, we asked Destanie what the greatest lesson she had learned was. “Be yourself, always work hard even when nobody expects you to, and talk to everyone and anyone you can regardless of their title because you can learn from them.” Destanie made it a goal to always put these principles into action. She went the extra mile to help herself stand out from the crowd and encourages future interns to do the same. “Whether it was showing up to work 20 minutes early to make sure all the technology was working for the day, staying late to help with community service projects, organizing meetings with my peers to complete case studies, and setting up Zooms to learn more about different parts of the bank and its people. I was blessed to be able to work closely with analysts and executives who taught me their ways and asked for my feedback or ideas for improvement. It was a huge eye-opener and it allowed me to see how much JPMC cares about each employee and values their ideas or improvement suggestions.”
Internships provide students with opportunities to not only learn about potential future careers but also to reflect on how to improve their skills at graduation. “This experience has shaped a lot of my mentality and approach to jobs or tasks in the future. It opened my eyes to the fact that people who are in more senior roles than you truly care about you and see the potential we hold as the younger generation for the advancement of the future. It also pushed me to understand the greater importance of work-life balance and the emphasis people must place on it to maintain their best selves. I would also say it taught me to not be afraid of speaking up and sharing ideas I have that could potentially help better a process or the firm as a whole. It is a strong foundation that has allowed me to learn a variety of skills and meet incredible people that I can turn to if I ever need help or a suggestion.”
Internships offer students a great foundation for their future careers through exploration, experience, and connections as well as stretching them both personally and professionally. “A lot of growth happened during my internship. I would say professionally I feel more prepared to graduate. Learning the fundamentals in school is crucial; however, after working in this internship over the summer, I would argue to say having experience by working a summer job or internship in the profession you are interested in allows you to see the purpose and gift of college to a greater extent. My faith was challenged and encouraged. I was able to share God and love with others around me in a respectful and caring way while also being encouraged by others in the workplace who know the Lord. Overall, I think the most growth happened in myself and developing who I am as Destanie both inside and outside of the office.”
Destanie was offered a full-time position as a Commercial Real Estate Analyst at JPMC and will be working for the company after graduation. She feels that her time at ACU prepared her for this internship and career through her experience as a leader in various clubs, class presentations, and intentionally getting to know each person in the process. Destanie encourages any student who is thinking about participating in an internship to “first and foremost remember who God is. Remember that regardless of your background, financial status, GPA, or college you are attending God can and will do great things through you. You must trust Him by taking that leap of faith or chance and putting your best foot forward. I applied to a variety of firms both big and small. God is the one who opens the doors and shuts them. He blessed me with this internship and a full-time offer. I put in the work of filling out resumes and cover letters and researching companies that fit the mission I wanted to be a part of. He was the one to open the door and help me through the intensive process to this job!”
Students who are interested in having an internship experience like this one or who would like help preparing for their job search can contact Steph Brown, COBA’s Professional Development Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
If you didn’t know Randy Nicholson’s (’59) story, you might never suspect that the entrepreneur, benefactor and influential former ACU trustee faced extreme adversity and obstacles from the beginning of his life. Yet those circumstances that were beyond his control shaped the man he became – someone who helped others and lived generously.
At 18 months old, Nicholson and his siblings were placed in Boles Children’s Home in Quinlan, Texas after their parents could no longer care for them. There, he began learning about Christ, generosity, gratitude and the value of working hard. Regular chores at Boles Home taught responsibility and included working in the fields, tending to the animals and milking cows. Nicholson was also active in FFA and worked for Safeway supermarkets as a stocker, sacker and checker.
Nicholson’s college decision was heavily influenced by one of his Boles Home dorm supervisors, Abilene Christian College alumnus Robert Harold “Tex” Williams (’50). As for his major, Nicholson developed an early interest in accounting while working with Claude Covey, who did the accounting for Boles Home, during high school.
Nicholson chose not to accept the free tuition offered to Abilene Christian students who grew up in an orphanage. He felt he had been given much during his time at Boles Home and that it was time for him to start paying his own way. He worked full time at an Abilene Safeway and still managed to graduate in four years with a degree in accounting.
While at ACC, caring mentors and friends continued to shape Nicholson’s faith and character. His friendship with Hal McGlothlin (’58) led to multiple work experiences and partnerships with McGlothlin family businesses such as Radio London, United Network, Bank of Commerce, Locus Homes International, LaJet and even an attempt at forming a new television network. Nicholson also gained experience in the self-serve gasoline business as founder, president, chief operating officer and board member of E-Z Serve, and he also helped pioneer pay-at-the-pump equipment as chair and CEO of AutoGas Systems Inc.
Nicholson remained very active with his alma mater until his death in December 2020 because he felt strongly that a quality Christian education should be affordable and accessible to all students who want to learn in a Christ-centered environment. He served on the ACU Board of Trustees for 29 years. He also chaired the investment committee from its inception in the 1980’s until February 2010. When ACU established a separate entity to handle its endowment – the Abilene Christian Investment Management Company (ACIMCO) – in 2009, Nicholson served as the first chairman of the board.
He also played a large role in the land purchase to expand ACU in 1981 and was one of four individuals who contributed money to establish Student Trading and Research (STAR), a student-managed fund in the College of Business Administration. Nicholson worked closely with the past deans of COBA to help the college equip its graduates to be influential Christians in the business world. Most recently, he was on the advisory board for the Nuclear Energy eXperimental Testing (NEXT) Lab.
Nicholson’s greatest partnership was with fellow ACC student Barbara Hart (’59), and they married in 1957. The pair were married 59 years until Barbara’s death in January 2017. Those who knew Randy knew how much his wife, daughter Randa (Nicholson ’88) Upp, son-in-law Jeff Upp (’86) and grandson Braden (’17) meant to him.
Nicholson’s presence continues to be felt as he generously gave to others for causes that were dear to his heart. One of the legacies is the Nicholson-Upp Family Endowed Scholarship for the College of Business. “Dad felt compelled to help others, especially those who started from a disadvantaged place in life,” said his daughter, Randa Upp. “He knew the importance of having someone believe in you and being given a chance.” Randa recently told us about her father and the legacy he left behind.
Who inspired him?
Coach Garvin Beauchamp (’41) formed a relationship with Dad during his freshman year at ACC when Dad stayed with him until the new residence hall, Edwards, was ready for students to move in. Later, at the beginning of Dad’s sophomore year, Coach Beauchamp encouraged him to find a new group of friends. This advice changed the path that he was on. Early in Dad’s career, Hal McGlothlin (one of those new friends) encouraged him to sell his accounting practice and come to work for the McGlothlin family business, which placed Dad in a position to have many unique business experiences. Hal treated people with kindness regardless of who they were. This impacted Dad deeply. H.E. Hart, the father of Barbara Hart, inspired him in several ways. Mr. Hart was a man of integrity. He was the spiritual leader of his home and a man with an incredible work ethic. Nick Nicholson, Dad’s cousin who was the head football coach at ACC while he was there, was a wonderful example for Dad in the way that he lived his life, cared for his family and treated others. W.C. “Dub” Orr (’50) and Ray McGlothlin Jr. were two men who inspired him in his approach to business. Dr. Overton Faubus made a huge impact on Dad. He gave Dad advice about building credit which later put him in a position to be able to borrow the money needed to purchase an accounting firm.
What was his favorite ACU memory?
Many of Dad’s favorite memories came from times with friends that spanned six decades of experiences together at ACU. Some of those memories were from the first mixer as a freshman in 1955, Sing Song and socials with Sub-T-16 and Chapel in Sewell Auditorium. Other favorite memories included seeing myself, nieces and nephew, future son-in-law, and grandson attend ACU. He was so proud to see his grandson, Braden, participate in STAR with Dr. Terry Pope and work with Jack Rich and the endowment.
A special memory for Dad was when he, Ray McGlothlin Jr., and Dub Orr were named the College of Business Administration’s Distinguished Business Leaders of the Year in 1996. That honor focused on something very special – three humble, godly men who relied on God and each other.
How did his faith impact his work and personal interactions?
Dad was often heard saying he knew what it was to be at the bottom of the social ladder. He also knew what it was like having everything given to him by people he would most likely never meet. This not only formed a spirit of humility in him, but also created a compassionate and generous heart.
He knew that nothing makes one person better than another person. He treated people the same whether they were a busboy at a restaurant or a powerful politician, a brilliant CEO or a famous celebrity. Dad had three families: his physical family, his spiritual family and his work family. Relationships were very important to him. He cared deeply for people. As Dad looked back on his life, he realized that the times that were hard – when he felt he was facing the greatest adversity – those were the times when God was placing him on a path for blessing. He was an encourager, and he looked for ways to be a part of the blessing for others who were facing adversity.
COBA’s vision is to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. How do you think your dad lived out that vision in his work?
He wanted the quality of education in COBA to be top-notch while also providing practical application and experience. Dad felt that it was very important for professors to develop relationships with their students and for them to provide a godly example in and out of the classroom. He was constantly introducing people to each other. He would host luncheons and other gatherings to introduce people. He strongly believed in networking and relationships. He always wanted time with the students to encourage them that it didn’t matter where they started – what mattered is where they finished. He wanted them to know that their work and determination was important. He was always willing to encourage and mentor others.
What advice do you think Randy would give to current students to prepare them for their future?
- Your relationship with Jesus is the most important thing. Surround yourself with people who will always encourage you in your walk with Christ.
- Foster a spirit of gratitude. No matter what your situation – you are blessed. Focus on your blessings. “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18
- Dedication and hard work go a long way. Don’t expect people to hand things to you. Go out and look for opportunities.
- Remain humble and treat everyone with respect.
- Seek out mentors and listen to their advice. Surround yourself with people who constantly challenge you to be a better person. “The way of the fool seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end, you will be counted among the wise.” Proverbs 19:20
- Learn from your mistakes and don’t forget to forgive others of their mistakes
- Don’t forget to give back. No matter where you are in your life, you can always give back. You can give your time, your talent and/or your money. You can mentor those who are younger than you, and you can help people connect with each other and build a stronger network of relationships.
- Be content. Find a way to be happy regardless of your circumstances. Remember, looking to others to complete you is always a mistake. Find happiness in your relationship with God.
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.”
“See a need, fill a need.” That’s a phrase used often when talking about leadership, particularly servant leadership. It’s a phrase Chris Clark (’01) has put into practice since graduating from ACU as a management and marketing major.
As the co-owner of TimelyMD, an online telehealth provider focusing on colleges and universities, Clark has searched for ways to serve others while offering help and healing to often marginalized communities. Along the way, he’s continued to show his gratitude to his alma mater saying, “ACU helped us and now we want to give back.”
TimelyMD might never have been born were it not for ACU. Founded by alumni Clark, Luke Hejl (’01) and Dr. Alan Dennington (’01), the university not only brought the three partners together but offered the opportunity to see their idea launched. The company’s seed investors were all alumni. ACU was the first client, signing a contract for what is now known as “Wildcat Care” before the company’s operational launch and encouraging other institutions to engage the company’s services.
Now TimelyMD serves almost 100 institutions and half a million students. Not only has its growth been exponential, but what started as a medical-only company five years ago has pivoted to serve students in a broader way, adding mental and behavioral health services.
In the beginning, behavioral health wasn’t even on the partners’ radar, Clark said. However, when they started canvassing colleges, the message from higher education institutions was clear: “It’s great that you can treat pink eye, but our real needs are on the behavioral health side.”
Pre-pandemic, 60 percent of TimelyMD visits dealt with medical issues and fewer than 40 percent involved behavioral health. When the pandemic hit, the numbers were reversed; two-thirds of the visits now involve behavioral or mental health and one-third are medical.
Stressors brought on by the pandemic served to accelerate the business’s growth. As a former pharmaceutical sales rep, Clark understood how long it could take to build relationships with potential clients. Pre-pandemic, the sales cycle with colleges was generally 12 to 36 months before a decision would be made to engage the company’s services.
When COVID-19 hit, many students were sent home as institutions turned to online learning. As students returned to their home states, colleges and universities that wanted to continue offering health services faced a dilemma: How would they provide care in a state in which their campus providers might not be licensed?
At the same time, students’ anxiety levels increased, compounded by social isolation and loneliness, as they worried about their academic performance and their future. As many institutions remained closed for the remainder of the academic year in 2020 and into 2021, telehealth came into the spotlight.
TimelyMD was ready for the challenge and the much-shortened sales cycle. The company had already been working on a national infrastructure plan for expansion. The blueprint was in place and allowed the company to rapidly deliver short-term, customized solutions for institutions such as Duke and Johns Hopkins.
Although TimelyMD was founded initially to fill a gap in the higher education healthcare system, Clark says his fulfillment and inspiration comes in seeing how the lives of students are transformed.
“People are so passionate about what we are doing,” he said. “I realize we truly may be saving a life, intervening in crises or changing the world in a positive way. We’re working with some institutions with a very high percentage of first-generation college students who aren’t accustomed to the level of care we’re providing, especially on the mental health side. It’s definitely what makes me wake up in the morning, knowing we are truly improving the health of students.”
As TimelyMD continues to grow, Clark sees an opportunity to reach marginalized communities in a way virtual health has not been able to do before. “When I was in school, behavioral health was swept under the rug; today we are dealing with it in a different way,” he said. It’s been especially fulfilling to see the mental health services embraced by students and institutions alike, he said.
The lessons Clark learned on the ACU campus have equipped him for marrying his academic knowledge with his faith as he has grown his business.
“In COBA, specifically, learning how to lead and learning from Christian leaders is probably what equipped me to help lead TimelyMD today,” Clark said. “The presentations we had to give, the debates, position papers and learning to stand behind our position were all really helpful.”
He especially appreciates the lessons he learned at COBA’s Leadership Summit.
“Leadership Summit was really about servant leadership,” he said. “I can’t tell you the content that was shared, but what I do remember is that faith was important to the business leaders who came in. They talked about how they incorporated their faith into their daily lives in leading an organization and it was really powerful for me. I don’t do a perfect job of that but I try to lead in that way, too. While I won’t shove it down anyone’s throat, for people to know that my faith is important to me, that it does guide me in what I do and how I do it, is important.”
Aside from meeting his wife, Merry (Lacy) Clark (‘00), his favorite memories from his time at ACU involve the student opportunities offered to him. Clark encourages current students to look at their college experience holistically.
“It’s much more than going to class and group projects,” he said. “It’s things like participating in committees, going to Leadership Summit, going to professors’ homes for meals. It was an amazing experience to be able to do that. Outside of class, I would say it’s getting as involved as you can. I was involved with SGA serving as the freshman and sophomore class president. Whatever it may be, Sing Song, Wildcat Week, etc., it’s important to find all the different ways to build community.”
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 email@example.com.