Karson Tutt, senior management major from Tuscola, Texas is a busy young entrepreneur. In addition to finishing her college courses, she is president of the Founders Club (part of the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy) and the owner of Karson’s, a jewelry and clothing boutique in downtown Abilene. Tutt began her business making jewelry that she sold online and to friends. In 2020, that small business expanded into a storefront with seven employees. Karson quickly experienced success in her new venture and saw an opportunity to start a new project that not only helped her own business but also helped other budding entrepreneurs. The Commons is a space connected to Karson’s that allows small businesses to set up a retail shop and have a chance to grow without the long-term contract and overhead fees normally associated with owning your own business or renting a space. The Commons features nine small businesses, two of which are run by current ACU students. Karson said that she was inspired to open this space because of a kindness that she was given when she was just starting out. “When I was in high school, my friend’s grandma let me do something similar in the front of her furniture consignment shop. She tracked all of my sales and checked everyone out, but I managed the inventory and advertising.” Having been inspired by Karson’s own experiences, she hopes the venture will benefit the vendors in many ways. “I am hoping it not only helps them make more sales but also gives them more exposure to customers who may not have known who they were before coming to The Commons. Between those 9 businesses and myself, we are encouraging tons of people from all different demographics to come to one place to shop.“
Being a highly involved ACU student and owner of two businesses, one might think that Tutt has her plate full managing both Karson’s and The commons but she says it’s gone well thus far. “It has been surprisingly smooth! There are a few things I wish I would’ve done before we opened (ex. signage outside, more social media content, etc.), but I can still get it done! All of the vendors have been so nice and are doing a great job with their booths.“
Karson received funding through the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy when she won the Springboard Student Venture Competition in 2020. She credits COBA and the Griggs Center in helping her throughout her entrepreneurial journey saying, “They have given me an amazing community of like-minded business people. I love leaning into that community and I know even after I graduate that my friends and professors will be people who I can reach out to if I ever need it. I also won a pitch competition in April that helped fund my store. Getting that money helped me solidify my decision to open the store in the first place.“
Hearing about Karson’s vision for The Commons made us curious about what this opportunity is like for the ACU students who are able to participate in this new concept so we asked them a few questions to learn more about their experience.
Melissa Huffines is a junior youth and family ministry major from Abilene, Texas. Her business, Sideline Social Club, primarily provides fashionable purple and white game day clothing. She was inspired to start her business when talking with a former manager about her future dreams. That manager was able to help her start Sideline Social Club. One of Melissa’s biggest goals in being a part of The Commons is to learn how to manage a storefront as a college student. Melissa has already learned one lesson from the experience in determining which products sell the best and which products shouldn’t make the cut. She said, “It helped me see how beneficial a storefront is!”
Maddie Rogers, a sophomore graphic design major from Abilene, Texas runs a business called Oh So Sunny that sells products consisting mainly of stickers and apparel. “I design and create products that send a message of joy, sunshine, and hope.” Maddie started her business in high school when she made a sticker to commemorate her acceptance into ACU. The “Scratch ‘Em Cats” sticker spiked her interest and led Maddie to design new creations. Rogers has learned a lot from being a part of The Commons. “I’ve learned how important it is to network and put yourself out there in order to succeed. Being at The Commons has also helped me meet so many other small business owners in Abilene and helped me find a support system through the many trials that come with this crazy endeavor!” The space has given Maddie the chance to help her business grow. “This opportunity has helped me reach new customers I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise! It also helped me see what the experience would be like to own my own store if I ever wanted to. Karson has really utilized her talent and taught me what hard work looks like. I truly don’t know how she does it!”
COBA seeks to inspire, equip and connect Christian business and technology professionals to honor God and bless the world. Karson Tutt is living out that vision and helping her fellow entrepreneurs along the way before she’s even walked the stage at graduation. If you’d like to learn more about opportunities for students like Karson through the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, click here.
The Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, located in COBA, founded the Springboard Student Venture Competition to support the growth of ACU undergraduate and graduate student businesses and nonprofit organizations. Winners receive one-time funding from $500 – $3,000.
In order for the students to be able to compete in front of the Springboard judging panel, the students must be enrolled at ACU, must own at least 51% of their venture, and must be engaged in entrepreneurial activities such as the Founders Club, a student venture club led by Mindy Howard, the Student Engagement Coordinator in the Griggs Center. Awards are based on the panel’s assessment of the potential of the business and the “spirit of entrepreneurship displayed by the student(s)”. Students come prepared with a 3 – 4-minute speech and the necessary financial reports for their business. Each student receives feedback on their presentation/business model and a chance to compete again in the next competition for those who are not awarded funding in the current competition. This year, the students gave their pitch to three local business owners via video chat.
A.J. Brown, senior management major from Midland, Texas won this round of competition receiving a total of $3,000 to put towards his business, Southern Sno Shaved Ice.
We asked Brown about his business and how he got started. “Southern Sno is a mobile shaved ice trailer in Midland. We have a location that is open daily during the summer, while also catering to events/parties with an outfitted gas-powered cart that we like to call the ‘Jolly Trolley’. We pride ourselves on being the fastest shaved ice drive-thru in town, with the nicest employees. Our sno-cones have fun and unique flavors with the softest ice.”
One thing that unites many of the Founders Club members is how they got started. Each student has a unique story, but they could all agree that they put themselves out there and went for what they wanted to achieve. “During my freshman year of college, I changed my major to business after the first semester. Because of that, I was looking for something that I could do in the summer that could teach me about business while still getting to hang out with my friends. Options were limited because it had to be a seasonal business, so that is where the idea of sno-cones came into play. I used the money I saved up from a mobile car detailing business I ran in high school and hit the ground running!”
We love hearing Brown’s story and his inspiration to create his own work experience based on what he has been learning in COBA. From beginning his business to winning the competition, we asked Brown what he learned from the experience. “The competition was a great experience for me. It gave me a reason to step back, analyze what things I have done well, and what things I need to improve on. I also loved the experience of having to come prepared and confident about presenting my business in front of a group of successful entrepreneurs. I am very grateful for the Griggs Center and all that it does!”
Now that Brown has won, he says, “In all that I do with this business, I want to go about it in a smart and professional manner. I have heard of many companies that scale too fast and it ends up hurting them. My dream is to expand Southern Sno into other cities in Texas. But for now, I am focused on mastering the operations in Midland. At Southern Sno, everything is made in-house: syrups, ice, etc. The last two years I have been very blessed to be able to use a commercial kitchen from a group in Midland. I have realized that this isn’t a great long-term solution for scaling the business. So, with the money I have won from the competition, I will outfit the small warehouse that Southern Sno leases from a group in Midland. This allows me to have all of the supplies, ice, syrups, and trailers all in one place which really helps operations. Once we master that, we will look to move forward with possibly expanding into other markets.”
Owning a small business during COVID-19 has proved to be a difficult task for business owners all across the nation. We asked Brown what it has been like to continue operations as a young entrepreneur. He told us, “COVID-19 brought about some crazy instances. The first crazy thing we had to deal with was on our ‘Opening Day’ that we had been advertising for over a month. Thirty minutes before opening, the owner of the lot we were using called and said we could not be there. So that was a mess, but we recovered and ended up finding a great location. I would say the main thing that we had to change was we completely pivoted into a drive-thru only location. Before, people could only walk up. The drive-thru actually created a quicker and more efficient way for us to get cars in and out, and it showed in our daily revenue. The biggest downside we faced was that our business was hurt with not really being able to do many events throughout the summer. The year before that was our primary source of income. We are hoping to increase both of those streams of revenue this next summer, hoping that Covid calms down!”
Congratulations to A.J. Brown for all of his hard work and accomplishments that have led him to this point in his entrepreneurial journey. We look forward to seeing his continued growth as an entrepreneur as he continues to learn and expand his business.
You can check out Southern Sno Shaved Ice here!
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.
Wildcat Ventures Team
Wildcat Ventures (WV), part of the Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, is a student organization that hosts six student-run businesses. Each business has its own student CEO and set of employees. WV includes the Crossing Cafe (located in the Mabee Business Building), Aperture Research Group, Purple Collar Tees, Wildcat Software, Purple Outfitters, and Right Hand Media.
Junior marketing and management major, Camyrn Eason, and junior marketing major, Ale Ceniceros, are serving as the vice presidents of Wildcat Ventures this year. They hope to see their CEOs grow, learn, and overcome the extra challenges that this year brings. We asked both of the VPs, as well as the president of WV, junior management major, Riley Simpson, to share some of their expectations for this year and the challenges that COVID-19 is bringing to the student-run ventures.
What are your expectations this year for Wildcat Ventures?
WV President: Riley Simpson
Riley: “Wildcat Ventures is a club of the most entrepreneurial, problem-solving, ‘figure it out’ students on campus. We opened this year with an almost completely new team of executives and CEOs. I was hired the week that school went online (last spring) because of COVID, and our whole club is facing unprecedented challenges. Things started with a sense of what in the world are we going to do? But I am incredibly thankful for two vice-presidents and 5 CEOs who have rolled up their sleeves and dove into creative problem-solving. I’ve seen a lot of hard work in the face of adversity. We are approaching this year as a year of unique opportunity rather than a year where everything falls apart. I’m looking forward to a year of innovative solutions alongside an exceptional team.”
Camryn: “I definitely think this year will be a big challenge and learning opportunity for everyone involved. I’m excited to watch our CEOs adapt and use creativity to solve problems.”
Ale: “I hope to just see learning. I think a big part of WV is learning from mistakes and hardships that come along. Learning to work through these with the people in your company is important. I believe that this is what will help us be better leaders and business professionals.”
WV Vice President: Ale Ceniceros
What changes do you see being made this year?
Riley: “In the past the CEOs of WV have operated in more independent ways, focusing on their companies without much connection to one another. This year we want everyone in WV to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. We’re out to bring positive change to ACU and develop leaders that will carry the Kingdom into the business world. You can’t do that alone and this year we want to create a thriving collaborative community. We are also honing in on creating sustainable systems that will outlast this year’s team. With student organizations, the turnover rate is so high. This year we want to create club-wide systems that will keep the momentum going even when we are gone.”
Camryn: “I hope to see better systems put in place for WV this year and easier transitions. As an executive team, we are working super hard to reform the systems to make them more simple and eliminate a lot of communication gaps. We also want to focus on the transition process from year to year so that when a new executive team and new CEOs are put into place, they will have an easier time transitioning. Of course, I would also love to see Wildcat Ventures turn over a bigger profit than previous years.”
Ale: “I think a big change this year is collaboration. The executive team is hoping to create a culture where WV is all one entity instead of 5 small companies with different systems, ideas, and beliefs.”
WV Vice President: Camryn Eason
How do you think COVID-19 will impact the businesses this year?
Riley: “COVID-19 changes the landscape that WV operates in. We are running a cafe without much seating, selling shirts when there are no events and doing marketing research for a constantly shifting market. The pandemic is forcing us to be creative, and it is also forging our leaders. I know we can have an incredibly successful year. When the pandemic pushes us to the limits we just have to push back.”
Camryn: “COVID-19 will definitely have a big impact on all of our business this year. With department budget cuts, some of our project-based companies could see less business, but I am confident in our CEO’s abilities to overcome this problem. There will also be several changes made in the Crossing Cafe to follow CDC and university guidelines.”
Ale: “COVID-19 has already impacted our businesses a lot. Some of them have been taken online, others are thinking of ways to stay open in person. This is where creativity and an entrepreneurial mindset will be helpful. It will be so fun to see what the CEOs come up with.”
While the president and vice-presidents of Wildcat Ventures oversee the entire operation, it is up to each individual CEO to manage their specific business. We interviewed two of the CEO’s, Ben Fridge and Maddy Crockett, to ask them what they anticipate the new year to bring. Ben is a junior management and marketing major and is the CEO of Aperture Research Group (ARG), a market research and analytics firm. Maddy is a junior management and accounting major and is the CEO of Purple Collar Tees, a custom apparel screen printing company specializing in t-shirt design.
Why did you apply to be a CEO?
Ben: “The WV President painted a vision of a club I wanted to be a part of. The opportunities we can provide the Wildcat and greater Abilene community is immense and exciting to be stepping into before I leave school.”
Maddy: “Wildcat Ventures drew my attention with the hands-on opportunity they provide to students. The leadership this year is top-notch, and I’m excited to be working with a team of like-minded people who will push me to be better.”
ARG CEO: Ben Fridge
What is your plan going into your business?
Ben: “I want to streamline systems within ARG and grow our clientele this semester. Transition is a big part of student-run organizations that operate on a semester to semester basis, and I was blessed to be handed this company in great shape with exciting things on the horizon. For that reason, I want to be able to truly leave ARG better than I found it!”
Maddy: “My plan is to be persistent, be excellent, and be collaborative. My business is largely sales-driven, so communication with my team and our customers is key. Being excellent in customer service is our top value proposition, and we get countless opportunities for that throughout the year. Finally, collaboration with my team is a great way to create ideas and teamwork.”
What challenges do you anticipate?
Ben: “I think the word ’streamlining’ can be hard to quantify and easy to boast about. If we truly want to maximize efficiency and simplify processes, we will need to be honest about what is truly serving our systems and what is ‘fluff’ that has no bearing whether it is cut or kept.”
Maddy: “I think the most challenging part of this position is the fact that we are all students, with several other commitments outside of Wildcat Ventures. The greatest aspect of change in my plan will be challenged in staying on task and of course, specifically when life outside of work gets crazy.”
What changes would you like to make?
Ben: “I want to greatly expand our portfolio of clients on ACU’s campus using referrals and my analyst’s network of connections. I believe there is a great need for more organizations to be data-driven (especially on ACU’s campus), so reaching further in our circles would reveal deficiencies to these groups. Also, with a broader range of projects behind us, ARG can focus on more involved ideas in future years.”
Maddy: “I want our image on campus to be as a business that goes above and beyond with top-notch products. I’d like for our team to be unified in the way we sell to customers and be persistent in the way we communicate.”
PCT CEO: Maddy Crockett
How has COVID-19 impacted the way you are operating?
Ben: “Beyond Zoom interactions with the employees hired, ARG can function in an online world more easily than many of the other companies. One of the exciting changes within our changed world is the potential for organizations needing data and insights about the way people are consuming and participating in commerce today. Market research opens the door to understanding how culture has shifted and how businesses or groups need to shift to retain individuals and thrive in this season.”
What does your business specialize in?
Ben: “Market research and data analytics regarding the success of events or programs has been a major focus in past years. Reviewing collected responses to satisfaction surveys or creating focus groups to determine how well an organization is performing at a point in time is an area that ARG has mastered.”
Maddy: “My business specializes in custom apparel and merchandise products for individuals and organizations around Abilene. We partner with people who have a design idea, and we help initiate and finish the process of bringing that design idea to life.”
Why should groups/students on campus use your business?
Ben: “The unique insights we provide have made waves in the decision-making process of all our clients. The value of having data and research behind initiatives deeply matters in an era that craves certainty and evidence. ARG strives to create the most value for whatever your business, organization, or campaign is driving.”
Maddy: “PCT serves the ACU community by providing top-notch products at a competitive price. Not only do we walk with you step-by-step through the creation process, but we also deliver your items directly to you – you never have to leave campus! If you can create it, we can make it a reality.”
WV president, Riley Simpson, knows the plan going forward this year may likely change but feels that the organization is ready to adapt and grow. “We are currently working on launching two new companies this year. I know we can do it, but we have to have the right people in place. We need to find the people who see things differently, who aren’t afraid to fail, and who won’t quit when they get knocked down. We are in the business of developing resilient leaders who are crazy enough to think they will change the world. We know we will. If you’re one of those people, find me and let’s make it happen.”
We hope that this will encourage you to think of the services that Wildcat Ventures offers the next time you need a cup of coffee, a t-shirt made, or help to form a strong strategy for your organization. You can read more about each of the businesses by clicking here. If you are interested in becoming a part of Wildcat Ventures, fill out this form or check out their website.
The Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy, located in COBA, founded the Springboard Student Venture Competition to support the growth of ACU undergraduate and graduate student businesses and nonprofit organizations. Winners receive one-time funding from $500 – $3,000.
In order for the students to be able to compete in front of the Springboard judging panel, the students must be enrolled at ACU, must own at least 51% of their venture, and must be engaged in entrepreneurial activities such as the Founders Club, a student venture club led by Mindy Howard, the Student Engagement Coordinator. Awards are based on the panel’s assessment of the potential of the business and the “spirit of entrepreneurship displayed by the student(s)”. Students come prepared with a 3 – 4-minute speech and the necessary financial reports for their business. Each student receives feedback on their presentation/business model and a chance to compete again in the next competition for those who are not awarded funding in the current competition.
This year Founders Club President, Karson Tutt, and Founders Club member, Lauren Gumm, were awarded for their presentations. Gumm, an elementary education major from Abilene, TX, runs a screen printing company called Wear It to Share I”. Lauren screen prints thrifted shirts by hand in order to bring people environmentally conscious and unique shirts. Tutt, a senior management major from Tuscola, TX, started Karson’s, an online jewelry company, which is now in the process of adding an in-person location in Abilene where many other products will be available. We interviewed both award winners to learn about their experiences participating in the Founders Club and the Springboard Student Venture Competition.
Wear It to Share It
How has being involved in the Founders Club impacted your business?
Lauren: “Founders Club has provided so many resources for me and my little company! I’ve gotten financial advice and marketing consultations and had the opportunity to speak in front of members of the Abilene community about the awesome entrepreneurs at ACU! I started my business in my dorm room and being able to have an office space where I can work is another great resource that the Founders Club has given me. Founders Club has also given me a community to walk through business ownership with. My friends have always been super supportive of my business but having a group of people who also own their own businesses that I can talk through ideas and problems with has been a huge blessing.”
Karson: “I have loved getting to meet with other student entrepreneurs who understand the struggles I go through. I also participated in one of the pitch competitions and won money to put towards opening my store.”
What did you learn from the competition experience?
Lauren: “The competition gave me a sense of confidence in my abilities as a business owner. To be able to present the work I constantly pour into and receive validation that what I’m pursuing is smart and in demand was really reassuring! I also learned how important it is to be confident in your abilities. The judges were looking for business owners who happen to be full-time students. I walked away really feeling like they saw me as a business owner and a student.”
Karson: “I learned that I am actually more confident in my business as a whole than I thought. I used to think my business was just kind of small and not that big of a deal, but it’s actually really cool that I’m doing this and it’s not as hard as I thought to talk to adults about what I do and my plans for the future.”
What is your plan for your business now that you have won the competition?
Lauren: “Winning the competition gave me the ability to purchase new equipment that I desperately needed. The equipment I started out with in 2018 still functioned perfectly fine but it was the cheapest option available and therefore required every element of the process to be done by hand. My new equipment is what allowed me to fully pursue printing on thrifted shirts! I simply didn’t have the time to thrift and print but with the time saved using my new equipment I am able to do both!”
Karson: “I was planning on opening the store regardless of if I won or not, but now that I did win the extra funding I was able to literally expand the space of the store and get nicer versions of the things I was already going to be getting (ex. cash register, security system, light fixtures, etc.).”
Is there anything you would like to add?
Lauren: “I just want to encourage anyone who thinks they want to begin a business to go for it! Even if it isn’t a business you want to pursue long-term you can learn so much through the process! I have an appreciation for entrepreneurs that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t taken a leap of faith and started Wear It to Share It!”
Karson: “The Griggs Center and Founders Club truly have been a great asset to me and my business. I love the community that has come from being involved.”
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.”
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.