Student Experience: A Key Educational Element

The News Magazine of HCU

During Honors Convocation in May, several dozen students on the Dunham Theater stage were lauded for their contributions in areas throughout the University, receiving applause from an audience of peers, supporters, faculty and staff. Senior Seth Grant, dressed in a sport coat, shook his head incredulously when he was called forward a blush-inducing fourth time. The affable blond was the recipient of the Christian Leadership Award, the Resident Assistant of the Year, the President’s Award, and was named “Mr. HBU.”

On campus, Grant did everything from solve issues as a resident assistant in the Husky Village Apartments, to work as the writing tutor coordinator in the Academic Success Center, to serve lunch as a Baptist Student Ministry volunteer.

While it would seem that Grant had known his peers for at least all four years of his undergraduate work, it’s noteworthy that he was only at HBU half of that time after transferring in as a junior. Grant’s involvements demonstrate the egalitarian nature of HBU. It’s an institution where every student – traditional, nontraditional, commuter, transfer, athlete, international, veteran and more – can find his or her place. “HBU is a special place,” Grant said. “The environment here promotes growth in community.”

Student involvement makes for a holistic educational experience, and prepares them for life beyond college too, says Whit Goodwin, HBU associate provost for Student Life. “Students, through being involved in community, service, leadership and other participation opportunities, develop, not only the ability to think critically, but also the skills and values to be a person who makes the world better instead of simply making a paycheck,” he said. “They are developed into well-rounded people who will be effective for good in whatever context they choose.”

Living, Learning & Dining

In 2008, the HBU Board of Trustees approved the Ten Pillars Vision, which outlines the directional emphases of the University. The fourth item on the list is to “Establish a Residential Society of Learning.” More than half of students live on campus – in the Sadie & Doug Hodo Residence College, the Husky Village Apartments, Philips Men’s and Women’s Residential College, and Mest.

Jeremie Middleton, HBU director of Residence Life, said, “I think what students get most out of staying on campus is the ability to live and learn together. We have all the necessities in the residence halls. You just have to bring the things to make it yours.”

There are academic advantages too. With less time on the road and more resources at hand, students who live on campus have higher GPAs on average. Furthermore, living independently of parents can foster a next level of maturity.

“You have to get out of bed on time and study on your own without a parent telling you to,” points out Giovanni Arellano, assistant director of Residence Life. As a former student of HBU, Arellano tried both ways – commuter and residential student. “Being on campus really added to my overall experience,” he said.

Grace Gervais, also an assistant director of Residence Life, and the team provide opportunities for fun and connection among students. There are traditional affairs throughout the year like Bingo Night, the Homecoming Dance, the Crawfish Boil, the Polar Bear Plunge, and even Christmas in the Courtyard. “I know, for me, when I was a student, I was really shy,” Gervais said. “Living on campus forced me to get out of my shell and get involved.”

On a day-to-day basis, the Residence Life team members are available at all times since they also live on campus. They follow up on maintenance needs, answer questions and provide support. “We try to go above and beyond to meet needs,” Arellano said. In addition to staff presence, strict entrance protocol and HBU Police presence help assure the safety of residents.

Beyond friendships and staff guidance, the presence of caring resident assistants (RAs) is a central part of students’ experience. “Connecting is one of the things we’re best at,” Middleton said. “The fact that a relationship with Christ is a requirement for staff makes us stand out among colleges too. That’s unrivaled near us.”

At mealtime, students can choose the Baugh Dining Hall or Chick-fil-A in the MD Anderson Student Center. For a-la-carte options, the coffee shop, Java City in the Moody Library, as well as two on-campus convenience store stations, Hinton POD located in the Hinton Center lobby, and Husky POD in Husky Village, provide variety.

“While HBU concentrates on enriching a student’s mind and spirit, we focus on the culinary experience and are committed to enhancing it,” said Benny Gilbert, Aramark Food Service director. Dining options in the Baugh vary from American classics to Latin, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern flavors. “Our themed meals are very popular,” he said.

Dining staff balance nutrition and taste. “The vegan and vegetarian items served in the dining hall have become very popular as some students are looking for healthier options. Of course, mac and cheese and chicken nuggets are still the most popular food items,” Gilbert said. Beyond the main food service selections, students can stop at the bookstore for snack items, or opt to visit one of several restaurants located at the Pillars at HBU, adjacent to campus.

Student Involvement

Since graduating from HBU 10 years ago, Mon’Sher Spencer has been part of furthering what was so fundamental to her own time at the University. Spencer serves as the HBU director of Student Involvement and Leadership Programs, where she oversees student clubs, organizations, Greek Life, Commuter Life, First-Year Experience, and signature Student Life events.

“When I was a student, I was on the worship team, the recreation team, involved with discipleship, and quite a few areas. I know being part of those things was the reason why I grew as a person spiritually, academically, and in character and maturity,” Spencer said. “Those are the areas I envision the students growing in here as well. I want them to be the leaders they can be.”

Throughout HBU, there are about 50 clubs and organizations, and that number is ever-growing. From the Student Government Association, to Greek Life, to the Student Programming Board, there are numerous ways for students to explore their interests and try out their talents. Of the options, there are hundreds of opportunities to be in leadership roles. “I tell students, ‘You’ve got to get out of your dorm or your house and plug yourself in. The college experience is what you make it,’” Spencer said.

Roles in student organizations facilitate friendships and provide the kind of experiences that make college such an enriching time in a young person’s life. Furthermore, participation gives students a sense of belonging, making them more likely to persevere through obstacles and continue to graduation.

Student Brook Chatagnier said his time as a head musher and a member of the Sled Team, caring for the University mascot, Kiza, is one of the highlights of his college tenure. “I would encourage all students to find the organization that fits them best, and plug themselves into the school,” he said. “You truly get the most out of college by these experiences and the close-knit group of friends you make.”

Student Leah Townsend emphasized that students don’t even have to find an existing group to join, but can formulate one that meets their interests. “If there is a club or organization that you would like to initiate on campus, the doors are always open for that,” she said. “There is something for everyone.”

Spencer agrees. “The benefit of being somewhere smaller is that it’s not cookie-cutter. You’re not just jumping in as a number. You can actually be part of the history, of creating and sustaining something,” she said.

While new traditions are formed, time-honored ones are cherished and continued. Some of those are Welcome Days, a new student orientation event; Spring Fling, a summer kickoff; Homecoming events, International Week, Husky Revue, a talent show; and Late-Night Breakfast, a pre-exam week meal.

And if the Student Involvement office doesn’t host or sponsor an event or organization, they’ll connect students with other departments and resources. “The beauty of this place is that there are so many things to do here and wonderful avenues that students can be part of,” Spencer said. “It’s a place where they can find their niche. There’s support here, love here and a spirit of pride and relationship that I don’t think you get at a lot of other places.”

Campus Recreation

Just a few steps from campus, the Bradshaw Fitness Center is an 80,000-square-feet complex filled with the expected fitness fare and some extras. HBU students can utilize the fitness center at no extra charge. Joshua Dunn, director of Campus Recreation, said, on average, the Bradshaw receives 9,000 visits per month, with nearly 35 percent of those made by HBU students. “If students need a break or want something fun to do, I tell them to get over here,” Dunn said.

Upon coming under the Bradshaw’s soaring ceilings and light-filled lobby, students can make the most of strength apparatus, free weights, cardiovascular equipment, classes like CrossFit and Pilates, a basketball court, indoor track, rock wall, 25-yard indoor lap pool, therapy pool, whirlpool, steam room and sauna.

Besides the fitness center’s individual and group exercise outlets, the University offers Intramural Sports (IMS), also at no cost. Hundreds of students participate in volleyball, flag football, basketball, soccer, Ultimate Frisbee, powder puff football and dodgeball throughout the school year. “Students love being part of IMS and getting to play in the Husky Football Stadium,” Cassie Sorrell, HBU Campus Recreation coordinator, said. “We’ve heard a lot of students say that intramurals have allowed them to feel connected to the University and to build lifelong friendships.”

More than just a fun diversion, participation in intramurals, like other student organizations, allows for players to take on guiding roles. Students are given autonomy; about 25 students work in Campus Recreation, supervising and officiating. “There’s a unique opportunity in terms of leadership,” Dunn noted. “For example, if students are officiating, they might have to gently reprimand their peers. That’s a skill.”

The goal of intramurals, along with fun, is for students to interact in a sportsmanlike and Christlike manner, Sorrell said. Plus, the students are getting the exercise they need. “Intramurals get the players working out and being physically active while they’re not even thinking about the exercise,” she said.

For students who play a more competitive game, Club Sports amp up the fun; HBU offers them for a small fee. Students are matched against area college and university peers for men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and men’s Ultimate Frisbee.

Also, Campus Recreation offers Epic Adventures, which fits its moniker. Students trek into exploits like horseback riding, paintball, golfing, bubble soccer, dragon boat races and a spinoff of American Ninja Warrior. Back on campus, Showdown at High Noon began last school year, beckoning competitors into a series of fun and sometimes silly minute-to-win-it games such as dizzy bat races and football tosses.

One of Campus Recreation’s most compelling offerings for incoming freshmen is The Odyssey, an outdoor adventure at Camp Eagle in which they can create bonds with one another, get to know University faculty and staff, HBU upperclassmen, and build their relationships with Jesus Christ. “This unique experience is an opportunity for the freshmen to jumpstart their journeys at HBU, get the tools they need to be successful in college, and participate in exhilarating and challenging activities while supporting their peers and developing their leadership abilities,” Sorrell said. “The skills and relationships students build on The Odyssey is one reason why some students said they chose to remain at HBU.”

Dunn summed up the exercise, relational and enrichment options: “Campus Recreation provides opportunities for the students to really thrive.” Sorrell added, “College is all about academics, but like Student Involvement, we believe it’s about having a full collegiate experience too. At Campus Recreation, we strive to offer a place for students to go during their leisure time and provide a fun and faith-filled environment, all while becoming and staying physically fit.”

Spiritual Life & Discipleship

Around HBU’s campus, it’s common to see students poring over a Bible or devotional book, or having coffee with a discipleship partner. The faith component of HBU allows the student experience to be truly complete.

University associate minister, Saleim Kahleh, doesn’t underestimate the importance of a spiritual education. “We desire for students to see growth in all areas of their lives – especially spiritually,” he said. “Knowing that our spirits will live forever, and because we love our students, our hope and our prayer is that every student will know Jesus. When we know Christ, we become alive to God. At HBU, students have opportunities to encounter Christ and His love for them, as well as discover that the Lord can be real to them every day of their lives. That is one reason why I love HBU so much.”

HBU Spiritual Life is integrated into each aspect of the University, from GO Orientations, to Welcome Days, weekly events, concerts, retreats and commencement ceremonies. Events like Convocation, a campus-wide chapel service that meets twice per week, provides community worship and encourages spiritual formation and development. Impactful speakers are selected for their ability to connect with students and to challenge them to become productive citizens for the Kingdom of God. Participation in these activities contributes toward students’ required Community Life and Worship (CLW) credits. Additionally, students learn through three Christianity/Bible courses, a University academic requirement.

Much of the University’s spiritual activities fall under the umbrella of Kaleo, an initiative made possible through a grant given by Terry and Doris Looper in 2015. Kaleo, which means “to call” in Greek, is instrumental in providing real-life application for spiritual concepts. Colette Cross, HBU director of Discipleship, said, “When we received the grant, the purpose was to infuse discipleship into each part of who we are and what we do as a University. Our goal is to provide opportunities for students, faculty and staff to know the Lord on a personal basis, and to understand who Christ is in their lives, as well as know what it means to walk in faith with the Lord.”

Means for student growth include discipling partnerships with faculty and staff members, Bible studies, small groups, concerts, community worship, volunteer service opportunities and mission learning trips. “We want to make sure that all who come to HBU will hear about the Gospel and the relationship with Christ that one can have,” Cross said.

The faith component of HBU has been inseparable from student Jonathan Rangel’s college experience. “I’ve been a leader for the Baptist Student Ministry and helped start our first-ever Spanish Bible study, ‘Profundo,’ at HBU. Thanks to the Spiritual Life department, I was able to travel to Israel through Passages. I will now be interning in Jerusalem for the entire summer of 2018,” he said. “At HBU, you’re not only attending a Christian campus, but you are being fed spiritually, and you have amazing professors, staff and classmates who care about your future. The Kaleo discipleship opportunities help us learn our call for ministry, show us how to live like Christ, and also how to share the Gospel with others.”

Knowing one’s life calling, or “clarity of call,” is a vital part of what Spiritual Life helps provide. “We want to solidify that clarity of call that students have on their lives and provide really solid citizens who graduate and who make good decisions based on their faith,” Cross said. “That call could be as a banker or an artist; whatever it is, we know that our common thread is Christ.”

Cross and Kahleh emphasize, too, that people of all faiths or of no faith are also welcome at HBU. “We pray that, while they’re here, the Christian faith becomes a deeply ingrained part of students’ lives so they’re equipped to step out into the world,” Kahleh said. “I see from the HBU mission statement to the heart of our president, Dr. Sloan, that Jesus is Lord at HBU. Not everyone becomes a Christ-follower, but there is definitely opportunity. Here, you have the freedom to follow the Lord. It’s so rewarding to see what God has done and continues to do at HBU.”