What It Means to Be Known

Kathy Dean Experience, Fall 2020 Leave a Comment

You are on a journey to discover God’s purpose for you. At the University of Mobile, you are challenged academically and renewed spiritually in a community where you are known. 

Know Yourself. Know Your Calling. Be Known. 

When Madison Bergeron’s father became the first in her Louisiana hometown to contract COVID-19, the University of Mobile student-athlete was also dealing with the disruption the pandemic created in the lives of college students across the nation. Face-to-face learning moved online and students moved home. Maddie’s father was in the hospital and her mother was quarantined with him. 

“I can’t imagine going through this pandemic, regardless if my dad had it or not, without the support my University of Mobile professors and advisor have given my family,” Maddie said. 

“I think the motto of our school, ‘Know and Be Known,’ has truly become more real and personal to me within the last two years of my time at UM through my relationships with faculty,” said Maddie, a member of the volleyball team and a junior majoring in kinesiology with a concentration in sports ministry. 

The phrase “Know and Be Known” was originated a few years ago during the university’s rebranding to describe UM’s unique, personal, 

Christ-centered experience of Higher Education for a Higher Purpose. Its truth spans the decades, making it as relevant to alumni who graduated in the charter class of 1967 as it is to students attending classes today. 

• To Know – to increase in knowledge, study a discipline, understand oneself, grow in knowledge of God. 

• To Be Known – to be seen and heard, valued and understood, mentored and encouraged and – most importantly – to be known as a follower of Jesus Christ in relationship with Him. 

“I am so thankful to have faculty at my school who are so genuine,” said Maddie 

“Seeing how my professors, coaches and advisor genuinely want to know how I am doing and go more in-depth than just a simple conversation makes me feel like I have a purpose and am more than just another student.” 

This is what it means to be KNOWN at the University of Mobile. 

KNOWN FOR PRAYER

(Editor’s Note: During the early days of the pandemic and as classes moved online, music professor Charlotte Hester was touched by a student’s anonymous commendation of her tendency to stop in the middle of a lecture to pray. In this First Person article published by Baptist Press on May 1, 2020, Hester explains why she prays in class.) 

I am an associate professor of music education in the Alabama School of the Arts at the University of Mobile, a Christian university in Alabama. I’ve taught music students from kindergarten through adults for more than 35 years in public, private and homeschool settings, but I’ve never taught a semester like the one we are having now. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. Classes that were face-to-face on campus are now delivered online. We hold class through Zoom, and we video our classes so students who can’t make the live session can view the lesson later. 

It’s not how we normally do music classes. It’s a challenging time not only for students, but also for professors. 

I have been watching with terror the videos from our classes. I say “uhm” way too much, my pacing is too slow, and I have disconnected sentences! They all make sense in my head, but they don’t come out the right way! So frustrating! 

So it was encouraging to me when one of my students gave an anonymous “shout out” in a campus survey about the changes to online delivery of on-campus courses. This student wrote: “Charlotte Hester is my Foundation of Music Theory professor and she prays for us every time we meet for class. It really means a lot that she will stop in the middle of a sentence and say, ‘Hey guys, let’s pray.’” 

Honestly, my first response was that I didn’t realize I did that! 

If I stop in the middle of a sentence and say, “hey guys, let’s pray,” it’s probably because there is something in the faces and demeanor of my students that says “need,” whether it is need to focus, need to sleep, need to be less anxious, or need to understand. 

Prayer should be the place we take our need and our concerns to lay at the feet of Jesus. 

I pray because my students need to know that God is as concerned about the daily intricacies of their lives as He is about the world at large. He knows their names. He knows where they are headed, and He knows the concerns they carry with them, and He is all-sufficient for that need. 

When I was growing up, I learned a song titled “Yes, God is Able.” The lyrics are: 

“Yes, God is able to do whatsoever we ask, 

In the Name of His Son, that His will might be done; 

And He is able to give whatsoever we need, 

If we’ll only believe when we pray.” 

My students need to know this, even more than music theory, actually. 

I want to be a great teacher, an effective teacher, a teacher whose students exhibit outstanding measurable music achievement. But more than that, I want my students to know the power and presence of a risen Lord. 

Maybe that’s why we pray. 

KNOWN FOR ACTION

not enough to simply say you care. 

“We are told in the New Testament that we should ‘not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth’,” said University of Mobile President Lonnie Burnett, citing I John 3:18. 

So it was with an eye to action that, for the past year-and-a-half, important discussions were taking place across campus. 

Discussions about a new African American Studies program in the College of Arts and Sciences. 

Discussions about promoting diversity and student engagement across all areas of campus leadership and student life. 

Discussions about expanding the university’s local community involvement. 

Discussions about intentional efforts to recruit minority candidates for faculty and staff positions, to reflect the diversity of UM’s student body. 

As those discussions were taking place, alumna Dr. Sarah Witherspoon was named dean of the School of Nursing – becoming UM’s first African American dean. And, Burnett’s first hire as president was Dr. Wanda Jones, an exceptional chemistry professor who is African American. 

Then came the Summer of 2020 and the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, when the very real issues of racial inequity in the nation sparked protests and turmoil that continue today. 

“We were already having these discussions on campus, but that no doubt lit a fire. That showed the urgency,” Burnett said. So did his meetings over the summer with several graduates and current students who loved their university, but saw areas where it could improve. 

Known for Initiative 

For Burnett, a history professor whose scholarly work includes two books on Civil War politics in relation to slavery and race, it was important that the university he graduated from and invested his life in did more than give a token nod to this moment in history. 

“This is more than checking a few boxes to say we’ve done something, and then move on,” Burnett said. Taking action requires practical steps to promote diversity and engagement on campus. He announced four initiatives: 

• Formation of the President’s Task Force on Diversity and Engagement 

• Creation of an African American Studies program in the College of Arts and Sciences 

• Establishment of a new campus organization to 

foster dialogue 

• Community outreach in the city of Prichard. 

The President’s Task Force on Diversity and Engagement is charged with exploring and recommending ways to enhance the campus experience for all constituents, so all feel included and engaged. 

The task force is made up of representatives from faculty, staff, alumni, current students and community leaders. Co-chairs are Dr. Kathy Dunning, dean of the School of Business, and Dr. Monica Motley, a community leader and managing partner at The iNSPYR Group. The committee will look at issues from campus activities to hiring practices, exploring ideas ranging from diversity training to new student groups. Once the task force reaches a consensus, it will present recommendations to the president. 

Dunning said she asked to be put on the task force. 

“I feel like any time we can make an individual, whether it’s a student, staff or faculty member, feel more at home on the UM campus, then this is an exercise worth doing,” Dunning said. “As Christians, we recognize we are all God’s children and all made in His image. We need to make sure that philosophy is evident in our actions, in our procedures, and in our policies.” 

The new African American Studies program is a multi-discipline course of study that focuses on 

aspects of the African American experience including history, economics, literature and music, and politics. Students can choose to major or minor in African American Studies and earn a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. 

“As a historian, I was excited to take a lead role in developing this new program,” Burnett said. 

A new campus organization tentatively named “Unity” is in the process of starting. It will be open to all students as well as interested faculty and staff. Its purpose is to engage more students and foster important conversations across campus. 

Community outreach had already started with local high schools but was delayed by the COVID situation. That outreach will resume and eventually include special scholarship opportunities and mentoring relationships with faculty to prepare students for college, with the goal of enrolling more minority graduates at UM. 

Known for Purpose 

The initiatives are practical ways the University of Mobile works to create a unique Christ-centered environment of “Higher Education for a Higher Purpose.” 

Where each person is seen. Where every voice is heard. 

Where students from diverse backgrounds, with distinctive experiences, are surrounded and embraced and supported and mentored by His people who are committed to helping them find and fulfill God’s purpose for their lives. 

Because it’s not enough to simply say you care.

KNOWN FOR CONNECTION

A survey of University of Mobile students evaluating the online delivery of classes this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic reveals more than whether the technology worked or faculty successfully revamped their courses for the new format. It shows the importance students place on their personal connections with faculty and staff at the Christian university. 

“Honestly, I’m just thankful for the kindness of all the faculty and staff. In the midst of all this chaos, they have been so loving and encouraging,” a student wrote in the anonymous survey. 

Given space to offer a “shout out” for anything they thought worked particularly well, students overwhelmingly cited the ways faculty and staff checked on them, prayed for them, and were available to support them through personal challenges as well as with coursework. They said: “I have received emails from all of my professors, letting me know that they are praying for me and that I can reach out to them at any time. It’s comforting, knowing that my faculty is doing their absolute best to help me right now in this time of uncertainty.” 

“I really appreciate all of the hard work and time they each dedicate to their students! They have reminded me of why I chose UM.” 

“My professors have stayed optimistic and extremely helpful during this time. It also makes learning easier because it’s obvious they’re passionate about what they’re teaching.” 

“I asked two of my professors for prayer over a personal matter and love that they are believers in the power of prayer. They are so strong in their faith, it’s inspiring.” 

“My coaches set up a team Zoom call and talked with us about this transition and prayed over us. It was really amazing and I’m so grateful for them and how deeply they care about our team.” 

“I am so thankful to have teachers that truly care for us and do everything in their power and work with us to help us be successful in this very hard and unexpected time!! So thankful for all staff! You guys ROCK.” 

One student pointed out that this was an uncertain time for faculty and staff, as well as for students. 

“It’s hard for all of us, not just students,” the student wrote. “We were all affected by it, and the fact that they continue to work and to make sure we’re okay is amazing! 

“So SHOUT-OUT to all my professors for being able to do this and continue through this rough journey. God has called them into this area, and I’m glad to see them still striving to make sure all of the students are taken care of!” 

About the Author
Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean

Kathy is an award-winning media relations director and former journalist whose expertise has enabled the University of Mobile to gain national and regional attention. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Auburn University and worked as a journalist for 12 years, including 10 years at the Mobile Press-Register, earning regional and national awards for coverage of education, deadline reporting and feature writing. She joined the University of Mobile staff in 1993, earning awards for writing and public relations including the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing in 2015 and 2012. She is a charter member of Providence United Methodist Church, serves on the board of the John Will Scholarship Foundation, and is a member of the Public Relations Council of Alabama, Baptist Communicators Association, and Society of Professional Journalists. Kathy lives in Daphne with her husband, Chuck, who earned his M.B.A. from the University of Mobile. They have two children and two grandchildren.

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