“University of Mobile is not just a university which students attend to gain an education but a pivotal point in each of their lives in shaping their intellectual understanding of one’s desired discipline while understanding the implications and practice within the context of Christ.”
–Dr. Timothy L. Smith, President
When Erika Samuels walked into the new Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice on the second floor of Weaver Hall for the first time, she burst into tears.
It was the first day of spring semester classes. School of Nursing students, faculty and staff excitedly examined two high-fidelity simulation labs, a skills lab, and a health assessment and sports science lab. Down the hall were offices and classrooms for the new College of Health Professions that included the School of Nursing, new School of Health and Sports Science and new School of Allied Health.
Samuels, a senior majoring in nursing, choked up as she described the impact of the new Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice, and the impact her professors have on her life.
“Having this new facility means we get the best technology; we’re top of the line. We’re going to be in so much demand when we graduate,” she said. “It means so much to be a student at University of Mobile, not only because of the latest and greatest technology and the innovations that are here, but because our staff, our administrators, our professors – they care about us. They make us feel special.”
Across campus, students in the School of Business studied in groups at tables in the atrium of Harrigan Center, while others lounged on couches or watched television monitors keeping them abreast of international news, stock market fluctuations, and campus announcements. Faculty putting the final touches on their offices were preparing to teach classes for the first time in a building now dedicated to the School of Business.
Less than one year into the new administration of University of Mobile President Timothy L. Smith, the Baptist university in south Alabama has launched the first phase of a major expansion of new academic programs and degrees.
“We are beginning a new day and a new journey,” Smith told faculty and staff gathered in August for Faculty/Staff Convocation at the start of the academic year. “I am convinced that God has something special in store for this university. For this reason, I am here to lock arms with you as God leads us to a new height of impact that we have not experienced before in the lives of the students, in this university and in service to this community.”
Who We Are
A new administration brings with it an opportunity to see a university through fresh eyes, to make adjustments, and to introduce new ideas. It is a unique moment to reflect on who we are as a university, and what makes the institution distinctive.
That reflection laid the groundwork for a transformative, university-wide rebranding that incorporated the description “Higher Education for a Higher Purpose” and the biblical concept of imago Dei – that each person is created in the image of God, created for a purpose.
The new journey started with a new mission statement, vision statement, biblical worldview and core values.
University of Mobile is a Christ-centered academic community providing liberal arts and professional programs to renew minds through intellectual and spiritual development for the fulfilling of one’s professional calling.
University of Mobile is committed to being a premier Christ-centered academic community providing comprehensive liberal arts and professional programs to distinctively transform the world.
A biblical worldview is based on three primary Scriptures:
• Proverbs 9:10 – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The first part of the verse is included on the university seal.
• Genesis 1:26 – “Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” This text represents the term imago Dei, which is also included on the university seal, and expresses the thought that we are to be image-bearers of God.
• Romans 12:2 – “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may provide what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” This is expressed in the focus on rigorous academics taught within the context of a biblical worldview with a Great Commission focus on “renewing minds and transforming hearts.”
Four core values are: Christ-Centered, Academically-Focused, Student-Devoted and Distinctively-Driven.
In short, Smith said, “We’re going to help students understand who God is. We’re going to help them understand who they are in Christ. And we’re going to help them understand the transformational process Christ wants to do in them.”
New Academic Programs
Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Chris McCaghren said he and Smith enjoy approaching education from an innovative standpoint that includes the flexibility to quickly respond to workforce needs and changing markets.
“I call it ‘educational entrepreneurship,’ and that is, we try a bunch of different things, and we make no promises that everything will work, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. As part of that, we collect as much data as we can in the process and try to make an informed decision about the validity of what we’re doing,” McCaghren said.
Smith described a future for UM as “the Google of academic program development.” Within months, the university structure was reorganized to better align resources. New colleges and schools were created and others rebranded to prepare for expanding academic programs and increased enrollment. Weekly chapel attendance was required starting in August and an innovative four-day academic week with Focus Fridays kicked off in January (see page 50).
It was a fast-paced start for a higher education industry that typically moves at a glacial pace.
“Our responsibility as a higher education institution, and especially with our mission of imago Dei that we be the servants of Christ, is to stay on the forefront of marketplace needs so that graduates can go out and serve the community,” Smith said. “Because of our nimbleness and innovative mindset, we have the ability to develop programs efficiently.”
With Smith’s background in healthcare as a certified registered nurse anesthetist, his passion for healthcare education, and his track record at Union University for developing one of the largest faith-based healthcare education programs in the nation, an obvious area to expand academic programs was in healthcare.
The College of Health Professions was created as the umbrella for the School of Nursing, the new School of Health and Sports Science that includes the Department of Kinesiology, and the new School of Allied Health. The Center for Excellence in Healthcare Practice officially opened in February (see page 43).
Pending approval by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), UM will offer a Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) beginning Fall 2017.
An Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) for non-traditional students seeking initial licensure as a registered nurse will begin Spring 2018.
In the School of Education, the non-certificate program Bachelor of Science in Child and Social Development was added. Pending SACSCOC approval, the Master in Higher Education – Leadership and Policy (M.Ed.) will begin Fall 2017.
The Alabama School of the Arts, formerly the School of Music, includes the Roger Breland Center for approvalPerforming Arts and the new Bachelor of Music in Musical Theatre (B.M.). Pending SACSCOC approval, the Master of Music – Music Performance (vocal/piano) (M.M.) starts Fall 2017.
The College of Arts and Sciences has added the Bachelor of Arts in Classics (B.A.).
The School of Christian Ministries has been renamed the School of Christian Studies.
On-campus and online academic programs for non-traditional adult students are in the new Alabama College for Online Studies.
One benefit of the moves is increased visibility and identity for schools.
McCaghren said the successful launch of new programs is made possible through the efforts of a dedicated team.
“I’ve never been at a university with such dedicated faculty and staff; folks who are willing to work in some cases around the clock to ensure success. We have a great team of folks who have caught the vision of our president and who are working tremendously hard to execute that vision,” McCaghren said.
That vision recognizes that today’s students want to learn differently. They want less seat time and more hands-on time, with internships and experiences that bring classroom learning to life in practical ways.
“Our intent is to provide a practical aspect for every discipline here. We know that comprehension of verbally taught information is not high. Therefore, most students want to put their hands on something, and we need to shift our pedagogy of teaching to provide that opportunity to help students relate in a way they can process and comprehend,” Smith said.
The Student Success Center and academic programs throughout the university are actively seeking internships for students throughout the disciplines.
Asking the Right Questions
Smith said collaboration is a key to UM’s future, and it isn’t simply a matter of asking the community and businesses how they can help the school grow.
“We can’t ask the community: What can you do to help us be successful? We have to go out and ask the question: How can I help you be successful? And in return, how can University of Mobile have more prominence in this community?” Smith said.
Instead, it is learning how to serve the community, build partnerships and collaborate using resources and avenues the university has access to, such as programs, courses and a highly intelligent and experienced faculty and staff.
Into the Future
There will be another phase of academic enhancements, Smith said. He anticipates a need for more space as programs such as healthcare grow, academic offerings throughout the university expand, and prospective students hear about the 4-day academic week and Focus Fridays.
Signs of growth are here. Construction of the Lackey Great Commission Lawn project symbolizes the university’s Great Commission focus, and the construction equipment moving piles of dirt is a visible sign of the activity across campus. (see page18)
The first ever Scholar’s Weekend brought 51 academically gifted prospective students to campus in February, and a new enrollment process is reaching almost 90,000 prospective students a year to let them know about the university.
While innovations throughout campus and those to come are exciting, they aren’t the driving force for the school, according to Smith.
“This university has a rich heritage of having a theological focus. The opportunity to come here and foster that theological focus to a new mission, and the articulation of a biblical worldview, is the most exciting thing to me. While we can create programs, we can create new buildings, the thing that will stay with these students is the theological focus and understanding of how to maneuver through the world, no matter what discipline they are in.
“Programs come and go. You invest in a program until the market doesn’t need it anymore, then you change it out. But the spiritual side, the theological side, is something that should never wane from this institution,” the president said.