Students head back to campus for in-person learning

As college students head back to campus this fall throughout Texas and the U.S., many will again encounter the now familiar norms of social distancing and COVID protocols. Still, in-person learning is on the agenda for many schools, including the Texas Southern Baptist institutions featured here.

The TEXAN interviewed representatives of Criswell College, Jacksonville College, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and its undergraduate institution, Texas Baptist College, to see what’s new on campus for fall 2021.



The new Stanton-Ouellette residence hall will house Criswell students this fall. Photo submitted.
Criswell College: new residence hall and programs

The new campus year will mark the first fall semester and first academic year with the Mary L.A. Stanton-Lance Ouellette residence hall occupied by students, said Luis Juarez, Criswell dean of students.

“Having a residence hall on campus means students have a better opportunity to get to know one another and our faculty and staff,” Juárez said, adding that plans for students include “regular spiritual and social gatherings and community service projects” to “represent the gospel in the heart of Dallas.” An added bonus: community kitchens on each floor of the hall will provide opportunities for students to prepare and share meals.

This fall will also mark the second year of Criswell 360°, a curricular and non-curricular program that equips every student to be an “ambassador, cultivator, peacemaker, problem-solver and professional,” Juárez said. For example, the Sophomore Summit retreat at the beginning of the school year will culminate in a service and learning experience in the Middle East at year’s end.

The school’s student government is expected to remain active, Juárez said. Among academic societies, 2021-22 also marks the first full year on campus for Psi Chi, the national honor society for psychology and counseling students.

In addition to Juárez becoming dean of students, changes in academic leadership include the appointment of Sarah Spring to direct the Associate of Arts program, and Jeffery Campbell to direct the Master of Divinity program, said Kyle Hamby, head of admissions.

January 1 will mark the launch of a new campaign to reach students outside Texas, also, Hamby said

Meanwhile, COVID protocols remain at the ready.

“We have been intentional and safe about COVID since quarantine began, and after opening campus with no campus spread since,” Juárez said, adding that the college would monitor rising cases and act appropriately to ensure the safety of students and staff.

“At this time, since vaccines are readily available, we have asked our staff and students to take back the primary responsibility for their safety—meaning we foresee no requirement for masks or social distancing in the coming year. Of course, we encourage vaccines for everyone, and masks, good hygiene, and distance for anyone with concerns for themselves or others,” Juárez said.

“The pandemic taught us the value of online engagement,” Hamby said, noting that enrollment in Criswell’s online graduate programs has increased dramatically. Hamby described the success of the promotional video unveiled at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, adding that a virtual tour of the campus is in the works. Meanwhile, as admissions staff meets with prospective future students, they have practiced social distancing and careful interactions.

Juárez said he hopes the new academic year will bring about the “best” opportunity yet for Criswell students to “serve one another, the churches we support and the community in which we learn.”

“Post-COVID education is a real thing … and [will be] an ongoing process,” Hamby added. “My hope is to continue maximizing new ways to recruit this generation that has been through high school and middle school for a year now, learning remotely online.

Jacksonville College's Buckner Chapel was among the facilities renovated this summer in preparation for the new campus year. Photo submitted.
Jacksonville College: new president, renovated campus

Joe Lightner’s first day as president of Jacksonville College was July 16. The school’s former vice president for executive affairs, who succeeded retiring president Mike Smith, hit the ground running—or hammering—in his new role.

The summer proved to be a time for campus improvement through the college’s 52-Day Campaign: Rebuilding for Fall, the new president said.

Summers have long been the occasion of getting ready for fall, Lightner explained, as staff and volunteers have pitched in. But summer 2021 saw an increase of volunteer help as staff, alumni, community volunteers, churches and other partners sent teams to assist.

Lightner said about 150 people throughout the summer donated their time. The response to the college’s online posting of opportunities was both surprising and gratifying, he said, adding that future plans for more structured work camps that groups and churches can sign up for are in the works.

“This summer’s campaign was designed to renovate and prepare space for beds, classrooms and offices that will accommodate the highest projected fall residential enrollment in recent history,” Lightner said. “We are prepared to be at full occupancy.”

Lightner added that the “majority of the summer work was subsidized by the SBTC’s generous grant recently given to the college.”

With COVID-19 still a challenge, Lightner said the increased space created by the 52 Day Campaign will enable the college to make adjustments needed to manage the pandemic in the fall.

Students coming to Jacksonville College in the fall will find the Collins women’s residence hall completely renovated. Work has been done on Buckner Chapel and reno begun on Meadows Hall, traditionally a classroom space, but in the process of being converted for dual use for instruction and housing.

Lightner said the college will focus on its essential principles—the 5 Ps: programming, processes, people, partners and property, as Jacksonville prepares for the next two decades.

“Since 1899, God has drawn students to the college from all over our state, nation and world to receive a quality education and experience spiritual transformation,” Lightner said. “The immorality of today’s culture is a reminder of the relevance of our college’s vision to capture the mind and heart of students for Christ.”

Remaining the same will be JC’s “robust” participation in a dozen men’s and women’s NJCAA sports, where the Jaguars compete in the Region XIV against the likes of Tyler Junior College, Trinity Valley, and others. The school also offers several clubs and organizations for students.

Students gather in on the steps of the Robert E. Naylor Student Center at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Photo provided.
Southwestern and Texas Baptist College: new faculty, new degrees

“The Lord is doing a fresh and marvelous work here on Seminary Hill,” Adam Greenway, Southwestern president, told seminary trustees during their spring meeting.

According to information provided by the seminary, the new academic year brings a new budget for 2021-2022 of $34.4 million, an increase of 11.5 percent over the prior year and 5.3 percent more than 2019-2020.

New faculty coming to Southwestern this fall include Ian Buntain, associate professor of missions and director of the World Mission Center; Mark McClellan, professor of missions and director of Hispanic Programs; Ashley Allen, assistant professor of women’s ministries; Jonathan Okinaga, assistant professor of biblical counseling; Jacob Shatzer, associate professor of Christian ethics; and Travis Trawick, associate provost and assistant professor of theology.

Also new this fall will be a partnership between Southwestern and Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, which will permit participants in the Prestonwood Internship Program to earn up to 26 hours of academic credit toward three different degrees at the seminary.

This fall marks the first semester of Texas Baptist College as the new name of the undergraduate school of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. A new vision statement was also announced: “Texas Baptist College exists to glorify God by providing trustworthy Christian higher education for more faithful Kingdom service,” as well as three core distinctives: Christ-centered, Scripture-driven and student-focused.

About the new name, Greenway said, “When others run away from our Baptist identity and distinctives, we’re going to run toward and embrace these things because we believe being Baptist means something valuable.”

In January, educator and pastor Benjamin M. Skaug was named dean of the school. Four new TBC faculty recently appointed include M. Todd Bates, professor of philosophy and associate dean; Blake McKinney, assistant professor of history; Joshua M. Philpot, assistant professor of biblical studies; and Justin Wainscott, assistant professor of Christian ministry and director of discipleship and campus ministries.

Two new associate and bachelor’s degrees have been added to the college academic program: Associate of Arts in Christian Studies and Associate of Arts in Humanities; Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies and Bachelor of Arts in Humanities. Altogether, the college offers 10 different degree programs, including three combination bachelor and master’s degrees, which may be earned in five years.

The college recently awarded its first prize in the Christian Worldview Scholarship Essay Contest to Jack Hickman from Denton, who won the Presidential Scholarship, receiving full tuition, room and board, and books for his essay answering the question, “Why should a Christian study at a distinctively Christian college?”

The fall semester began Aug. 16. Semester events at Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College will include a return to chapel worship two days each week; Global Missions Week, Sept. 13-17; Preaching and Teaching Galatians Conference, Sept. 27-28; Preview Days, Oct. 22-23; hosting events related to the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting being held in Fort Worth, Nov. 16-18; and Fall Commencement, Dec. 3.

Concerning the pandemic, the seminary provided this statement to the TEXAN, “At press time, Southwestern Seminary is evaluating options in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Tarrant County, with an announcement expected before the beginning of the semester.”

Greenway has indicated there are no plans to require vaccinations for students, faculty, and staff, although he has strongly encouraged vaccination, unless personal medical reasons dictate otherwise. 

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