Montreat College's 'suite of values represented by college staff

Jessica Langston
Guest commentary

Having been a part of the Montreat College community for the past 13 years, I’ve learned a few things about what makes this college special. I came to our mountain oasis just following our sixth president’s resignation (in quite unpleasant circumstances). In the last decade, we’ve experienced more ups and downs than any school of our size could imagine. These years have been emotionally taxing and challenging in ways that are indescribable. So, what has kept Montreat so beautiful? What has made Montreat my home, our home?

Jessica Langston

I cannot believe that anything but divine intervention brought such amazingly talented, giving, selfless and compassionate faculty and staff to Montreat College. Our community has shown up again and again to support each other when these disasters have struck, creating within this gate an unbelieveable sanctuary of the truest sort, a place of refuge and safety. They have given freely of their time and their intellect to build others’ up, and challenge and engage them inside and outside of the classroom. I can’t know what the future holds for Montreat, but I can say without a doubt that my time at this institution has been tremendously impacted by faculty and staff, who have given me and our students friendships that will last a lifetime.

Humility, trust, relationships, effectiveness, sense of urgency, belief, and extraordinary commitment make up a suite of leadership values that (college president) Paul Maurer introduced to college employees when he began his presidency in 2014. For more than a decade, I have watched our faculty and staff define "Esse Quam Videri," to be and not to seem, as these values are intrinsic to who they are, and who they choose to be. With the help of the students and community, I would like to show you how some of our faculty and staff embody this suite of values.

Humility: It’s a rare and beautiful thing to find a professor, full of knowledge and ability, who is able to put pride aside and allow others to be first. Kevin Auman has shown this servant leadership repeatedly over the years, to students, alumni, staff, and faculty alike.

“I will forever be grateful for the amount of patience he has had with me and his willingness to place others before himself,” noted Kelcie Winningham. “I have yet to meet anyone in my life who embodies trust, humility and extraordinary commitment like Kevin Auman,” said Matt Langston. “There is a kindness and security of spirit that I have experienced from him that I draw from not only in the classroom, but even in my own personal life. He has given of himself to students and faculty in a beautiful and radiant entirety. I am a better person for knowing him, a happier person when I'm around him, and a fortunate person to have shared the years we've had together.”

Humility gives space to allow others to grow. “Mel has taught me the courage and humility of loving people right where they are,” Amanda Lott wrote. "Instead of pointing out all of my failures or trying to tell me what to do, Mel humbly showed me that Jesus loves me right where I am. For once in my life I was told that I could be a feminist, a liberal, a believer in climate change, and be a Christian. I never truly experienced God’s freedom until I met Mel who showed me who God really was. On days when I do not have anything left to give, I think of Mel’s strength and humility and I am reminded that I am capable of anything that I set my mind to.”

Kelly Ann Madden echoed these thoughts in her own experience: “Mel Wilson’s infectious passion and willingness to meet individuals where they are in their walk of life portrays her sense of acceptance and humility, illustrating we are all sinners and should still love each other unconditionally and without judgement.”

Trust: To truly practice intellectual inquiry, we must be able to be safe to ask questions, explore ideas, and try on different thoughts. “When you talk with Brad Daniel, you can tell that he's really listening and cares what you have to say. He does not seek to impose his beliefs or ideas on you as a professor, but instead gives you the gift of self-reason, allowing you to garner the truth for yourself. In his worldview class, you feel that you can pour out your inner thoughts and doubts and not feel judged or ‘preached to’ - all things that would be hard to do if you didn't trust the person implicitly. In a Brad Daniel course, you are not a student of the particular course or circumstances, but a student of life,” stated Matthew Christiansen.

Allowing students to try on different roles and experience empathy, Callan White-Hinman  exemplifies trust to her students. "In theater, the main thing we are taught is to trust each other," Chloe Greene wrote. "If you forget a line, or stumble in your blocking, then you trust the others in the cast to have your back and save you. I've had a hard time in the past with trusting others to have my back, and it was difficult for me to succeed much of the time. Callan has provided a place for me to let go of my insecurities and my pride and become vulnerable with people. She taught me how to trust by the way she trusts in me, and through her never-failing love for Christ."

Relationships: “From my first day at Montreat, (Ben) Brandenburg helped me out without any hesitation," noted Cody Penland. “Brandenburg took a personal interest in me and is not only my teacher; he’s my mentor, and he’s my friend. I also do not feel that my friendship with Ben is an isolated incident; he cares for all of his students. He’s intentional with the spiritual, academic, and intellectual growth of all of his students, illustrating Christlikeness through his showing of grace, patience, integrity, relentless work ethic, character, and family life. Brandenburg has a God-given talent to relate with students, making the subject of history fun and intriguing - something that I hope to be able to do as a future educator.”

Alexandria Osborne also expressed her experience with Dr. Brandenburg. "It’s been a privilege to call myself one of his students," she said. "His pursuit and advocacy for justice is what led me to ask him to be the advisor for my Diversity Club. When hard times struck and I felt devalued he helped me put on the school’s first 'Montreat Voices.' His commitment to relationship is overwhelmingly encouraging to someone like me, who desperately needed to feel like I had value at this school. It’s through his relationship and support that I found my voice at Montreat."

True relationships treat people as a priority and a privilege. "Matt Langston is the kind of person who quickly moves from being ‘just a professor’ to what I would call a friend." Jeffrey Reynard said. "In his daily life, he provides numerous lessons about life (throughout his character and consistency) that are simply not able to be taught in the setting of a classroom [and that] help myself and fellow students grow as individual persons, and even to become more well-rounded.”

"On a daily basis," Matthew Price said, "Matt shows Christ’s love through his actions and how he interacts with his students. He has always had a way of showing his students that he not only cares about their education but he cares for them as people. His willingness to go out his way to help students and show kindness and understanding to those who need it makes me realize that he is not just a great professor but he is a great friend and someone to look up to.”

Effectiveness: To create an environment where students desire to learn more, even when they are challenged and forced to work harder and longer than ever before, is an invaluable skill that does not belong to many in the teaching profession.

“Walking into Corrie Greene’s class is like submerging yourself in a new atmosphere that is open to questions, lack of understanding, and works of writing from all perspectives." said McKayla High. "After being immersed in her teaching, I have found myself not only enjoying, but seeking, new atmospheres, for in those atmospheres my mind and lungs expand.”

Daniel Davis added, "Every student wants to have a chance to be in one of her classes and learn from her magnificent teaching style. Outside the classroom, Corrie exemplifies great compassion for the students’ day to day lives."

Taking her effectiveness past undergraduate education, Dottie Shuman has worked toward creating unique and renowned Master’s programs. “Dottie has taught me how to be effective as an educator through her creativity in the classroom and her support outside of the classroom,” wrote Jessica Stump. "In the classroom, her teaching touches the heart so that learning content comes from a place of passion and curiosity.  Outside the classroom, her teaching touches the soul so that learning comes from a place of trusting God’s goodness and love."

Sense of Urgency: “Dr. Stackhouse went above and beyond to make sure that I would have everything I needed to graduate on time," Rebecca Shaw said. "Because of her diligence, I was actually able to graduate a semester early. Even after the Piano Performance program was cut, she kept teaching for less, losing tenure and prestige, all in humility, just because she loves the students.”

“It is not only her experience and mastery of the piano that makes her so valuable but her heart for her students, Katie Colenda said. "She is committed to preparing students and wants them to be the absolute best they can be.”

A sense of urgency requires us to recognize needs, be steadfast in our commitments, and rally together for the benefit of the whole.

“Dr. Teo always taught us the importance of right timing and taking advantage of opportunities as they come. Dr. Teo is a mentor, teacher, leader, amongst many other things,” said Esgardo Arroyo. Zachary Bell contributed, “Dr. Teo is a man of honor, and cultural adaptation. He understands what it means to be called to something, and the impact that integrity has in the field of cybersecurity. His communication skills and interactions with students allow for a more interactive learning experience, and faster yet quality education for the workforce.”

Belief: “Belief is often a vague concept, but it is important since every person believes in all sorts of things,” Hannah Black said. “Keri Boer, our registrar, is a living example of what it means to believe in the beauty and mercy of Christ. She is a steadfast and unsung hero of Montreat College who believes in each student's ability to succeed. She also believes in the importance of family, as she treats those around her with genuine care, a kind listening ear, and firm resolution for what is right.”

David Joseph also saw this belief in his professor: “Timothy Wilds taught me that you have to believe in something and be intentional about it," he said. "You have to tell a  story and do what is necessary to make others see and believe. Wilds taught me that I have a purpose and believing in that is what makes you, you.”

"Upon entering Montreat College I wasn't quite sure what to make of my 'Snape'-like professor, Mr. Wilds." Samantha Gaskill said. "I soon found that not only did he have a profound passion for worship but also for his students. Mr. Wilds has believed in me, and all his other students, so well that for the first time in a long time, I am able to believe in myself.”

Extraordinary Commitment: Weathering the many storms and transitions at Montreat calls for a dedication and loyalty that is unheard of in most communities.

“Dr. Lassiter embodies the very nature of commitment," MariaTeresita Jabo said. "He is one of those teachers that will not quit as long as a student needs his help. Whether it was with our work in the lab, helping us finish independent research projects, or in the classroom with last-minute exam prep, if we needed him he was there. That sort of love and passion for students is a rare find and I count myself privileged to be one of his students.”

"Dr. Mark Lassiter has been a close mentor and friend," Brandon Welborn said. "He continually puts the needs of his students before his own, and challenged me to own my education and faith. Dr. Lassiter is truly dedicated and passionate about helping students succeed and his extraordinary commitment to his work and those around him is a wonderful example I hope to emulate one day.”

Extraordinary commitment isn’t always in the spotlight. “For 40 years, Elizabeth Pearson has faithfully served the students, faculty, staff, and community of Montreat College." wrote Nathan King. "Elizabeth is often the first faculty member to arrive on campus and the last to leave.”

Mordecai Howard added, “Mrs. Pearson is the definition of dedication. Her commitment to helping students is extraordinary, and we owe her so much for working to create a wonderful environment for us all in the library.”

This list is in no way all encompassing; this article would never end if we wrote about the virtues of all of our faculty and staff who have loved us and served us so well.

In these changing times I am reminded of 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Thank you to all of the faculty who have loved us well, reminding us of Christ’s love and often drawing us nearer to Him. You are what make Montreat College special.