President Newman’s Vision of Perseverance and Servitude

President Newman’s Vision of Perseverance and Servitude

SNU is blessed with a community of committed and caring faculty, staff, and students who are all led by our very own President Newman. In light of SNU’s 125th anniversary, I sat down with President Newman to get his insight on his vision for SNU and how SNU is truly set apart from other universities. 

President Newman’s journey to SNU started when he was just a 15-year-old boy playing basketball on the SNU campus for Extravaganza, a Nazarene annual youth event. Growing up in Houston, Texas with a single mother, President Newman had to put himself through college and worked full-time as a homicide detective for the Houston Police Department while attending Houston Christian University. Here, he double majored in history and Christianity (what is now known as theology and ministry). 

Upon his graduation, President Newman entered into ministry and became a pastor for 17 years. He did not return to SNU until the ‘90s when he had a chance to serve on the Board of Trustees while still pastoring. While serving, he obtained his master’s from SNU and then a doctorate from Spalding University, thinking he might become a professor. President Newman was then recruited away from SNU and pastoring to serve as the Vice President for University Relations at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, which started his higher education ministry. He then served at Indiana Wesleyan University where he was Chancellor and the Vice President for University Relations. Although President Newman was not serving at SNU during this time, he still kept many connections with SNU, and his daughter graduated from the university in 2014.  

President Newman never intended to become a university president, but God had other plans. After a series of declined offers and phone calls, President Newman finally felt driven toward obedience to God and applied to take over as president of SNU after President Loren Gresham’s retirement. In 2017, Newman became the fifteenth president of SNU and has been serving since. 

When asked about his initial vision for the university, President Newman said, “Vision is something that is a result of conversations, research, and understanding a particular school. I didn’t come in with a particular list of what my vision was because I knew that the mission of the school, ‘to make Christlike disciples through higher education,’ was valid and valuable. I also knew about the motto ‘Character, Culture, Christ,’ which interested me.” He went on to explain that he thought he understood what this motto meant but wanted to explore it further and add clarity to how we live out these words. Thus, it now reads: “Refining Character, Creating Culture, Serving Christ.” 

Further explaining the motto, President Newman emphasized the refining process that is intensified during one’s college years. “These are the years where you answer some of your biggest questions in life and learn about yourself and others. SNU is here to guide students through that process, not just in college years, but hopefully to continue throughout their life.” He then explained that we are “culture creators,” who have the opportunity to create a culture and community wherever we go. This culture impacts and influences our lives, so we must think about how we want our homes, schools, and communities to look like. 

When it comes to serving Christ, President Newman said this can also be translated into loving Christ and loving others. A memorable “bumper sticker” slogan he used in his inauguration speech was “Live Last,” referencing Mark 9:35 which states:

“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”photo by Emma Dilbeck

This slogan has stuck and President Newman jokes that he knows this is true because students goofily quote it! Even still, the message is being spread and Living Last has been a pillar of the university since. President Newman has seen this in action in a number of ways in how both current and past students, faculty, and staff serve. He states, “I have seen this lived out in athletics with teams volunteering, in SNU in Missions (SIMS) serving around the world, in mentoring and tutoring programs across campus, in graduates leading in their professions, and in many, many other ways.”

President Newman’s current vision is that the Live Last Mark 9:35 goal will continue in all of SNU’s programs, and that these programs will “prepare men and women to go out and serve, to put others first, to do everything they can to lead with a demonstration of compassion and love to make the world a better place.” He explained that a vision is ultimately a choice, but one he hopes all members of SNU make. 

When thinking about how SNU has been educating for 125 years, President Newman said he is nothing short of grateful. “I think in so many ways it is amazing. Longevity does not ultimately produce significance, but with all of the experiences that SNU has been through since 1899, such as the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, World War II, the introduction of the GI bill, the Civil Rights Movement, etc., we have continued to persevere. This is a testimony of the providence and faithfulness of God and people who have believed and given sacrificially to our vision.” He continued saying that we are as our famously coined phrase says, “purposefully different.” He explained, “A lot of our classes start with prayer, devotion, and an application of how each subject matter relates to the Bible and how we are going to take action to make a difference. We are not saying we are purposefully better but set apart in the ways we teach and lead with a strong, common vision. If culture has been created in the right way, and the right professors and staff are hired, then we are aligning with our vision.” 

In the next ten years, education will continue to evolve and the delivery systems will adapt and change as the world does. President Newman thinks that in ten years, “professors at SNU may be living elsewhere but educating in real-time with online and hybrid classes. There may be more of a combination of on-site and online learning as we move into an ever-developing digital era.” He also believes there will be more internship and experiential learning opportunities that combine working with coursework. He explained his thinking with this analogy: “We are still drinking milk, still listening to music, still talking on the telephone, still typing on machines, still watching movies, and still educating. These actions all look different than they did years ago, but they are still achieving the same purpose.”

Lastly, President Newman hopes that in the next 125 years, SNU will still be integrating faith and learning. He says, “It is not enough to just have the facts–it’s the application of the facts.” His dream and future vision is that SNU continues to persevere and not lose sight of our purposefully different intentions. President Newman wants SNU to continue God’s work and make resilient disciples who can adapt to changes that may come our way. 


Photos by Emma Dilbeck