Gary Gramenz gives thanks for the Fresno Pacific Idea. “It’s like you’re reading Thomas Jefferson. It’s exquisitely well-crafted,” says Gramenz, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education. “It’s a very holistic way of looking at the Gospel, a way of making the Gospel relevant to the world in which we live. It becomes a touchstone for us.”
Those words help explain why the Idea has guided Fresno Pacific University through decades of growth and change. Its three tenets—FPU is a Christian school, a community of learners and prophetic—permeate classrooms, athletic fields, dorms and leadership offices.
“The Fresno Pacific Idea is the foundation of our work, which seeps into everything we do,” he says. Here’s how each tenet of the Idea is applied across the campus:
The School of Education frames teaching as a call to redemptive service, and it’s one of the standards in the teacher credential program. “We talk about the ways the Fresno Pacific Idea informs that self-understanding of people going into teaching,” Gramenz says. “People in education are called to do kingdom work.” Citing the ideas of C.S. Lewis, Gramenz adds: “Where you are bringing truth, beauty and goodness, you are bringing the kingdom along with you.”
Helping FPU students integrate faith into their professional lives also is a goal in the School of Business. Servant leadership is a key principle, says Katie Fleener, Ph.D., associate professor and dean ofthe school. Servant leaders understand the importance of positive interpersonal communication with team members in the business world. Fleener says Proverbs 18:13 offers wise counsel: “He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame.”
Also in the School of Business, courses in the degree completion program begin with devotions. “By doing so, even students who may not have been raised Christian are exposed to the Bible and Christian teaching,” she says. The degree completion program operates on the cohort model—groups of students take multiple courses together—which builds opportunities for mutual support. Furthermore, degree completion faculty understand that they’re responsible for “fostering opportunities to further the teachings of Christ,” Fleener says.
Another example of Christian identity happens in the Office of Continuing Education, which provides courses (mostly online or correspondence) to 6,000 students in 50 states and 10 foreign countries. The program’s staff regularly gathers to pray for students who share personal needs, says Peggi Kriegbaum, executive director. “We can live out FPU’s Christian mission even though our students are remote from the campus,” she says.
Christian principles find expression beyond the classroom, as well. The campus residential program builds a Christian community where roommates from diverse backgrounds value and care for one another, says Dale Scully, M.A., vice president of student life. “We celebrate different cultures. We want people to be wholly who they are with one another. We think that represents the Gospel and what it means to be believers,” he says.
Community of Learners
One expression of this tenet comes in the course Jesus and the Christian Community, which all freshmen and transfer students take. “Everyone can join together to examine the story of Jesus,” says Greg Camp (BA ’82), Ph.D., professor in biblical and theological studies. The course focuses on the Gospel of Matthew. Camp says Buddhist, Sikh and Muslim students have done well in the course. “They are free to examine the text as history and literature while also coming to grips with Jesus’ teaching and its implications in his day as well as today’s world,” Camp says.
The insights of Christian and non-Christian students in the class exemplify FPU’s community of learners, Camp says: “You bring your background, your experience and your intellectual abilities to the text. Every year I learn from all my students.”
In the School of Natural Sciences, a community of learners comes together every summer in an innovative program for all incoming freshmen who are STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors. Groups of 20 students, plus a faculty member and two upperclassmen, form virtual communities through social media for one month. They begin the communities with day-long meet ups for ice breakers and orientation to online learning.
“It’s prep for college, but it’s also an introduction to the power of the community,” says Karen Cianci, Ph.D., dean of the School of Natural Sciences. “I think it’s so profound to challenge the concept of American individualism and show students you’re stronger in a group and that learning occurs there.”
The community of learners concept is recognized as a best practice by the American Association of Colleges and Universities, and it benefits students once they graduate. “Many top companies like Google are looking for employees who understand community and can work in it,” Cianci says.
Often professors structure that concept right into their classes, says Melanie Howard, Ph.D., assistant professor and program director in biblical and theological studies. “Many of us won’t spend a full 50 minutes in the front of a classroom just lecturing to students,” she says. Rather, professors solicit students’ ideas about course material.
“We are genuinely interested in the insights that students can help us to see,” Howard says. “We want to hear their voices because their voices are going to help all of us in this process of learning.”
A Prophetic Voice
Prophets are sometimes seen as people who stand on street corners predicting the future. But in the biblical context, the prophet is someone who clearly sees reality and calls for change. “It’s a much more robust understanding of what it means to be prophetic,” says Ron Herms, Ph.D., dean of the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences.
Herms says the ALAS (“wings” in Spanish) program is an example of Fresno Pacific prophetically addressing the fact that half of its students are the first generation of their families to attend college. ALAS provides academic support, career counseling and other services to help these students graduate, and helps train faculty to embed more Latin American and cross-cultural content into their courses—recognition that 45 percent of FPU students are Hispanic. “I think ALAS is an example of a really prophetic step forward,” Herms says.
Another prophetic stance plays out in FPU athletics. The standard of success in most athletic programs is how many games you win. But, “At FPU, we seek to be counter-cultural in that we take a much more holistic approach,” says Associate Athletics Director Jeremiah Wood. That means not reducing student athletes to “commodities” who are viewed “simply in terms of what we can get out of them,” he adds.
FPU recruits talented athletes, and some have competed professionally and at Olympic trials. But many end their playing days as a Sunbird, and it’s common for some to question their identities when that time comes, Wood says. “We strive to be a place that prepares them and comes alongside them in those moments, showing them their true identity and value in Christ.”
More prophetic work occurs at the university’s Center for Community Transformation—through initiatives in social enterprise, job readiness, financial literacy training, anti-human trafficking and leadership for Latino pastors—and in promoting restorative justice in families, churches, schools, workplaces and communities through the Center for Peacemaking. “From a biblical point of view, we’re working to redeem the community and make it a better place,” says Gayle Copeland, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.
Furthermore, Copeland says, the FPU School of Business and the Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary work together to help train pastors in business principles so they can better handle organizational leadership in their churches. “It’s a response to what our world needs,” she says. “Real life involves integration of our faith with all things.”
‘Out in the World’
In the 1970s, the late Silas Bartsch led the university in the prophetic work of expanding the graduate education program to provide professional development for teachers. “It was always about Fresno Pacific being out in the world and serving teachers, their students and the students’ families,” says Bartsch’s son, Douglas Bartsch, (BA ’77) associate dean in the School of Education.
Douglas Bartsch says his father knew the importance of FPU acting prophetically. “He believed as people of faith we should be doing something that matters,” Bartsch says. “It’s not because we matter but because of what we believe God and Jesus have done for us.”
Upon that rock, the Fresno Pacific Idea was built.