By Dr. Ben Sells

President, Ouachita Baptist Univeristy

Rigorous academics in rich Christian environment 

By Dr. Ben Sells

President, Ouachita Baptist Univeristy

I recently shared these comments with new students who were on campus to register for Fall 2022 classes. My aim was to help them—and their parents, many of whom had joined them for the campus event—further understand Ouachita through words from four recent conversations. 

Current student Kinley Ritter described serving on the search committee to select the next vice president for academic affairs (VPAA), the person who reports to me and oversees all that happens inside the classroom. She was the student representative among 12 faculty and staff, attending 20 meetings and reading 400 pages. It was a serious assignment. She said: 

“On a personal level, this experience grew me a lot. I was able to learn to share mature opinions and think critically. My voice was reflecting my body of peers. This hiring process was 100% student-focused. For my opinion and perspective on things to be valued was cool.” 

Ouachita values students and seeks to make this the best possible education and experience. 

During the VPAA search, each of the final candidates spent an hour with students. One student described Ouachita with an answer I had never heard, but one that captures the university’s essence: 

 “Rigorous academics in a rich Christian environment.” 

By “rigorous,” the student meant challenging. People often grow the most—educationally, socially, physically and spiritually—when challenged to stretch themselves. We see students as people with incredible potential. Recent grads tell me that Ouachita prepared them to succeed and thrive—and compete with anyone. We invest in our students, encourage them and celebrate their many successes. And when we think they can do better, we’ll tell them—and then support them.  

“Rich Christian environment” reflects our first university value, “faith.” We define it this way: “We believe that life is lived most abundantly in response to the love of God through Jesus Christ.” I don’t apologize for and we’re not embarrassed by this belief. There are more than 4,000 universities in this country, but there are fewer than 200 Christian colleges like Ouachita. We believe our approach to higher education is better—and better helps students become the unique person God intends for them to be. 

The Ouachita community lasts a lifetime. Last week, someone who graduated 30 years ago and has created a very successful company serving Arkansas and Texas said this to me: 

“Early on, I had the opportunity for success because of the Ouachita network—people who had graduated from Ouachita, were older than me and took the time to help me.” 

We want to help students succeed while they’re at Ouachita and connect them with alumni who will help them succeed and thrive after graduation. 

We believe God made us to be in relationship with Him—and with other people. Whether you’re 18 years old or 60 like me, part of being human is a desire to be known and to know others. A few weeks ago, a student who is attending a large public university and thinking about transferring to Ouachita spent two days on our campus, including spending two nights in the residence hall. Here’s what they said after the visit: 

“I made more meaningful connections at Ouachita in two days than I have in two years at my university.” 

I’ve been president for six years, and I’ve worked at three Christian colleges. My father was a college president, so I’ve been on Christian college campuses most of my life. Ouachita isn’t a perfect place, and I’m not a perfect president, but it’s a really, really good campus community. We invest deeply in our students. And, if they make the effort to invest in relationships—and all the opportunities for academic progress, personal development and spiritual growth—their time at Ouachita can be a great and life-changing experience. 

I closed my remarks with a prayer for our incoming class. Will you join me in lifting this class of rising college freshmen to the Lord? 

Lord, thank you for these young men and women and their parents. As we take this next step, may they grow in their love for you, for others and for learning. May they grow in knowledge and in wisdom; may they grow in competence and in character. Through the work of your Spirit, their efforts, their church, their friendships, parents’ support and the investment of faculty and staff, may they increasingly become the person you intend for them to be to serve your purposes in their generation. Amen. 

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