Published March 6, 2014
ROME — Sarah Geil of Acworth graduated as her high school’s valedictorian and visited 17 colleges before choosing Shorter University.
Noah Madden grew up as a child of missionaries in western Canada before his family settled in the middle Georgia town of Washington, where now his father is a pastor. Madden only visited one college – Shorter.
Both undergraduates are confident they made the right decision as they prepare for vocational ministry.
“I knew the choice was going to influence my life,” Geil said. “I wanted to be at a place where I felt safe and could be nurtured in my faith as I stepped into the real world.”
When Don Dowless joined Shorter as president in 2011, he came with a long history of serving in Baptist higher education following stints at Charleston Southern University and North Greenville University, both in South Carolina. Previous leaders at Shorter had sought to sever ties with the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC). Dowless wants to strengthen the relationship.
“I tell Georgia Baptists this is your school,” Dowless said. “Ultimately, it’s Jesus Christ’s school. But he has given it to Georgia Baptists for a season, and we’ll have to stand before the Lord and give an account of how we spent our time here and how we impacted students.”
That commitment exists even though Shorter receives only about four percent of its total budget from the Cooperative Program (CP) via the GBC. Besides the CP support, many students like Geil and Madden receive GBC scholarships based upon their membership in Southern Baptist churches or their call to ministry.
“The Georgia Baptist Convention is our largest donor,” Dowless said of the $2 million of CP gifts that Shorter receives annually.
The satisfaction that students like Geil and Madden express concerning their studies on Shorter’s “hill” would not surprise Dowless.
“Students are drawn here,” Dowless said, pointing both to a great location between Atlanta and Chattanooga and Shorter’s product, a Christ-centered education.
“Our faculty sees this as a ministry, which makes it even more rigorous academically because they serve the Lord here,” Dowless said. “Their ultimate service is to Jesus Christ.”
When Hannah Green of Calhoun chose Shorter, she admits the reason centered on having a job in Rome teaching gymnastics, which is her passion. By her second semester, she had joined a student-led women’s Bible study and began to form deep relationships. Green now sees herself as part of “the family on the hill.”
“When I got on the hill, my professors were concerned about how my day was going,” said Green, who wants to run a gymnastics center upon graduation and sees that as her mission field. “Professors are truly invested to see that we’re growing academically and spiritually.”
Between the main campus in Rome and satellite campuses in Gwinnett County, Cobb County, and the city of Riverdale, Shorter now has a student population of about 2,400. Dowless said that classic disciplines like education and business have the most students, but the university is enjoying much growth currently in new programs like nursing.
As do many disciplines at Shorter, nursing has an intercultural component that allows students to participate in short-term mission trips to practice medical skills and evangelism. Meanwhile, Shorter also is showing good growth in criminal justice studies.
Dowless believes that high academic standards are an attraction to incoming freshmen. With about 50 majors, faculty members hold degrees from some of America’s most prestigious schools including Harvard, Emory, and Cornell.
“We run a ratio of 1:15,” Dowless said of the relationship of professors to students. “We have intentionally designed our classes that way.”
Madden values the relationships he has with Christian Studies professors.
“I have been blown away by the Christian Studies department,” said Madden, who would like to lead a collegiate ministry upon graduation. “I’m being taught by people who are foremost in their field. Shorter is above and beyond what I thought it would be.”
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming.
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