A College Town

Posted by Janae Melvin on June 28, 2017 in “Today, Surprise is a college town.”

And with those words by Mayor Sharon Wolcott of Surprise, AZ, a dream became reality for her and for President Kevin Eichner and the Ottawa University community. The announcement that Ottawa University would open a new residential campus in the city of Surprise was made on Friday, February 17, in front of faculty, coaches, alumni, members of the Surprise city council and residents of the community of Surprise to great enthusiasm and with tremendous support. 

OU has been in the Arizona market for 40 years, opening an adult campus in Phoenix in 1977 and currently serving 1000 adult learners there. OU has 8300 alumni located in the greater Phoenix area and Arizona. Extensive research and planning revealed that Phoenix—the fifth largest market in America—offers very few private educational opportunities for traditional age students who, like those at our College in Kansas, wanted to experience the benefits of a faith based, activity oriented, liberal arts institution where they could continue to pursue their academic, athletic, or other passions.

The City of Surprise, the fastest growing city in Arizona, had identified attracting a four year residential college as their top economic development priority. After numerous interactions with the OU board and leadership and the City governing body and officials, both parties agreed that this would be a great fit and after several months of due diligence and collaborative effort, Ottawa University of Arizona at Surprise (OUAZ) is being launched.

OUAZ at Surprise will welcome its first students in August 2017 as part of a “rolling start” strategy encompassing this fall, next spring, and the fall of 2018. OUAZ will offer a traditional four-year college experience with graduate and undergraduate degrees in business, education and arts and sciences. The new campus will also offer an innovative approach to education with emphasis placed on development of all of the dimensions that make students special and unique human beings: intellectual, spiritual, physical, emotional, financial, familial, and vocational. 

“We want to empower students from around the world and every background to become ‘whole’ people, to develop their passions and abilities, and be ready to engage in and prosper in the world when they graduate from OUAZ,” said President Eichner. “We are bringing a full-fledged residential university experience to the West Valley.”

OUAZ students will take their course work through a unique “flex term schedule.” Students will focus on one or two courses each eight-week term versus the four or five each semester as in a traditional setting. The course time line will be more compact in certain instances, with some lasting four weeks, or extending sixteen weeks where it better serves the pedagogy. This approach offers students more opportunities for internships, international study or to combine a master’s degree into their undergraduate plans. 
OUAZ students will also have Adawe mentors, just like students do at the campus in Ottawa, and will develop an Adawe LifePlan at the beginning of their academic career. The long-term strategy aims for as many as 3,000 residential students over the next 10 to 12 years. Early admissions activity is encouraging as over 750 applications have been received for this August with 360 athletic letters of intent signed thus far. These are remarkable numbers considering that the campus was just announced in mid-February.

The physical campus will be constructed in phases. The first phase of campus includes student housing, athletic facilities, a dining and recreation hall, and indoor recreation space. Additional housing and athletic facilities are the key focus of future phases. These buildings augment the 27,000 sf state of the art academic building formerly known as the Communiversity which OUAZ has taken over and which is serving as the campus base of operations. 

“Our intent is to create something extraordinary for the residents of Surprise and individuals in the West Valley to obtain their degree and be active participants in their collegiate career,” said President Eichner.

Perhaps the most unique experiences OUAZ students will enjoy are the Personal Growth Days that have been built into the curriculum. During each eight-week term, standard classes on Wednesday will be eliminated and students will participate in Personal Growth Days. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., OUAZ will host “The Gathering”, a program that offers worship, chapel experiences, outside speakers, special entertainment, and other programmatic events. An OUAZ community-wide luncheon will complete “The Gathering” bringing students, faculty and staff together for a community dining experience. 

Following “Gathering” events, students will attend workshops that are virtually identical to those offered in professional development training programs. The programs, which will last approximately 90 minutes, are aimed at helping students hone their skills in areas such as public speaking, personal financial planning conflict management, personal organization, and team facilitation. These workshops will also be designed to give students a “tasting menu” of topics and ideas that will augment their formal studies and perhaps even awaken a new passion or interest.
To achieve immediate critical mass, the university is placing heavy emphasis on recruiting student athletes. There is a very large underserved market in that part of the country for students who want to continue their athletic endeavors but who are not destined for NCAA DI teams. OUAZ will compete as part of the western region of the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA). Varsity sports are expected to begin in August with competitive schedules, except for football, which will operate with an initial a redshirt season. 

Twenty-one teams will initially compete for the OUAZ Spirit. The mascot will be the grey wolf. Coaches have been busy recruiting the athletes from high schools and community colleges in the Greater Phoenix Metro area as well as surrounding states. OUAZ expects to have dual affiliation with the NAIA and NCCAA and is hopeful of joining a California based athletic conference in the fall of 2018.

OUAZ will utilize several of the city of Surprise’s existing recreational facilities for practice and competition, including Surprise Stadium (the Spring Training home to the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers) and the Surprise Tennis and Racquet Complex. It will also share many facilities in the start up mode with the neighboring Valley Vista high school less than a mile from campus. 

The athletic department is being led by athletic director Kevin Steele. Steele is no stranger to collegiate athletics, holding the distinction of being the only individual to win the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Athletic Director of the Year award twice – in 2002 at the University of Redlands in California and in 2016 at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas. 

“I could sense God had a challenge in mind for me,” Steele said about the move to Surprise. “The opportunity to start a program from the ground up is exhilarating.”
Since his hire, Steele has been busy hiring top level coaches, training athletic staff, helping promote the programs, and obtaining full membership in the NCCAA. In fact, the coaching staff he has assembled brings national championships and NCAA Division I experience to OUAZ. 

The 21 teams that will compete for the Spirit are baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, football, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s indoor track and field, men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, men’s and women’s volleyball, competitive dance and competitive cheer. 

“Our athletic offerings give student-athletes in the Valley and Southern California an opportunity to stay closer to home and continue to do something that they love so much. And all the while, they’ll be getting a first-class education,” said Eichner.
The new residential campus in Surprise is something Eichner envisioned relatively early in his now ten year tenure at OU and has worked diligently with the able assistance of the OU board to make it a reality. As with every new venture, there were times he was concerned that the Surprise campus might not happen. But he never gave up or stopped working on what he believed was the opportunity of a lifetime to expand the reach and missional values of Ottawa University and prepare even more students for lives of significance. 

“Through this endeavor, we are keeping students in the West Valley,” Eichner said. “We have collaborated with city officials to ensure that the programs we are offering at OUAZ will help create skilled workers that can have an immediate impact on the economy and industries here in the area. We have the opportunity to create a workforce that could ultimately transform a community. For OU, the Surprise campus has the potential to again put the university as a whole on a significant growth trend, a strategic imperative for a tuition-based institution like ours.

The Spirit is definitely coming to Surprise and the fast growing southwestern United States.