Just two years old and rapidly growing, Ottawa University-Arizona (OUAZ) is unique in many ways. The new residential college campus, rising up from the dirt in the Valley of the Sun, is steadfast in setting itself apart from the competition, while holding strong to the mission and values of its 154-year-old founding institution in northeast Kansas.
If you ask what makes OUAZ different, you will likely get a very similar response. Whether its students, staff, faculty or administrators, one consistent answer is that the hallmark of OUAZ is without a doubt its Personal Growth Days, or PGD’s, which occur each Wednesday. Paramount to OUAZ’s faithful pursuit to develop the “whole person” in its students, PGD’s replace Wednesday classes with a chapel service, food and fellowship and workshops teaching real-world skills.
The idea of PGD’s can be traced back to Ottawa University Chancellor Kevin Eichner, who as a former public company CEO and entrepreneur, witnessed that otherwise well-educated employees lacked even some of the most basic business and life-survival skills, such as public speaking, coaching others, critical thinking, team building and many others.
“When we envisioned how to make OUAZ very special, and how to make it even more impactful as a place where our students could prepare for their own personal lives of significance, the idea of our Personal Growth Days was one of the first to be enthusiastically endorsed in building our programming here,” Eichner said. “Not only would this become a valued and special part of our students’ experience, we also believed it would set OUAZ apart from our many competitors.”
There are three distinct components to each PGD – the “Spirit Life” chapel service, “The Gathering” fellowship luncheon and the “Life Skills” workshops. PGD Wednesdays begin at 10:30 a.m. with the campus community joining together for worship with energizing praise music and a dynamic guest speaker. This is followed by a catered outside luncheon with everybody gathering together to mingle and network. Finally, afternoons feature 90-minute life-skills workshops.
“Our PGD’s help build a sense of community,” OUAZ President Dr. Dennis Tyner said. “We all attend and participate in a variety of different ways, and we’re all growing together as we aspire to achieve lives of significance.”
Specifically relating to how PGD’s impact the student experience, Tyner said they are a value-added benefit they would not get anywhere else but OUAZ.
“Quite simply, with the workshops our students are gaining work experience and world experience in areas that are not standard topics covered in the curriculum of their academic majors,” Tyner said. “And with Spirt Life, they are hearing guest speakers on a weekly basis who deliver a dynamic message that resonates and inspires them.”
Dr. David Barnes, executive director of advancement, church and alumni relations at OUAZ, said that PGD’s prepare OUAZ graduates for life and work in ways not provided at other institutions. He said on top of the multiple benefits of the workshops, the “Spirit Life” event is transformational in other ways.
“By the grace of God, Spirit Life started and has sustained at a very high level,” Barnes said. “Its purpose is to proclaim our Christian foundations and to bring words of truth and encouragement to the OUAZ family. Occasionally, we will have a speaker whose purpose is to speak on a special topic or world events or simply to entertain. I love Spirit Life and how the Lord has blessed it. I love seeing and hearing our students worshipping and being encouraged each week.”
To make PGD’s possible, Tyner chairs a committee that works to coordinate, plan and schedule each week’s activities. Committee members and their specific responsibilities are: Barnes, “Spirit Life” chapel service; Dr. Lena Rodriguez, dean of the University’s School of Business, workshop content and delivery; and Carrie Philippon, director of student life, workshop administration and logistics.
With PGD’s, OUAZ is empowering students from every background to become whole individuals intellectually, spiritually, physically, artistically, financially and vocationally. In doing so, OUAZ students can lead lives of stronger personal faith, balance and joy, while growing intellectually and in preparing for leadership in a global economy.