When you are driven by your heart to touch lives through the love of God, you make a global impact that reaches far and wide, beyond your imagination. The future for education on a global scale was critical to Oral Roberts University’s growth. Despite numerous traditional educational challenges, ORU has established a strong international presence and is set to spread its influence through the educational field with unique and distinctive ways of operation. The journey has not been easy, but it has been worth it, providing inspiration to staff and students alike. As we speak with ORU President Dr. William M. Wilson, we are privileged to learn some leadership lessons that have helped redefine the university’s success.
ORU needed a common vision that aligned all stakeholders with the opportunity, as well as a need to help them visualize the world differently than they had in the past. The deeply interconnected world, with its mega-shifting demographics and economics, demanded a more intentional, multidimensional, and globally focused extension of ORU’s mission and outreach. Embedded in the founding vision of ORU and articulated so eloquently in its mission statement is the mandate to develop Spirit-empowered leaders and send them to the “uttermost bounds of the earth” and into “every person’s world” through whole person education. Many leaders have lived out the well-quoted statement “culture eats strategy for breakfast;” many organizational challenges and obstacles emanate from systemic issues and the inability to create the right team and culture. Dr. Wilson knew that, if ORU could create and sustain a culture of excellence to serve the world with the best education, then the smaller challenges and obstacles would naturally be overcome.
To build this culture of excellence several steps were pursued including 1). Sustaining a balanced, university-wide governance structure, 2). Developing the first rolling five-year adaptive plan, and 3). Creating a financial model that would be viable, believable, and achievable, while also creating the largest capital campaign in ORU history. Oral Roberts University began the largest financial campaign in its history, a $50M campaign in 2013 that coincided with the University’s 50th Anniversary. This capital campaign was critical, as its success would ultimately prove to their global constituents and stakeholders that ORU was ready to embark on the next phase of its journey. The campaign concluded in 2016 as a rousing success, paving the way for an additional $106M to be raised to support their newest university plan called Impact 2030.
The Educational Diversity
Oral Roberts University, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma has six colleges, which offer over 150 undergraduate majors, minors, concentrations and pre-professional programs, 14 graduate programs, and 3 doctoral programs. ORU has approximately 3,800 residential and commuter students, over 800 online students and over 3,000 certificate-seeking students.
Oral Roberts University is a distinctive educational institution that promotes what it terms “whole person education,” resulting in dynamic spiritual growth, academic excellence, physical fitness, social skills, and professional competence. ORU is more than a teaching place; it is a place of learning and transformation that develops Holy-Spirit empowered leaders through whole person education to impact the world. Professors are more than educators at ORU; they are also mentors and coaches who are expected to model a whole person lifestyle. Education at ORU is designed to develop in its students a Christian worldview and Christ-like character in an ethos of Spirit empowerment.
The impact of whole person education on each student is progressively assessed at ORU. ORU has an outstanding product that the world desperately needs. This need for ORU’s special educational product—Spirit-empowered whole persons—has grown exponentially due to the cultural and economic reality called globalization, along with the rapid growth of Spirit-empowered (i.e. Pentecostal/Charismatic) Christianity. The Spirit-empowered movement is the fastest-growing religious movement on earth, growing twice as fast as the world’s population. This expanding global audience is ORU’s core constituency.
The Growing Success
The business growth strategy was designed and articulated by the university-wide governance structure, which is comprised of members of the Board of Trustees and a selection of staff and faculty members known as the University Planning Council. This collective planning process has been an incredible asset, allowing the university to grow in the healthiest manner. Mindful of shifting global trends, the ORU Board of Trustees commissioned the development of an adaptive planning process to create and implement an approved five-year adaptive plan providing direction to the University community for day-to-day operations. Using overarching visionary goals implemented through five-year objectives and monitored by one-year key performance indicators (KPIs), the adaptive plan communicates an improvement strategy that enables the ORU community to “be perfectly united in mind and thought.”
This governance structure has helped deliver ten years of unprecedented enrollment growth, while maintaining a balanced budget that has also grown at an unprecedented level over the past ten years. More specifically, the business growth has been focused on international enrollment. With the U.S. representing only 3% of the world’s population, a significant portion of ORU’s future growth potential is international, and ORU’s globalization case statement has proven to be instrumental in designing and delivering initiatives that allow the university to pursue this goal. After winning the 2018 Ellucian Technology Award, ORU deepened the collaboration with Ellucian to provide world-leading artificial intelligence and machine learning designed to increase their future intelligence through world-leading student information systems.
Technology became a key success factor in reaching students around the world with fresh and innovative methods. Provost and Chief Academic Officer Kathaleen Reid-Martinez led the faculty and academic team toward a greater global focus and greater student engagement at the international level. Within one year of creating the globalization case statement, ORU went on a search to hire one of the world’s leading technologists to lead this effort; this search led the university to Mike Mathews, who came with 12 years of experience at supercomputer manufacturer Cray Research Inc. as well as 12 years of experience at the world-leading education company, Ellucian Inc. Dr. Wilson then extended this same challenge for hiring top global talent in all areas of the university with a set goal of increasing global competencies among all staff and faculty. Another example of forward-thinking staffing was the hiring of Dr. Stephen Wheat in 2018 as a faculty member in the Computer Science and Mathematics Department. Prior to his arrival at ORU, Dr. Wheat spent over 30 years in the High-Performance Computing (HPC) industry. Dr. Wheat is a recipient of a Gordon Bell Prize, as well as the Intel Achievement Award (1997), both associated with his work advancing the technology in HPC. He has twice been recognized by a major HPC publication as a “Person to Watch,” and was recognized as one of NASA AMES 25 most influential people in their 25-year history for his contributions to NASA’s return to flight after the Columbia space shuttle disaster.
ORU recognizes that technology will play a key role in its future growth, but also understands the technology must be simple, intuitive, and accessible for everyone. ORU recently created the first device that allows students to engage with all education systems and all worldwide knowledge through a mirror. This breakthrough idea, called an AI-enabled MQ-Mirror, is one of the many innovations that will allow whole person education to achieve an Impact 2030 goal of reaching all 195 nations. Just five years ago, ORU had students from 85 nations; this past academic year it had students from 108 nations, and a digital ecosystem that allows people from 184 nations to leverage ORU’s global resources. Even though this digital ecosystem is only one of ORU’s many educational innovations, it is transforming the way students engage and become advised for educational pathways to success in a personalized manner.
The Rewarding Recognition
ORU has leveraged its unique commitment to service excellence to produce ten consecutive years of enrollment growth with the following quantifiable evidence of excellence:
- ORU graduates earn an average of $2.0 million dollars more than individuals without a four-year degree.
- ORU placed 99.4% of all students in the workforce or a graduate program in 2018.
- ORU placed 100% of all international students in the workforce or graduate program in 2018.
- ORU reached a record high 95.5% retention rate for all freshman fall-to-spring (2018/2019)
- ORU designed one of the most unique Global Learning Centers in the world with access to over 500,000 augmented and virtual reality learning environments.
- ORU has one of the largest supercomputer systems in Oklahoma and among private higher education.
- ORU established itself as the world leader in providing wearable technology that helps each student better manage their student success with the guidance of both information systems and faculty awareness. ORU’s students have just finished logging eight billion steps as part of their whole-person journey toward personal wellbeing.
Mike Mathews’ skills and experience matched perfectly to President Wilson’s vision and allowed the university to create a world-class IT Department, design ORU’s Global Learning Center to perfectly align the globalization goals with the university adaptive plan, and connect students from around the world. The design and impact of the vision and outcomes of the Global Learning Center has won 10 Awards across the education and technology space. Mathews states, “President Wilson’s vision is so clear and articulated that the pieces are easy to align with breakthrough innovation at multiple levels.”
The Influential and Visionary Lead
Dr. William M. Wilson was born in Owensboro, Kentucky and attended Daviess County High School. Upon graduation from high school, Wilson attended Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky where he earned a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. He also attended the Pentecostal Theological Seminary in Cleveland, Tennessee, where he earned his Master of Arts and Doctor of Ministry degrees. Prior to his election as President of Oral Roberts University, Wilson served as vice chair of the ORU Board of Trustees. Wilson also served several years in executive leadership in two denominations and served most recently as the executive director for the International Center for Spiritual Renewal in Cleveland, Tennessee and the chair and executive director of a global church resourcing initiative called Empowered21. In addition, Wilson serves on various boards and committees, including the Mission America Coalition (Lausanne USA) Facilitation Committee, the Pentecostal World Fellowship Executive Committee, the Board for the National Association of Evangelicals and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
The Motivating Factor
ORU has embarked on a journey that has propelled the university into the future in a vibrant, fresh, and verifiable manner. The many successes the University has seen affirm ORU is on the right track. This momentum is energizing and invigorating for its culture, as well as a reality statement that roadblocks are not as big as people make them. Important future factors for ORU will include:
- Love and challenge its students to become world leaders.
- Sustain its proven and balanced governance structure.
- Instill, grow, and measure a culture of excellence.
- Motivate and encourage the campus faculty and staff with a common vision and goals that are both achievable and a stretch.
- Hire the brightest, best, and most talented employees.
- Integrate a smart ecosystem that blends systems, processes, and leading technology.
The Envisioned Path
ORU’s Impact 2030 vision will continue to focus on the shifts and trends of a global world as the university goes from serving students in 108 nations to 195 nations. ORU plans on taking advantage of the Titan supercomputer and the world-class faculty led by Dr. Stephen Wheat and Chair of Computing and Mathematics Dr. Andy Lang, both of whom have achieved unprecedented research on education and GIS data sets to help both education and industry. The Titan supercomputer has been recognized by and has received funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which will allow ORU to have two of the most influential computer science related degrees in the country. This is a significant accomplishment, considering the U.S. was just recognized by Stanford University as leading Chinese, Indian, and Russian senior student outcomes in computer science related degrees. From software engineers to electronic app developers, technology is creating its own wealth among ordinary people who can now thrive in the knowledge-based economy, people who are willing to invest in an education that connects knowledge and its application. ORU’s whole person education, with its unique characteristics and applications, will be of great value to the world, especially the Spirit-empowered segment of the Christian world.
The market demand for education has never been higher than in today’s knowledge-based economy. ORU’s Impact 2030 adaptive plan calls for:
- Developing Whole Leaders for the Whole World
- Achieving Exceptional Teaching, Innovation, and Academic Excellence
- Educating Learners from Every Nation
- Demonstrating a Vibrant Spirit-Empowered Ethos that Impacts the World
- Growing a Strong and Expanded Tulsa Campus
- Using New Technologies in Creative and Transformative Ways
- Thriving with Financial Vitality
- Serving Globally as the Differentiated Premier University for Spirit-Empowered Leadership Development
ORU is poised to leverage every available technology in developing the proper prescriptive and predictive analytics that allow the university to continue its ten consecutive years of enrollment growth. The start might have been difficult, however ORU’s passion to do a good work in peoples’ lives encouraged it to overcome every struggle and create a dynamic impact leaving trails of success stories along the way.
President Wilson and the ORU team illuminate the reality that creating a global vision for education allows technology to be leveraged for the betterment of everyone.