Trevecca puts conventional past aside, preps for bold future

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 7:05pm
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Courtesy TNU 

Two weeks ago, Trevecca Nazarene University officials announced the private school’s athletics programs would move from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics to the NCAA Division II. 

And though the stellar Trojan softball team, for example, won’t be competing against NCAA Division I powerhouses Alabama or Michigan anytime soon, the jump to a more prestigious athletic association is symbolic of the dramatic transformation the small private university located on Murfreesboro Road has experienced over the past few years. Indeed, Trevecca, founded in 1901 and located only about two miles from downtown Nashville, has likely undergone more changes in the past five years than it did during the previous 105. 

Trevecca garners less media and general public attention than the city’s other six liberal arts-based four-year colleges and universities: Aquinas, Belmont, Fisk, Lipscomb, Tennessee State and Vanderbilt. Still, this is a university quickly creating its niche within an impressive community of higher education players. 

“One of the strengths of the university is that we’ve remained focused,” said Dan Boone, Trevecca president since 2005. “When you have the sense that your mission is being an unapologetically Christian university, it empowers the university to make clear and concise choices about what it wants to do.” 

From 2009 to 2010, Trevecca’s endowment jumped by $2 million — a 14.2 percent increase from the previous year’s figure of about $14 million. More visibly, the campus has seen major construction and renovation. The Bud Robinson Building — home to the new Center for Leadership, Calling and Service — underwent a $3.6 million rehab that was completed in 2009. The Adams Administration Building’s $2.7 million renovation concluded in March, as did a new $1.75 million Alumni Center. Earlier this year, updates began on the historic McClurkan Building — perhaps the campus’ most visually distinctive structure. The $4 million project is scheduled for completion in 2012. The university’s science labs are being gutted, with a reopening slated for the fall semester. 

Another key recent addition came on the academic front. The school just graduated its first class of students in a clinical counseling Ph.D. program. As well, Boone said the school has increased the size of its “Graduate Physician Assistant” program during the past few years. 

“Our PA program has a strong reputation in the state,” he said. “We’ll have 600 applications each year for about 50 spots.” 

Perhaps the most dramatic change at Trevecca the past five years, however, has been the school’s willingness to embrace the low-income and primarily African-American neighborhoods that surround it. A mere 10 years ago, such a move would’ve been difficult to fathom. 

“It was a decision to stop apologizing for the neighborhood we are in and turn it into a classroom,” Boone said. “The people who live here are our neighbors. We lowered our barrier. For example, our library is a key partner with the Napier library.” 

A strong example of its relationship with its environs is Trevecca’s Center for Social Justice, whichopened in 2007. Jamie Casler, the center’s director, oversees a community gardens program that assists Cameron-Trimble, Chestnut Hill and Sudekum-Napier residents. On campus, Trevecca grows organic vegetables that it takes to the city’s food deserts. 

Boone said the Center for Worship Arts, only three years in operation, looks to address the demise of arts and music programs in public schools. 

“We’re training students to go into churches and community centers, and establish a center for the arts in those towns with schools that have dropped music and arts,” he said. 

This year, Trevecca created the College of Lifelong Learning, which encompasses all degree completion programs and is aimed at adults pursuing online master’s degrees. It is the first program of its type in Middle Tennessee. 

Boone’s broader vision includes upping enrollment from about 2,400 students to 4,000 in five years. To do so, the university will need to significantly increase its number of non-traditional undergrads, he said.

Nancy Moody, president of Greeneville, Tenn.-based Tusculum College (a peer institute of Trevecca), said small private colleges don’t have the luxury of simply maintaining pace. 

“You have to look into the future,” she said. “Trevecca, under Dr. Boone’s leadership, has done an excellent job. I’d say Trevecca has done more than many of its contemporaries [the past five years].” 

Moody, who sits on the NCAA Division II Presidents Council, said moving from NAIA to NCAA is a “big deal in terms of recruiting students” — one that can help Trevecca much as it has Tusculum.

“The beauty of NCAA II is we’re trying to strike a balance,” she said. “We believe academics and athletics have equal importance for the student-athlete.” 

In what would be a bold move — and distinguish Trevecca from its two Christian-themed Nashville-based private school rivals, Belmont and Lipscomb — Boone said Trevecca is also considering a Division II football program. 

Such vision is now as much a part of Trevecca as was the school’s more conventional approach spanning countless years. 

“Guests are always telling me,” Boone said, “Trevecca is an unknown oasis in South Nashville.”