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Vikings Earn CCIW, ABCA Awards

North Park University student-athletes recognized with academic all-conference and academic excellence honors

softballCHICAGO (July 27, 2016) — Fifty-five North Park University student-athletes were named to the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) academic all-conference winter and spring teams this month, and four student-athletes earned Jack Swartz Academic All-Conference honors.

The Swartz Award is given to one male and one female athlete from each CCIW school at the end of each season. To be eligible, students must have an overall grade point average of at least 3.50 and must have lettered in their sport that season.

North Park’s winter 2015–2016 Swartz Award recipients were track and field athletes Natalie Swanson, a May youth ministry and biblical and theological studies graduate of Manlius, Ill., and rising junior exercise science major Rasmus Elfgaard of Jönköping, Sweden. Spring 2016 Swartz Award-winners were May nursing graduate Nicole Kruckman (softball) of Libertyville, Ill., and rising junior pre-medicine student Josh Smith (baseball) of Lake in the Hills, Ill.

Academic All-Conference selections are chosen based on individual student-athletes maintaining an overall grade point average of at least 3.30 and lettering in their sport that season. See a complete list of winter and spring Academic All-Conference selections.

On the heels of that recognition, the Vikings also received the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Team Academic Award for the 2015–2016 academic year, one of two CCIW programs to do so. In order to qualify for the award, teams must carry a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 throughout the academic year.

“This is an especially gratifying recognition for our program,” said Head Baseball Coach Luke Johnson. “We are one of only 32 NCAA Division III teams honored—out of 384 with baseball programs—and one of 82 NCAA Division I, II, or III nationally. This puts us in the top 8.5 percent of grade point averages for Division III as well as the NCAA as a whole.”

Johnson credits the baseball program with helping to prepare students for life after graduation. “At the end of the day, their academic performance is what sets them up for the next phase of their lives,” he said of his student-athletes. “What this says is that the lessons that they learn about competing and producing, the lessons that are reinforced in the discipline of practicing and playing college baseball, clearly become a part of their identity as people.”

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North Park University Selected for Second Chance Pell Program

University Partnering with Department of Education to Expand College Opportunity

old-main-250-x-220CHICAGO (June 28, 2016) — North Park University is one of 67 colleges and universities selected to participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell program, the department has announced.

The pilot program will allow eligible incarcerated students to receive Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education, enrolling 12,000 prisoners at more than 100 correctional institutions around the country. Qualifying students are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.

First announced in July 2015, the program had received interest from more than 200 colleges and universities by last October. North Park is one of two institutions in the state of Illinois to be selected as a participating institution.

“The evidence is clear,” said U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr. in a statement. “Promoting the education and job training for incarcerated individuals makes communities safer by reducing recidivism and saves taxpayer dollars by lowering the direct and collateral costs of incarceration.”

RAND Corporation study found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year reincarceration costs.

The selected institutions “demonstrate strong partnerships between the postsecondary institution and correctional institutions,” the White House Press Office said in a statement. “These partnerships will help to facilitate high-quality educational programs, strong academic and career support services, and re-entry support.”

The announcement comes after North Park became a founding partner of the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge earlier this month. On June 10, Secretary King hosted representatives of 15 institutions, including North Park University President David L. Parkyn, at the White House to announce the pledge, which seeks to expand college opportunity and eliminate barriers for those with a criminal record.

“The Second Chance Pell program is an excellent mission fit with who we are at North Park,” said Dr. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, professor of theology and ethics. She spearheaded the University’s application to the program and co-teaches current North Park courses offered in correctional centers. “One of the things I tell our partners is that we’re not just about education; we’re about justeducation. Offering accessibility to groups who traditionally don’t have access to higher education is something North Park is well positioned to do.”

“The population in prison is probably one of the least accessible populations in the country,” Clifton-Soderstrom said. “North Park is Christian, urban, and intercultural. And to be truly intercultural, we need to address some of the barriers to participation in education from all people.”

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Nonprofit Management Awards Announced at Axelson Center Symposium

Honorees include Muslim Women’s Alliance and Christopher House

axelsonCHICAGO (June 15, 2016) — For nonprofit professionals, it’s a familiar feeling: being proud of your organization’s work, but wishing you had access to the resources that would fulfill its mission more effectively. Particularly for the Illinois nonprofit sector, hit hard by the state’s budget impasse, questions of how to do a lot with a little are more relevant than ever. So when industry leaders gathered Monday for the 17th Annual Axelson Center Symposium for Nonprofit Professionals and Volunteers, they together explored maximizing those resources already within their organizations.

The daylong conference’s theme, “Mining for Gold: Uncovering Hidden Treasures in Your Organization,” emphasized highlighting the talents of the people within nonprofit organizations, and connecting them to trends within the sector for maximum impact. Interactive sessions throughout the day offered strategies to leverage opportunities and reinvigorate the way professionals look at internal resources.

In addition to breakout workshops on timely industry topics hosted by sector leaders throughout the day, the Symposium this year offered two new features: Ask the Expert, individual appointments that allowed for questions on a variety of specific subjects; and Ask a Funder, opportunities to connect with program officers at area foundations.

In her keynote address sponsored by BMO Harris Bank, speaker Kimberly Bryant challenged attendees to use what was unique about their organizations and “figure out a way in our work to create real change for the communities we serve.” Bryant is the founder and executive director of Black Girls CODE, a nonprofit dedicated to “changing the face of technology” by introducing girls of color to the tech and computer science world, with a concentration on entrepreneurial concepts.

Named by Business Insider as one of the 25 Most Influential African Americans in Technology, Bryant grew Black Girls CODE from a local nonprofit serving only the Bay Area to an organization with seven U.S. chapters and one in South Africa. She was able to develop the organization by turning perceived disadvantages into advantages, Bryant said at the Symposium. “We focused on digging back into our culture, and tapped into the unique needs of our communities,” she said. “What I’m most proud of is how we’ve developed these girls as leaders. We’ve changed the conversation around tech and changed the lives of our students.”

The world puts people into boxes, Bryant said. But in the field of technology, people are taught to be disrupters. “Identify the pain points or things that make you uncomfortable, and work through them to make them your own,” she said. “If you’re still in the box as a nonprofit leader, it’s time to come out. It’s time to create change, and it’s time to get to work. Nonprofits play a special role in creating change in an equitable way. The time is now to realize the power that nonprofits have.”

Nonprofit Management Awards


The Axelson Center also announced the winners of its Excellent Emerging Organization Award and its Alford Axelson Award for Nonprofit Managerial Excellence at Monday’s awards luncheon. The 2016 Excellent Emerging Organization Award, presented to an up-and-coming Chicago-area nonprofit, was given to Muslim Women’s Alliance. The 2016 Alford-Axelson Award, given for exemplary nonprofit management practices, was presented to Christopher House, with an honorable mention awarded to Elgin Symphony Orchestra.

Muslim Women’s Alliance (MWA), the 2016 Excellent Emerging Organization Award winner, promotes the Islamic values of fairness, service to others, and community building. MWA’s core focus areas are development of women leaders, fostering community service, mentoring women to build confidence, and empowering the community through awareness and action on social issues.

“This is a gesture to us that we need to keep powering on,” said MWA Director of Organizational Development Suroor Raheemullah in her acceptance remarks. “A lot of the time, when you see things that happen like what happened last weekend, it can get defeating,” Raheemullah said, referencing the recent Orlando shooting and its possible connection to religious motivations. “I’m really honored to get this and continue to do important work. It is important that when you see us, you don’t fear us, but love us, because we love all of you.”

MWA received a $2,500 cash prize, sponsored by MB Financial Bank, a commemorative award, and a capacity-building package, valued at over $25,000, that will support improvement of services and efficiency. The Excellent Emerging Organization Award was created to honor organizations whose strength is apparent even in the early stages of existence, displaying sound management practices, innovation, and programming and leadership capabilities.

This year’s Alford-Axelson Award winner, Christopher House, provides education and resources to low-income children and their families to succeed in school, the workplace, and life. “In this environment, with a state budget crisis, this sort of investment and recognition of our hard work to get us to be a high-performing organization really means a lot,” Christopher House CEO Lori Baas said, accepting the award. “So thank you very much.”

The Alford-Axelson award honors and continues the legacies of Nils G. Axelson, a devoted community healthcare leader and visionary, and Jimmie R. Alford, a leading contemporary thinker and founder of the national consulting firm the Alford Group. Christopher House received a $5,000 cash prize and a commemorative award symbolizing the organization’s dedication to extraordinary managerial excellence.

axleson-3In recognition of their honorable mention, Elgin Symphony Orchestra CEO David Bearden said, “Winning is not about just getting an award, it’s in the process of learning who you are. So we thank this organization for helping us do that.”

The Symposium ended with the Make Your Pitch contest, in which a variety of local nonprofits made their case to a panel of judges for a $1,000 cash prize, sponsored by Wintrust Commercial Bank. Conference participants were invited to hear pitches and also cast their vote in support of the best pitch. The winning organization, Kids in Danger, works to improve children’s product safety, and received the prize after pitching the concept of developing and printing Spanish-language safety brochures.

For more information about the Axelson Center for Nonprofit Management, visit

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North Park University Joins White House in Launching Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge

University a Founding Partner in Administration’s Effort to Expand College Opportunity

parkyn-white-house-sideCHICAGO (June 10, 2016) — Today, North Park University announced that it has joined with the Obama Administration and 24 other colleges and universities around the country as a founding partner for the launch of the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge. The pledge provides higher education institutions with the opportunity to voice support for improving their communities through expanding college opportunity and eliminating barriers for those with a criminal record.

This morning at the White House, U.S. Secretary of Education John King and Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz hosted North Park, along with 14 other higher education institutions, to announce the pledge. Together, the 25 founding partner institutions represent and serve more than one million students.

“Too often, a criminal record disqualifies Americans from being full participants in our society—even after they’ve already paid their debt to society,” the White House Office of the Press Secretary said in a statement. “This includes admissions processes for educational institutions that can make it difficult if not impossible for those with criminal records to get an education that can lead to a job.”

North Park University President Dr. David L. Parkyn agrees. “North Park prepares students for lives of significance and service,” he said. “We believe that all people desiring a high-quality education deserve the opportunity. This has meant expanding the range of students we are educating, and expanding the support services we provide. We applaud the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge, and we will work diligently to create pathways for a second chance for people with a criminal record. We are delighted to join fellow universities in working to remove unnecessary barriers for a higher education and becoming places of hope and opportunity.”

President David Parkyn was hosted at the White House to announce North Park’s founding partnership in the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge.

Read The Atlantic‘s coverage of this initiative.

The Fair Chance Pledge

“North Park University applauds the growing number of public and private colleges and universities nationwide who are taking action to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed, including individuals who have had contact with the criminal justice system,” reads the pledge. “When an estimated 70 million or more Americans—nearly one in three adults—have a criminal record, it is important to remove unnecessary barriers that may prevent these individuals from gaining access to education and training that can be so critical to career success and lead to a fulfilled and productive life.”

“We are committed,” the pledge continues, “to providing individuals with criminal records, including formerly incarcerated individuals, a fair chance to seek a higher education to obtain the knowledge and skills needed to contribute to our nation’s growing economy.”

Provost Michael Emerson believes that as a university that deeply values its Christian identity, urban location, and intercultural campus community, North Park is uniquely positioned to broaden college opportunity. “People with criminal records have often made a series of serious mistakes,” he said. “As our educational system is currently set up, they will pay consequences for their mistakes for the rest of their lives, unable to get a university education.”

“We believe people can and do change, and like anyone else, need an opportunity to learn, grow, earn a living, and serve their community,” Emerson continued. “As a Christian university, we are compelled by our understanding of faith to offer the possibility of a university education to all who are willing to commit to higher learning.”

A Transformative Model

One of the ways North Park University has already worked to increase access to higher education is through Theological Seminarycourses held in Stateville Correctional Center. The semester-long classes, launched last year, have included a field education course called Intercultural Dialogue, in which Seminary students learned alongside Stateville students. “Several of those students have asked if, upon their release, they can continue their education at North Park,” said Emerson. “It is important to us that they can do so.”

Dr. Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom, professor of theology and ethics, co-taught the class. “North Park’s education in prison envisions a transformative justice model of education that cultivates leaders in new contexts, forms Christian character through intercultural learning, and rethinks teaching and pedagogy,” she says. “We are committed to providing both theological and liberal arts education to individuals while they are currently incarcerated and after their release.”

Founding Partners

The higher education institutions serving as founding partners in launching the Fair Chance Higher Education Pledge are: Ancilla College, Arizona State University, Auburn University, Boston University, City University of New York, College of Saint Benedict, Columbia University, Eastern University, Howard University, New York University, North Park University, Nyack College, Raritan Valley Community College, Rutgers University (Biomedical and Health Sciences, Camden, Newark, and New Brunswick), Saint John’s University, San Francisco State University, State University of New York, Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, University of California System, University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, University of Puget Sound, and University of Washington. Find out more about the pledge.

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North Park University Names Two New Deans

Liza Ann Acosta as University dean; Gregor Thuswaldner as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

acostaCHICAGO (June 2, 2016) — North Park University has announced the appointment of two new deans, effective August 15. Dr. Liza Ann Acosta will serve in the newly created position of University dean, and Dr. Gregor Thuswaldner has been named as the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

As University dean, Acosta is charged with the recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty across the University; faculty development; and hearing academic grievances and student appeal cases. The position reports to Provost Michael Emerson, and will be housed within the Office of the Provost.

Acosta, who earned her PhD in comparative literature from Penn State University, has been on North Park’s faculty since 2000, and will continue in her role as professor of English. For the past four years, she has served as division director and associate dean of humanities, arts, and social sciences. Prior to that, she served as director of humanities, and two terms as chair of the English department. She has held numerous additional leadership roles on campus and in the larger Chicago community.

In addition to her success as an educator, Acosta is an accomplished writer and performer. Colleagues, students, and alumni find that she has embodied and championed North Park’s values for the entirety of her professional career. She has been a strong, consistent advocate for the ethnic and racial diversification of the student body and faculty, and has served as a role model and mentor for many.

As part of her new role, Acosta will be working with the deans of the colleges, schools, departments, and other units on campus to create strategies for faculty development and ethnic diversification. She will also oversee the Teaching and Learning Cooperative, work with the Professional Development Committee, and develop faculty-mentoring programs to help faculty progress through each stage of their careers.

In accepting the position, Acosta said, “After 16 years at North Park University, I am honored to serve my colleagues and my students in this capacity, leading the way to a campus that lives its values of equity and justice, built upon a rich immigrant heritage and a foundational Christian tradition.”

“I can think of no one better situated to serve as the inaugural University dean than Liza Ann,” said Emerson. “She embodies everything this important position requires. We need imaginative strategies to continue diversifying our faculty, and we need careful, focused attention on faculty development and mentoring. To become the university we strive to be, elevating the centrality and care of our faculty is essential.”

Gregor Thuswaldner named dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

thuswaldnerThuswaldner will serve as both dean and professor of humanities. A native of Austria, he has served as professor of German and linguistics at Gordon College since 2003. In his six years as department chair, he greatly diversified the department faculty, created highly successful major and minor programs, and substantially grew the number of linguistics majors.

So successful is Thuswaldner’s department that College Factual, in conjunction with the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, now rank Gordon as one of the nation’s colleges “Most Focused on Languages and Linguistics.” He is also the cofounder and academic director of the Salzburg Institute of Religion, Culture, and the Arts, a flourishing Christian liberal arts summer study abroad program. He has served most recently as interim director of the Center for Faith and Inquiry at Gordon.

The new dean has a strong background in faith-based and intercultural higher education administration, and a track record of fundraising and obtaining research grants. He is a prolific scholar—he has published six books, numerous journal articles and book chapters, and translated two books from German to English—and an award-winning teacher. After just three years at Gordon, he received the college’s Distinguished Faculty Award.

“I am absolutely thrilled to connect with the Chicago community and join North Park University,” Thuswaldner said. “North Park’s three core values—Christian, urban, intercultural—deeply resonate with me, and as a fellow Covenanter, I am very impressed with the University’s heritage and trajectory. I look forward to collaborating with the faculty on a number of projects in order to heighten the visibility of the College of Arts and Sciences.”

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University Awards Degrees to 467 Students at Spring Commencement Ceremonies

Nyvall Medallion presented to campus architecture designers

Commencement 2016CHICAGO (May 16, 2016) — North Park University culminated the 2015–2016 academic year last weekend by awarding degrees to 467 students, including 318 bachelor’s degrees.

Three commencement ceremonies were held Saturday, May 14, for students from all undergraduate and graduate programs, including North Park Theological Seminary. Combined with the winter commencement held last December, degrees were presented to 682 North Park University graduates this academic year.

The weekend began with a baccalaureate service for all graduates, their families, and friends Friday, May 13, at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago. “Tonight, take with you two lessons taught by North Park University’s first president, David Nyvall, in the very earliest days of our university’s history,” said President Dr. David L. Parkyn in remarks to graduating students. “First, our knowledge of truth is imperfect. Second, our response to this imperfect grasp of truth should be to welcome others in, to insist on hospitality.”

“If you have learned these two lessons in the course of your days at North Park, you are ready to graduate,” Parkyn continued. “Everywhere you go, and with everyone you meet, remember that you know only in part, and then in humility and grace, open your arms to all others—always for God’s glory and neighbor’s good.”

‘Commit yourself to work that really matters’

At its undergraduate commencement ceremony Saturday morning, the University presented its David Nyvall Medallion to Paul Hansen, William Ketcham, Douglas Hoerr, and Carl Balsam, four individuals who have served the school in exceptional ways over the past 20 years. Named for the University’s first president, the medallion is presented for distinguished service to the people of Chicago.

Hansen, Ketcham, and Hoerr, the University’s three architects over the last two decades, have worked closely throughout that time with Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Carl Balsam, whose leadership has been instrumental in this work. “Three architects and an administrator. Which one of these is not like the other?” Balsam joked in his remarks as he accepted the award.

Balsam worked with Hansen on designing and building Brandel Library, beginning in 1999. At the time, Hansen recommended closing the partial city street that the previous library faced, opening up a space to create a center for the campus. “That appeared wise then, but today, it seems brilliant,” Balsam said. Hoerr then created landscape design for that central campus area, which Balsam called “landscaping of striking beauty.” Next, the University worked with Ketcham on the design and construction of the Johnson Center for Science and Community Life. “The Johnson Center stands as a testimony to William’s vision,” Balsam said. “Their work has created a great treasure on the North Side of our city of Chicago.”

Balsam told graduating students the satisfaction he’s found in his work has come as he discovered his calling and worked collaboratively on that calling. “Because of your study at North Park, you have begun to discover your unique gifts, and hopefully you’ve begun to gain an understanding of the world’s needs in a way that stirs your passion,” he said. “Class of 2016, my hope for you is that you will find your special calling, and that you will realize great success as you work in community with others. Commit yourself to work that really matters, and to work that serves others.”

The Ahnfeldt Medallion, given to the senior with the highest grade point average, was presented to Alanna Dwight, Turlock, Calif., bachelor of science in mathematics. North Park’s 2016 U.S. Fulbright Award winners Katherine Bast, Holland, Mich., bachelor of arts in secondary education and English literature; Elizabeth Wallace, Oak Lawn, Ill., bachelor of arts in Spanish with K–12 teaching license and an ESL/bilingual teaching endorsement; and Bethany Joseph, Grand Rapids, Mich., a 2015 recipient of a bachelor of arts in Spanish and communication studies, were also recognized.

Eighteen students from the North Park College (now University), Academy, and Seminary classes of 1966 marched in gold caps and gowns and were recognized for celebrating the 50th anniversary of their graduation. When these alumni graduated in 1966, North Park College was celebrating its 75th anniversary.

‘Because you don’t know you can’t’

Four graduates addressed the afternoon commencement ceremony for graduate programs, the School of Adult Learning, and the RN-to-BSN completion program, sharing the ways their North Park education shaped their lives and careers. Heidi Bush, Chicago, a School of Business and Nonprofit Management graduate with a master of nonprofit administration, spoke about taking on difficult tasks, not because you will always know how, but “because you don’t know you can’t,” she said. Bush challenged her peers to take on the impossible with that attitude, just as they had done in their studies at North Park.

Laura Clarizio, Chicago, a School of Nursing and Health Services graduate with a master of science in nursing, shared thoughts on a philosophy of nursing and a life of service. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” she said, quoting Maya Angelou.

Dean of North Park Theological Seminary Rev. David W. Kersten presided at the Seminary commencement, which honored 29 graduates. The Ahnfeldt Medallion was presented to the graduate with the highest grade point average, Michael Hertenstein, Chicago, master of arts in theological studies. In addition, academic awards were presented to several students.

An honorary doctor of divinity was conferred to Rev. Edward Delgado, president of the Hispanic Center for Theological Studies (CHET), a North Park University and Theological Seminary subsidiary. Prior to his current position, Delgado served as the director of evangelism and prayer for the Evangelical Covenant Church. “Thank you for this honor. May God continue to bless and guide you in your ministries ahead,” Delgado told the group of graduates. “That they would include challenges, and they would include adventure.”

Rev. Dr. Catherine Gilliard, senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church, Atlanta, delivered the commencement address, in which she called graduating students to become “disturbers of the city,” as Paul and Silas are described in the book of Acts. “This has been a season of preparation. But tomorrow, the work begins,” said Gilliard. “You are being sent out to lead God’s people in a new way of being. You are ambassadors of hope.”

Gilliard, who received a master of divinity and a doctor of ministry in preaching from the Seminary, emphasized the lessons found in the service’s New Testament reading, Acts 16:16–34. “About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them,” Gilliard said, quoting the passage. “My resolve today is to encourage each one of you to remember that in the days ahead you will face in your ministries, you will have to write your own midnight words. Midnight gives way to a new day where God’s hope is evident.”

“I pray God’s blessings on each of you as lead,” said Gilliard. “I pray God’s power on each of you as you become disturbers of your city. And I pray God’s anointing as you leave this place to make a difference in the world.”

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Renowned Composer and Alumnus Returns to Campus

Marvin Curtis C’72 has been commissioned to craft a piece for North Park’s 125th anniversary celebration

Marvin Curtis

CHICAGO (May 10, 2016) — North Park University alumnus Dr. Marvin V. Curtis is no stranger to writing original songs for major events. The renowned composer has received numerous commissions for musical works from churches and schools, performed at the White House and at presidential cabinet members’ memorial services, and crafted the piece “City on a Hill” for President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. But Curtis, the first African American composer commissioned to write a choral work for a presidential inauguration, is currently working on a piece that’s a little closer to home.

Curtis has been commissioned to compose a work that will be performed by students at North Park’s 125th anniversary celebration on September 23, 2016. “The School of Music is honored that Dr. Curtis has accepted our invitation to compose a musical piece for the event,” said Dr. Craig Johnson, dean of the School of Music. “The piece will be written for choir and a chamber instrumental ensemble, using a text that will be meaningful for the occasion. We very much anticipate the performance of his music, and we are confident that it will be a highlight of a very memorable celebration.”

We spoke with Curtis, dean of the Ernestine M. Raclin School of the Arts at Indiana University South Bend, about his time at North Park, performing for presidents, and what to expect from his 125th anniversary piece.

North Park: How did you first come to North Park?

Marvin Curtis: An admissions counselor at North Park in the ‘60s came to my high school a couple times, Harlem High School, on the South Side. I wanted to go away to school. I came to North Park’s campus, and I remember walking around thinking, Okay, it’s still Chicago; I could live on the campus because they have housing. So I auditioned and was accepted, got a scholarship, and I came that fall.

NP: What are some of your favorite memories from your time as a student?

Curtis: It was a very different experience coming from inner-city Chicago to North Park. But I became part of the student body government, got involved in a bunch of different activities, and was a dorm counselor my third and fourth years. For three or four years, I was in charge of the Homecoming Committee, so we did a parade, we had fireworks—I had a lot of ideas. I was really engaged. At the same time, I was in the choir. I wrote my first compositions then, and the choir sang them on tour up and down the West Coast. One was called “Worship the Lord,” which was one of the first pieces I had published in the ‘70s. It was very different being in the choir and singing the pieces that I wrote. But the music faculty recognized my talent, so they programmed them! It was amazing to be a college junior and have your music sung by the North Park College Choir every night on tour, and then Orchestra Hall, and then later on, get those pieces published.

NP: What was the campus like at that time?

Curtis: It was a very interesting time. It was the late ‘60s, so there was a shift happening in politics. But I got to meet a lot of people, and being an African American student on campus, there were only 35 of us, and I was the only one in music. But it created an interesting dynamic. And I got involved with Covenant camps in the summertime, and Seminary Professor F. Burton Nelson, who I’d met along the way, got me involved. Burton kept me centered. I remember, my first year, we latched onto each other. So whenever things got crazy, I would go see Burton and explain stuff to him and we would agree on certain things. I was really involved with what was going on. But I had a good time meeting people and growing up. The music program really allowed me to grow and shape my thoughts about music education. They taught us to think outside the box.


125 Years

NP: How did North Park influence the trajectory of your career?

Curtis: I graduated in 1972, and thanks to Burton Nelson, I ended up in the Seminary. I was working at Grace Covenant Church up the street, and Burton enticed me to study Christian education. So I was one of the first students that did the joint program with the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. I did my first year at North Park, then moved to Richmond, Va., and did my second year down there. So thanks to Burton, I got a master’s in Christian education. North Park was a big part of my life. I actually spent summers here working in the Student Union. And after my first year, I said, “I don’t think I want to go back home.”

After getting my master’s, I moved to New York to teach, and also took a couple of church jobs. I ended up at Riverside Church, with my own choir. Then I left New York and moved to California. Eventually, I was invited to come to the University of the Pacific in California for a fellowship, so I came out there in ’86 and graduated four years later with my doctorate. In the meantime, I’m still writing music. I had done commissions for several schools and churches. I ended up getting my doctorate and moving, then, back to Richmond.

NP: And that’s when you were commissioned for the presidential inauguration?

Curtis: Through a friendship I had, I got the opportunity to write for the president. He called me up one day and said, “We want you to write a piece for us. We’ve been asked to sing at the inauguration, if Bill Clinton wins.” He knew Clinton. And he knew me as a composer, and asked if I could write this piece. I thought, You have to be kidding. This was in September 1992. So I called him back and said, “Are you serious?” He said, “Yeah!” So I began working on “City on a Hill.” And I ended up at the inauguration with the president, sitting on top of the Capitol, shaking his hand afterwards, and hearing my piece performed live with the United States Marine Band on top of it.

NP: What was that like?

Curtis: I’ve described it several ways. People asked how I felt, and I would say, “All the people in my life that told me I wasn’t going to do anything are watching me on television.” It was very humbling, too, because I was sitting there listening and watching the ceremony, and it didn’t dawn on me that this was being broadcast around the world. So people around the world heard this piece that I wrote. Totally blew me out of the water.

NP: How do you find inspiration to write a piece for something that big?

Curtis: I thought, I want to leave the president a message with this song. So the message came out of Colossians, and then I had a text. Within two days I had written this whole thing. And I’m writing it and faxing it to my publisher and he’s writing back with some notes and corrections. And then we just waited until the election came. In December, I went to Little Rock, Ark., to hear it for the first time, and they sang it, and I was blown away. So there I was, January 20, 1993. I sat there and watched this take place, and it’s still amazing to me. My music is now in the Clinton Library, it’s in the Smithsonian, and it’s still being performed.

NP: What made you want to come back and do something for North Park?

Curtis: I’m very honored that my alma mater would ask me to do something like this. I know it’s about the celebration of the school, and as an alumnus of North Park, I know something about the school. I know about the capabilities of the school. So I thought, Let’s do something joyful.

NP: Were there things about North Park, based on your experiences here, that you wanted to make sure you included in a piece about it?

Curtis: The text I used for one section of the piece is from Luke 13:29: “The people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God.” I started with that verse first as a potential text because that was my experience being at North Park: people came from all over. That was something about North Park that I really liked: it was not just people from Chicago. People came to this one school for a common purpose. It was interesting for me, being a kid from Chicago, to begin meeting people from all over the country. I was able to make friends from all over because of North Park. I also traveled across the country with the Concert Choir. For me, it was a way of connecting the dots.

NP: What else will the song convey, textually or musically?

Curtis: I got an idea of the kind of text I want to use from the book of Micah. There are four verses on display at the center of campus, including Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That’s one of my favorite passages. I’m trying to craft this to reflect the ideals that I learned at North Park. The section that I wrote for the Luke passage is more of an introspective part. But the piece will open triumphantly and will close the same way. Most of my music has a big opening and a big closing, and I think that’s the way this has to be—this is a celebration. But it’s still formulating itself. Getting that soft part written took a while, but I got it the way I wanted it.

NP: How does the process of composing this piece compare to your process for something like a presidential inauguration?

Curtis: I’m a text-painter. The text, for me, is driving the writing of the music. For example, this part about “the people will come from east and west.” I could’ve used it as a bombastic thing, but I decided to use it as a quiet section. When I wrote “City on a Hill,” I started with John Winthrop’s speech, the actual “city upon a hill” part, first, and then worked everything else around it. With “City on a Hill,” it was a quiet text, and I built everything else around it, and I’m doing the same thing with this. That piece was specific in its nature. I always use the phrase, “I was trying to figure out what to say to the president in music.” In this case, I’m trying to say, “How do I celebrate my school in music?” So that’s the approach I’m taking. There are loud moments; there are quiet moments. I’m trying to do that in the sense of making it so that it fits a celebration of an institution and what it’s done over 125 years.


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Two North Park University Students, One Alum, Earn 2016 Fulbright Awards

Bast, Wallace, and Joseph to teach in Macedonia, Peru, and Mexico, respectively

Katie BastCHICAGO (May 4, 2016) — North Park University continued its record of Fulbright success this spring, when the U.S. Fulbright Program awarded overseas teaching opportunities to two University students and one alumna.

Seniors Katie Bast and Elizabeth Wallace and 2015 graduate Bethany Joseph were awarded English Teaching Assistantships (ETA) in Macedonia, Peru, and Mexico, respectively. Combined with previous awards, 19 North Park students and three faculty members in the past eight years have earned Fulbright grants.

A double-major in English literature and secondary education, Bast will serve as an ETA for a nine-month placement in Macedonia this September. Although the specifics of her grant haven’t yet been announced, Bast expects to be teaching English reading, writing, and vocabulary in a secondary school or university setting while also engaging in educational outreach programs.

“North Park has given me opportunities to step into leadership positions, and I have gained the skills to think critically due to my experiences,” Bast says. “Translating this into the classroom has benefitted my teaching greatly. I’ve learned how to teach English in different contexts because of the varying schools I have taught in through my placements with the School of Education.”

A native of Holland, Mich., Bast participated in a wide variety of both academic and non-academic activities during her time at North Park. She served as a writing advisor for three years, took trips with Global Partnerships and the Sankofa Experience, and played Ultimate Frisbee. “These groups have all helped me develop and grow, and I’ve loved all the relationships that have flourished due to all of these different experiences,” Bast says.

“Katie is a dedicated, intellectually curious, and broadly accomplished student who is committed to sharing her love for language and literature,” says Professor of English Dr. Nancy Arnesen. “She is an organizer, a doer, a truly unflappable, unstoppable force for the better.” At last month’s University Honors Convocation, Bast was recognized as the English department’s outstanding senior.

When Bast completes her program, she plans to return to Chicago to teach English in a middle or high school, either in Chicago Public Schools or in the suburbs. “I am excited to see how I grow as a teacher through the Fulbright experience and to be able to apply what I learn in the classroom upon my return,” she says.

‘A wide range of experiences and adventures’

Elizabeth Wallace

Wallace will graduate this month with a bachelor of arts in Spanish, a K–12 teaching license, and an ESL/bilingual teaching endorsement. In March 2017, she will travel to Peru to serve as an ETA through next December. She will most likely be teaching at a university.

Wallace’s experience studying abroad was an important part of her time at North Park. “Studying in Cuenca, Ecuador, had such a positive impact on me, and helped me develop deep friendships that I may not have otherwise,” she says. “It prepared me through the wide range of multicultural experiences and adventures that we had.”

Wallace, of Oak Lawn, Ill., also feels prepared for her Fulbright position because of her experiences both inside and outside of the classroom. “North Park has prepared me thoroughly through my classes, but also my clinical experiences,” she says. “During student teaching, I worked with students in the classroom and after school, helping direct a play. It is by these real-life experiences—that were challenging and fun—that I feel prepared to teach in Peru.”

Dr. Linda Parkyn, professor of Spanish and Fulbright program associate, agrees. “Elizabeth just finished student teaching with an excellent record of captivating classroom assignments and many kudos from her students,” she says. “After study abroad last year in Ecuador, I am sure Peruvian students will be impressed as well!”

After her time in Peru, Wallace plans to return to the United States and teach Spanish. She looks forward to exploring teaching all grades, and hopes to eventually teach in a bilingual school.

A ‘significantly expanded worldview’

Bethany Josep

Joseph, who majored in both Spanish and communication studies, will begin her 10-month ETA placement in Mexico this August. Like Wallace, Joseph’s experience studying abroad helped her determine her plans following graduation.

“I participated in the study abroad program during my junior year, spending a semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina,” says Joseph. “It filled me with enthusiasm for Latin America, for its culture, warmth, and color. It reminded me of the beauty of intercultural friendships.” She finds that North Park “significantly expanded my worldview. I am a more open person because of the classes I took as an undergrad.”

While Joseph, of Grand Rapids, Mich., hasn’t yet received the details of the age group she will be teaching, she has a sense of what some of her work will involve. “Each Fulbright applicant is required to describe the unique teaching style that they would apply to the job, and to propose a side project that will be conducted in addition to the teaching,” she says. “Long story short, I will be doing a lot of songwriting and cartooning in Mexico.”

Parkyn attests to Joseph’s creativity. “Bethany is an inventive student who will excel in the Mexican classroom,” she says. “Her Spanish skills and her tutoring experience at North Park will help her to teach English with a fluency that is hard to match. She will thrive.”

Eventually, Joseph expects to work in a nonprofit environment, whether in Latin America or in the United States. “I am interested in community engagement and in working with people,” she says. “I anticipate being part of an organization that provides services to lower-income families.”

The Fulbright program was established by the U.S. Congress in 1946, and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It is the largest U.S. international exchange program offering opportunities for students, scholars, and professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools worldwide.

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Honors Convocation Recognizes Outstanding Senior Achievement

Carmen Velazquez-Alvarez and Blake Thomas honored for embodying University mission of significance and service

Carmen Velazquez-Alvarez CHICAGO (April 28, 2016) — On Monday, the North Park University community gathered in Anderson Chapel for the annual Honors Convocation, a celebration recognizing students who demonstrated excellence in the classroom and community.

Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mary Surridge presented the 2016 Distinguished Senior Awards to Carmen Velazquez-Alvarez, Kerman, Calif., and Blake Thomas, Olathe, Kan. This honor is bestowed each year to one woman and one man from the graduating class, recognizing extraordinary leadership, dedicated service, superior academic performance, and embodiment of the University’s mission of preparing students for lives of significance and service.

Velazquez-Alvarez, a conflict transformation studies major and nonprofit management certificate recipient, fled the violence of her native Veracruz, Mexico, at age 11. She and her family were homeless for several months, managing with little food and without access to medical care. She worked in the fields of California’s Central Valley with her mother from a very young age, and dreamed of one day attending North Park, which she had heard about through her church.

“Carmen’s story is the story of the impossible becoming possible,” says Dr. Liza Ann Acosta, professor of English. “She is leading the way for other undocumented students to dream big and work towards fulfilling their goals. Carmen has made her North Park experience one to remember.”

Velazquez-Alvarez served as the president of North Park’s Latin American Student Organization and cofounder of the Latinas Unidas Mentorship Program, established to prepare her fellow Latina students for success. She was also active as a Faith and Justice Team student leader, and completed an internship this semester with the YMCA’s diversity and inclusion department.

“Carmen is a dynamo, an organizer, and at the forefront of Latino and immigrant justice issues,” says Dr. Linda Craft, professor of Spanish. In addition to her service work, Velazquez-Alvarez was honored this year as one of the top academic students in the state, receiving the Student Laureate Award and an educational grant from the Lincoln Academy of Illinois. She earned a 3.98 grade point average at North Park.

“There are kids who came from Central America or Mexico, and they don’t get to go to school,” Velazquez-Alvarez says. “So I’m not going to school just for me. This isn’t even for me. It’s, one, for God, and two, for my family and the people that I work with and are around me. I know there are serious circumstances that keep them from going to school, but how can my education help them in the future? How can I go back to the Valley and help my people?”

‘An outstanding student and a stellar human being’

Blake Thomas

During his time at North Park, Thomas majored in both youth ministry and biblical and theological studies, completed an internship that led to a job offer, and participated in multiple music ensembles, all while maintaining a 3.69 grade point average.

“Being a part of the Chamber Singers and the University Choir has been the most rewarding experience for me at North Park,” says Thomas. “From singing Handel’s Messiah with 400 people to going on choir tours around the country, I’ve loved my time being under the direction of Dr. Julia Davids and singing with my peers.”

Thomas came to North Park out of a desire to merge his gifts in ministry and music, and a commitment to serving the city of Chicago. Music Recruiter Dr. Rebecca Ryan has seen Thomas’s success firsthand. “I know Blake well—he served as my admissions assistant for three years and has been active in the School of Music,” she says. “He is an outstanding student and a stellar human being.”

Dr. Daniel White Hodge, director of the Center for Youth Ministry Studies, agrees. “I’m not surprised that he won the award,” he says. “Blake has been an outstanding student with exemplary leadership skills. I’m very proud of him and his accomplishments, including serving as youth intern at North Park Covenant Church, where he was able to do some really good work.”

Following his internship, Thomas has been hired as a youth pastor at North Park Covenant Church, and will begin his position this summer. “North Park University provides a very well-rounded perspective on theology and provides the space for students to discern what is biblical and gospel-centered,” he says. “North Park shaped the way I view God and approach theology.”

In addition to the Distinguished Senior Awards, the Honors Convocation ceremony also noted the top graduating students from each department and school, and service and leadership awards were given to seniors embodying excellence in co- and extracurricular activities. View a complete list of students recognized in this year’s Honors Convocation program.

The University’s graduation ceremonies, including the presentation of the Ahnfeldt Medallion given to the senior with the highest grade point average, will officially close the year on Saturday, May 14, at 10:00 am, 3:00 pm, and 7:00 pm.

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Artifacts from Chicago’s First Swedish Church Now on Display

April 30 event at St. James Cathedral celebrates Scandinavian life in early Chicago

St. Ansgarius Church

CHICAGO (April 22, 2016) — Artifacts and records from Chicago’s first Swedish congregation, St. Ansgarius Episcopal Church, are now freely available online and are on display at St. James Commons in Chicago.

The church, established in 1849 in what is now the River North neighborhood, is significant to both the city of Chicago and Scandinavian American history for the role it played in the fledgling immigrant community. “The church records, which survived the great Chicago fire of 1871 and had lately been restricted from use due to their fragility, are valued by researchers for both the light they shed on the early Swedish population in Chicago and for the missing links they can fill for genealogists seeking their roots,” said North Park University Director of Archives Anna-Kajsa Anderson. “We’re excited that not only are they no longer restricted, but that they can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection.”

Thanks to grants from the Swedish Council of America and the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, the paper conservation company Graphic Conservation spent several months conserving and digitizing fragile records from the years 1849–1896, which are held by the archives in North Park University’s Brandel Library as part of the Swedish-American Archives of Greater Chicago.

In celebration, the F. M. Johnson Archives and Special Collections, Center for Scandinavian Studies, Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, and Swedish-American Historical Society are cosponsoring the exhibit St. Ansgarius Artifacts: Under One Roof Again. The gallery features remaining artifacts from the early years of St. Ansgarius, now cared for by several different organizations around the city. It can be viewed free of charge through April 30 in Kyle’s Place Gallery at St. James Commons, 65 E. Huron St., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

The gallery will culminate in the event A Celebration of Scandinavian Episcopal Life in Early Chicago, Saturday, April 30, at St. James Cathedral. The day will include an opportunity to peruse the exhibit, worship in a choral Eucharist, and attend a symposium on the St. Ansgarius Episcopal Church. Register online for the lunch and afternoon symposium. There is no charge to view the exhibit or worship at the Eucharist.

North Park University was founded in 1891 by the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), a denomination formed by Swedish immigrants. North Park maintains a connection to its Swedish and Scandinavian roots through academic programs and other cultural exchanges.

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