CHARLESTON, S.C. (courtesy charlestonsouthern.edu) — For the first year of his presidency, Dondi Costin asked questions, listened, observed, prayed, studied, and listened some more.
His next step was gathering stakeholders to establish the university’s strategic plan for 2020-2025. He said, “The plan is the work of more than 70 planners representing every pocket of the university. These planners analyzed data from nearly 1,200 surveys and numerous listening sessions to hear from every constituency with skin in the game: students, faculty, staff, coaches, parents, trustees, alumni, pastors, community and business leaders, and high school guidance counselors from across the state, just to name a few.”
As the plan came together, CSU’s bottom line became clear – we prepare servant leaders to pursue significant lives. A Charleston Southern education is a Passport to Purpose. Helping students navigate life’s journey even better, and doing so for as many as possible, is the bullseye for the strategic plan, said Costin.
Using author Simon Sinek’s idea of “starting with why,” or what Sinek calls “The Golden Circle,” the strategic planning team identified CSU’s Why, How, and What.
CSU’S WHY: THE GREAT COMMISSION, MATTHEW 28:19-20
Costin said, “Providentially, the Golden Circle demonstrates the Great Commission’s central role in the life of CSU. Charleston Southern was founded in obedience to Christ’s command to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to align with His design. It is why we exist today. At CSU, ‘teaching them to obey everything’ Christ commanded is not just rhetoric, it is real.”
CSU’S HOW: FAITH INTEGRATION IN CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
“Our educational philosophy is driven by our mission statement’s push for academic excellence in a Christian environment,” said Costin. In nurturing student growth, academic excellence is the seed, and Christian environment is the soil. It is both/and, not either/or. Meanwhile, our vision statement plants the process in fertile terrain as the community of faculty, staff, coaches, and peer mentors cultivate; students work the ground, and God provides the harvest. Saturating the entire campus community with this vision – integrating faith in learning, leading, and serving – ensures that faith integration is not an afterthought. Rather, it is the central thought in equipping students with a worldview in which faith forms character and character drives action.
CSU’S WHAT: SERVANT LEADERS PURSUING SIGNIFICANT LIVES
Our strategic plan is designed to guarantee that everything CSU does helps students become the servant leaders God wants them to be: a colleague who demonstrates the value of going the extra mile and inspires coworkers to follow suit, a spouse who models the character of Christ at work and at home, a parent who puts family before themselves, a neighbor whose faith impacts every fiber of his being seven days a week, and an engaged citizen making a difference in the church and the world. At CSU, serious scholarship and real relationships lay a solid foundation for servant leadership.
Leadership is not limited to CEOs. Costin said, “Everyone has the opportunity to lead by serving others within their particular sphere of influence. Regardless of job title or position on the organizational chart, servant leadership is influencing your team to accomplish its mission for the good of others and the glory of God. It is no more complicated than that, but it takes competence, character, and commitment to do that well.”
By preparing our graduates for what Jesus called “the abundant life” (John 10:10), a CSU education becomes far more valuable than simply earning a credential or starting a career. “Mounting evidence indicates that increasing numbers of students in this generation are experiencing a decreasing sense of meaning and purpose,” said Costin. “But from matriculation through graduation, CSU students learn that a life of significance – serving God, investing in others – is one’s primary reason for being and ultimate measure of success. Helping students live that life to the fullest is why our faculty and staff have been called to serve.”
PURSUING SIGNIFICANT LIVES
Costin said, “By equipping students with a biblical worldview, competencies to perform at the highest levels, godly character, and experiences to grow their grit, our mission includes guiding them to find their sweet spot in life – a condition the Japanese refer to as Ikigai (reason for being).” This sweet spot occurs at the intersection of:
- What you love
- What you’re good at
- What the world needs
- What you’re paid for
“We call it living a life of significance on purpose,” said Costin. “Preparing students for that purpose is what we do.”
The sweet spot framework can be filtered through a biblical lens to help students discover their passion, design their pathway, develop their potential, and declare their purpose during and after their CSU years. Students can tie their passion to their purpose as they move from success to significance even before their diplomas are in hand.
Designing and implementing a Christ-centered approach for preparing servant leaders to pursue significant lives is a major element of our strategic plan and is fundamental to solidifying our value proposition. Using a passport to depict a student’s progression through the CSU years reflects our work as a system.
- Freshmen leave home and use their first year to discover more about God, themselves, their passions, and serving others as they explore career options and possible majors.
- Sophomores, if they haven’t already, typically choose their academic majors and design their particular pathway to graduation.
- Juniors develop their potential to perform as members of their chosen profession as they transition from core courses to higher-level courses within their majors.
- Seniors complete their degree programs and declare their purpose, deploying with purpose to pursue a life of significance.
- Graduate, transfer, and online students take this route as well, though often with a head start and at a much faster pace.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
This system represents the tangible difference a CSU education makes in preparing students to go The Extra Mile. “For the system to work optimally, it must be designed and implemented as a system,” said Costin. Our curricular and cocurricular enterprises, including faculty, students, advisors, mentors, coaches, curriculum coordinators, deans, the student success team, the spiritual life team, the career center, and others, must lock arms to propel students from passion to purpose.
For a CSU education to produce maximum advantage, students must be exposed to a holistic development enterprise, not just a degree-granting exercise. Designing and implementing this system to benefit every student ends with issuing every student a Passport to Purpose, then sending them on their way to impact every corner of the globe for Christ. “Where we’re headed is a comprehensive approach to preparing servant leaders to pursue significant lives,” said Costin.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
Despite the higher education headwinds of declining national enrollment trends, public questioning of the value of a college degree, and increasing societal secularization, Charleston Southern is radically blessed and well-postured to strengthen our position in the most competitive landscape of our lifetime.
“If you were asked to pick any place to plant a university, the data would direct you to our street address,” said Costin. “If you could start with the facilities we have, the community support we experience, the number-one tourist destination we enjoy, the population growth headed our way, our unrivaled church and denominational connections, and the mighty God we serve, you would fall to your knees to praise Him for this unbelievable opportunity. Then, you would get up and get to work.”
Costin continued, “As confident believers in the God of all creation, ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’ (2 Cor. 5:7). In contrast to those who must see it to believe it, we believe it so we can see it. In our dreams we see a flourishing campus filled with students pursuing significant lives, aided by faculty and staff who are following a calling, a culture of innovation, increasing partnerships, and much more. And this is just a smattering of what we can see. But, this is only what we can see as we get ready to run. Thankfully, the best is yet to come because God is on the move at CSU.”
Costin said, “Most importantly, we see the words of Ephesians 3:20-21 as we lean into this lap: ‘Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever! Amen.’”