Seasoned Johnson University professor brings life to academics

Longtime Johnson University professor, L. Thomas Smith, Jr. is taking on a new role as the school’s new Chief Academic Officer. Smith has taught at the school for more than 20 years, and has been the dean of the school of Arts and Science for three years.

Smith hopes to put his years of experience to good use by mentoring new and upcoming professors.

“My role now is to enable those who teach to do their best,” he said. “It’s a payback to mentors who helped me and the resources they provided me that I now can give. It’s time for someone else to have their turn.”

Smith transitioned in November when he switched from teaching history and theology courses to being provost. Before this Smith spent his hours in a classroom.

He began his education at Milligan College in east Tennessee as an English major. He then transferred to Johnson to pursue ministry and preached for six years after completing his bachelor’s.

Smith then decided his next big pursuit was history. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Tennessee and began teaching at Johnson University in 1991.

By teaching students Smith said he has been able to stay sharp and continue to learn, which he says is one of the rewards of teaching.

“If you teach something, you learn more about it than your students do,” he said.

Smith said his pursuit of academics can to be attributed to his “great intellectual curiosity”. He remembers as a child always wanting to know how things worked.

With a strong desire to learn, Smith has taken this leadership position. His role as overseer allows him new opportunities.

Structurally the provost answers directly to the university’s president. Smith oversees school deans and ensures that classes are being taught well. He designs and implements budgets, works with accreditation, and also focuses on strategic planning.

He described his role as differing from teaching in that he used to fine tune his focus and he now zooms out to focus on the “big picture”.

With a smile he explained the responsibility and organization this position demands.

“I multitask my multitask.”

This is evident as Smith utilizes a corner of his floor to layout documents into neat stacks with hand-written square category titles above them.


Smith’s floor becomes a desk—proving no corner goes unused.

Swamped with meetings and a growing agenda, Smith refocuses his energy. Many have asked him why he took this job, and now he readily answers.

“When I decided to do it I called it servant leadership,” he said. “Seeing it as being a servant adds a spiritual dimension.”

As majors are added, expanded and maintained the academic department plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity and quality of the education Johnson offers.

“What attracts students to Johnson University is balance and integration of scripture and how we prepare them professionally,” Smith said. “That produces a well-rounded student.”


Dean speaks on student life, how it effects more than one would think

It takes a special kind of person to be able to work with students, let alone new and recurring college students.

For over 25 years David Legg, the Vice President for Student Services and the dean of Students for online and the Tennessee campus of Johnson University, has been working with students in and out of the dorms.

Originally a graduate of Purdue University, Legg has an undergraduate degree in Agriculture with specific specialization in Agricultural Economics and a secondary specialization in Agricultural Business.

Legg worked on a farm with his family before coming to Johnson in 1988 as an undergraduate student.

“The academic dean at the time had visited my home Church,” said Legg. “He told me that he needed more professors of Bible and that he would like for me to come to Johnson so that I could begin preparation for teaching here.”

While studying for a bachelor’s degree to become a professor of New Testament, Legg was recruited to be in the master of arts New Testament program. During the duration of the program he was then recruited by Dr. Eubanks to be in the Student Life program.

“I’ve spent 25 years interacting with students,” he said. “I’ve devoted the major portion of my adult life to working with and interacting with students.”

The department of Student Life encompasses a vast majority of campus life and affects every student.

Student Life involves housing both traditional and non-traditional, providing housing in a variety of different ways such as the dorms or even apartments.

The wellness and health of students are also concerns of the department. Programs such as the Biggest Winner have been put into effect to encourage students to take interest in keeping fit. Legg said, the department is working towards a holistic approach and lifestyle. The department is also in charge of athletics, both intercollegiate and intramural.

The Career Services office and the post office also fall under Student Life; however, the Academic Support Center does not.

“At most colleges and universities the academic support services is a student life function,” said Legg. “At Johnson it is part of the academic unit and falls under the Provost.”

The Student Government Association is also categorized under the department. The office of the SGA was purposefully placed right outside the Student Life office as Legg said he wanted their voice heard.

“I listen to what they say, and they are also a voice for the administration to the students too.”

The president of SGA and the cabinet are directly involved within the Student Life department. “I could go on and on about SGA.” Legg said. “I’m really proud of what SGA is doing here.”

The Student Government Association is empowered by the department to host not only social events but spiritual ones as well such as the student revival that will take place in March.

“I wouldn’t have done it this long if I didn’t,” Legg said. “It’s very tiring, there’s an awful lot of things that happen in the student life office.”

The commuter students and services also are another thing to cross the desks of Student Life administrators, as well as parent relations.

“We do the best we can I think with the resources we have available and I say that non apologetically,” he said. “I think we do a pretty good job.”

The department hopes to expand awareness of new services that are coming into play soon, such as the career fair hosted by the Career Services Office.






Director of alumni shares his roots and passion to maintain realtionships

Kevin O’Brien, Director of Alumni and Public Relations, confessed his love for singing.  

“I loved every minute of it, worked so hard it was unbelievable, never thought about the traveling or the work, just loved every minute of it!” O’Brien said. 
O’Brien traveled often with his quartet in 1968 when he first became a student at Johnson University.  
Singing, however, was not the only love he found in his quartet. Later on, Wilbur Reid Jr. asked the quartet and an all female trio to join together and form what would become known as The New Encounters.  
In the trio O’Brien met Donna Harper, a young lady, who he said was beaming with joy and peace. 
“We would be on the road all the time,” O’Brien said. “This time really stood out to me because this was the time I found my wife Donna and the time I found my lifelong friends.” 
When O’Brien was not traveling, he spent his time in the White House as a bellboy for Mrs. R.M. Bell, who had recently lost her husband. 
“I was a four hour work student and it was not uncommon for me to put in 20-30 hours,”  he said. “Just because Mrs. Bell was so eccentric. I served her dinner, set her table and washed her dishes.” 
One could say that it was Bell who inspired Kevin’s young heart for mission work. 
“I had always intended to be in ministry,” O’Brien said. “Being a student was not as important as the mission work.” 
O’Brien spent many years in various ministries before returning to Johnson University in 2003. 
O’Brien said his motivation and inspiration came from the students and the mission he shares with Johnson University.  
“I really do love the students, which I had to wonder if this was going to be a good fit because I’m the father of three, and when they were teenagers they didn’t really care much for me,” said O’Brien. “So I was thinking, ‘I’m going to Johnson and working with teenagers. What am I going to think about them?’ But I’ve just fallen in love with them.”  
O’Brien used to lead a small group on Friday mornings for the students, which included dinners, plays, and singing praise songs. Now with the new times for chapel he says getting involved has become more of a challenge. 
O’Brien says that the younger alumni also have a hard time getting involved with the school. “I would like to see the younger alumni recognized. Almost all of our involved alumni are over 50, but over 50% of our alumni came to the institution after the year 2000, so I’d like to see our younger folks get more connected,” he said. 
O’Brien has many hidden talents.  He not only has musical talents, but a servant’s heart. He is ready and willing to make the changes necessary to keep his beloved campus moving forward.

Students react to new form of social media

Yik Yak, a new form of social media that allows its users to be anonymous when posting, has become a subject of controversy among the Johnson University student body.

With so many social media sites already in existence, it was only a matter of time before yet another one emerged. Yik Yak is an application created for most modern smartphones and allows those who use it to post statuses anonymously, or with only a username.

According to Yik Yak’s website, it uses a GPS location system designed to show what others within a 1.5 mile radius are posting.

The app includes a user controlled rating system, which allows participants to vote comments up or down.

If a certain post gets enough up votes, that post can become part of the sites history. If any post gets enough down votes, then the post will be deleted.

Some students have expressed a concern about the potential harm such an app can cause. Heather Sharp, 21, a Johnson student, is one of the many who refuse to take part in this new form of social media.

“I feel like people have too many opinions and that they can hurt people with their opinions,” she said. “Like, it can be fun, where you can say hilarious stuff and it’s funny but some people just take it way too far.”

Tyler Dantzler, 22, another Johnson student has a more positive view of the site.

“As a person who grew up in the church, I grew up believing you had to put up a front,” he said. “You had to pretend to be this perfect person so I feel that Yik Yak is a way to let your true colors show and be the real you.”

Dantzler acknowledged the potential harm that could come from the anonymity of the app, but nonetheless still looked at the app with a positive outlook.

“There are also people who like getting on there because they like getting on people’s nerves,” Keith Boyd, another student at the university, said. “They like pushing buttons. You know some people are like that.”

He mentioned how many people have taken to posting Bible versus on the site.

“Spamming with Bible verses is just another way to get on people’s nerves” Boyd said.

Boyd was referring to other students who have been posting Bible verses in response to profanity and other crude statements.

He said that it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but he questions whether or not posting the verses will have a long-term positive effect.

There are some students who are remaining neutral, neither partaking in the social media nor rallying against it.

For now, Yik Yak remains the topic of many conversations around the campus. Whether or not the application will be banned in the near or late future has yet to be determined.



Retreats and Ethics: A closer look at how the senior capstone class works, and what the students learn in it

As many college students go through their senior year, many new things start to happen that do not typically happen in the years preceding it.

As seniors in college approach graduation, they face a variety of new experiences and changes.

Graduation becomes a more frequent topic that pervades thought and conversation, post-graduation housing plans are made, and that huge mountain of school debt begins to rear his ugly head, with his friend, interest rates following behind him.

The students of Johnson University have experienced many of these exciting and worrying things, that are typically part of senior year. One thing that is special about senior year at Johnson is the Senior Capstone course, which is an ethics class that all seniors are required to take in order to graduate.

Senior Capstone began six years ago by Johnson Professors, Ron Wheeler, and Tommy Smith. They hoped to instruct seniors in ways of Christian Ethics that may appear in the various careers that the students will pursue after graduation.

The basic goal of this class is to show students how ethics play into every professions.

One of the biggest features of this class is the Capstone Retreat, which is the turning point of the class. Students shift from traditional class lectures to the focusing on case studies, and independent student meetings based on their respective projects.

On a surface level, Senior Capstone does not seem very special, beyond a unique class structure. Many underclassmen at Johnson might not understand the inner workings, or the point of the course until they take it for themselves.

“I know that several of the seniors, when they finish the project, they have changed the way that they think about offering advice to people,” professor Ron Wheeler said.

“Many of them who have just thought of something right off the top of their head now want to…step back, think about looking at the issues, and the complicated settings, and then do some research, then come back to whoever has asked the question.”

Wheeler said that everyone who has taken the class before has generally become thoughtful and careful in regards to moral issues, and spiritual advice.

“You can tell from the reflections essays, an essay that the students write on the entire research presentation… a good 50 percent [of the students] will write essays, ” he said. “And they will say this has changed my thinking about the decision making process, and here are the things that I’m going to do in terms of looking at making decisions.”

It should be noted that a part of each student’s group project, is a 20 minute presentation of their research, a conclusion about how to deal with the case study they have chosen, and a poster showing brief highlights of their research

The posters are displayed in the top of the Gally Commons  towards the end of each semester.

Wheeler explained that,  just like the quality of each student’s reflection essays, the presentations and posters are usually of very good quality.

“In general they turn out well,” he said. “ Some of them turn out very well. We would be very pleased to take the top 1 or 2 of these presentations, and put them against any professional presentation.”

Wheeler said that approximately 60 percent of last semester’s Capstone students received A’s, 30 percent B’s, 10 percent below B, and that no failing grades were given as far as he could remember.

In turn, students often meet and exceed those standards.

Wheeler said he is always impressed at the good character and ethical attitude of the students who have taken the class.

“They are more willing to engage and they really see the value of what we do,” he said. “I think we see a lot of maturation take place.”

“I think we see incremental jumps from individuals, to groups in how they engage their work with each other, and how they think about applying all the education that they’ve had,” Wheeler said.

Many students can attest to this idea of using their educational experience, in new ways. Rebekah Gordon, senior at Johnson, explained how her group picked their case study, which deals with the issue of physician assisted suicide.

She said that her group picked this case study because nobody in her group had a very solid opinion on the topic, and thus could approach it from an unbiased angle.

Factors her group discussed included: man bearing the image of God, what point life is no longer worth living, financial aspect, and the moral aspect.

“We are trying to look at the Christian support of the death and dignity laws, so that in the alleviation of suffering we are doing Christ’s work,” she said.

Gordon said the debate over death with dignity will definitely impact the terminally ill, but also their friends and their family.

She said it could impact the church, hospitals, Christian doctors and ministers.

“How to do you do a funeral for someone who has chosen to end their life?” she questioned.

After the retreat, the students return to Johnson with a very different view of their case study.

Gordon said, “I knew from previous student that we would be given a hypothetical situation that we had to work through as a group, but I was looking forward to the latter half of the class.”

She said that after the retreat she did not think her opinion had changed much, but she did say she realized that Capstone is based off the students willingness to put in effort.

She also said that humility is necessary when approaching these issues.

“We have to have opinions on things, and we need to hold firmly to what we believe the truth is, but we have to hold that truth loosely, recognizing that something may come up that teaches us that wasn’t correct,” Gordon said.

This idea of holding to what you believe is true, but remembering that you could be wrong about certain things, seems to be one of the key ideas behind Senior Capstone.

But it also teaches the students to try to think about what solutions can Christians come up with that will be best for the greatest number of people, and that will honor God.


SGA: Past, present, and future

Like every College, Johnson University has gone through many changes since it’s foundation. It has been through three different name changes, old buildings have been repurposed, and new buildings have been built to meet the ever growing needs of both student and administration.

Some of the most recent changes at Johnson, have come from the university’s Student Government Association.

Just last year, the SGA adjusted its constitution so as to become more organized and better suited to be a voice for the student body, to the school administration.

This is not the only change that the SGA has gone through. According to David Legg, the Dean of Students, and current SGA advisor, the SGA has undergone many other changes since it began in May of 1952, as the Student Counsel.

Legg said that the Student Counsel’s role grew over the years, saying that they organized infrequent social events (usually 1 or 2 per semester), and tried to represent the student body to the administration.

“The student counsel operated then from 1952 until I think about 2007, or so,” said Legg. “In 2007, the Student Counsel reconfigured itself as the Student Government Association, and took on more responsibilities.”

For the next seven years, this switch from the Student Counsel to the Student Government Association, was the most notable change in the organization’s long history. However, in April of 2014, the SGA’s constitution underwent further adjustments. In hopes that it would be more organized, and efficient, at acting on the requests and best interests of the student body.

“Within the Student Government Association, we had identified a need for a more organized structure,” said Matthew Shears, the current student body president. “The previous student body president  had a committee formed which was the Constitutional revision committee.”

Shears continued to explain how the change in Johnson, since it officially becoming a university, and continued growth of students over the years lead to the decision to reorganize the SGA. He listed the five standing committees, within the cabinet:

  • The Student life committee deals with student advocacy, leadership development, communication with the school admin, and aiding student organizations.
  • The Social Activities Committee handles all parties and official school social gatherings.
  • The Major Events Committee is tasked with handling events such as Founder’s Day.
  •  The Internal Management Committee deals with the internal working of SGA, such as money, and disciplinary actions.
  •  The Public Relations Committee deals with PR needs, school announcement co-ordination, and other things of a similar nature.

Shears went on to explain, that along with these five standing committees, that a few other major changes are being put to task in SGA.

“The biggest difference, I think, is that we are able to serve and represent the student body better through these committees, and it also takes a lot of stress off of the student body president, and student vice president, and secretary,” Shears said.

Shears also said that another major change in SGA was the formation of a student senate, which helped to move some of the power from the student body president, and stated that even with the changes in SGA that the organization still retains many of the functions that it has had before.

“We are still planning all of the events that we have before, but we are doing them in a more structured way, which helps us to do them better and more efficiently, and more professionally,” said Shears.

Shears listed a few other projects that SGA will be taking on sometime in the near future.

“We have a couple things… on the backburner right now… The TV downstairs that’s broken in the EAC, we’re working on getting that fixed,” Shears said. “We’re also talking about the Washers and Dryer that are in the dorms… those have not been too successful in their operations, within the past couple of years”


Students carry chains to raise awareness

To raise awareness about the rising issue of human trafficking, the International Justice Mission Chapter at Johnson University plans to host an event called Day of Chains.

Through Day of Chains, they hopes to show students who attend the university that something as simple as a prayer can help someone else stuck in the horrors of modern day slavery.

During the event students are encouraged to sign up for a time to walk around a designated path dotted with signs of things to pray for.

Students carry chains and are accompanied by a member of the small group while they walk. Their companions serve as prayer partners and are instructed to help carry the chain if the weight is too much.

The chains they carry represent the people who are in bondage, the injustice they are facing and oppressive governments who turn a blind eye.

Crystal Rossman, 21, a Johnson student and member of the IJM chapter at JU attended Day of Chains last year.

“Day of Chains to me is bringing awareness of those who are trapped in domestic abuse, sex trafficking, pornography and don’t really have a way to escape it,” she said. “It gives them a voice.”

Christina Newbold, 20, a public relations major at the university, also attended the event last year.

“It’s to help people remember that there are people out there still that are still hurting, that they are still affected by slavery,” she said. “It’s not a past thing, it’s still very real.”

According to The World Bank, there are currently seven billion people in the world. An estimate given by The Global Slavery Index of 2013 says that out of that seven billion people, 30 million are enslaved with 76 percent located in 10 specific countries.

These countries include India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

The United States of America is ranked at 134 with an estimated 59,644 people enslaved according to The Global Slavery Index.

The International Justice Mission works to bring justice to those who support slavery and they are a voice for the voiceless. They work in numerous countries across the globe, including the United States.

While the IJM chapter on Johnson’s campus is small in number they have taken the steps into shining a light on injustice around the world and in their own back yard.

Day of Chains will be Nov. 20.

For more information concerning modern day slavery visit http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/ and https://www.ijm.org/



Bottle of water opens door to salvation

Sitting in the room in which he once detoxed, Samuel smiles and said, “Its only because of God that I am here today.”

Stephanie Mitchem, the director of Water Angels, said the first time she met Samuel he told her, “I tried that Jesus character once. He did nothing for me.”

Samuel Burgin is a current student at Johnson University who struggled with homelessness and drug addiction.

“Water Angels has the power to change lives,” he said. It changed mine and without it I don’t want to think where I would be.”

Mitchem is the founder and current director of Water Angels ministry and has witnessed the change Christ has made in Samuel’s life first hand.

“The best thing about this ministry is getting to see God work, to see life change right there in front of you and even if this ministry was only for Samuel, it would be worth it,” She said.

Stephanie met Samuel one day under the bridge , the usual homeless hangout in downtown Knoxville. When Stephanie first met Samuel and asked if she could pray for him he said no. Samuel at that time, was only under the bridge to buy drugs in between buses from Atlanta to North Carolina, where he is from.

“Its amazing to see how God works, His timing is flawless,” Stephanie said.

“We exchanged emails and I continued to pray for him. In one of those emails I had told him about the rehabilitation house we have here at Water Angels,” she said. “I wanted to let him know that if he ever wanted to find out who Christ is that he always has a place here.”

Sure enough, Samuel responded and wanted to give up drugs to find Christ.

“This room we’re in was once my home,” Samuel said. “It had four of us packed into this little area.”

“The first thing I did when I got clean was tell Stephanie that a change is needed here,” He said.

Samuel professed Christ as his personal Lord and savior shortly after his move into the house and was baptized in the mountains not to long after.

“Samuel immediately dove into scripture. I mean really, unlike I have ever seen,” Stephanie said. “He loves to study and the change in his life was noticeable immediately.”

While at Water angels, Samuel worked well with the kids in the 180 Gang, a gang for troubled youth who are either homeless or at risk in the Knoxville area.

Stephanie noticed this and recommended to Samuel that he think about becoming a youth minister.

After Samuel applied to Johnson University, Stephanie had her doubts.

“I thought to myself, there is just no way, I mean he got his GED in prison, there is just no way he will get in,” she said.

But Samuel was soon accepted to the school.

“After four nerve racking months, I got an email with the subject line ‘Congratulations!’, and I just could not believe it.” Samuel said.

“I was surprised that he got in, but then the issue became how is he going to pay for this?” Stephanie said.

Samuel never lost faith.

“I had to encourage Stephanie, I told her that if this truly is God’s will, He will provide a way for me to finance this tuition,” Samuel said.

Before starting the Fall semester, Samuel had obtained more than $14,000 in scholarships.

“Sure enough, he’s there,” Stephanie said. “ He is hoping to get into student ministry and he still comes to Water Angels on Sundays to volunteer here for our kids.”


Johnson University unleashes day of service across Knoxville

Students show selflessness in community outreach.

Every year the Johnson University student body participates in a campus wide event known as K-day. This year hundreds of the students fanned out across the Knoxville area to help various organizations. The students and faculty involved performed various tasks and worked to make the university a presence in the Knoxville community.

The Johnson University student body participated in a service event to aid many organizations in a community outreach Sept. 17.

K-14 carries on a tradition started by the students in the Student Government Association (SGA),  in response to the National Service Day created after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. The event was designed to reach people in the local community and to give a helping hand to ministries in the area.

According to Carrie Overdorf, the Service Learning Coordinator at Johnson University, the initial reaction to the event was a positive one with a growing number of organizations wishing to participate with the University.

“We really do want to impact the community”, Overdorf said. “The university wishes to be a presence in the community to share the love of Christ where we have the chance, but mostly to help those organizations that need extra help.”

The students traveled all across the greater Knoxville area to aid more than thirty organizations that had wished to participate in the event. “This year hopefully we’ll get more faculty involved,” Overdorf said.

In previous years no faculty had been present on sight to work with the students. Overdorf said that there was a difficulty this year with accommodating all the students, as the university itself has experienced an influx of students.

“There was a possibility of moving the service day to another time of year, to help free up time for those involved because the fall can be a busy time for both students and faculty,” Overdorf said.

“We provide quality work,” she said. “We are dependable and we are doing it because we love what they (organizations) are doing and are invested in it as well.”

Students often continue to volunteer with the organizations they serve on K-day throughout the year. The event opens gateways for students to become involved with the community and learn testimonies of the people they serve.

Chrissi Newbold, a student who participated in K-14, served at Live It, a non-profit working to bring the Bible to people everywhere.

“It’s actually a really cool organization,” she said. “It started out as a group of people who went and did huge service projects kind of like things we are doing for K-14, but they would do it for widows and orphans and the public.”

“It’s really nice to be able give back to them”.

This day of helping others will continue in the coming year with K-15 being the new title of the event with hopes of even more students and faculty helping the community of Knoxville.


Students connect with refugees during summer

For a couple months during this summer, two Johnson University students spent time working with refugees in Houston.

Christina Crutchfield, 23, and Liz Carson, 20, participated in internships through the parent organization Global Frontier Missions, teaching English as a second language and loving on the families present in the program.

The local Mission Organization (whose name is being withheld for security purposes) is an outreach program that teaches English to non-native speakers. The organization houses refugees, many of which are specifically selected for the program.

Crutchfield and Carson said that roughly 1 percent of the refugee population actually makes it to America.

“We also learned about the plight of the refugee,” Crutchfield said. “A lot of them come from a warzone due to unrest or fighting because of religion. We got to see real people behind the stories you’d see on TV.”

Crutchfield said that many are not Christians and proceeded to explain how they were able to overcome the obstacle of differing religions.

“We found what we called bridges between the religions, like Islam says there is one God and we believe in one God as well,” Crutchfield said.

Carson said that it was her second time with the internship and that learning about these cultures is a blessing.

“When it comes to the religion aspect we spent every Sunday going to mosques and Buddhist temples and Hindu temples more than we were in churches.” Carson said. “We also realized how they function as people and finding out what was missing to try and help and connect them to other people.”

She said there is a need for many of the refugees to make friends here in the United States, as many of them did not have any connections with people in the U.S.

Carson said the refugees have a chance to become Citizens as their test results are expedited.

“We actually worked with a family who explained all the differences of coming to the United States,” Crutchfield said. “I asked them what was the hardest to adjust to and they answered with people just don’t have time for you here.”

Both confirmed that given the chance they would return to work for the organization again.  

“It was incredible to put faces with the stories” Carson said. “It was such a blessing to get to know them.”

Both women said that they would even recommend it to anyone interested in getting a taste of what the refugee plight actually is, and anyone with a passion for hurting or repressed people should give thought into being an intern for the organization.