ANGOLA, Indiana (Mennonite Education Agency) — The Mennonite
Higher Education Association (MHEA) had its official launch at the first in-person
gathering on September 15-17, 2018 in Angola, Indiana. A key element of this meeting was the group’s selection of Rebecca Stoltzfus, president
of Goshen College, to provide leadership for MHEA as the new chair. MHEA
will operate as a federation of institutions where the chair position will serve
a one-year term with possibility of renewal.
The presidents of six higher education institutions
participated in the gathering: Sara Wenger Shenk, Anabaptist Mennonite
Biblical Seminary; Jon Gering, Bethel College; Jane Wood, Bluffton University; Susan
Schultz Huxman, Eastern Mennonite University; Joseph Manickam, Hesston College;
and Stoltzfus, as well as the executive director of Mennonite Education
Association (MEA), Carlos Romero. Dick Thomas, chair of the MHEA Beta version, was also
part of the meetings.
“Our first meeting together as MHEA was historic in several ways,”
said Rebecca Stoltzfus, noting that five of the six presidents are relatively
new to their positions. “We needed to learn to know one another, and I left
with a great respect and appreciation for the talent, commitment and
perspectives of these leaders.”
At the meetings, significant time went into storytelling and
relationship-building, and each president shared stories about how their
institutions connect to their shared vision of Mennonite education and about what
bridges can be built looking toward the future.
“The presidents’ stories were inspiring and powerful in understanding
at a deep level how our schools are implementing the vision of the church for
Mennonite higher education,” said Romero.
“We used worship and storytelling as means to understand each other
and our work,” said Stoltzfus. “Our colleges, universities and seminaries are
places that nurture and transmit the expressions of our faith in challenging
times — not by being rigid and unyielding, but with resiliency and openness to
the transformative work of the Spirit.”
The meetings included reviewing the purposes
of MHEA and holding conversations based around affordability and accessibility,
and faith and human formation. Romero also introduced the upcoming MEA
strategic planning process.
In addition, having identified 25
collaborations that already happen between the schools, the group determined
priorities for continued collaboration through academic programming and support
staffing. As one example, three of the MHEA schools currently participate in offering
“Our priorities for our first one to two years will be to explore
partnerships that can grow and sustain our excellent academic programs, or can
achieve economies of scale in the administrative aspects of our work,” said
Stoltzfus. “We also seek to create new structures and practices to support the
relationship of our institutions to MC USA.”
The schools, MC USA and MEA plan to maintain a close and
intentional relationship through several avenues including regular
communication, involvement in boards and presidential search committees and a
shared Mennonite/Anabaptist foundation.
The next in-person meeting is planned for January 2019.
Thomas, who helped with the process of launching the MHEA, ended
his temporary role at these meetings.
“After being involved in this process, it was really
gratifying to be at this meeting and see the deep sense of ownership by MHEA
presidents for the vision of the new organization,” said Thomas.
“It is exciting to be in a place where we are looking
forward, dreaming together, thinking of the possibilities and finding ways to
strengthen the individual institutions and the overall mission of Mennonite
education,” said Romero. “Our institutions are a significant part of our
missional endeavor as MC USA.”
The process of establishing MHEA began in March 2017 at an MEA
meeting in Jacksonville, Florida where representatives of the Mennonite colleges,
MEA and MC USA discussed moving forward with a new structure to address the changing
state of Mennonite higher education. This resulted in a task force that began
its work in July 2017 and distributed a proposal for feedback. A revised and final
proposal of the task force was created in January 2018, and the MHEA Beta
version began on February 1, 2018. The new MHEA organization was officially launched
at the September 2018 meeting with six schools participating.