Dr. Stanley T. Wearden, President of Methodist University

In a world where career trajectories can often seem predefined, Dr. Stanley T. Wearden, the president of Methodist University in North Carolina, stands as living proof that a particular degree (in his case, English) doesn’t necessarily predetermine one’s life work. Wearden’s journey is a testament to the power of multidisciplinary education, spanning English, science journalism, and mass communication research. His story is not just about acquiring degrees; it’s a narrative of how these diverse disciplines have molded him into a visionary leader who excels at nurturing talent and guiding others toward success.

“From my English degree, I developed a critical eye and a creative problem-solving approach,” Wearden emphasizes. “These skills have become my foundation, allowing me to inspire my team to think differently. It’s about encouraging fresh perspectives.” But it wasn’t just about critical thinking; his communication skills, the foundation of which were laid during his English studies, became an indispensable tool for bridging the gaps and fostering understanding.

“In that degree program, my communication skills began to gel,” he says. “Effective communication is the key to success, especially as a writer. A skilled writer is a skilled thinker. Those things go hand in hand.” Wearden’s journey continued with a Master of Science in Journalism, with a focus on science. This educational phase not only elevated his communication abilities but also reinforced the notion that a skilled writer is, indeed, a skilled thinker. It was during this period that he learned the art of probing questions, developed a healthy skepticism, and found a passion for drilling to the heart of complex issues.

“Journalism taught me a few indispensable skills,” he reflects. “To research an issue thoroughly before I jump into it, to ask good and probing questions, to have a healthy skepticism, to drill to the heart of an issue, to be dissatisfied with pat answers and dissemblance, to be comfortable interacting with people of all backgrounds, to place a high premium on candor, and to write effectively and fast. I use those skills all the time in this job.”

Wearden’s journey, spanning almost 40 years in higher education, transitioned from professorship to leadership roles, including school director, dean, and senior VP and provost. The presidency, while not initially on his career radar, became the logical next step. When Methodist University extended the invitation, he was honored and intrigued.

“I saw the opportunity more and more as a perfect fit for me,” Wearden explains. “My skills matched well with the current needs of the university. I met many people with whom I felt an instant connection. I have felt truly at home at MU since my first day on the job nearly five years ago.”

A Collaborative Leadership Philosophy

Wearden’s journey in higher education includes a wealth of experience across diverse institutions. As he reflects on his impressive career, he emphasizes the invaluable knowledge he has gained about the “business” of higher education. It’s a depth of experience that has not only broadened his understanding but also honed his expertise in navigating the intricate landscape of academia.

“My leadership style is collaborative,” Wearden notes, setting the stage for a profound insight into his approach. Collaboration, for him, is not just a buzzword but a guiding principle. He understands the significance of teamwork, the power of diverse perspectives, and the need for leaders to be listeners as much as decision-makers.

“I believe very much in the power and importance of listening,” he emphasizes. This core belief underscores his humility and recognition that, in higher education, the university leader isn’t always the smartest person in the room. Wearden acknowledges the abundance of intellect that thrives in this field. It’s a sentiment he absorbed from a wise friend who reminded him years ago. In a sector filled with brilliant minds, he sees himself as a facilitator of ideas rather than the sole generator. Good ideas, he recognizes, can emerge from anywhere, often surpassing his own, making it critical to remain vigilant and open to them.

Yet, in his collaborative leadership style, he doesn’t lose sight of the necessity for decisive moments. “Our success as a university is not solely dependent on me as president,” he states with conviction. It’s about the exceptional leadership team that has been assembled to work alongside him. Wearden acknowledges the significance of the Board of Trustees, an entity that both oversees their work and provides generous support for their efforts. The essence of collaboration and teamwork is integral, but he wisely adds, “Still, in the end, you also can’t let yourself be paralyzed by a collaborative, teams approach. There come key moments that call for decisiveness from the president.”

In a nutshell, Wearden encapsulates a leadership philosophy that values collaboration and cherishes the wisdom of collective intelligence, yet he remains ready to take charge when the occasion demands it. It’s a harmonious blend of humility and decisiveness, a style that underscores his commitment to the success of Methodist University and its entire community.

A Vision for Student Success

As Wearden leads with a collaborative yet decisive approach, he also steers the institution with a clear strategic vision. With six key strategic initiatives, he’s guiding Methodist University toward a future marked by excellence, inclusivity, and commitment to student success.

  1. Build a Comprehensive Framework to Advance Student Success
  2. Extend the MU Reach through Online Programs, Community College Articulations, and Military and Community Partnerships
  3. Embed Career Readiness and Civic Engagement in Curriculum and Campus Life
  4. Commit to Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
  5. Increase Endowment in Support of Student Scholarships
  6. Create a School of Medicine, in partnership with Cape Fear Valley Health, to Serve the People of this Region

In the heart of Wearden’s presidency at Methodist University lies a profound commitment to student success, retention, and graduation. In his strategic plan, he outlines three compelling reasons why this focus isn’t just a priority but a necessity. It is, indeed, the very essence of Methodist University’s mission.

For Wearden, it’s clear that education is not just what Methodist University does; it’s at the core of its existence. It’s a mission, a calling, and a commitment. The university takes pride in preparing students for a lifetime of success and then launching them into the broader world. But there’s a harsh reality, too; every student who doesn’t complete their journey represents a collective shortcoming for the institution. It’s a challenge that Wearden is determined to face head-on. “We must not rest until those failures are rectified,” he firmly states.

Enrolling students isn’t just a transaction; it’s a promise, a pact that Methodist University makes with every student who walks through its doors. Wearden recognizes the profound moral obligation that this promise carries. “We are morally obliged to do everything we can to keep that promise,” he asserts. It’s a commitment that resonates deeply with him, and he understands that when students place their trust in the university, they deserve nothing less than unwavering support on their journey to graduation. Importantly, he also shares a startling statistic: only 22 percent of students who leave college without a degree will ever complete one anywhere for the rest of their lives. For Wearden, this statistic reinforces the notion that they owe their students more than just a partial education.

Wearden, as a leader with a keen eye for strategy, also sees the business aspect of education. Students are not just learners; they are customers. Their satisfaction and success are pivotal to the institution’s longevity and growth. In his view, education is a two-way relationship, and Methodist University must deeply care about the experiences of its students. He recognizes that an institution thrives as a business when it places the success and contentment of its customers at the forefront.

Unlocking the Potential of Online Education

In the world of higher education, embracing online learning is no longer just an option; it’s a necessity. Wearden understands the value of quality education that transcends traditional classroom boundaries. In its quest to deliver excellence, Methodist University has adopted a two-tier approach, bridging the gap between in-person and online education.

“Our faculty members are clearly the content experts who also have tremendous pedagogical knowledge and experience,” Wearden affirms. They serve as the pillars of traditional education, providing students with insights, guidance, and mentorship. However, he recognizes that effective pedagogy in the classroom doesn’t always seamlessly translate to the online environment.

To bridge this gap, the university has partnered with a company that specializes in the support of highly skilled professional online course designers. “These professionals bring a unique set of skills to the table,” Wearden explains, “combining expertise in effective pedagogy within online platforms with a deep understanding of user experience design.” Together with the faculty, these course designers work hand in hand to build and enhance the online curriculum.

Importantly, Wearden emphasizes that faculty members always maintain control over the curriculum and its content. The course designers serve as valuable collaborators, helping faculty members adapt their expertise to the online environment in the most effective ways. This collaborative spirit ensures that online education at Methodist University carries the same quality and rigor as its in-person counterpart.

“I have been involved in online higher education for many years and at three different institutions,” Wearden reflects. This experience has given him a profound understanding of its potential. When executed effectively, online education can be just as enriching as in-person learning. However, he recognizes that it caters to a different student demographic with unique needs and aspirations.

At Methodist University, online students tend to be older and more established, including active-duty soldiers, veterans, and military family members. Their focus is distinct, driven by specific career goals. They view a university degree not only as a source of professional education and training but also as a credential that will open doors in the professional world.

While the university’s founding liberal arts values are embedded in all academic programs, online education at Methodist University is tailored to meet the specific professional needs and interests of its students. Each online degree program is meticulously crafted, with extensive market research informing its development.

Building Trust and Bridges: The Power of Partnerships

At Methodist University, success isn’t just a destination; it’s a journey. Wearden is deeply committed to serving a diverse range of students, including active-duty military personnel, military families, veterans, and community college transfer students. The foundation of this commitment lies in fostering meaningful relationships, understanding individual needs, and providing unwavering support to ensure that every student thrives.

Methodist University has forged successful partnerships with six community colleges situated within a 40-mile radius of its campus. But that’s not the end of the story. Wearden and his team are extending this collaborative spirit to community colleges that are farther away, recognizing the importance of making the educational journey accessible. The key to success in these partnerships is the establishment of trust and understanding.

“Success begins with making sure the MU faculty and the community college faculty get to know and trust each other,” Wearden emphasizes. This trust becomes the foundation for curriculum development that facilitates smooth transitions for students. The university is dedicated to staying up to date with curriculum changes to maintain an effortless transfer of credits, ensuring that students don’t face unnecessary hurdles.

Furthermore, Methodist University offers students in various majors the opportunity to take six credits of MU coursework at their community college tuition level. They have created both transfer and “reverse transfer” agreements, ensuring the seamless flow of credits in both directions.

Wearden proudly highlights the generous A-to-B (Associate to Bachelor’s) Scholarship. Students who complete associate degrees at Methodist University’s six community college partners and who are eligible for Pell Grants and North Carolina Need-Based Grants are invited to attend MU at no additional charge. It’s a commitment to accessibility, reducing financial barriers, and making higher education a reality for more individuals.

Nurturing Relationships and Well-being for Student’s Success

Wearden is passionate about his belief that student success is all about relationships. To achieve this, he and his team have created an environment that values genuine compassion, effective communication, and shared understanding. It’s not just about academics; it’s about students as human beings.

“An important part of their jobs – no matter what they do on campus, is to get to know students as human beings, to understand students’ needs, and to facilitate student well-being so that students may thrive,” he emphasizes. It’s a philosophy that recognizes that thriving students are those who feel fully understood, accepted, and valued for who they are as individuals.

Methodist University’s commitment to student well-being is backed by extensive research, reinforcing the idea that creating an environment where students can live fully into their unique and authentic selves significantly increases the likelihood of student retention and graduation.

But the support doesn’t end with compassion and understanding. The university ensures that students have access to a wide array of support services, including academic and financial advising, mental health counseling, a health center, an office of inclusion and belonging, an office of student life, and dedicated staff for military-related students, commuters, and transfer students, to name just a few. This comprehensive support network serves as the safety net that empowers students to thrive.

The Challenge and Fun of Building Relationships

For Wearden, the pursuit of increasing the university’s endowment holds a significant place in his vision for providing accessible education. But how does one achieve this while ensuring that it directly benefits the students? The answer lies in the art of building relationships, fostering philanthropy, and nurturing partnerships.

Growing the endowment is both a challenge and an enjoyable endeavor for Wearden. He spearheads a campaign aimed at expanding the endowment, and the dynamic part of this process revolves around relationships. “My job, and the fun part,” he explains, “is to meet and build long-term relationships with as many people as I can.” These individuals include alumni, community leaders, business leaders, prospective donors, foundation leaders, religious leaders, and government leaders.

His approach involves telling the captivating story of what Methodist University is achieving. He takes the time to understand their concerns and interests and, over time, explores the possibility of helping them establish a personal connection with the university. The outcome of this approach often leads to more than just financial contributions. “Money is not the only way they can help,” Wearden emphasizes. They also become valued guests, speakers, mentors, and, most importantly, friends.

The process rarely involves direct requests for money. Instead, it centers around creating a sense of connection, and when that connection is felt, individuals often express a desire to contribute to and support the university. The ease with which this unfolds is a testament to the power of genuine relationships.

Direct and Lasting Benefits for Students

Methodist University ensures that endowment gifts directly benefit the students. The University Advancement office works closely with donors to help them specify how they want their gifts to be utilized. Each gift is accompanied by a clear and specific contract, leaving no room for ambiguity.

The majority of endowed gifts are directed toward student scholarships. The university operates within a framework that allows them to spend 4.5% of any investment earnings from an endowed gift each year on scholarships. These endowed gifts are legacy gifts, lasting throughout the university’s lifetime. With prudent investment management by the Board Investment Committee and professional investment advisors, the endowment grows over time, thereby increasing the size of scholarships that can be awarded.

The Role of Philanthropy and Partnerships

Wearden places significant emphasis on the role of philanthropy in higher education. He acknowledges that many individuals, including himself, were able to attain college degrees because they received financial aid, often in the form of generous scholarships. His perspective on philanthropy is both a moral duty and an opportunity to participate in a beautiful philanthropic cycle.

“It’s important for us all to understand that very few of us succeed in life without a lot of help and support from others,” he notes. The act of ‘paying it forward’ becomes an essential part of this cycle, where each generation contributes to the education of the next.

Wearden extends a similar viewpoint to partnerships. He believes that higher education, along with other great social institutions, can achieve more through collaboration. The power of shared learning and shared work is a guiding principle where mutual growth and progress become the ultimate goal.

A Shared Vision for a Thriving Future

At the heart of Methodist University’s journey lies its mission statement, a guiding beacon that shapes the institution’s direction and purpose. Wearden places immense importance on ensuring that this mission is more than words; it’s a promise to students and stakeholders. In his conversations with various university constituents, he articulates four fundamental promises:

  1. Career and Graduate Readiness: Wearden assures that Methodist University will equip students to excel in their chosen careers or graduate studies.
  2. Lifetime Reflection: The university commits to preparing students for a lifelong journey of reflection on meaning and purpose.
  3. Moral and Ethical Preparedness: Students are nurtured to become moral and ethical agents in the world, understanding the importance of integrity and ethics in their actions.
  4. Engaged Citizenship: Methodist University instills in students the values of engaged citizenship, empowering them to make a positive impact on society.

These promises encapsulate the essence of the university’s mission statement, and they serve as a compass guiding every facet of Methodist University’s operation. A dedicated vice president oversees the university’s campus-wide focus on mission, ensuring that these values are ingrained in every aspect, from academics to student activities and administrative functions.

As Wearden reflects on his role and his impact at Methodist University, he doesn’t focus on personal legacy or individual accolades. His primary objective is to leave the university in a healthier, more vibrant state than when he found it. He emphasizes that success is a collective effort achieved through the dedicated work of the entire team. If recognition were to come his way, he’d want it to be shared with every individual who contributed to the university’s growth and success.

The true measure of Wearden’s success is the thriving university he envisions, serving students even better than before. He believes in the continuity of excellence, with each succeeding president building upon the accomplishments of their predecessors.

In Wearden’s vision, the collective effort, trust, and candid communication of the Methodist University community are the driving forces behind the institution’s continued greatness. As he paves the way for a brighter future, he embodies the spirit of shared success.

For More Info: https://www.methodist.edu/

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