An increasingly connected world has put unprecedented power in the palm of the hand, a laptop, tablet, or on a desktop.
Southern Wesleyan University is experiencing rapid growth in online degree programs as more individuals look for a convenient way to achieve their educational goals. At the same time—as it becomes increasingly “connected”—the university wants to ensure that there’s not a spiritual disconnect. Many students are juggling their studies while grappling with life challenges. That’s why Southern Wesleyan offers spiritual resources as well as its faith-based curriculum.
To be sure, there are spiritual resources available online, but sometimes a student needs to talk to or pray with somebody in real time. Rev. Scott Williams, coordinator of faith-based learning, provides online students with a listening ear and spiritual guidance, whether it’s by phone or an online chat.
Williams came to Southern Wesleyan in early 2016 after pastoring Wesleyan congregations in North Carolina and South Carolina and teaching at a Christian high school. More recently, he pastored at Lyman Wesleyan Church. Having taught middle and high school grades and integrating faith and a Christian worldview into his classes, Williams feels his experiences flow naturally as he seeks similar approaches to online programs at Southern Wesleyan.
In the past, he’s seen online degree programs at other Christian colleges where spiritual help would come in the form of a letter from the chaplain that was mass emailed quarterly. Going beyond that, Williams offers himself to students who want to either chat online or interact with spiritual resources through social media. And, yes, students can pick up their phone and call him too. Williams can also refer a student to a clergy member in their area.
“One of the major roles as chaplain beyond praying and providing spiritual direction and counsel is just being an encouragement and using God’s Word to encourage the student,” Williams said. In addition to Canvas and MySWU, systems utilized by Southern Wesleyan students, Williams also utilizes as many social media platforms as he can–Google Plus, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, blogs–whatever platform is relevant to students.
“We try to use as much of (social media) that’s available that people can easily sign up and get inspirational quotes and verses,” Williams said.
“What we have tried to do in part is at our education centers is to designate people who would be able to serve that place more in a face-to-face role,” Williams said.
Williams also provides guidance and training for faculty members to integrate Christian faith into their class environment.
“Scott is a welcome addition to CTE. He has already made great inroads in supporting faculty’s efforts to meaningfully integrate faith in their courses. Further, he is working on providing spiritual support for our online adult students especially in praying for and with them,” said Dr. Jeannie Trudel, dean of Southern Wesleyan’s School of Business.
While the technology aspect of Williams job has a certain “coolness” factor, Tyler Watts, director of Southern Wesleyan’s Center for Teaching Excellence, says Williams’ role is still “very much a pastoral role.”
“For the students studying in our learning centers, we know that they develop deep connections with our staff and faculty at each learning center,” Watts said. “As we continue to grow our support services directed towards our learning centers and online programs, Scott’s position is one of several that helps students connect to the wider SWU community and, particularly within his role, to The Wesleyan Church.”
Watts says that Williams’ role helps to more fully extend Southern Wesleyan’s mission into the lives of its students, whether that’s attending family funerals, following up with those who have been ill, or connecting students to other resources Southern Wesleyan provides.