by Carly (Rech) Gilmore, class of 2017
“We believe education flourishes in community.” As a part of the value statement, NNU prioritizes creating a community of belonging. But what does it really look like to “[provide] a learning and faith community that teaches, challenges and encourages each other through intellectual and spiritual practices”? What value does community truly hold?
Two people who can attest to the power of community are Grant and Jen (Knight) Miller, Director of Student Life and Ford Hall Resident Director (RD), respectively.
When asked how NNU’s community has impacted her, Jen (’07) piped, “How has it not! In so many ways, NNU has had a huge impact in such a pivotal time of my life.”
Impressed by the people and environment, Jen decided to come to NNU, where she capitalized on the opportunities presented. Complementing her academics, she immersed herself into many co-curricular activities—social work club, chapel worship team, intramural sports, Witness (a summer travel group) and Brick House resident. Jen explained, “I was so involved at NNU because I felt like I belonged.”
Through the academic, social and spiritual environment, Jen’s life was transformed. “It wasn’t until freshman year that I became a Christian,” Jen said. “That decision was influenced by the community I found here. Chapel, friends, professors, teammates, classmates and classes all played a part in this life-changing choice.”
Grant (’10 and ’13) also attributes his personal growth and transformation to NNU. “During my initial visit to NNU, I had a deep sense that this was the place where I could grow into the person I wanted to become,” commented Grant. “If you come with a desire to get involved and grow, the people here recognize it and feed into you at such a formative time; the impact through relationships and community leaves a person enriched.”
During his college career, Grant was very involved in the NNU community. Besides throwing for NNU’s track and field team and pursuing a double major in political science and public communication, he held positions in student government, served as a peer mentor, sang in spring musicals, led chapel worship, traveled with Covenant (a summer travel group) and served as SGA president.
After earning his first degree, Grant lived in and managed the Brick House while serving as a graduate assistant in NNU’s Graduate Theological Online Education program and as an assistant track and field coach. During this time, Grant and Jen—who worked as an NNU admissions counselor—started dating. Two years later, in 2012, Grant and Jen were married and remained in the area.
“We love NNU and the ways it has contributed to our personal transformation,” explained Grant. “Every time we looked to go other places, God seemed to keep us here. It just felt right to stay in this community.”
Grant held a variety jobs, including working for NNU’s Office of Marketing, until becoming director of student life in 2014. “I enjoy working with students every day,” Grant remarked, “I get to counsel them, have fun with them and see them grow. Being influential in their lives at such a formative time is a privilege; I hope students will look back on college as a time that shaped them into who they wanted to become.”
Jen has recently transitioned into a new position as Ford RD after eight years as an admissions counselor. Excited to enter a different part of the college process, Jen explained, “This new position is a cool segue. In admissions, I helped students discover that NNU is the right place for them, and now I get to accompany them on their journey of living it out.”
As RD of Ford and director of student life, Jen and Grant get to help form the community that was so influential in their own lives. While they both play a key role in creating a transformative environment, their parts are quite different.
“I create community through time spent together—going out to coffee, hosting events, going to their games,” explained Jen. “I am intentional about being involved in their lives and helping them get involved.”
“Jen is great with the one-on-one aspect of community,” Grant reiterated. “She builds relationships with students and helps them find what they are passionate about. On the other hand, I get to foster community. I get to help those who already know what they are passionate about engage those passions and find others who share them.”
Talking about what students should glean from their college experience, Grant commented, “I want students to develop a strong sense of who they were made to be, what their passions are, what gives them life and how to engage that knowledge.”
With individuals like Grant and Jen investing in students’ lives, many leave with much more than a degree. The community found here enhances the academic aspect of students’ educations and leaves them empowered.
Photo caption: Grant (second from the right) and Jen (far right) cheer on students in a game at Freshman Retreat. The Miller family, which includes son Whit (15 months), live, work, eat and play on campus, investing wholly in the NNU community.