A Gateway for the Future

by Luke Gascho

Planning is a gateway for the future. A gateway creates a transition between one space and another, links from one time to another and makes possible interactions among diverse people.
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A Pilgrimage of Peace:
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Associate Professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies Joe Liechty, who spent two decades involved in reconciliation work in Northern Ireland, and Associate Professor of English Ann Hostetler, a published poet, led a group of students to Ireland and Northern Ireland for several weeks
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Shoulder tapping continues

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“Indeed, the special servant has two sources for his call, commission and authority; one is God direct and one is the church.
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Olive G. Wyse remembered

She was the first woman in the Mennonite Church to earn a doctorate and the first woman to have a campus building named in her honor, and her favorite foods included butter horn rolls and burnt sugar angel food cake.
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Goshen College students study civil rights era during May term on storied soil

By Jennifer Rupp ’06

In Memphis, Tenn., in front of the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, Molly Moyer experienced feelings that would not have been inspired by a textbook or even watching a documentary.
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Faculty and alumni featured in latest ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ book

When bookstore browsers see the newest title in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul® series – Stories for a Better World – they will find 101 stories of love, tolerance, forgiveness and peace by a former U.S. president, Nobel Peace Prize winners and six Goshen College alumni.
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Alumna shares story of 'crocodile-approved' sustainable development in a children's book set in West Africa

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Meeting ‘Malcolm, Martin and the Mennonites’ in May

By Jodi H. Beyeler

Standing in front of a classroom of Goshen College students, Malinda Berry moved deftly between defining theological words, such as “atonement” and “theodicy,” to showing video clips of Martin Luther King Jr. at a Civil Rights march to soliciting opinions regarding interracial dating.
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Fall 2005 cover

A gateway for the future

Fall 2005


A Gateway for the Future

by Luke Gascho

Planning is a gateway for the future. A gateway creates a transition between one space and another, links from one time to another and makes possible interactions among diverse people. The passage through a gateway is not one directional. The view into the future – through a gateway – inspires the pursuit of a journey.

A design for sustaining Goshen College

oldgate The Goshen College gate on College Avenue is a well-known symbol to generations of students, representing a place full of significant learning experiences. Since 1906, thousands upon thousands have passed through this entrance, headed north or south, to make the connection between the campus and community at Eighth Street. During the summer of 2005, a decision was made by the city to change community-wide traffic patterns to redirect those en route to industrial areas and to create space for Parkside Elementary School to expand. Part of the plan required widening College Avenue, which meant moving the historic Goshen College gate further south. But how could that be? It seemed almost sacrilegious that such a storied piece of campus visual identity and memory had to be moved.

Changes can be difficult and are often at first unwanted, yet may be the best thing for sustaining a healthy organization. In 2002, Goshen College leadership knew it was time to begin preparing a new five-year strategic plan. The complicated task began with initiative through the Strategic Planning Committee, which began designing processes and a structure that would result in directions for a preferred future. Yet before the process got underway, the campus needed to examine a set of brutal facts: the smallest first-year class in decades was enrolling in the fall of 2002 – meaning a significant decreasing in revenue – and this was compounded by a 30 percent loss in the value of the college’s endowment. Questions were being asked from many quarters about the health of Goshen College.

With determination and some trepidation, the college tackled the grim realities through two significant processes. One was the formation of a committee to review all aspects of the college and its programs. The committee was charged with recommending ways to set right a vessel that was listing seriously – truly a daunting task; this group would lead the strategic work of the academic year 2002-2003.

At the same time, the campus engaged a process to clearly articulate the core values of Goshen College, as the strategic planning leadership believed this activity was an essential first step before beginning to create a longer-term plan. In the context of then-current brutal realities, a group of 50 people spent two intensive days in August 2002 searching to describe the central concepts that characterize and succinctly represent Goshen College, and assist in keeping it true to its mission. During September 2002, many internal and external stakeholders of the college examined the proposed values and made recommendations. A strong consensus for the five core values – Christ centered, passionate learners, servant leaders, compassionate peacemakers and global citizens – emerged followed by a unified approval by the board of directors in October 2002.

New understandings of Goshen College’s “strategic gateway” were coming into view. The gateway was historically strong, but revitalization was also needed. The core values resonated with the long-held distinctives of the college while also bringing a fresh, energizing articulation of our identity. The findings of the review committee guided corrective actions, which were both painful and unifying. A proposed two-year strategic plan was put into place. This allowed for continued work on strengthening the institution –– and granted a year and a half for a highly participatory strategic planning process. 

Since the planning work was to be informed by quality data, an extensive environmental scan was conducted from May through September 2003. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and church leaders participated by sharing perspectives and perceptions on many facets of Goshen College. Community and national data was also collected to ensure an accurate understanding of the circumstances confronting the college.

Finding a way to grasp the central issues in a complex organization like Goshen College was critical. The strategic planning committee decided to use the method of identifying framing questions – a way of outlining issues that must be addressed in order to achieve the preferred future for an organization. Behind every well-crafted question would be a critical issue.

groupvision The work of creating framing questions for Goshen College began when a group of 45 people – faculty, staff, students, administrators, board members, alumni and parents – gathered for two days in August 2003. Through creative and interactive processes, the group wrestled with current data and key issues that had been gathered during the previous months. Smaller working groups sketched models and patterns of the preferred future for the college. The vigor and enthusiasm within the group was palpable as they envisioned a future that was attractive, realistic and credible.

As the two days of work neared completion, a significant observation was made. The core values were a centerpiece in each group’s forward-looking design for Goshen College. This was seen in the drawings, as well as the framing questions. What had been a tentative set of statements just a year before had become a cornerstone for the future gateway. Additionally, the two-day gathering had achieved its major outcome – primary themes and an initial set of questions had been developed.

A streamlined structure for guiding the development of the strategic plan was put in place. A group of four people – Provost John Yordy, Vice President for Institutional Advancement Andrea Cook, Professor of Bible and Religion Jo-Ann Brant and Merry Lea Executive Director Luke Gascho – served as a steering committee. In previous years, a 12- to 15-member Goshen College Strategic Planning Committee had provided leadership, but was often faced with cumbersome duplicity. In the fall of 2003, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee led groups of faculty, students, staff, alumni and parents in interactive processes to refine the framing questions and select 10 themes.

While the committee guiding the planning was smaller in size, a strong commitment was made to engage many people in a highly participatory manner, and the 18-month process was named Advancing Goshen College. The design for the Advancing Goshen College process was based on current strategic planning literature for higher education, as well as examples and experiences from other institutions. The goal was to involve both external and internal stakeholders in processes that would be transparent and vulnerable.

The design raised a variety of questions. What is the intent of strategic planning? Who should be making decisions about the future of the college? Should the goal be to discover an earth shaking, transformational new direction? Is the planning simply about realigning resources? Is this just one more round of processing that doesn’t yield significant results? Can external stakeholders really understand and determine a direction for the college? Are internal stakeholders too inwardly focused to be open to change?

Conversations related to these questions occurred both formally and informally in many settings even as the implementation of the Advancing Goshen College processes continued. The Goshen College Development Office worked hard to assemble a group of 100 external stakeholders – a group consisting of alumni, donors, parents, community leaders and friends. It was impressive to have such a large group of people – all passionate about Goshen College – commit to three weekends of intensive planning in March, May and September 2004. A parallel track was designed for the internal process of engagement. A group of 50 people was formed, which included faculty, administrators, staff and students. This group committed to two major planning and review sessions in May and October 2004.

Each Advancing Goshen College participant was given a thick binder of extensive information that included environmental scan data, an institutional profile and the 10 framing questions. Several presentations added context to the portrait of the current reality of Goshen College along with the environmental scan information. Carefully crafted and facilitated processes engaged participants in addressing the 10 framing question themes within focused groups. Many questions, opinions and ideas were raised concerning the current status of the college, as well as the preferred future for the institution.

After the first two planning sessions of the external group were held, the internal group met to review the recommendations and provide feedback. The external group then met for the last time in September 2004 to consider the responses and finalize recommendations for the five-year strategic plan. One of the last assignments was to categorize each strategic objective at one of three levels: 1) Urgent – addressed immediately with actions occurring within the first two years of the five-year plan; 2) Important – addressed at some point during the five-year plan; and 3) Desirable – seen as beneficial, but its implementation could occur following the five-year plan.

The internal group’s last meeting in October 2004 included the same assignment. Amazingly, great congruence emerged in the thinking and recommendations of the external and internal groups. Concerns that the two groups – internal and external – would have divergent agendas and reach conclusions was dispelled. The challenging work of Advancing Goshen College had produced an outstanding set of concepts, ideas and opportunities for drafting a coherent five-year strategic plan.


Drafting the plan

The drafting committee – made up of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee and President’s Council – began the process of sorting through the multiplicity of recommended ideas and objectives in late October 2004. They began their work by narrowing the scope of the plan to the urgent objectives. While the earlier processes had focused on 10 specific themes, this group looked for coherence across the themes and recommendations. The first draft of the five-year plan was crafted around four major categories. During November, all segments of campus constituents had the opportunity to respond to the emerging strategic gateway for Goshen College’s future.

The drafting committee utilized this excellent feedback to create the second draft of the strategic plan. Six major categories were selected (see diagram above) as the framework for the urgent objectives recommended by Advancing Goshen College. Corresponding action steps were identified for each objective. To ensure good assessment practices, metrics were chosen for each objective. A vice president was selected to oversee the implementation of each aspect of the plan. Internal and external stakeholders reviewed this second draft during January 2005. With minor revisions the third draft was submitted to the Goshen College board of directors and to the visiting team for reaccreditation with North Central Association.

All the review processes with stakeholders were characterized by excellent conversation, feedback and affirmation. On April 14, 2005 the faculty unanimously approved the five-year strategic plan by ballot. The Goshen College board of directors affirmed and approved the plan in May 2005. What a significant confirmation for the emerging new gateway for Goshen College’s future!

A new five-year plan was not the only result of the multiyear process. Participants in Advancing Goshen College grew in their commitment to the college as represented by the following comments (submitted anonymously in the feedback process):

“ It is neat to get to know other alums who have good feelings for GC and their experience here.”

“After 25 years away I felt kind of out of touch, but I learned a lot and have an increased appreciation of the college.”

Virgil Miller, chair of the Goshen College board, noted that input from many people adds to the strength of the plan and gives added confidence to the board as it provides leadership to the college. In affirming the process and the five-year plan, he said, “Having many stakeholders rowing in the same direction is a powerful contribution to the future of the Goshen College and generates tremendous energy for the implementation of the plan.”

A gateway to the future

newgate Changing the location of the gate on College Avenue has required the workers to discern the original structure, including mapping the location of each stone. It also means that the gate must be reconstructed on a solid foundation that will last at least as long as the one that supported the gate for the previous 99 years. This is an apt analogy for the design of the five-year strategic plan. More than 300 people participated in constructing this plan – all with the recognition that there are critical foundational commitments that will contribute to its success.

The foundation includes an unwavering commitment to our core values: Christ-centered, passionate learners, servant leaders, compassionate peacemakers and global citizens. Throughout the plan, there is a commitment to the call to discipleship recognizing that whatever we do or seek to become, we are responding to the call of Christ. The plan is built in continuity with the history of Goshen College, its motto “Culture for Service,” as well as being rooted in the Anabaptist story.

The six major categories that outline the plan represent major stones in Goshen College’s gateway for the future.

Our gateway is hospitable and will be characterized by trust, friendship, respect and a positive relational culture that is necessary for healthy intellectual, social and spiritual growth.

Our gateway invites full participation in learning with academic excellence in all areas of teaching and learning, which is informed by the mission and core values.

Our gateway creates an increase in enrollment by providing an attractive, challenging, Christ-centered education to as many students as possible, which enables the achievement of the other goals in the plan.

Our gateway reaches out to all constituent groups through good communication and by inviting input, interaction and partnership as vital support for achieving our mission.

Our gateway builds on the strength of human resources recognizing that faculty and staff are central to the expression of our core values and the delivery of all programs.

Our gateway is strengthened with excellent operations by establishing an institutional culture committed to best practices, which includes data-driven assessment, appropriate utilization of technology, and financially and environmentally sustainable systems.

While the starting point for the implementation of this five-year strategic plan was July 2005, some action steps were already underway during the 2004-2005 academic year. This demonstrates the healthy cycles and continuity found in the best planning models. President’s Council has determined a realistic sequencing and timing of action steps for the current year.

The strategic plan is also playing an important role in the presidential search process. Rick Stiffney, vice-chair of the Goshen College Board of Directors who is serving as chair of the search committee acknowledges the value of having a strategic plan in place.

“It is ideal when a search committee can ‘recruit to plan’ –a meaning that the organization has done enough work on strategic direction that the strategic plan informs the desired perspectives and skills sets for the next president,” said Stiffney. “The Search Committee used the plan in a series of ‘listening sessions’ across the church and the country, inviting participants to respond to the key priorities and offer ideas on what kind of leadership they thought Goshen would need to accomplish them. The strategic plan served as the core document in the college profile materials made available to top candidates. The plan served to focus key questions asked of candidates.”

The future of Goshen College as viewed through the strategic plan gateway is full of great potential. While the college gate is being moved to a new location, it will be totally recognizable by those who remember it in the old location. Its new foundation and reconstruction will enable it to stand for another 100 years. Applying this analogy to the strategic plan adds meaning for the current context. Identifying a new creative program to reinvigorate the college is not what was needed at this point in history. Rather strengthening and building on a sure foundation is what will make possible institutional health, positive change and a fuller realization of our mission and potential. A gateway for Goshen College’s future has been designed. An exciting journey continues!