On the Journey

In On the Journey, President Alan Cureton periodically shares reflections about education, faith, family, life and University of Northwestern. To share comments with Dr. Cureton about On the Journey you may e-mail president@unwsp.edu.

April 2014

Athletics for the Love of the Game

As vice-chair of the NCAA Division III Presidents Council, I’m able to engage with our student-athletes and the body that governs Northwestern athletics in an even greater way. Serving on the council is a delight for me as we work together to advance the mission, viability, and visibility of Division III during a critical time for collegiate athletics. As a former college athlete, I grew in skill and friendship with my teammates on the football squad at my alma mater.

During the week of April 7–14 the NCAA observed its annual “Division III Week.” The week provides Division III institutions and student-athletes the opportunity to observe and celebrate the impact of athletics on the campuses and in their surrounding communities. The week helps Division III schools to sharpen identity and allows student-athletes to share the message about why they prefer to compete in a Division III setting. 

Northwestern’s Division III Experience

Several of our own student-athletes took a step back from their athletics preparation and practices to share on video how Division III’s six attributes—proportion, comprehensive learning, passion, responsibility, sportsmanship, and citizenship—are embraced on the University of Northwestern campus. As was the case for me in college, our student-athletes are free to compete out of a love and passion for the game and a desire to grow as a person, as a Christian, and as an athlete.


Since our entry into Division III in 2008, our athletics programs have grown and strengthened to provide a consistently positive experience for our students. As we anticipate new fields and facilities next fall, I believe our student-athlete experience will continue to make University of Northwestern an amazing place to play Division III athletics.

Playing for the Right Reasons

My colleague Jack Ohle, President at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. and chair of the Division III Presidents Council states well the case for The Division III Experience:

“The casual observer regards Division III as the colleges that don’t give scholarships. Actually, more than 80 percent of Division III student-athletes receive financial aid, but not for playing a sport.

“The students on the intercollegiate teams of Division III member schools come to college for an education and to play their sport for the love of the game. We assume our student-athletes compete not because they expect a financial reward or because booster clubs and alumni have a vested interest in their performance, but because they are driven to excel. Without million-dollar coaches and multi-million dollar revenues, the challenge and commitment to do their best is personal.”

That is true for all of our Northwestern students, regardless of their co-curricular choice. I’m proud of our student-athletes and the passion for which they play—ultimately for God’s glory!

November 2013


The concept of freedom is a bedrock of our republic. We reside in a country that exists under the guiding principle found in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Freedom is deeply embedded throughout the pages of U.S. history. Our country celebrates freedom through national holidays as a display of its importance to our country’s DNA. Each November, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving serve as reminders that freedom is profoundly interwoven into the tapestry of this nation. It is as natural to its citizens as breathing or walking.

People seek it. People desire it. People revere it. People lay down their lives to defend it.

More importantly, people come from all over the world for the privilege of living under the blanket of freedom.

What is freedom?

But what is freedom? And most strategically, as a follower of Christ, how does this concept of freedom intersect with a person’s faith? Can faith and freedom be symmetrical? Can true freedom exist without a solid faith foundation? Can one make a strong argument that the concept of freedom originates from a strong faith conviction?

As I study and understand Scripture, I believe that faith and freedom are one. And faith plays a significant role in the understanding and promotion of freedom. As an example, when, in faithful obedience, we seek to follow the two greatest commandments, we are creating the opportunity for faith and freedom to flourish. By loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself, we will be reflecting the essence of the combination of faith and freedom. Christ said, “Upon these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:40)

Where God's love flourishes

Faith and freedom thrive when Christ-like (agape) love is at the center. To love our neighbor as ourselves requires us to defend the weak, to speak for those who cannot speak, to feed those who are hungry, to clothe those who are naked, to ensure justice for those who experience injustice, to be merciful to those needing mercy, to protect those who cannot protect themselves, to stop evil when evil is present, to be willing to place ourselves in harm’s way so that others will live. When we do these things, God’s love flourishes.

At Northwestern, we will teach our students that faith and freedom come with responsibilities and obligations. We will teach our students to understand that faith and freedom come with boundaries. We will teach our students that faith and freedom come with a price, a price paid on the Cross. We will teach our students to know true freedom rests in faithful obedience to the One who gives freedom from sin.

In this season, I give thanks for the Cross and for our freedom in Christ—the true freedom that everyone seeks.

May 8, 2013

Becoming a University

It was my privilege today to announce to the Northwestern community that effective July 1, 2013, Northwestern College will become University of Northwestern – St. Paul.

Moving forward into the future under a new institution name, it is vital that we remember the most important Name under which we exist, that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the very purpose of our existence.

As a university, the foundational principles of this institution and commitment to hold fast to our mission speak to our unwavering commitment to provide Christ-centered, biblically based education.

Today in chapel we also introduced new language we will be using to tell our story-a new storyline: equipping Christ-centered learners and leaders to invest in others and impact the world. This storyline can be succinctly remembered through four key words: Learn. Lead. Invest. Impact.

I know that the full story of Northwestern can only be told when people have the privilege of meeting you, our students, faculty and staff. The storyline we share as we communicate about Northwestern will serve as a bridge to invite people in and to want to know more.

Celebrating our core

This time of transition also provides an opportunity to reflect on our core—what remains the same regardless of what we call ourselves. Below are some thoughts that we are sharing today with you and other members of our community, including alumni, incoming students and donors.

  • We are Christ-centered. As the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, we affirm our ongoing mission and stand firm in our Christ-centered tradition and unwavering commitment to biblical truth.
  • We equip learners. As the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, we will continue our relentless pursuit of the highest level of academic rigor and nurture students in their understanding and application of Scripture. As iron sharpens iron, we will continue to provide an environment where students engage in thoughtful discourse and search for knowledge and truth.
  • We equip leaders. As the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, we will help each individual rise to his or her highest level of excellence. We will provide leadership development opportunities for every student, faculty member, staff member and administrator as we model servant leadership throughout the institution.
  • We invest in others. As the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, we will relentlessly pursue positive relationships as a reflection of God's love for us. Our very DNA (relational, missional, formational, caring) embodies Christ-centered community and we seek to cultivate connections and spur one another toward higher levels of Christian living.
  • We impact the world. As the University of Northwestern – St. Paul, we will not be content to create an inward, isolated community. We are globally focused and committed to advancing Christ's Kingdom through the careers and roles God calls us to.

Northwestern has changed its name before in response to God's leading and changing needs. I am excited as we usher in together the next stage of Northwestern. I am prayerful and confident that God has great things in store for the new University of Northwestern – St. Paul.


March 2013

Finding Joy in Vocation and Calling

The word vocatio is Latin. The root meaning of vocatio is “summons.” In its plural form, the meaning becomes “to call.” In modern English language, vocatio is known as “vocation” and its dominant use is correctly interpreted as “one’s chosen profession or occupation.”

Historically, the word vocation meant “a divine call to religious life.” Combining the historical and contemporary uses of the word, one may conclude, as stated in the most recent edition of Webster’s Dictionary, vocatio/vocation has two distinct meanings: religious calling (historic) or occupation (contemporary).

Vocation and occupation united

At Northwestern, we believe the decision a student will make regarding their life calling or career choice is a spiritual decision combining both the historic and contemporary definitions. Vocation and occupation, as in the original Latin, were never meant to be two separate definitions, but one unified and holistic concept. Because the founders of Northwestern held dearly to religious interpretation of the word “vocation,” vocatio has always been a strategic part of our university’s seal (along with biblia [modern Latin “Bible”] and ars scientia [roughly translated “arts and sciences””]) as well as a key component of our mission statement.

As we seek to educate students using the Word of God as the foundational Truth in understanding all aspects of creation, we simultaneously seek to prepare them for their chosen vocation—a vocation in which they will serve effectively.

Finding a sweet spot

Our career or calling should not be drudgery, but pure joy! And one of life’s greatest joys is when we are in the sweet spot of God’s plan. Finding that sweet spot is not always an easy journey (and may take time beyond college), but it is attainable.

Early in my professional “vocation” I found my sweet spot. As a member of the student life staff at another college, we were struggling to communicate a clear and cohesive vision about the program, its role, purpose, and function. After listening to varying concerns and comments, I offered my viewpoint of what could be, explaining in detail how certain changes and wording could increase our effectiveness and broaden our impact. Upon building consensus, each member of the staff agreed with the proposed changes and, more importantly, the college president loved it. The plan was formed, implemented, and confirmed. Thirty years later, the model still remains at that institution. Shaping an institution’s current and future direction is something I enjoy doing. It is my sweet spot.

Being able to assess and identify specific gifts and talents while pursuing them with passion, diligence, and resolve is a delightful and energizing experience. That experience has the potential to broaden and deepen our view of creation and our understanding of how we can, individually and corporately, make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those we serve.

So, as a value of importance, we must be prepared to fulfill our vocatio effectively and with excellence. As I say to students frequently, the Lord does not call us to mediocrity. We must seek to give Him our highest and best.

No matter what you do in life, as it pertains to your vocatio, my challenge to you is to do it with zeal, joy, excellence, and faithfulness.