History & Heritage

Learn how we began in Minneapolis in 1902 as Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School, with just seven students. Read about boom years and challenging years and meet some of the amazing people God has included on our journey to become the Northwestern of today.

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Northwestern opens on October 2, 1902 as Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School, founded by William Bell Riley, well-known pastor and evangelist. Classes are held in First Baptist Church in Minneapolis and Jackson Hall, First Baptist’s education building.


In a brief four-year tenure, Northwestern’s second president, Rev. Billy Graham, launches KTIS and sees the campus move to Memorial Hall in Loring Park. Despite gaining national prominence under Graham, the college temporarily closes in 1966 for restructuring and relocation.


Guided by the leadership and faith of William B. Berntsen, the college reopens in 1972 on its current St. Paul campus and begins to expand. The college sees a steady addition of programs and buildings under the leadership of Berntsen, Donald Ericksen, and Wesley Willis.


Alan S. Cureton becomes president, the Mel Johnson Media Center is constructed, Riley Hall undergoes major remodeling, graduate programs begin, Billy Graham Community Life Commons opens, and Maranatha Hall receives new renovations and a new name. Educational facilities continue to expand and receive upgrades: Engineering receives a new home at Rosedale Square North; the School of Nursing moves into new lab, classroom, and chapel spaces in Wilson Center; and updates are made to the Ericksen Center, including new golf training bays featuring PGA-grade technology.


Corbin M. Hoornbeek succeeds Cureton as Northwestern’s ninth president in August 2022. UNW’s Engineering program receives Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accreditation, retroactive to 2017. Northwestern joins the Minnesota Private College Council as its 18th member institution. UNW celebrates Nazareth Hall’s 100th year of existence and 50 years of being on the current suburban St. Paul campus (2022).