“As God’s Kingdom workers, we are asked to step forward in faith,” wrote founding president Rev. Henry De Bolster in his history of Redeemer’s first years.
In 2014, Redeemer again needed to step forward in faith. Much had changed since 1982 when Redeemer opened the doors of a rented elementary schoolhouse on Hamilton’s beach strip to 160 students.
Thirty years later, universities were facing a perfect storm. The 2008 economic crash sent shock waves that reverberated into the 2010s. As that impact was felt by families, university-aged students and their parents were seriously weighing universities and colleges for cost and for programs that they believed would lead to paying jobs quickly after graduation. Tools like chat rooms, online video and digital articles and books were also making their way into higher education. Students were thinking carefully about whether they would take their degree online or commit to classroom learning.
Simultaneously, demographics were shifting and the number of potential new students was declining each year. Higher education was itself debating the value of the liberal arts, an approach to teaching and learning that Redeemer had invested in since its first classes in 1982.
Redeemer was not immune to these stresses. To mark a clear path forward, the university’s leadership created the Redeemer 2020 Strategic Plan, which was adopted by the Board of Governors in June 2014. The five-year plan’s goals were ambitious and the $20 million fundraising campaign would be the university’s largest. It was also just what Redeemer needed to deepen the impact of its academic program, increase its competitiveness, raise its profile and secure a stable financial foundation for the future.
Since 2020 is drawing near, let’s explore how, over five years, Redeemer has not only weathered challenging times but also grown in its ability to prepare the next generation of Christian leaders.
At the heart of Redeemer’s academic program renewal was a revamped Core. The curriculum ties the entire Redeemer experience together with 10 interdisciplinary courses that every student, in every major, takes. Throughout the four years of each student’s degree, these 10 courses build on and complement the content of his or her chosen discipline.
In courses like Being and Knowing in the Digital Age, and The Drama of Scripture, the Core’s first students have formed an academic cohort. They have developed a shared vocabulary and the understanding that all knowledge is held together in Christ, while individually deepening the skill sets of their major.
That academic cohort came into full effect in the winter 2019 term with the pilot of the Core’s capstone course. On their first day, the pioneering class met at CityLAB and, over the term toured subsidized housing buildings with CityHousing Hamilton. The 22 students in the class are working in interdisciplinary groups of four or five to increase community engagement in the City’s housing system.
Redeemer students are prepared not only for a particular career path but also as community leaders, innovators, co-workers and citizens.
It is exciting to pilot the course this term — and a significant milestone for the new Core. Work on the new Core started in 2013 with a review of Redeemer’s existing curriculum. After that process, which involved close to 700 stakeholders, 49 faculty members worked for three years to create the new Core.
Their work has led to a curriculum that has deeply impacted the class of 2019. Starting in the 2019-2020 academic year, the capstone experience, like the Core itself, will be a part of Redeemer students’ degrees. Each term, about 75 students from diverse perspectives will together tackle a real-world problem with a community organization.
As a part of a holistic Redeemer experience, students now encounter a Core curriculum that fosters a firm kingdom vision of learning from all of God’s creation. Redeemer students are prepared, then, not only for a particular career path but also as community leaders, innovators, co-workers and citizens.
The Centre for Experiential Learning and Careers (CELC) builds on the foundation of Redemer’s Core curriculum to combine the best of interdisciplinary education with experiential learning.
The centre, a retrofitted, welcoming space near Redeemer’s main entrance, is a one-stop hub for students’ career questions. Each week, students have the opportunity to meet with dedicated staff for individual career guidance. Each term, classes of students strengthen skills like resumé writing at CELC workshops and connect with employers at job fairs. Each year, faculty, CELC staff and employers partner to design new internship and co-op experiences that put the classroom in the workplace and bring the workplace back to the classroom.
Since the centre’s launch in March 2017, the CELC has tripled the number of Redeemer programs with co-op while supporting 10 internship options in additional programs. Students in the Kinesiology and the Urban and Intercultural Ministry programs are now benefitting from co-op experiences as they prepare for their careers.
In the Business program, Redeemer has offered co-op for more than 20 years. For more than 30 years, the university has run internships and practicums in up to a dozen different departments. The CELC had not been the start of experiential learning at Redeemer but it has expanded internships, co-ops and career services so that they are in reach for all Redeemer students. At the Centre for Experiential Learning and Careers, Redeemer is investing in work-integrated learning opportunities for every program and students are connecting their callings with careers.
Through two new programs, Redeemer is also creating distinct Christian voices in media and shaping kingdom-rooted leaders for the ministry contexts of today and tomorrow.
Students in Redeemer’s Media and Communication Studies (MCS) program, which launched in September 2015, are learning how to film, edit and write professionally. More importantly, they are learning how to critically engage a dense media landscape.
By blending philosophy, theology and industry skills, students are learning to tell stories on evolving platforms — and to see their subjects, no matter how similar or different they seem, through Christ’s eyes.
The MCS program has made a unique mark on our media landscape for two academic years. In that time, the program has brought on 26 students, graduated five alumni, offered 10 internships and developed two major streams: Digital Media and Production and Media and Culture.
Redeemer’s second new program, Urban and Intercultural Ministry, is finely tuned to the skills needed by churches, non-profits, NGOs and parachurch ministries. Fostered by a program that blends missions, theology and practical ministry tools, Redeemer students will become ministry leaders who understand their contexts and roles through the drama of Scripture. Students take the Reformed theology on which the university was founded and put it into action, learning to serve communities close to and far from home.
Since the Ministry program launched in March 2018, it has taken on 10 pioneering students and has internships underway with organizations like Athletes in Action in Langley, BC, Envision Canada’s Thailand site and New Hope Community Bikes in Hamilton.
In both new programs, students are developing skills in the classroom, complemented by the new Core curriculum, and learning in the field through co-ops or internships.
High school students have more options for post-secondary education than ever before. This reality was a key driver behind Redeemer’s integrated digital marketing strategy, a $2.8 million 2020 plan initiative. Today, here’s how Ellie, a Grade 11 student at a Christian high school in Kanley, B.C., would find out about Redeemer. (Ellie, a fictionalized student, is based on the experiences of Redeemer’s Admissions team.)
In her career education class, Ellie completes quizzes on ChatterHigh.com which help her to start researching schools. Some of the questions are about an Ontario school called Redeemer University College. Curious about what studying at a Christian university would be like, Ellie fills out a request for information form on Redeemer’s website.
Over the next few months, Ellie learns more about Redeemer through emails. She follows the university on Instagram, wondering what life is like at Redeemer. By the time Ellie starts Grade 12, she has a deeper understanding of the value of a Christian university education. She has discovered through a series of videos that Redeemer’s Health Sciences program would prepare her to work in healthcare, even though she isn’t quite sure on the specific role that she wants to have yet.
In November, Ellie attends Redeemer’s long-distance visit weekend. While waiting in the terminal for her flight home, she boots up her laptop and begins her application for admission. She knows where she wants to be in September.
While high school students like Ellie are learning how to find a degree that meets their goals, universities are grappling with a crowded, fast-paced higher education marketplace. With the 2020 Plan’s investments in long-term strategic enrolment planning and digital-first innovation, Redeemer is now a stronger competitor than ever.
And despite a downturn in the overall demographic of university-aged students, a 2015 market research survey showed that Redeemer had room to grow significantly in making its presence known among Christian students, parents and other influencers.
In response, Redeemer first launched a redesigned responsive website in 2015. A digital prospect generation strategy, a multichannel content-sharing platform and five issues of Resound all built on that foundation. Between 2016 and 2018, Redeemer saw a 35 per cent increase in website traffic, a 115 per cent increase in its total prospects and a 54 per cent increase in its applicants. In short, Redeemer has connected with more and more students like Ellie.
The Centre for Christian Scholarship (CCS) is raising the university’s profile from another angle, specifically by increasing the impact of research from a Christian perspective and working to put Redeemer’s researchers at the forefront of public conversation.
Since the centre’s launch in 2015, it has, for example, distributed a total of $50,000 in Zylstra grant funding for Redeemer faculty research. From monitoring pollution in Hamilton watersheds to investigating the under-researched issue of relationship violence on Christian campuses, the centre’s Zylstra research fund program has fuelled original scholarship, directly related to issues of major public concern, and extend the reach of the work of Redeemer’s faculty into the public sphere.
The centre has also promoted and encouraged Christian academia’s emerging talent, recognizing excellent academic and public work that is making an impact for the common good. Since its launch as the first major component of the Redeemer 2020 Strategic Plan, the CCS has hosted four fall conferences, named four $5,000 Emerging Public Intellectual Award winners and offered four insightful World and Our Calling lectures. It’s an outsized impact, increasing partnership between Christian thinkers across North America and extending Redeemer faculty research through new projects and bringing that work into the hands of new audiences.
All of these Redeemer 2020 Strategic Plan initiatives have been made possible through the support of generous donors in the corresponding $20 million Re Campaign, the largest fundraising effort in Redeemer’s history. In January 2019, the campaign hit $18.5 million — 90 per cent of its goal!
This funding has not only made possible the significant accomplishments already mentioned but it has also allowed Redeemer to reduce its debt from approximately $30 million in 2010 to $17.8 million in January 2019. The reduction in debt has placed Redeemer in a stronger financial position for the long term.
With a new Core curriculum, two centres and two academic programs launched and the university’s debt reduced, the past five years have made Redeemer’s Christ-centred education more impactful — and more sustainable.
The Redeemer 2020 Strategic Plan has, from 2014 to the present, been an ambitious endeavour of faith. It’s one of many in Redeemer’s history. An undeterred faithfulness to Redeemer’s mission goes right back to a rented schoolhouse on Beach Boulevard, to Redeemer’s own campus in Ancaster and to the name, Redeemer University College, that we know today.
“For nearly 40 years, Redeemer has prepared the next generation of Christians to bring the gospel’s transformative power to all kinds of careers and vocations,” says Dr. David Zietsma, vice president, external relations and enrolment. “That means graduates who are able to communicate, critique and lead in ways that reflect the hope of Jesus Christ — the best hope there is. Thanks to the Redeemer 2020 Strategic Plan, Redeemer will be able to continue this work for the next generation.”
While looking back, there’s also much to anticipate in what’s to come for Redeemer. “We’re proud of these accomplishments, but Redeemer’s mission is too vital and too important to stop now,” Zietsma continues. “As we wrap up the 2020 Strategic Plan over the coming academic year, we also look forward to the continued relevance and vitality that the next strategic plan will bring.”