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ESTAR: Milligan at 150

Star Photos / Brandon Hicks

This article originally appeared in the 5/10/15 edition of the ESTAR.


Milligan College has been educating Christian servant leaders since the 19th century, when Josephus Hopwood arrived with his wife on the campus of the Buffalo Male and Female Institute, which was founded in 1866.

When the Hopwoods came to Milligan in 1875, the campus was a single building on a 1-acre tract of land. The couple and their supporters worked to develop the institute into a college that would educate young people about the arts and sciences and teach them useful skills, all while helping them know and understand the teachings of the Bible. Today, the college perpetuates the legacy of the Hopwoods as it nears its sesquicentennial. With close to 1,200 enrolling in the fall, the school has increased its learning space and added new programs to meet its students’ ever-changing needs.

Does it fit the mission?

With a clear-cut mission of creating Christian servant leaders, Milligan’s administration gives potential new programs a lot of thought before putting them in place.

“We consider, first, is it a mission fit?” Milligan Vice President for Enrollment and Marketing Lee Fierbaugh said. “Then we ask, ‘Is there a market for it?’ Then, ‘Do we have the resources to support it?’” A few programs that have passed muster in recent years:

A bachelor’s degree nursing program was started in 1992, with its first class graduating in 1996.

Milligan launched its political science program two years ago.

A graphic design program, announced this year, will begin in the fall.

Add to those Milligan’s pending merger with Emmanuel Christian Seminary, a school that’s geographically close to the college and that isn’t too far away in its mission, either.

And up next: an engineering program, which will begin in 2016, followed by a physicians assistant program. “What we consistently see in a lot of the research is professional programs and health care and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) are hot areas right now,” Fierbaugh said. “Some of that is driven by job market.”


Top, Dr. Garland Young and Dr. Lee Fierbaugh stand on the balcony of Seeger Chapel, where the stage serves as the backdrop.Above, freshmen Lucia Saucedo and Maverick Summie enjoy lunch together outside of Seeger Chapel.At left, the Seeger Chapel steeple is an iconic landmark on the Milligan Campus.

College finds inspiration in its past as it works toward students’ futures. But it’s more than that, she said. “It’s more than just job prospects, more than just salary prospects,” Fierbaugh said. “This is something that is part of our mission — trying to help a student find their calling. What is it that they are called to do? Where are they gifted? How can God use that? How can they use that to minister to others, to be servant leaders?”

Emmanuel joins the fold

The seminary across the road from Milligan approached the college two years ago with the suggestion that the two institutions merge.

“Emmanuel was born on Milligan’s campus,” Dr. Garland Young, Milligan’s academic dean, said. “It has a heritage of around 50 years service in theological education.

But the school has “fallen on difficult times,” Young said, “making it increasingly difficult for Emmanuel to survive as free-standing seminary.”

The merger will be finalized July 1, Young said, making Emmanuel’s campus part of Milligan’s campus, where the seminary will become part of the college’s new School of Bible and Ministry.

The merger is an answer to Milligan’s prayers. The college has limited space for all the new programs it hopes to offer. Taking Emmanuel into the fold makes the seminary’s ample space available for other Milligan classes.

“The great thing about Emmanuel is that in addition to a fine faculty and a top-notch curriculum, it has wonderful facilities — underutilized facilities,” Young said. “It’s housed in a building designed for a student body several times its size.”

“Before the Emmanuel proposal came, we had been knocking around looking at other external locations,” he said. “Emmanuel has helped solve that. The merger will enable Emmanuel to gain a firmer financial footing and enable Milligan to get access to top notch facilities.”

Enter engineering

Milligan always looks for academic programs that build upon its existing curriculum and meets emerging market demands, Young said. “Engineering was always a candidate, but it’s very resourceintensive,” he said. “It takes a lot of space and a lot of equipment. Emmanuel has helped us solve this problem.” Milligan has been raising funds to develop new programs, including engineering, and oncethe merger with Emmanuel is complete, renovations can begin on facilities there, making room for engineering labs, faculty offices and additional classroom space.

“If we play our cards right, we will have room for the engineering program without displacing seminary classes taking place there now,” Young said.

The goal is to have the space ready for the engineering program’s first students in the fall of 2016, then to work toward meeting accreditation requirements, he said.

Young expects the program will produce engineers who “have a keen understanding of the world, our place in it and our obligations toward it,” he said. “We need engineers who understand culture, its history, its trajectory, so they can serve people. We will train and send out engineers who are going to be servant leaders and change agents in a Christian context.

Celebrating 150 years

Milligan will begin celebrating this momentous anniversary in October during the college’s homecoming week.

“The celebration will continue throughout 2016 and even into spring 2017,” Fierbaugh said. “A year ago, we began planning with a series of subcommittees planning different events.”

The college plans to host a variety of events over a period of many months, celebrating with activities that highlight its history and heritage, its fine arts, music and theater programs and athletics, she said.

“We more than likely will have a gala of some kind, as well as several things for alumni,” Fierbaugh said.


MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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