A missile production control manager, a pastor, a consultant and an entrepreneur, Stephen James Higgins can now add college president to his resume.

Higgins recently took his seat as leader at Williamson Christian College in Cool Springs to expand the institution's circle of influence in the community and internationally, grow the college and the number of students enrolled and attract development dollars, according to Diane DelChiaro, director of marketing and student recruitment.

"We were looking for someone who had a handle on development and marketing, not so much academics - we have a strong [academic] dean, not so much business, and not really a pastor, but it all came with the package," said DelChiaro.

The son of a pastor and an elementary school teacher, and the youngest of four children, Higgins spent most of his childhood in Southern California where he learned the importance of education, maintaining Christian values and building relationships to break barriers.

"Growing up we had missionaries from all over the world coming into our house and they stayed with us," he said.

His childhood experiences and the stories missionaries told instilled a sense of wonder and adventure in young Higgins while his education at Hope International University, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Church Growth and Theology and a Master's degree in Church Growth and Statistics, opened his eyes to the world vision his parents introduced him to in his early years.

In the ministry for more than 24 years and a teacher for 10 years, just out of college Higgins worked as a missile production control manager at McDonnell Douglas before he embarked on a journey following in his father's footsteps and later, creating his own path. That journey began as the education pastor at Mission Viejo [California] Christian Church.

In 1989, after a time as pastor of church growth at Carmarillo [California] Christian Church, Higgins moved his wife Paula of now 31 years, whom he calls his barometer or his gauge and their four children to Akron, Ohio, where he planted Summit Community Christian church.

"That's where I learned all the business elements that help me today," he said. "Being a church leader you must be business-minded, as well."

He remained there as pastor for 12 years before moving to Colorado Springs as founder, CEO and consultant for the Briarwood Group where he consulted with nonprofits to teach English as a business language to Internationals and in developing countries.

"Instead of [teaching] English as a second language, teach it as a business language and really give a hand up," he said.

Higgins has also been a leader with the International Bible Society, now located in Nashville, Promise Keepers, and has developed English as a Second Language business programs around the world. As a consultant for several international ministries including founder & CEO of David Ministries, Higgins has created a network that will be helpful with his goals for Williamson Christian College.

With his wife's support, Higgins chose WCC because it would allow him a greater influence around the world.

"I wanted to get out of being a consultant. Here I can develop a team, gain strength from individuals and strengthen individuals. This has more lasting fruit," Higgins said. "Like in John 15, you want fruit that lasts. What we do will go beyond my days on this earth. This is not a personal legacy - it's building a legacy for a family."

Williamson Christian College's mission is to "facilitate a bachelor's degree-granting, nontraditional, higher education culture of excellence in which the Christian worldview permeates the process and adults will grow intellectually and spiritually."

It is not a Bible school, but every degree has a Bible core, said DelChiaro.

"As a college, we have to be relational driven, working actively in a Christian world view and academically demanding," Higgins added. "Dealing with [older] students who are coming to college for the first time or people who are going back to college, we need to encourage students; we have to become a little more Gumby-ish."

To accommodate the nontraditional student, the schedule at WCC is also nontraditional and professors come from the "real world" with business and real life experiences, he added.

"Christian influence in studies in most colleges has declined - ours has increased, so when we make decisions there is no gray. Gray doesn't work - it's just a shade of black."

Higgins said he already has creative program ideas that are practical, will improve the college's influence in the community and create more student interest. Some will be implemented soon and others within a couple years. A success with providing Internationals with English as a second language for business prompted him to offer the program at WCC to draw international students.

The school will soon offer a Bachelor of Science degree in nonprofit management and a universal Master's program in International Nonprofit Management to train nationals to run missionaries effectively, efficiently and "with sound business principles that are kingdom based."

In 2010, Higgins said the college would expand the Transformational Leadership to an online course that coincides with the Bachelor of Science program the college currently offers.

Three other programs added to the curriculum in 2010 include a bachelor's degrees in business management and ethics and another in leadership and ministry, as well as an associates degree in leadership.

Looking to the future, Higgins envisions the school working with churches to open virtual campuses all over the country - beginning with North Nashville. The virtual campus will combine online learning with a mentor-coach to develop the relationship to which Higgins is committed.

"On a virtual campus we don't have to pay for brick and mortar - we can put the money into the student," he said. "We take the college to where the students are. The downside of on online campus is there is no connectivity - no relationship. I want people to get to know each other and to get to know us. We don't know what tomorrow is - we want to make today great."

Carole Robinson can be contacted at crobinson@williamsonherald.com

© 2009 Williamson Herald

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