Colin Wilborn is the executive dean for the Mayborn College of Health Sciences at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. He is a member of First Baptist Church in Belton. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on Christian higher education. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.
Where else have you served, and what were your positions there?
I have spent my entire academic career—almost 14 years—at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. I have served as a professor in exercise and sport science, a graduate program director, a professor in physical therapy, and the dean of the Graduate School and research, and am the executive dean for the Mayborn College of Health Sciences.
Where did you grow up?
How did you come to faith in Christ?
I was raised in a Christian home and can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know Jesus was the way, the truth and the life.
I accepted Christ as my Savior at a very young age; however, at around 21 years old, I realized I was not walking with Jesus as we are called to do. I chose to rededicate my life to Christ and was baptized. It is hard to believe that was 20 years ago.
I still am growing, learning and, unfortunately, fall short in my faith at times, yet I am reminded daily of God’s promise of salvation and his forgiveness.
Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?
• Bachelor of Science in exercise and sport science from University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
• Master of Science in Education in exercise physiology from Baylor University
• Ph.D. in exercise, nutrition and preventive health from Baylor
Why do you feel called into education?
When I graduated from UMHB, I wanted to become a strength and conditioning coach. I applied for an assistantship at Baylor in strength and conditioning and did not get the position. Instead, I was offered an assistantship to teach. After my first year of teaching, I realized I was called to teach and would spend my career in Christian higher education.
How does being a Christian influence your work in education?
Being a Christian absolutely influences everything I do. In higher education, we have the opportunity to invest in and impact the lives of our students. As an educator, my faith in Christ influences the way I teach, the way I lead and where I go when seeking wisdom and discernment.
I am blessed to serve in Christian higher education and at an institution that stands firm on biblical truth. I am given the opportunity each day in my job to pray with students and faculty, talk openly about seeking wisdom from God as we make important decisions, and trust in the promises of the Lord and that his way and his timing are perfect always.
What is your favorite aspect of education? Why?
Having the opportunity to invest in the lives of students, faculty and staff of the Mayborn College of Health Sciences. Higher education is about the students. Their lives and futures are our focus. Having the opportunity to teach them about a particular discipline, leadership or life in general is an enormous gift. Teaching them to believe in themselves and the power they have to never give up and persevere brings me the greatest joy.
What one aspect of education gives you the greatest joy?
Graduation day! I absolutely love graduation day. To see students year after year achieve what they set out to achieve—often overcoming many difficulties to do it—is incredibly rewarding as an educator and administrator. It usually is a bittersweet day for me, seeing so many students I have spent years building a relationship with moving on to the next chapter of their lives. Despite that, the joy I feel watching them walk across the stage is one of the greatest joys of my life.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to social restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic, in-person graduations have been postponed, rescheduled or canceled at schools at all levels around the world.
What is your favorite class to teach? Why?
Nutrition is my favorite subject. Nutrition and exercise are two topics that have some relative interest to most people, yet the misinformation put out on social media, in books and in magazines is enormous. I love having the opportunity to teach the next generation of students the truth about nutrition and what food does for you and to you.
How has your place in education or your perspective on education changed?
Well, I certainly see it from a different perspective now as a full-time administrator than I did as a full-time faculty member.
As a full-time faculty member, I was worried only with the students in my classes. Now I think about the more than 1,200 students in the six units of the Mayborn College of Health Sciences. I think about how all of the decisions we make within the university impacts each of their lives. I think about how new programs may influence even more students and what kind of impact those students will have on our community, state and world.
Further, I think more about the integration of faith into our college or into specific programs, as opposed to just my classes. Education is an opportunity, not just to learn about English, math or exercise science, but a chance to learn about life, leadership, service and purpose.
What is the impact of education on your family?
After 43 years, I literally can say I have been in education for over 90 percent of my life. I married shortly after graduating from college almost 20 years ago. I was in graduate school during the early part of my marriage, followed by 14 years in higher education. In that time, we have had two children who know nothing other than our life at UMHB.
It is almost impossible to articulate the impact higher education and UMHB have had on my family; it is all we know. UMHB is our extended family. The people I work with are my best friends, and many of my students over the years have become like part of my family.
What did you learn on the job you wish you learned elsewhere?
My biggest mistakes have been made whenever I lacked humility or was thinking about myself and not others. Most often, I didn’t even realize what I was doing was self-serving or lacked humility, but in reflection, I realize it was.
In this position, I have learned to put others before myself and to do nothing out of selfish motivation. I am certain I still fail at this from time to time, but I sure wish I had learned this lesson earlier in life.
If you could get one “do over” in education, what would it be, and why?
I generally believe even our mess-ups or mistakes help form us and teach us; so, I am not big on regrets, but more about opportunities to learn. However, I wish I had learned about the kind of impact we can have on students. I think I would have taken more time or shown more grace in past situations.
Why are you Baptist?
I was raised mostly in a Catholic church but spent some time in a Methodist church as a child. When I was in high school, I began attending a Baptist church because many of my friends went there. Early in college, I was baptized in a Baptist church and became a member. I have been a Baptist now for more than 20 years. Baptist doctrine and distinctives align with my beliefs about biblical truth.
Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?
I have had several mentors in different areas of my life.
Both of my parents had a significant impact on my faith and work ethic. My mom is as strong in the faith as anyone I have ever known. She has had the biggest impact in my life on my faith in Jesus. My dad was the hardest worker I had ever seen. He was always first in and last out and was not going to be outworked by anyone. I try to emulate them both.
In terms of a true mentor, I have had the same person mentor me in three different arenas of higher education. As a student at UMHB, the best professor I had was Cliffa Foster, who taught my class on leadership and was the department chair, took me under her wing and taught me many valuable lessons in and out of the classroom.
She hired me at UMHB for my first academic job and immediately put me in a leadership position. Four years later, I became dean of the Graduate School, in large part due to her recommendation. Even after I became the executive dean of the Mayborn College of Health Sciences, she continues to provide me with wise counsel, love, support and direct feedback.
Dr. Foster has taught me three important lessons.
1. Have hard conversations. People deserve to know where they stand, and sometimes that results in having a tough conversation, but it always is the right thing to do.
2. Get to know your personnel. It always is about the people. Treat everyone—in and out of your unit—with the same respect. Know the names of the support staff, housekeeping, food services and anyone else who plays an equally important role in making the wheels of a university turn.
3. Be relentless in the pursuit of excellence.
What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?
James 1: 2-4. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
To me, this simple verse says so much and can have such a profound impact on us. James was writing this to fellow believers. There are three things in this passage that have greatly impacted my life: (1) consider it joy when you face trials, (2) these tests of faith produce perseverance, and (3) perseverance is necessary to become who God wants us to be.
Learning and understanding this passage has changed completely the way I approach or handle difficulties, trials or hurt. I now see challenging moments as opportunities to grow and become more like the person God has called me to be.