Norma Hedin: ‘True educators teach to change lives’

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Norma Hedin has been the provost—chief academic officer—of Dallas Baptist University since 2018 and is a member of Matthew Road Baptist Church in Grand Prairie. From deep in the heart of one Texan, she shares her 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 served at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as a professor of foundations of education from 1990 to 2006. During several of those years, I also served as associate dean in the School of Educational Ministries.

I served B.H. Carroll Theological Institute as a fellow in the Christian education area from 2007 to 2016. After several years, I moved into the role of senior fellow of the ministry and formation cluster, providing academic leadership for degrees in Christian education, counseling and age-group ministry.

I joined Dallas Baptist University full-time in July 2016 as vice president of executive affairs.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the hills of East Tennessee, in the small town of Elizabethton.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

I learned about Jesus from my Sunday school teachers and Vacation Bible School teachers at Biltmore Baptist Church in Elizabethton. I knew the Bible stories, and I knew about Jesus, but when I was 9, I realized I was responsible to respond to the saving work of Jesus Christ personally. I “went forward” during the invitation, but it was in response to what I had learned from my years in Sunday school. I knew from that moment I wanted to follow Jesus all of my days.

My faith development also was shaped by Christian camps and youth and music ministries led by lay leaders. I sensed a call to vocational ministry while serving as a summer camp counselor, where I met college students attending Christian colleges. God used their encouragement to turn my heart toward a Christian college to study Christian education.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Education from Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. I earned both the Master of Arts in Religious Education and Ph.D. in Foundations of Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. During my first sabbatical, I completed some post-doctoral work in higher education and research at the University of North Texas.

About education

Why do you feel called into education?

True educators teach to change lives, and changed lives impact the next generation. The things I learned from teachers at every level and in every context were life-changing for me. My years in college were transformative, and the power of a Christian college to alter completely the course of someone’s life is my story.

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While my initial call to ministry was to help churches make disciples, my major professor at Bryan College encouraged me to go to seminary and consider college teaching as a vocation. Once I received seminary training and was given the opportunity to teach in a classroom, I was hooked.

Much to my surprise, after receiving my doctorate, I was invited to stay at Southwestern and teach. For most of my vocational life, I have served in theological education with a clear call to help those called to lead in churches like my little church in Tennessee to prepare those Sunday School teachers, youth ministers and children’s teachers better to do what God has called them to do.

It took some time to embrace the fact I had other gifts and abilities related to teaching. God provided opportunities to develop curriculum and work with and lead committees, gradually adding to my experiences.

At Dallas Baptist University, I have the joy of providing leadership for and working alongside individuals and teams who are committed completely to the mission of providing Christ-centered, quality, higher education that integrates faith and learning so students will become servant leaders in their vocations. In some ways, I have come full circle—back to a Christian college like the one God used to change the trajectory of my life.

I believe God’s call is open-ended. As a Christ-follower, I want to say, “Yes,” to him in every season. Every season thus far has been in higher education where my experience and training allow me to serve best.

How does being a Christian influence your work in education?

Because we are Christ-followers, we take our redeemed selves with us into our classrooms and into our work. That does not mean we are perfect, but it does mean we have access to supernatural wisdom and insight God provides as we consider the needs of our students, the needs of our colleagues, and the plans God has for our contexts.

One of the questions we always ask of candidates who want to work at DBU is, “Do you feel called to DBU?” The work is challenging, but if we are called to it, we know it is the race we are to run to the very best of our abilities.

What is your favorite aspect of education? Why?

One of my favorite aspects of education is observing former students being faithful to follow Christ and impact the world for eternity.

At this stage of life and ministry, I often read about, hear about or run into a former student and have the joy of realizing he or she was a student of mine. I pause to thank God he allowed me to walk with them for a brief time in their journey, and now I get to see what God is doing through their “yes” to God’s call.

What one aspect of education gives you the greatest joy?

The classroom and the relationships and the learning that take place there bring me the greatest joy. Over the past ten years or so, I have also grown to love research and the process of guiding students as they become researchers, so they can discover new knowledge and contribute to their disciplines.

What is your favorite class to teach? Why?

Over the years, my favorite class to teach was the History of Biblical Education. Looking at the Bible through the lens of God as educator is enlightening, and it is amazing to see how God provided individuals, institutions and educational methods and models to fit the needs of the people and the culture to address challenges of the day.

Currently, I teach research seminars in our Ph.D. program, and I love teaching the final seminar in which students plan their research for their dissertations. As a life-long learner, I enjoy learning from them as they investigate new topics and ideas.

How do you expect education to change in the next 10 to 20 years?

Learning technology has moved to front and center over the past year. Christian educators traditionally have been late adopters to technology for learning. The pandemic forever has changed our perspectives about what quality education should look like, but it also has reassured us that personal connections matter. Finding ways to use technology while also embracing our need for personal—and in-person—connections will be important.

With basic knowledge and information about anything right at our fingertips, we also will need to find ways to challenge and teach students to think more deeply and critically about the information they access.

We also expect increased accountability for learning outcomes and conversations about affordability will require streamlining of offerings and partnerships with like-minded institutions and organizations in the future.

Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing education.

• The focus of job placement over true education for life.
• Addressing the mental health issues of students.
• The external forces attempting to challenge Christian values and principles.

What do you wish more people knew about education?

I wish parents and students recognized most professors teach because they really care about their students. I am overwhelmed at times by the lengths our professors will go to help students.

I also wish there was a deeper understanding of the process of growth and transformation and an appreciation for the time it takes to allow God truly to shape and form a student.

What is the impact of education on your family?

Although my parents did not have college degrees, they encouraged us to do our best in school. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. My younger sister completed her degree, as well. She served for decades as a special education teacher.

My husband and I met at Bryan College, and we have two amazing daughters, Kirsten and Kayla. They are very different, and my own studies in teaching and learning helped me to appreciate the differences in them and to support them in the ways God created them to learn. Some might think they would be pressured to achieve or follow in my footsteps, but I hope as a mom and an educator, I encouraged them to find their own path, one at Texas A&M and the University of Texas Medical Branch and the other at Ouachita Baptist University and DBU. They will tell you it never was an option for them not to attend college.

About Baptists

Why are you Baptist?

Because I embrace the doctrines of the Baptist faith. I hold dear the authority of Scripture, the freedom to select our own leaders in our churches, the freedom to be in relationship with God directly, and other tenets I learned from my childhood.

What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?

• Political differences that filter into relationships and values.
• Social and racial issues that divide congregations and the denomination.

What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?

I would reduce the amount of time we spend on internal struggles and focus more time on reaching the world for Christ.

About Norma

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

Many of my mentors were teachers or professors, which is another reason I love education.

Brian Richardson at Bryan College planted the seed and provided the encouragement to continue academic study.

When I was a new professor, my colleagues at Southwestern Seminary—including Budd Smith, Daryl Eldridge and Rick Yount—encouraged me to take on leadership roles and provided support all along the way.

The senior fellows at B.H. Carroll Theological Institute brought me into the executive leadership circle and never once caused me to question my ability to be there.

Gail Linam, Karen Bullock and Sue Kavli have been “peer mentors” to me as we served together as female professors and leaders over the years.

Personally, our dear friends Jack and Marilyn Thomas were formal and informal mentors to my husband and me in our early years of marriage and throughout our married life. Their love for God, love for each other and love for life has been a constant encouragement.

What did you learn on the job you wish you learned elsewhere?

I wish I had more formal study of leadership earlier in my career, but since it is a relatively new field of study, it was not a part of my training. I am still learning leadership “on the job.”

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

When we were graduating from Bryan College, we were asked to select a “life’s verse” to share at graduation. The verses I chose are still my favorite:

“Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and besides thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my life, and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:25-28 NASB77).

This passage always reminds me my eternal home is in heaven, and although I may fail here on earth, God himself is all I need.

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