New President Eyes a First for Kuyper College

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

Patricia HarrisDr. Patricia Harris: “It’s obviously a challenge but God will be glorified and our students will flourish.” When Dr. Patricia "Patti" Harris becomes Kuyper College's fifth president Oct. 12, it will mark a milestone in the school's 78-year history.

Harris also will become the first female to helm the school — or perhaps not.

According to Harris, who's been Kuyper's provost since 2013, that distinction should go to Johanna Timmer, who founded the newly formed Reformed Bible Institute in 1939 — later renamed Reformed Bible College and now Kuyper College.

School head, not president

"She was selected to be the school head," Harris said of Timmer who, before founding Kuyper College, was hired as Calvin College's first female faculty member, teaching English and German, as well as dean of women.

"She did fundraising, she signed diplomas but she was never given the title president," Harris said of Timmer. "I look back at her and say that's the root of this school, and that was key at the start of this college almost 80 years ago.

"It was the desire of those in the Reformed Church and Christian Reformed Church to have a training center for women who could not be ordained at that time and for men who were looking for lay ministry training, but were not going to go seminary, to have a place of training."

Flourishing and thriving

To be sure, Kuyper College's Reformed biblical roots have remained firmly planted in the ensuing years and Harris intends to till its educational soil so the college remains fertile for its students to advance God's kingdom.

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"I see success as more of the idea of flourishing where you find yourself in a place where God has fitted you with skills and opportunities and experience so you can thrive and help others to thrive and sometimes those can be very difficult places," said Harris.

"I realize realistically stepping into this position as president is a challenge, with what other Christian colleges are facing and success isn't necessarily going to reach the top," she continued, "but to help our students flourish in doing what God has called them to do and advancing God's kingdom."

A first

Kuyper College is located in a woodsy 45-acrea campus at 3333 East Beltline NE. It has a student enrollment of about 200.

The college is Reformed in its theology but is not affiliated with a denomination. It offers bachelor and associate degrees in a variety of professional and ministry fields, or what Harris describes as its three hubs: ministry leadership, social work and business leadership.

She has her eye on a first for Kuyper: a master's of ministry as well as increasing the college's online presence.

"We're looking at increasing our modality programs, so increasing our online presence and looking at some new programs even at the master's level," said Harris. "We're looking at a master's of ministry course which would really help our grads as well who are not ordained pastors but all of them are youth pastors and just want to amp up their training. All of this is practiced based because all of our students have internships with whatever program they are in. All of our faculty have been practitioners or continue to be."

Varied experience

Harris, 58, holds a doctorate in education from George Fox University, a master of theological studies from Calvin Theological Seminary, and a B.A. in elementary education from Calvin College. Harris and her husband, of 36 years, Rev. Robert Harris, are the parents of one daughter and three sons.

Her background in education and ministry is varied.

Prior to Kuyper, she spent 15 years in cross-cultural mission work in the Philippines with Christian Reformed World Missions, in partnership with Asian Theological Seminary in Manila. During that time, in addition to her responsibilities as a professor of biblical studies and Christian education, Harris also served as deputy officer in charge and vice president of administration at the seminary.

She acknowledges there was no big-picture planning on her part to become Kuyper's next president.

"I didn't grow up saying I want to be a college president," she said. "It's more like I did this for a time and did this for a time. I look at this and say it's an incredible opportunity. It's obviously a challenge but God will be glorified and our students will flourish."

40th reunion brings 'a lot of life'

Harris recently attended her 40th class reunion from Grand Rapids Christian High School. The gathering was an opportunity to note that her former classmates are at a juncture in their lives where it's no longer about showboating how successful they've become.

"It was neat to see where people are at and to see the pain they've been through," said Harris. "Forty years brings a lot of life and challenges and at 40 years, you're not at a point where you're trying to impress people but catch me up where life is."


Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
Author: Paul R. KopenkoskeyWebsite:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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