David Smith, PhD, has announced that he will retire in May 2021 at the conclusion of his fifth year as president of Southern. Smith has a long relationship with the institution, where he began teaching English in 1981, serving 17 years as professor and then department chair. His wife, Cherie, and two daughters are graduates of Southern.

“David’s passion for students and for spreading the love of Christ has inspired me,” said Tom Verrill, senior vice president for Financial Administration. “His presidency accomplished significant objectives that prepare us well for a strong and successful future.”

David Smith, PhDThese accomplishments include leading the rewrite of Southern’s mission, vision, and values; the development of a comprehensive strategic plan; and the emphasis on Southern’s endowment fund that experienced a $15 million increase as part of the recently completed Campaign for Excellence in Faith and learning.

“Grappling with enrollment, academic excellence, cultural competency, Christian integrity issues, and the COVID-19 pandemic have showcased Dr. David Smith’s commitment to the development of higher education within the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” said Ron Smith, PhD, DMin, chairman of Southern’s Board of Trustees and president of the Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. “I will miss his leadership and friendship.”

David Smith previously served as president of Union College in Nebraska and senior pastor of the Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists. Deeply committed to serving God and nurturing a Christ-centered environment on campus, as Southern president, Smith established a new leadership position, the vice president for Spiritual Life.

“David has been a visionary leader who has a great sense of humor, is a good listener, and asks good questions,” said Robert Young, PhD, senior vice president for Academic Administration. “He has also brought a spiritual credibility that is evidenced in his messages to campus, his prayer life, and his servant-leadership.”

Having made a five-year commitment to serve as president, Smith has peace about his decision as he finishes up his leadership at Southern and prepares for retirement.

“Southern Adventist University is God’s school,” Smith said. “Its future is in God’s hands, not our hands. If we humble ourselves, if we pray, and if we submit to His will, God will deliver the future He knows is best for us and for those we serve.”

The university’s Board of Trustees is dedicated to the nationwide search for Southern’s next president and hopes to have completed the process before Smith retires in 2021.

-Staff Report


Friday night vespers programs are, arguably, as critical to the Southern Experience as anything learned in lectures from even the best professors. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic turned both exercises in community upside down. But just as faculty and staff adjusted the academic components of higher education to comply with best practices in physical distancing, so too did those charged with shepherding the spiritual life of each student.

Tent VespersVespers. Historically, the campus church is home to a single, large vespers program. This fall, however, Southern moved its primary corporate worship activity outdoors for increased ventilation and to keep the sanctuary disinfected for Saturday morning services. Using grant funds, the university purchased an enormous tent (170’ x 70’) and equipped it with high-quality audio-visual equipment and folding chairs. Physical distancing complicates seating capacity, even with a space that size, so Southern hosts consecutive vespers programs each Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The tent is utilized for other worship services, as well, and even instructional purposes during the week.

Student Missions. After prayerful consideration, Southern decided to reduce Student Missions operations during the pandemic. This semester, there are 18 international student missionaries and 12 domestic student missionaries. Each international location has been approved by a specially appointed university task force, which reviews data relating to travel restrictions, evacuation possibilities, location-specific health risks, and location-specific healthcare capacities. Safety can never be guaranteed, but as it states on Southern’s Student Missions website, the call of Christ in Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples of all nations” is backed up by a promise: “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Life Groups. Weekly LifeGroups meetings are an integral way Southern’s campus family continues to pursue belonging and community—even amid the restrictions connected with COVID-19. Each of these small group studies are capped at 10 students per physical gathering; Zoom meetings and other online options carry no set capacity. Southern has purchased additional outdoor seating on campus to encourage fresh-air meetings, whenever possible.

Community Service. Leaders are cautiously and faithfully partnering with local organizations that can provide a safe and enriching environment for students to help community members in need. Joseph Khabbaz, vice president for Spiritual Life, said, “COVID-19 has certainly disrupted our outreach ministry, but the needs of our community have not changed—in fact, they have intensified! The Chaplain’s Office sees this as an opportunity for students and employees to live out their faith in Jesus by loving their neighbors well.”

Before students came back to Southern for classes this fall, employees spent an uplifting Friday night participating in a campus Prayer Walk. They stopped at each building to ask for God’s blessing and protection during the uncertain months ahead. As the first half of the semester has progressed and case numbers on campus have remained low, it’s clear that alumni and friends have also made divine petitions on Southern’s behalf. Please continue to keep the university in your prayers.

-Staff Report


Southern celebrated national Constitution Week, September 17-23, through events that recognized the five freedoms of the First Amendment to the Constitution: religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly.

The School of Social Work and the School of Journalism and Communication collaborated with Stephanie Guster, senior advisor for diversity, to encourage voter registration, civic engagement, and civil dialogue on campus. The week included a march to commemorate 100 years of women’s right to vote, as well as a virtual town hall meeting and a spoken-word contest highlighting these five individual and collective constitutional freedoms.

Five Freedoms“These events gave me a personal appreciation for how interconnected the five freedoms are in the First Amendment,” Guster said. “I believe that one of the things that college students almost unanimously appreciate is the exhilaration of freedom! There’s nothing like the prerogative as a citizen to make your own choices and decide what is important to you and why. But if college students aren’t aware of their freedoms, they may not recognize the power they hold to impact change all around them.”

Southern Votes, a student-led, nonpartisan voter engagement program, set up booths to provide students with information about how to register and vote in their individual states.

“College students are becoming more and more vocal about what they believe and outspoken about who they support or don’t support,” said Xavier Snyder, junior history major and director of Southern Votes. “It’s important that they have the information they need to vote and express their opinions in one of America’s most powerful ways—at the ballot box.”

-by Madison Reinschmidt, sophomore mass communication major

This year, Southern’s Enactus team launched the Marketing Kit Tools (MRKT) project. Students from the School of Business, which houses the innovation-driven student organization, have reached out to local businesses that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and recent tornados.

“After doing our research to see what small businesses needed, we came up with two solutions,” said Iliana Dialectakis, junior finance major and one of the MRKT project managers. “First, marketing support; and second, capital. As college students, we felt we could provide help in marketing.”

Dialectakis, along with Kerby Desamour, junior business administration major and MRKT’s other project manager, have been working with eight fellow Enactus members to focus specifically on digital marketing because of its heightened importance during the pandemic.

The team first client was the Adventist Muslim Friendship Association (AMFA), an organization that supports refugee immigrants. Through MRKT, students coordinated a video interview with a doctor, who provided the organization with instructions on how to deal with COVID-19. The students also organized photo shoots to provide AMFA with a collection of quality images for defining and promoting its brand.

Enactus TeamOne of AMFA's projects is a women’s sewing group called Peace of Thread, which gives refugees an avenue for income through making and selling purses and now face masks. The Enactus students have helped Peace of Thread establish a social media presence, improve its website design, make business cards, and create stores on Etsy and Facebook Marketplace.

To help meet client goals, MRKT has partnered with Touch Marketing Solutions, a company established by Southern business alum Kristi Jensen, ’20, to support digital marketing efforts. This additional resource in MRKT’s toolbox helps to fill in the gaps with services that Enactus may not be able to provide.

“Digital marketing is not a one-size-fits-all system,” Jensen said. “We strive to create a marketing strategy that reflects the needs and personalities of each company with whom we work.”

The MRKT project team is actively searching for additional businesses to equip with the resources needed to recover and be successful.

“We want to help them learn how everything works and then, once they’re ready to go forward on their own, they’ll know exactly what to do,” Desamour said. “The primary point of this project is just to help those in need.”

-by Trisney Bocala, junior mass communication major


Southern's annual golf tournament—a four-person scramble, three-flight event—will be held at Bear Trace in Harrison, Tennessee, on November 1. The driving range opens at 7 a.m. with play beginning at 8 a.m. Proceeds support the Dave Cress Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund, which provides tuition assistance for Southern students.

Golf TournamentNew features for the 2020 tournament include Putt with the President and a Class Cup competition for teams comprised of players from the same graduation affinity year.

“We look forward to seeing everyone out at Bear Trace to support our university and its students,” said Eric Dunkel, ’99, senior president for the Alumni Council.

Precautions will be in place to help ensure the health and safety of golfers, university volunteers, and course staff. Visit for details and to register. Information about additional, virtual events during Homecoming Weekend is available online.

-Staff Report

alumni highlights

Southern is excited to exhibit a variety of paintings by alum and former trustee Tim Bainum, ’70, MD. The collection is housed on McKee Library’s second floor through May 2021.

Bainum began his journey as an artist at age 10, when he first painted with oils. He learned several techniques from his great-aunts, who were talented, self-taught landscape artists. His interest in art further developed during his time at Southern; while pursuing his pre-med degree, he took art appreciation and ceramics classes as electives, and he thoroughly enjoyed learning about art history. 

Tim Bainum ArtworkAlthough medical school, marriage, and work contributed to a lengthy pause in his artistic pursuits, Bainum began painting again in 2000 utilizing acrylics. For the last four years, he has taken art lessons twice a week, and fast-drying oils and watercolors have become his medium of choice. His palette is often violets, blues, and colors of the sunset, and he draws much inspiration from the landscapes he encounters living along the Caddo River in southwest Arkansas. 

“We are grateful for Dr. Bainum’s willingness to give back to campus and share his talents with the Southern family,” said Ashley (Noonan) Fox, ’15, assistant director for Alumni Relations. “This example of how he rediscovered a passion from the past encourages students to continue to search for calling and explore their God-given talents—even outside their major.”

Southern’s Alumni Relations office nurtures that ongoing pursuit of knowledge among graduates and attendees through a variety of support mechanisms. It offers complimentary access to Career Services and McKee Library, as well as an application fee waiver for graduate school at the university. In addition, Southern recently launched its Alumni Learning Portal, which hosts selected webinars and other online events geared toward personal and professional growth. For more information, call 423.236.2830 or email

-Staff Report

After graduating from Southern in 1990, Todd Fletcher moved thousands of miles west to begin his first job in long term health care management at a facility in Southern California. Fletcher has advanced within his field for the past 30 years and is returning to Tennessee in a homecoming of sorts as the newly appointed president for Life Care Centers of America (LCCA), the country’s largest privately-owned nursing home company.

Stephanie Sheehan, PhD, dean for the School of Business, takes great pride in witnessing Fletcher’s success.

“This is especially meaningful to the School of Business, as Todd will be at the helm of the company that helped found our Health Services and Senior Living Administration program,” Sheehan said. “We are confident he will lead well and make meaningful contributions to the continued success of LCCA, as well as to the entire industry.”

Todd FletcherFletcher’s considerable appointment was recently highlighted in a full article by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

LCCA, headquartered in Cleveland, Tennessee, operates or manages more than 250 skilled nursing, rehabilitation, Alzheimer’s, and senior living campuses in 28 states. Southern has a rich history of collaboration with the company, including systematic placement of student interns and alumni who have held a variety of administrative roles. In fact, for more than 20 years LCCA has invited current and future business students considering this line of work to its corporate office for a personal tour, lunch, and the opportunity to learn from those in various leadership positions.

Southern offers a Bachelor of Business Administration in Health Services and Senior Living Administration—the first program of its type to be accredited by the National Association of Long Term Care Administrator Boards, and the only accredited program in Tennessee—and is well positioned to support future demand for employees in the field. The university assists students pursuing this major with endowment funds that help offset tuition and cover registration fees at industry conferences. For more information about the degree, call 423.236.2680 or email Southern’s School of Business.

-Staff Report

Virtual Homecoming Weekend 2020. October 29 to November 1. Many exciting activities are being planned for you to celebrate meaningful milestones and connections with former classmates and professors. The Alumni Golf Tournament is the only in-person event scheduled as part of the festivities. For more information, visit or call 423.236.2830.

Symphony Orchestra Online Concert. November 8 at 7:30 p.m. (live online).With Laurie Redmer Cadwallader conducting, Southern’s Symphony Orchestra will perform for a live broadcast at


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