Alum Presented with Religious Freedom Award
On April 30, attorney Todd McFarland, ’97, was presented the Religious Freedom Jurist Award at the 18th annual Religious Liberty Dinner, which focused on Championing Freedom of Conscience for All. This dinner is sponsored by the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists and Liberty Magazine. “[It] is held to celebrate and bring attention to a central human right: the freedom of religion or belief” (Religious Liberty Dinner program, 2024).

For decades, McFarland has been working courageously and unrelentingly on religious liberty. He is the deputy general counsel to the Office of General Counsel for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and an advocate for religious freedom in the workplace. The recent court case Groff v. DeJoy has brought public awareness to an issue McFarland has been fighting against for years.

McFarlandBettina Krause, Liberty editor, introduced McFarland and Attorney Alan Reinach, the second recipient of the Religious Freedom Jurist Award, at the dinner. “[Their work on Groff v. DeJoy] brought an end to a quest that’s almost five decades long—a quest to hold America’s employers to a higher standard of accountability in how they respond to these requests for religious accommodation,” said Krause. “We are recognizing Todd and Alan for their untiring commitment to stand in the gap, for refusing to be silent, for fighting with their words and with their legal skills to right wrongs, and to represent men and women—of many different faiths—who’ve been forced into a choice between their religious convictions and their employment.”

Southern president Ken Shaw, ’80, EdD, received a special invitation to the dinner as a representative of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities’ board of directors. He was seated next to Senator Susan Collins from Maine, the keynote speaker for the evening.

Collins shared that she had been puzzled by the historical markers in her state that referred to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The associate director of the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department from the North American Division, Melissa Reid, explained to her that Ellen White, one of our church founders, lived in Maine. “The Senator spoke about Ellen White in very positive ways,” said Shaw. “Referring to the positive strides recently in religious liberty, she shared a timeless quote found in Christian Service, pages 100-101: ‘Every act, every deed of justice and mercy and benevolence, makes music in heaven.’” The senator also commended the church’s legacy of fighting for justice in religious liberty regardless of one’s religion.

-Staff Report

Marching Through History
When Kristen Shields, ’24, marched at graduation, she expanded an incredible legacy at Southern. It was 78 years ago that her grandmother, Ruby (Aikman) Shields, ’46, also walked across the stage to accept a diploma—the first person to do so at the newly minted Southern Missionary College.

ShieldsAikman, who studied history and English, was the first individual to graduate with a four-year degree from Southern. Southern Junior College was renamed Southern Missionary College in 1944 and became a senior college offering four-year degrees in the 1945-46 school year. In May 1946, the first baccalaureate degree was awarded, and Ruby Aikman, first in the alphabet in her class, was the person to receive it.

According to Aikman’s daughter-in-law, Sondra Shields, ’85, the small class was a pretty big deal. “One of the six members of Ruby’s class was Joe Crews, founder of Amazing Facts.”  

Aikman and her husband, Aubrey Shields, valued an Adventist education and especially Southern. All four of their children attended Southern. Kristen Shields is her second grandchild to graduate from Southern (Kristen’s cousin, Nathan Shields, ’03, was the first), and a third, Meagan, is currently attending.

Aikman passed away in September 2022 at the age of 98.

-Staff Report

Connecting Art and Faith at Southern’s Illuminate Conference
With a focus on exploring and celebrating the connections between art and faith, Southern Adventist University held a new two-day conference called Illuminate earlier this year. The event featured more than 30 presentations, performances, and workshops.

“We often compartmentalize these two areas of art and faith, but upon closer inspection, they frequently overlap and inform one another,” says Lucas Patterson, who coordinated the event. “The creative process—making something from nothing and caring deeply about the finished product being birthed into the world—offers a small but valuable glimpse into the mind and heart of our Creator. And when we look at art through a faith-based worldview, we see and respond to it differently than we might otherwise.”

Illuminate Conference 2024The lineup of session leaders and performers included musician Andrew Peterson, authors Douglas McKelvey and Karen Swallow Prior, PhD, and artist Ned Bustard, among others. Southern Adventist University professors, along with faculty from other local Christian colleges such as Lee University and Bryan College, presented on topics ranging from literature and music to visual art and film. In total, the event drew more than 300 attendees from at least 15 states.

Local artist Gina Graham attended Illuminate, noting that she had been praying for a way to make meaningful connections with other Christian creatives in the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area. Graham was grateful for the conference and the ways it highlighted the growth of the arts in Christian culture.

“God created me to create,” Graham says. “It’s my favorite way to worship Him, and it’s a winsome way to share Him with others. Regular art practice helps me process this world by daily drawing my soul toward design and beauty. Making art keeps me curious and helps measure growth amid serious struggles. Art helps me hope.”

Gabriella Grundy, senior business-public relations major at Southern, was interested in the presentation by Karen Swallow Prior titled “The Good Life in Great Books,” which highlighted how books can help people understand and relate to others in more meaningful ways. “In reading good books, we can find so many unique experiences and perspectives that can help us build upon our view of the world,” Grundy shares. “It made me think about a lot of my favorite books in a way that I haven’t really thought about them before. Sometimes I’m such a consumer, but there’s a lot of real-life truth that you can find about the human experience in books.”

This idea was echoed by Chehalis Eno, junior English major, who took away that literature not only helps readers learn about the human experience but opens the door to deepening connections with people. “Literature provides a really good backdrop for having important conversations about the world today,” she explains. “I went to several different sessions that dissected literature art. We used literature to have those conversations right there in the room. It was really, really cool.”

Event sponsors included ArtsBuild, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Mission Chattanooga, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, and Versacare Foundation. Southern plans to host more events like this in the future, and those who wish to receive updates can email illuminate@southern.eduto be added to a mailing list.

-by Becky Brooks, editorial manager

Shaw’s Snapshots Excerpts
Southern president Ken Shaw, ’80, EdD, regularly shares his experiences with Southern employees and President’s Circle members in the form of Shaw’s Snapshots. Enjoy some of the highlights from his recent notes:

It’s astonishing to reflect on the three years that have swiftly passed since my wife and I were called to join the Southern family. It has been an immense blessing to collaborate with such remarkable, God-fearing colleagues. With more than 35 years of experience in higher education, I can confidently affirm that there’s something truly exceptional here at Southern. The presence of the Holy Spirit is palpable, guiding us as we endeavor to shape lives for eternity.

A student, just three weeks away from graduation, requested a meeting with me to share her experiences at Southern over the past four years. We shared a meal in the Dining Hall and engaged in a delightful conversation. As we concluded our meal, I asked her about her most memorable experience. She promptly mentioned her LifeGroup, which she has been leading since her sophomore year. She expressed how their reflections on God’s work in their lives and their support for each other through university life made the LifeGroup unforgettable. At Southern, LifeGroups stand as a distinctive feature we can all take pride in. With 90+ LifeGroups and more than 1,000 participants, lives are being transformed through these connections.

We were honored to host the new president of Sahmyook University in Seoul, Korea, Haejong Je, and his wife on our campus. After a brief tour, we reaffirmed our universities’ commitment to fostering global connections and collaboration by renewing our memorandum of understanding. Specifically, the agreement allows our students to study at Sahmyook University and students from Sahmyook University to study here at Southern. 

Shaw's SnapshotsOn April 17, student Matthew Taylor invited Vice President for Student Development Dennis Negron and me to join him and co-host Genesis Gresham for an Ignite episode titled, “A Bigger Southern.” We shared plans for growth, facilities, and housing along with our anticipations for the new 2024-2025 academic year.

Legacy scholarship recipients Judah Brass, Alysson Coa, and Zabdi De La Cruz shared their testimonies on April 21 with members of the Legacy Society during an appreciation dinner. Their stories serve as a reminder that each student has a unique journey, further deepening our appreciation for our university’s impact. Following dinner, we enjoyed a lovely concert by our Symphony Orchestra in the church.

Dean of Computer Science Rick Halterman shared some exciting news: Southern’s computer science students swept the podium (1st, 2nd, and 3rd places) at this year’s SkillsUSA Tennessee state championships for web design and development. In June, the first-place winners, brothers Allen and Brandon Gustrowsky, will represent Southern at the national championship, defending the title they won last year.

In other uplifting news, I learned from the School of Nursing that all 42 winter semester associate degree graduates who took the NCLEX passed on their first attempts! I believe I heard some celebrating coming from AdventHealth Hall.

We have the incredible privilege and freedom of working for our Creator and Redeemer, fulfilling the calling He has placed upon each of us. With God’s blessings, we are making a profound difference in the lives of our students and our community.

-President Ken Shaw

Groundbreaking Views
Construction on the Ruth McKee School of Business has begun, and you can watch it in real time. Visit for a live webcam of the land where the new building is going up. Viewers may also enjoy glimpses of east Tennessee bird varieties. Thank you again to the many incredible donors who have made this possible for our 450+ business students. Enjoy seeing the progress!

Upcoming Events
Alumni Lunch at Carolina Camp Meeting | May 31
Join fellow alumni for a complimentary lunch, time to fellowship, and a chance to hear the latest news from Southern at Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center during the Carolina Camp Meeting on Friday, May 31, from 12-1 p.m. under the tent by the main auditorium at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina. RSVP at

Alumni Dessert Reception at Georgia-Cumberland Camp Meeting | June 1
Swing by for a tasty dessert and the opportunity to enjoy the creation art by Nathan Greene and our Origins Exhibit in Hickman Science Center on Southern’s campus on June 1 between 1-2:30 p.m. RSVP here.

Alumni Dessert Reception at Kentucky-Tennessee Camp Meeting | June 1
Swing by for a tasty dessert and the opportunity to reconnect with fellow alumni at the small tent by the Ray Hall administration building at Highland Academy in Portland, Tennessee, on June 1 between 1-3 p.m. RSVP here.

Academic Summer Camps | June 9-12
Southern is hosting camps for high school students in automotive repair, biology/pre-med, construction, culinary arts, filmmaking, history, photography, videography, and web development. For fees and other information or to register, visit or call 423.236.2807.

WELLkids | June 17-21, June 24-28, July 8-12, and July 15-19
Keep your kids moving and exploring the great outdoors this summer with “WELLkids in the Wild,” a day-camp program at Southern. Each week-long session offers outdoor adventures facilitated by the university’s Adventure Programming staff. Activities include rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, ropes course, caving, rafting, and more. Available for ages 10-16. Spots are limited, so don't wait! For fees and other information or to register, visit

ASI Booth 422 | July 31-August 3
Come by and see us in the Exhibit Hall during the ASI Ministries Convention at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Southern will have a booth with opportunities to connect, relax, and learn about what’s new on campus. Drop by booth 422.

Alumni Dessert Reception at ASI | August 3
Enjoy a tasty treat after lunch on Sabbath, August 3, at the ASI Ministries Convention. Stop by between 2-4 p.m. to reconnect with fellow alumni, visit with Southern team members, and enjoy a dessert. We’ll be located in the Orange County Convention Center, with room details to come. RSVP here.

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