From Welcome Week to Welcome on Staff

Lisa Downs helps students see who they are in Christ while providing a fun college experience. 

By Sarah A. Moser


Root Beer Fest. White Light. Welcome Week. Thrift Store Prom. Homecoming bonfire. If those events ring a bell—and bring a smile to your face—know that Lisa Downs, Director of Student Life, had a hand in them. At least those that occurred in the last 24 years. Many of these events predate Downs’ 1988 arrival onto campus but their popularity remains. And Downs credits those early activities with helping her acclimate to and fall in love with MNU.

Downs’s dad, an Olivet alum, served as a Nazarene pastor in New Castle, Ind. Her sister, Mona Downs (‘89), chose MNU. Downs had a choice to make; throughout her senior year, she felt God urging her to call MNU home. She enrolled in elementary education, something she’d dreamed of since she was a child. 

“My sister was a senior my freshman year, and she told me to do everything I could, to get involved,” says Downs. “I went to almost every event and tried to soak it all in.”

After attending public schools, coming to a place of Christian higher education was a shock to Downs—in a good way. “The first day, I sat in professor Larry Haffey’s computer class and he opened by sharing a devotional,” she says. “I thought, ‘whoa, this is awesome!’ I felt like I was in an environment where my faith would be nurtured and I could grow. I knew I belonged here.”

Downs quickly realized that the college years are a vital time during which students learn what their faith looks like, whether they will make their parents’ faith their own or walk away. They figure out what kind of person they will be, and attending a Christian school makes that transition much better. 

“At MNU, the professors, faculty, and staff invested and prayed with me, talking about life, not necessarily just classwork,” she says. 

She shares how one day she was studying for a final exam at Perkins with another student when a professor she didn’t know greeted them, then took their ticket. She watched him do the same at a few other students’ tables and pay for their meals. 

“His kindness made such a huge impact on me,” says Downs. “That was the first time he met me, and after that he knew my name and connected with me on campus. I remember thinking that’s what I want to do for others.”

A new calling
The elementary education major who played school with her stuffed animals as a child spent six years teaching in the St. Louis area following her 1992 MNU graduation. She and her sister shared an apartment, got involved in a local church, and, as she says, had a blast doing life together. During that sixth year of teaching, she started to feel God tugging on her heart to move in a different direction, though she didn’t immediately know where.

Then one day her sister got a call from Dennis Troyer, Director of Nazarene Recruitment, offering her a job on the MNU admissions team. Mona declined but suggested Troyer speak with Downs. Four days and two interviews later, Downs accepted the admissions counselor position. 

“I called my dad, a pastor, and asked him whether things like this happen if it’s not a God thing,” says Downs. “He said usually not that fast. I felt like that’s what God had been preparing me for during the previous year. I had always wanted to come back and work in the place that had made such an impact on me. Little did I know, I’d still be here 24 years later. It’s been a good career change for me. I knew this was what God wanted me to do.”

Paying it forward
After 17 years in the admissions department, Downs took a job as the Director of Student Life. Her role includes working with the student government (ASG) to plan campus events, including fan zones at games, welcome week, and more. She works with nine students every week to plan these events.

“More than that, I mentor these students and help them with leadership skills, learning what it means to be a Godly leader,” she says. 

In this role, Downs remembers that professor who paid for students’ meals at Perkins all those years ago. She sees her job here as a chance to pay it forward to students and let them see that Jesus loves them and that people care and want them to grow spiritually. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to come back. I don’t do any of this for myself, but to glorify God,” she says. “The most important reason we are here at MNU is not for an education or to get a job, though that’s important, but it is to see who God is and experience Him.”

Making space for a new generation
A common theme for alums returning to campus as a staff or faculty member is the odd feeling of working alongside those who knew you as a student. For Downs, it was joining the team with Dennis Miller and Dennis Troyer—her admissions counselors. She said she quickly worked through those feelings and now she is the one seeing former students come back to MNU as staff members. 

To ease the struggle, she welcomes them with a handshake and a hearty, “Hello, colleague!”. “It lets them know I welcome them as a co-worker, not as a student, setting the tone for their new role,” she says.

“There are a lot of alumni working here on campus; everywhere you turn you see someone with a connection to the school,” she says. “Like me, alums return because of the impact the people of MNU had on their lives and now they want to make an impact on a new crop of students.”



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