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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Pensacola Christian College President Shoemaker is 'Keeper of the vision'

Written by Rob Johnson 11:53 PM, May. 16, 2012

Normally soft spoken, the new president of Pensacola Christian College was once heard by a colleague to yell.

The unusual outburst by Dr. Troy Shoemaker came as he jumped from a 75-foot-high bungee platform in Destin a few years ago.

“When he stepped off, he hollered my name,” said Jeff Redlin, a friend of Shoemaker’s and former PCC faculty member who also took the leap of faith for fun that day.

Shoemaker, 45, is a trusting soul who believes his life and career testify to the wisdom of God’s plan.

“The Lord has put me in just the right place at just the right time,” he said.

As a young man, Shoemaker’s personal dreams didn’t rise to the level of a college presidency

“I studied to be a science and math teacher, and that’s what I thought I would do the rest of my life,” he said.

But out of a possible in-house leadership pool of 16,600 Pensacola Christian graduates since the college opened in 1974, Shoemaker has emerged at the top.

Dr. Arlin Horton was president of PCC and his wife, Rebekah, was vice president since they founded the college until their retirement this month.

Through the years, they put the definitive stamp on every aspect of their academic institution and its two major campuses, the 3,800-student college and the 2,200-student Pensacola Christian Academy.

And that stamp is no less evident in their handpicking of Shoemaker as their successor.

“Over the years he became a depositary for the Hortons’ ideas,” said Dr. Phyllis Rand, chairwoman of the college’s education program. “They emptied into him everything that they thought.”

And they gradually gave him a share in just about every major area of responsibility.

For the past four years, Shoemaker has held three major positions at once: chief administrator of the academy, vice president and dean of graduate studies at the college, and chief academic officer for the international A Beka Academy long-distance learning program.

Shoemaker said that by next fall three people will be named to those jobs so he can focus on running the college.

His authority came bit by bit as the Hortons came to trust his ability and energy. He became the one administrator whom the couple met with almost daily for the last decade and a half, associates say.

“He just stood out as the one person able to take on so much responsibility,” said Amy Glenn, a PCC spokeswoman.

Maybe just as importantly, through it all, Shoemaker and the Hortons bonded.

“I think like they think,” he said.

Although Shoemaker said he doesn’t envision major changes at the college, he is quietly planning for a new era that may include a much larger student body.

He also has pursued academic accreditation from an outside organization — long shunned by the Hortons — that may make it easier for students to transfer PCC credits to other schools.

But he asserted in a recent interview there will be no compromising on the Hortons’ traditions.

“My greatest desire is for people to see in only the second president of Pensacola Christian College that the transition won’t change things for the worse,” he said.

“In other words, we won’t lose our foundation or Biblical connection. Times change, and morals and values often go in different directions. But I’d like to be the keeper of the vision at PCC.”

From student to president

Shoemaker’s legacy at PCC dates back to 1984, when he enrolled as a freshman.

While the school isn’t for everyone, Shoemaker found the Christian environment, with its traditional curriculum, rigid rules and tough-love discipline, an ideal extension of his childhood years.

He’s the son of a devout Indiana physician.

“My mom and dad were in church every time the doors opened,” he said.

He attended a small private Christian school in Northwest Indiana, where he heard about Pensacola Christian College and decided to enroll.

On the way to graduating from PCC with a bachelor’s degree in education in May 1989, he was honored by the faculty as teaching assistant of the year.

“Way back then, his teachers saw potential in him,” Rand said.

In the fall of 1989, he started teaching high school science at the academy, and he never left the employment of the Hortons.

While working full time, he took classes at night and during the summers to earn graduate degrees at PCC, including a doctorate in education.

Meanwhile, he also completed a graduate degree at the University of West Florida, receiving a specialist’s diploma in education, which is on a level between a master’s degree and doctorate.

Shoemaker’s exposure to higher education outside PCC’s fundamental religious approach hasn’t changed his beliefs.

He showed an easygoing manner when a reporter asked him to discuss his reasoning in rejecting the theory of evolution in PCC’s science classes and its other curriculum.

Indeed, he has made peace with the outside world in that regard, and he’s an effective spokesman for the creationism creed that underscores his institution.

“As a scientist and as a Christian, there’s no conflict with what the Bible teaches and a six-day literal creation as what’s stated in Genesis,” Shoemaker said. “Evolution is just a scientific theory. That’s all it is.”

Wife and family

Shoemaker also met his future wife, Denise, when both were students at PCC.

They have three children: Trey, 21, and Jessica, 19, are students at PCC; youngest son, Trevor, 17, is an 11th-grader at the academy.

The Shoemakers’ marriage affirms the Hortons’ philosophy that couples who are right for each other will find a way to work within PCC rules.

Those edicts include no physical contact, including hand holding, between unmarried students and off-campus dating only under the supervision of an approved chaperone.

“There is, in my opinion, no better place to find a spouse than here at Pensacola Christian College,” Shoemaker said.

“I’ve told my kids growing up and we’ve told our college students: ‘You be the right sort of person yourself and trust the Lord has got someone out there that’s he’s preparing to be your spouse. When the time is right he’ll bring you together.”

Shoemaker won’t change the button-down manner of carefully supervising student dating and intimacy because the current system is working.

“There’s a lot of people getting engaged at the beach,” he said. And beyond that, matrimony in droves, over the years: “You’re talking hundreds, thousands of students.”

A capacity to grow

An affable man who ventures from behind his desk to sit by a reporter, Shoemaker allows that his view of PCC is inevitably a bit different from the Hortons.

Partly, he thinks that results in having children in the school.

“My perspective, having children in school here myself, is valuable and that will be reflected in dealings with students, parents and faculty,” he said.

He’s seen as more approachable than his predecessor, too.

He’s more visible around campus than the aging Hortons were in recent years. For example, he has often played pickup basketball with other faculty members.

Shoemaker sees himself as more outgoing than Arlin Horton, up to a point.

“I don’t mind getting up in front of people and speaking, which he was somewhat reluctant to do,” he said. “But I don’t have a vision to be more of a public relations guy than Dr. Horton was. This ministry isn’t built around personality.”

Although growing the student body isn’t a specific goal for Shoemaker, he said he’d welcome larger enrollment.

“We have the capacity to grow in the facilities we already have,” he said, adding that PCC has never set a maximum number for students. “I would love to see the college grow. And if it’s the Lord’s will, we can grow to another 50 percent above what we are now.”

Such a gradual increase would raise PCC’s enrollment by 1,900 to 5,700.

“I think anyone who’s worth his salt and loves what he’s doing would want it to grow and be successful.” he said.

Accreditation steps

Shoemaker already has led the way in a departure from the Hortons’ decades-long policy of ignoring outside accrediting authorities.

They were concerned that accreditation could bring government interference to their very private campus.

The college and the academy have never accepted any federal or state loans or grants, nor do any of the students have such grants or loans.

But the Hortons had eased their objections lately.

So last fall, the school applied for and gained membership in a national accrediting organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools in Forest, Va.

“I had the privilege of spearheading that endeavor,” Shoemaker said.

Although the group’s seal of approval isn’t mainstream as seen by many public institutions, such as the University of West Florida, it’s a step in that direction.

It’s also an indicator of PCC’s increased desire for adaption to the world beyond its gates in part to make its credits easier for students to be accepted into post-graduate degree programs at other institutions.

“One of the first questions they get asked is if they’re from an accredited institution,” Shoemaker said.

Like the Hortons, Shoemaker also values PCC’s considerable recreational facilities, such as an ice skating rink and rock climbing tower.

He says he’ll expand on the Hortons’ legacy. But one amenity specifically not in the plans is a bungee tower.

If he wants to jump, he’ll return to Destin, as he already has two or three times, he said.

It’s reasonably handy yet far enough away so PCC students won’t hear the screams of their daredevil president in joyful free fall.

(Troy Shoemaker honors Arlin and Rebekah Horton during their retirement celebration.)

Dr. Troy Shoemaker

» Age: 45.
» Title: President of Pensacola Christian College, the second president since the college was founded in 1974.
» Family: Wife, Denise; three children.
» Education: Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education, PCC, 1989. Master’s degree in educational administration, PCC, 1994. Specialist in curriculum and instruction (a graduate degree that’s between a master’s and a doctorate), University of West Florida, 2001. Doctorate in curriculum and instruction, PCC, 2007.
» Career highlights: 22 years in teaching and leadership positions at PCC and at Pensacola Christian Academy. Concurrently spent 14 years as chief academic officer for A Beka Academy, the Hortons’ nationwide and international long-distance learning program.
» Hobbies: Pick-up basketball with faculty members. Occasional bungee jumping in Destin.

Pensacola Christian College

» Student enrollment: 3,800.
» Faculty: 444 full-time teachers and staff; 299 part time.
» Annual payroll: $27.6 million
» Annual revenue: $90 million.
Source: Pensacola Christian College

Shoemaker Career highlights:

22 years in teaching and leadership positions at PCC and at Pensacola Christian Academy. Concurrently spent 14 years as chief academic officer for A Beka Academy, the Hortons’ nationwide and international long-distance learning program.


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