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For Such A Time As This

Rendering of Cunningham Student Center
Magazine Accent Winter 2019
Rendering of Cunningham Student Center

MNU must raise $11 million in one year to meet grant challenge.

On January 8, 2019, the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation awarded MNU a $1 million challenge grant toward the funding of a new student center. To receive the grant, the university now must raise the final $11 million by January 8, 2020, to complete the building. The Cunningham Student Center, centerpiece of MNU’s Bright Futures campaign and a new hub of student engagement will contain flexible dining space, areas for collaboration, learning, conversation, recreation, meeting and fitness. The building will replace the 52-year-old Campus Center, while elevating the student experience at MNU.

Campus renderings from different angles


The Cunningham Student Center

It was only a dream in 1966 when MidAmerica’s first president, Dr. Curtis Smith, rallied the constituents of the North Central Region around the idea of a college that would provide a place for thousands of young people to gain a Christian education and find their calling. The first spade of dirt was turned in a cornfield that just two years later became a college campus with five buildings and 263 students. It
was the right time, the right place, and though Dr. Smith could not know what the campus needs would be in 2019, he knew that the sacrificial investments made then would pay dividends for eternity.

Now a new challenge is before the university; funding the Cunningham Student Center, a 50,000-square-foot facility with the amenities and spaces needed to serve today’s college students. The student center will solve many current challenges  
by providing flexible space for a variety of activities. Vice President for Student Development Kristi Keeton says building community is a strategic goal for the university, but achieving that goal is made difficult due to the need for flexible space.

“In our technological society, students desperately need places where they can engage face to face,” Keeton says. “We have to encourage those interactions.
We simply don’t have enough spaces for students to gather and relax comfortably in groups.”

Leadership groups, clubs, student government and spiritual life small groups often go to a restaurant, coffee shop or someone’s home to hold meetings and activities because of limited space on campus. This takes time, transportation and coordination which can limit attendance.

Daniel Rincones (’09, MAC ’15), director of residential life, wants to provide broader programming in student development.

“There is a desire among the students to learn more about life issues like wellness, relationships and finances, not necessarily academically, but to enhance their life skills,” he says. “Small lectures, group meetings and those kinds of gatherings are held in the dining hall right now and that’s not optimal.”

He also expresses concern about trends that student life professionals are seeing such as depression, anxiety and loneliness.

“Spaces that are comfortable, inviting, warm, safe and welcoming encourage social interaction and that’s the best way to fight isolation,” he adds. “This generation likes to co-create and collaborate and they need a place to do that.”

Keeton expanded on her thoughts about why the time to fund the student center is now.

“The number one thing I’d say is we have to care about how the students are developing,” she says. “Anything we can do as the body of Christ to help them develop healthy relationships, the way Christ showed us, is something we should do now!”

Funding meter
Help us meet the Mabee Challenge
Fundraising for the building has become urgent because to receive the $1 million gift from the Mabee Foundation, the university must raise the remainder of the cost for the student center—$11 million in gifts and five-year pledges—within 12 months of the award. The deadline is January 8, 2020. 

“The generous support of generations of MNU alumni, friends and community partners have brought us to this watershed moment,” says MNU President David Spittal. “Just as the pioneers of our university’s early history, we have the chance to transform our vision into action that will change students’ lives in dramatic, relevant ways.” 

It is understandable that raising $11 million in 12 months might seem like an impossible task. But from our humble beginnings to the opening of Mabee (Library) Learning Commons in 1985, Cook Center in 1999, and Bell Cultural Events Center in 2005, God’s hand is at work at MNU. 

You can help make the Cunningham Student Center a reality for generations of MNU students to come. Gifts and pledges of any amount are important. 

The Student Experience

Today’s students are imagining benefits the new student center will provide. 

Andrew Cornelius“It will be a connecting place,” says Andy Cornelius (’19), associated student government president. “Connections are what keep a student in college by giving them a place to belong. If we can’t give them that we’re missing what MNU is all about.”  

Cornelius also believes students of this generation have high expectations for the look, feel and amenities in a space. 

“Bell Center, the library and Cook Center fit the bill,” he says. “We need the student center to be on a level that will compete with other schools. We need a grand building with a lot happening when prospective students come to visit.”

Alumni have experienced this kind of facility upgrade at MNU before. 

Luke JohnsonWhen Dr. Luke Johnson (’03), director of bands and music education, was a music major at MNU, his classes and recitals were held in Dobson Hall, an early building on campus not built for music practice and performance. 

“The facilities we provide show the priority we place on what students are doing,” Johnson says. “When I was a student and needed to practice trumpet, I couldn’t do it when I wanted to. I could hear choir practice and they could hear me. It was frustrating.”

The addition of the 40,000 square foot Bell Cultural Events Center, where Johnson now teaches, has changed music education. 

“It’s a great recruiting tool,” Johnson says. “It raises the bar of expectation about what we can accomplish as musicians and educators in a setting that is designed for what it is supposed to do.”

Just like that has elevated the type of student experience MNU can provide, the student center will do the same.

“Around here we have top-notch high schools with exceptional facilities,” he says. “It shows you value the students when you provide the best spaces for them to congregate.”

Rocky LamarRocky Lamar (’76) agrees. Men’s head basketball coach since 1986, Lamar not only coached in “The Barn” (Land Gym), he called it home as a student athlete. In some years recruiting students was rough.

“I lost so many recruits that would come into Land on their visit and I’d tell them this is where we play, and they’d say, ‘you mean practice, don’t you?’ and I’d say, no, this is where we play.”

In 1999 the Cook Center was opened and athletics at MNU was never the same. 

“Moving into a new facility helped us get even better athletes, giving us an even better home-court advantage,” he says. “We achieved 86 percent wins in Cook. We went from going to the national tournament a total of three times in my first 12 years, to going 11 consecutive times between 1999 and 2009. That tells you the athletes were better and were excited about playing in a new facility.”

Ready to Help? To make a gift or pledge, visit the campaign website at, or look for the remittance envelope in this issue of Accent. To communicate directly with an MNU representative, email  or call (913) 971-3600.


Accent Summer 2020
This Issue

Summer 2021

Momentum builds with new construction, the return to in-person Commencement and athletic success despite the pandemic! Enjoy this issue of Accent Summer 2021.

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