By Nancy Zugschwert
Scott Hagan, M.A., became the seventh president of North Central University in June 2017. One year later, we caught up with him to learn about his first year and what he sees on the horizon.
Watch the full interview on our YouTube channel.
Q: You’ve officially completed your first year. How was it?
A: Well, they say the older you get the faster time goes and it’s true. You add a year in higher education and a new job like this and I just can’t even begin to explain how fast the year went. It was awesome.
I told [my wife] Karen the other day—I was asking her, “How did the year go” for her— and we both just concurred that we’re as happy as we’ve ever been. One of my goals, I joked, was that we wanted to have an uneventful first year at North Central, because there is so much great activity going on. It was really an eventful-uneventful year. We just had a spectacular year of students, the atmosphere, and culture. Everything beat my expectations.
Q: What was your main focus for the year?
A: The focus for the first year, personally, was to be very intentional about listening and meet the hundreds, if not thousands of people who make this university great. So, a lot of relationship building, a lot of time spent with people, a lot of travel (Because our constituency is spread out all over the country and the state of Minnesota—small towns, big towns). But really just a year of relationship building, friendship building, and listening.
Q: What are some key first-year accomplishments?
A: I think the most important thing for a new president is not to get in the way. It is about finding that sweet spot of leadership: providing intentional action, but also recognizing how to allow the people who are already in the role to flourish. If you can flood the organization from the basement to the balcony with affirmation, and let people do what they’re good at it’s amazing how the organization, the school, all of it will flourish. So being really intentional about that.
Q: How did you connect with NCU students?
Another great aspect of this year was just getting to know the students. A cornerstone of that is chapel. Being in chapel, being around the front in worship, the altar times, and then getting to speak on Fridays and looking those students in the eye. It meant the world. And being intentional about getting to know them one-on-one, in small groups out in the hallways, lobby and classrooms. All of that cumulative interaction with the students gave me a tremendous experience to share for North Central.
Q: Were there any unexpected surprises or discoveries with your first year?
A: One of great discoveries this year, or surprises this year, was just really finding out how talented, not just the students are, but how talented the staff and faculty are. And I know the president is supposed to make that statement but it really is true here.
And I think through all the different events (the inauguration, the HLC reaccredidation visit, the Super Bowl event) there are tremendous professionals that serve at this school that love the Lord, that are highly competent, that I would place at any university in America, their talent. They’re great to work with. But I think the great discoveries was just how talented the people are at North Central.
Q: What did you learn about yourself and leadership in this first year?
A: You know, one great personal discovery at this stage of my life, at 55, is I wasn’t expecting to enjoy life in Minneapolis or this new challenge professionally as much as I did. I thought I had had pretty much all of life’s experiences in some fashion. But this has been totally different, totally new, and absolutely enjoyable.
I didn’t think I still had that space still inside me for those kinds of discoveries. I think leadership-wise I’ve learned again, in a more robust way, the power of listening and the power of affirmation. And really allowing yourself to operate in that space of unknowingness, or even ambiguity, and learning how to leverage that has been a powerful discovery of leadership that I knew was there but I as a practice I didn’t think it would be this powerful.
Q: What’s unique to bearing the title, ‘President’?
A: One of the interesting aspects of this role is to be called president. And it’s still awkward, because it’s a very powerful social term, you can be the president of Delta Airlines, the president of a country. You know when I was a pastor that term was pretty understood, it was somewhat more of a narrow term. This is a broad social term, it holds social status. It’s still uncomfortable to hear the term and in many ways, I want it to remain uncomfortable forever. I don’t want to hide behind the anonymity of that title and lose my sense of self, called of God, [I’ve] been a pastor, a friend, a dad, a grandpa. And so, I wrestle with the term on a daily basis.
Q: With one year behind you, how is the future of NCU looking from your vantage point?
A: There is no doubt that leading a university is a tough task. We are living in a volatile, fluid culture. University campuses can be interesting places. But I’ve never been higher, not just on Christian education, but the uniqueness of this university.
You know, I pray all the time two words for this university: fire and scholarship. And it really is one of the most unusual settings in America. of commerce and mission being in downtown Minneapolis, but a school that is on fire that has this level of academics. It’s an unbelievable combination.
I believe that with some of the craziness of our culture that people are leaning back toward universities like North Central. Because a graduate leaves this school with momentum. They leave not just job ready but life ready. So, I think that gives us a competitive advantage. So, I think the future is unbelievably bright for universities especially like North Central.
Q: You’ve used the phrase “North Central alumni are watering the earth.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
A: One of the things that really informed me when I took this role is I received a note from a graduate of this university, Heath Adamson, a national leader [in the Assemblies of God], and he sent me an encouraging note letting me know that the Lord was going to use our leadership to unstop the well. That we did not need to dig a new well and that the well was filled with water. The Lord was just going to use us to unstop it. And that the graduates of this university were going to water the earth.
It was a profound note and it stayed with me. It was piercing and it was permanent and I took it personally. I will tell you I’ve thought of that 100 times, 200 times this year as I meet graduates that are in their seventies, their fifties, their forties, their thirties, graduates from just a few years ago and there is a common denominator about these people. God has used this university in an unusual way.
I didn’t graduate from North Central, I graduated from another Christian university, one of our sister schools that I was very proud of. I’ve always been aware of this university, but I will tell you, the graduates that I come across from all spectrums, all disciplines, all age groups, there is something on their life, having passed through North Central, that is very very special. Whether its in the business world, of course the church world, the worship world, especially missions, they have truly watered the earth. And to know that that is going to continue in a very strong way is reassuring, it’s inspiring; it’s why this is a great job.
Q: What is your favorite place on campus?
A: It is outdoors actually. Even in January, at the intersection of Chicago and 14th Street. I stand there, not in the middle of the intersection, but on one of the corners (and we own all four corners). I can see in my mind’s eye the transformation of this university. It’s positioning to the downtown, what’s about to happen on this campus. So I would say my favorite place on campus is Chicago and 14th. If I could stand right in the middle of that intersection and dream I would probably do it. It’s a great spot.
Q: What will this campus look like in 10 years?
A: I think the opportunities at North Central are limitless. They are global. They are regional. They reach far beyond Minneapolis. There is such opportunity in education through online delivery systems to deliver the great DNA and the great leadership and the degree programs of North Central around the world and that’s very exciting to me. But our residential campus is going to go through a tremendous transformation in the next five to ten years.
We’re going through a dynamic MFP (Master’s Facility Planning) Process right now, Looking at the entire foot print. You know, we are the largest private land holder in Minneapolis, we have twelve acres here and that may not sound like a lot for a suburban campus but in an urban setting we have a tremendous footprint in Minneapolis. So we are looking at the layout, the buildings, new facilities in the area of the sciences which we are very excited about, enhancing our athletics, and just the academic and student experience at the university.
This campus is a miracle. It’s been around since 1930. It acquired hospitals. I can’t imagine how it acquired this back in 1930. The faith that it took. But really there has been very little building of academic classrooms over these 87 years. They’ve repurposed hospitals and other buildings and they’ve done a magnificent job of building and cobbling out this university in the heart of the city. But the next five to ten years there will be a major transformation of how the buildings facilities are laid out here. It’s going to be just a dynamic time.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve received about this job?
A: The best advice I received before taking this role came from [former President] Gordon Anderson. He reiterated something I knew, but to hear him say it to me in such a fatherly role. As a mentor, as someone taking that role. He talked about stewarding and protecting the presence of God on this campus and that the chapel is built in the center of the campus for a reason it’s the heart of the university. I really take up that stewardship to really protect what that means to this university. It is something very precious so that advice from Gordon was outstanding.
Q: Is there anything you wish you would have known coming into this role?
A: People ask me what I wish I would have known. I say this kind of tongue-in-cheek—I wish I would have known better how to tell my friends where to park.
Q: What is something you didn’t expect?
A: I’ve never worked in a place that had electronic lanyard locks. So, I’m not used to carrying my keys or my lanyard. I think I was locked out of the university at least thirty times in the first two months. So walking around, begging students to let me back in the door, was a little awkward. But I learned.
Q: Favorite memories?
A: One of my favorite scenes of this year that was very emotional—and it caught me off guard—was during homecoming. We walked out to the soccer field. It was filled with students. The soccer game was going on. It was beautiful. The skyline was right there. The field looked beautiful the students were laughing and having fun. Scores of people, the activity, the energy. and I just kind of stood in the middle of it and said, “I can’t believe that this is my life, that this is my new job, to be president of this.” I just vividly remember that moment.
Q: How did your family support you in this transition?
A: You know one of the tough things was leaving the grandchildren in other parts of the country. Because we just have become grandparents in the last couple years. We dreamed about that for a long time and now here they were and then the Lord opens up this door. But thankfully it’s a direct flight between Minneapolis a Sacramento. But my family has been very supportive.
I think having a portion of our family here for the inauguration was incredibly special, especially having my mom here, since she’s kind of suffering in her health. Having family and friends on campus and then having the kids here for the inauguration was a very meaningful moment.
Having an amazing wife like Karen is a great asset to the university and to me personally. She gave up a full-time role as a pastor to make the move here to Minneapolis. There were a couple of minutes in there where we talk about, “Hey what is the role going to be? What’s this new world going to feel like between the two of us because we’ve been side by side in our professional life as well as our personal life. And I ask her all the time, “Are you happy?” and she repeatedly tells me yes. She has just come and taken the campus by storm. In many ways I think the students enjoy her far more and her speaking on Fridays than me. She is such a gift and has such a great connection with the university and I just could not be happier that this is working out for Karen as well as myself and for us as a couple.