Academic and Experiential Investment

Unimaginable Welcome

This fall, Houghton College Utica will open its doors to welcome its first cohort of students. Houghton’s newest extension site’s inaugural cohort is drawn entirely from the refugee population of Utica and nearby communities. From an early age, these students faced oppression because of their ethnicity and Christian faith. Their stories include years of deprivation in refugee camps and the struggle to earn a high school diploma in a new language once they were resettled in the United States.

In their application essays, these students write movingly of the dangers they confronted, the obstacles they overcame and the sacrifices their parents made so that they could come to the United States where they now enjoy freedom and the opportunity to pursue an education. One of our incoming students notes that he is the first of his ten siblings to earn a high school diploma. Thanks to Houghton College, he now plans to be the first in his family to receive a college degree. Another tells of her childhood as a refugee in Thailand selling vegetables in a marketplace to earn money to support her family. Today, she lives in Utica. This fall, she will begin her college career as a very grateful and motivated first-year college student thanks to Houghton College’s commitment to serve her and students like her in Utica.

Many of Houghton’s newest students in Utica have spoken to me of how unimaginable it would have been while they were living in a refugee camp a few short years ago to even dream that they would one day attend college. I can identify with these students. Four decades ago, when I was a Houghton undergrad, I could not have imagined that I would be asked to lead Houghton’s extension site in Utica.

While a student at Houghton, I read Discovering an Evangelical Heritage by Donald W. Dayton ‘63. It helped define for me a Christian faith that embraced both personal and social transformation and set a direction for the rest of my life. After finishing my studies at Houghton, I did social work with the Salvation Army at an inner-city emergency shelter for several years before entering seminary. For the next thirty years, I served a series of pastorates, mostly in urban or metropolitan settings. The last of these was a seventeen-and-a-halfyear tenure as the senior pastor of Utica’s Tabernacle Baptist Church. It was a transformative period for the congregation and for me. As this declining, historic, downtown church opened its heart and doors to its newest neighbors, ethnic Karen refugees from Burma (Myanmar), it was reborn. This new ministry of hospitality and welcome challenged me to develop new skills as I completed a Doctor of Ministry degree with an emphasis on cross-cultural communication and ministry. It also provided me with new avenues of ministry as I became immersed in the lives of those forced to flee their homelands. It expanded the scope of my ministry as I served on the board of our local refugee center and my denomination’s refugee taskforce. It gave me a firsthand experience of our world’s brokenness and beauty as I made several trips to visit Thailand’s refugee camps and Burma’s Christian minority.

Less than a year ago, I, too, experienced what had previously been unimaginable. I was invited to help develop Houghton’s newest extension site in Utica. Forty-three years after I entered Houghton College, my life has come full circle. As it offers Associate of Arts degree classes in Utica this fall to some of our nation’s newest residents and citizens, Houghton College also comes full circle. The little school Willard J. Houghton began 134 years ago in the Genesee Valley to provide an affordable, accessible Christian education to rural students will make that same education available to the sons and daughters of refugees and immigrants living in the Mohawk Valley’s urban neighborhoods.



He values the individuality and unique situation of each doctor, nurse and patient he oversees as the director of the hematology/oncology division for Alameda County Hospital in Oakland, California.

Irwin discovered that personal approach at Houghton, modeled by the professors who helped him along his unconventional academic path. When he began in 1973 as a history major with the intent of going to law school, former history professor and division chair Dr. Katherine (Walberger ’43) Lindley advised him on not only what courses to take but also how to approach studying as an academician. She also instilled in him a love of learning for its own sake.

He found personal enrichment through his chapel experiences as well, particularly through speakers such as John Leax, professor emeritus of English, whose talks inspired Irwin to reflect on his own Christian experience and development.

During his senior year, as he was completing his requirements for a history major, Irwin began exploring science classes, starting with a general biology course. Dr. Don Munro, former chair of the biology department and mentor for pre-med students, was confident that the young man could succeed in both the humanities and the sciences. According to Irwin, “I felt [as if] I had been given enough of the key components to go into whatever discipline I wanted, and I was encouraged to do that.”

After graduation Irwin served for a year with the Salvation Army. He returned to Houghton in 1979 to add a year of science courses in preparation for medical school. It was former chemistry professor Dr. Larry Christensen who affirmed Irwin’s decision to return. Although he had taught Irwin in only one class prior to that year away, Christensen remembered him and gave him a “welcome back” as he read the roster. It was a greeting that struck a chord with Irwin and reminded him of all that he valued most about Houghton.

Irwin is enthusiastic about giving back to the place that helped shape his spiritual and academic growth. He sees his giving as personal, be it to the Student Scholarship Fund, the Paine Science Center or athletics: “I like to think that I’m giving to a particular person—whomever that person may be—who’s going to benefit from whatever we can do to make [Houghton] the best it can possibly be.”

Stories of Impact, Strategic Campus Enhancement

Andrea Gibson

When Andrea Gibson ’07 arrived in Tanzania in spring 2006, she had little idea how influential one semester would be.

Pushed outside of her comfort zone in a culture vastly different from her own, she realized that “no matter where we are in the world or what challenges we face, we are all just people.” This pivotal moment in her time at Houghton continues to shape her life and career as a therapeutic riding instructor and executive director and founder of Chasing Rainbows, a nonprofit therapeutic equine facility outside Harrisburg, PA.

Gibson recalls how Dr. Jon Arensen, professor emeritus of anthropology, shared ongoing sustainable and culturally valued service projects in the country, and she “fell in love with this mindset toward service.” She returned to Africa after graduation to serve briefly at a children’s home in Namibia. During that trip, she was inspired to found Chasing Rainbows, where she and 75 volunteers provide equine-assisted activities for 50 special needs individuals weekly. “In my current career, my core philosophy is to see beyond the labels of diagnosis to value each individual,” Gibson notes.

Houghton continues to impact Gibson. Her biology education was instrumental to her admittance to the occupational therapy graduate program at Misericordia University. Collaborative research with Dr. Aaron Sullivan, associate professor of biology, provided Gibson with exposure to the scientific process, which she will use again next year in her required master’s degree research. The enthusiastic and expert instruction of equestrian director Jo-Anne Young (’69) influences Gibson daily, while Arensen’s “passion for humanity, service, and experiential learning” continues to inspire her.

“We are each here to play our own roles in our own unique way,” Gibson remarks of her place in the body of Christ. For her, it’s been a journey from Houghton to Africa and beyond.

Stories of Impact, Strategic Campus Enhancement

Joanna Sudlow

From the moment she obtained a flock of chickens and a rabbit as a young girl, Joanna Sudlow ’15 has loved working with animals. Fittingly, when she came to Houghton, she chose to major in equestrian studies, adding a business major in her second year. She now works as an animal trainer at Sight & Sound Theatres in Strasburg, PA, an organization that puts on largescale Biblical theatre productions.

Sudlow’s college career nurtured her affinity for animals and business. She interned at Royal Academy of Art in the Netherlands and at Hunter’s Bay Sport Horses in Virginia and dedicated her summers to serving as a counselor at Houghton’s equestrian camp. At Houghton, Sudlow learned “to dig for answers, continuously ‘sharpen the saw’ in my area of study, and not be afraid to explore new areas of knowledge.”

Sudlow recalls how God showed Himself in the little things. God was visible in “the encouragement received at just the right time from a friend or professor and the financial aid that came through. Over and over, He proved His faithfulness.”

Access and Affordability, Stories of Impact

Donor Impact – Jeffrey Osgood ’79

It was mother’s love that led Joan Osgood to invest in Houghton. She wanted a place where her second son, Jeffrey ’79, would thrive in his training in the sciences. When Jeffrey chose Houghton because of the welcoming, friendly atmosphere, she realized he was joining a community like no other. From students who introduced themselves and welcomed him to professors who supported him at every stage, Joan was amazed at Jeffrey’s transformation at Houghton.

She recalls an episode that was especially poignant. Jeffrey and the entire physics department stayed with the Osgood family while attending an exhibition in New York City. Although Joan had prepared bedrooms for the two faculty members, they insisted on sleeping on the family room floor, sharing in the experience with the students. Their humility and desire to identify with the students astounded her. Osgood reflects, “There is no greater impact than the example of someone’s life—a Christian life—truly lived out in small things.”

When Jeffrey passed away at the age of 27 from cancer, Joan and her late husband Donald Osgood ’52 wanted to honor him in a tangible way. They decided the most effective way was to give to the school where Jeffrey had had so many wonderful experiences. The couple established the Jeffrey Osgood Memorial Scholarship in 1987 to provide funding for students like Jeffrey who were majoring in math or science. They wanted other students to have the kind of rich and empowering educational experience Jeffrey had had—an education that deepened his faith and prepared him for advanced study and a career in the sciences.

For Joan, investing in the education of students is not only a memorial to a son profoundly transformed by Houghton but also a perpetual gift to others who, like Jeffrey, will be impacted for years to come by the dedication and commitment of the Houghton community.

Access and Affordability

The Attainable Dream

Growing up in Sri Lanka, I never imagined attending a four-year college. The cost made it an unattainable dream. When God opened my eyes to the possibility of attending college, I had no idea how my family would afford it. My financial situation would never have allowed me to pursue such a thing. Houghton College offered me a generous financial aid package, turning my dream into a reality. Both the Admission Office and the Student Financial Services Office worked out various plans and scholarships that changed my entire situation, making a college education possible.

During my time at Houghton, I have grown in my understanding of God and His grand purpose for my life. My preconceived notions of what I wanted are being challenged as I come to understand more about what God wants for me. God has used my peers and professors to sharpen and challenge me greatly. At Houghton, I have had the distinct pleasure of making friends from all over the world and have studied under phenomenal professors who have stretched me beyond my comfort zone.

I am currently studying Music and Theology. My desire is to take the Word of God to people and places where traditional church ministries cannot go. I seek to reach these people using music as a conversation starter. By studying both Music and Theology, I strive to become a better musician while learning more about God’s Word and how to teach it to others.


How Firm a Foundation

A Conversation with Kim (Kerr ’91) Pegula
by Shelley (Smith ’93) Noyes

Unofficially dubbed “THE QUEEN OF BUFFALO” and “one of the most powerful women in American sports,” Buffalo Bills co-owner Kim (Kerr ’91) Pegula is down-to-earth, easy to talk to and ready to laugh. She is serious about her work in Buffalo but doesn’t take herself too seriously. At the beginning of our phone interview, we talk about being students at Houghton during the same era, find out we have some friends in common and discuss the height and width of our collective hair in the late ’80s/early ’90s.

The first thing I discover about Kim during our conversation is that one of her superpowers is MULTI-TASKING. She is doing more than reminiscing with me about her Houghton experience; she tells me that she is currently driving through Buffalo on her way to take her youngest son to Syracuse University to begin his freshman year. I hear rustling and whispering in the background, and Kim says to someone, “I’ll meet you down in the car….” To me, she says, “Yeah, I’m an empty nester. I’m all done—believe it or not. And it goes fast, believe me. It goes by much faster than you think.”

The speed of life is a common theme for Kim Pegula. She uses words like “quickly,” “hurry” and “very fast” as we talk about what it is like to raise five children, co-own NFL and NHL sports franchises (the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres), and serve as the president and CEO of Pegula Sports & Entertainment (PSE), where she manages all aspects of the 12 sports and entertainment entities owned by the Pegula family. PSE is the creative engine that runs the Pegula empire, and Kim loves being right in the middle of it. She is hands-on with everything, including marketing, content, media, public relations, business development, video production, finance, broadcasting, branding and even designing their signature (716) Food and Sport restaurant at HarborCenter. She is in constant motion—today designing a “One Buffalo” Perry’s Premium Ice Cream flavor (vanilla ice cream with sea salt caramel swirls, sponge candy pieces, and fudge-coated pretzels!) and tomorrow dropping in on the production of a lyric video for Black River Entertainment’s Kelsea Ballerini.

Did she ever imagine this life when she entered Houghton as a freshman? “I was a communication major at Houghton—I wanted to go into broadcast journalism,” Kim remembers. “I thought I was going to be, you know, Connie Chung—a newscaster type on TV.” She laughs and continues, “It is really funny to me now, because I just gave this big presentation to our entire staff—and I was just sweating it out because I’m so uncomfortable doing that now.” (It is hard to imagine Kim feeling nervous. I’ve seen her do a number of on-camera interviews on national TV; she is always poised, relaxed and articulate.)

“I had a great time and a great experience at Houghton,” Kim tells me. “I did what everyone else did: EAT!” (I’m thinking wings at Big Al’s, huge milkshakes and pizza—and my mouth starts watering….) “Because there is nothing else around you,” she continues, “you have to make what you have there the experience.” She also was a part of the Young Republicans, cheered for the basketball team and gave tours to visitors on campus. When she thinks back to what she learned at Houghton, what shaped her and what has stayed with her today, the word that comes up most often is “foundation.”

“Sports is such a fast world,” she explains. “The league, the NFL in general, is so big, and you’re rubbing elbows with people that you used to read about or hear about or see on TV. I so appreciate the foundation that Houghton gave me, because it has helped me to live in the world that I live in now. That foundation—the idea of God, of family, of doing for others—all that stuff is the ‘good stuff.’ It is the foundation that you fall back on when you need it the most.”

Stories of Impact, Strategic Campus Enhancement

Thomas Forsberg

They’re known by many names: healer, medic, doctor. This is the vocation chosen by Dr. Thomas Forsberg ’01, emergency physician and medical director of emergency services for Central Health in central and southern Virginia where he oversees 75 clinical providers and four emergency departments. He is also the co-founder of Healing Hearts Vietnam, a nonprofit that provides lifesaving cardiac surgeries for impoverished Vietnamese children and professional training to hundreds of Vietnamese physicians and medical staff.

For Forsberg, the symbolic white coat is more than an emblem of his trade. The knowledge it represents integrates with his ever-present faith to bring a sense of calling to his chosen profession. This synthesis of knowledge and faith is what initially drew Forsberg to Houghton’s pre-med program. The presence of Christians in the sciences is more pivotal than ever, for “an intelligent Christian worldview in the sciences opens doors to many who have not heard an intelligent rationale for our worldview,” he notes.

Dr. Charles Bressler, former professor of English, asserted frequently that Christianity is a journey of excitement and wonder—concepts that rang true with Forsberg. Additionally, the First-Year Honors Program in London instilled a deep appreciation for other cultures. The combination of the honors program and Dr. Bressler’s ideas motivated Forsberg to respond to the need for hope, both here and abroad. He graduated with a new outlook on Christianity, his role in the Kingdom, and beliefs that had been stretched and refined.

Faith is about being “all in” for Forsberg, who doesn’t “want to leave anything on the ballfield” when looking back at his impact on the world. Life, he asserts, “is not about you. Life is Christ and His will.”

Stories of Impact, Strategic Campus Enhancement

Nigel Fabien

As a freshman from Trinidad & Tobago standing on the soccer field eager for the tutelage of Coach Dwight Hornibrook, Nigel Fabien ’99 was unaware of the extraordinary journey that lay ahead of him. “My decision to go to Houghton was entirely divine intervention,” remarks Nigel, who now works as a commercial lender with Ares Capital, where he focuses on asset-based lending.

Fabien came to Houghton at age 26, determined to complete a degree and make a difference, particularly as a member of a minority class. His first soccer season was a pivotal time for him. He was plagued with multiple injuries and “felt very pressured—not by anyone but myself—because I felt I was not delivering.” Coupled with financial challenges, this made Nigel unsure if he would be able to return the following year—or that he would be wanted. To his astonishment, Hornibrook and the staff very much wanted him to stay at Houghton, and an anonymous donor provided the remaining funds needed. Years later, Fabien found that it was a fellow teammate who had made it financially possible for him to return for his sophomore year, which led to meeting his wife April (Vaughn ’96) and finishing his accounting degree.

Multiple individuals at Houghton—Hornibrook, coaches Matthew Webb and Stefan Schilke ’91, retired business professor Ken Bates ’71, and host family and former staff members Martha and Bob Whiting—deeply impacted Fabien’s life. In particular, he recalls Ange Szymanski, former head of custodial services, who gave him a job and took him to Promise Keepers, a Christian fellowship event for men. Through his training as an athlete, Fabien developed an appreciation for discipline, the importance of being prepared, humility, and sensitivity to the situations of other people—all significant in his current line of work. In an industry where the dollar reigns and secular views dominate, Fabien tries to demonstrate Christian principles. “The decisions we make,” he says, “they change lives.”

“My household is a Houghton household,” Fabien asserts. His support of athletics and the Student Scholarship Fund reflects his deep appreciation for the lessons, friendships and education he received. “When my time comes and goes, and I am no longer on this earth, I hope other people will keep up the same spirit of giving.”

Access and Affordability, Stories of Impact

Daniel Bussey

Daniel Bussey ’20 is at home on the stage, comfortable in his own skin, even as he sings his heart out. When it came time to apply to colleges, he knew he wanted a Christian environment in which to learn, practice and thrive. Bussey is now entering his sophomore year, studying vocal performance with the plan of a professional career in the performing arts.

This past spring, Bussey was the only first-year student in Houghton’s production of I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which allowed him to combine two of his loves: singing and acting. He credits Amanda (Young ’01) Cox, instructor of voice and director of Houghton Lyric Theatre, for having a significant impact on his life at Houghton. According to Daniel, “She encourages me to keep my faith first and do everything to the glory of God.”

Bussey hopes to pursue a career in musical theater and remains committed to serving as “an instrument of God’s love while using my gifts to impact the lives of the audience members.”