NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The Executive Committee of the Bethel College Board of Directors has unanimously approved the Presidential Search Committee’s recommendation of alumnus Jonathan C. Gering as the provisional candidate for the position of 15th president of the college.
Gering is professor of biology and founding dean of the School of Science and Mathematics at Truman State University, Kirksville, Missouri. He will be formally introduced to the campus Sept. 25.
During this visit, administrators, faculty, staff, students and others will have the opportunity to talk with Gering and provide feedback for review by the entire Board of Directors during its fall meetings Oct. 12-13, at which time the board will make a final decision.
“Jon impressed us with his interest in and passion for the position, his intellect, his seriousness of purpose, his preparedness, his energy and his vision,” said Dan Flickinger, San Francisco, Search Committee chair.
A 1994 honors graduate of Bethel College with a B.A. in biology, Gering earned his master’s and Ph.D. in ecology from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, and immediately accepted a faculty position at Truman in 2001. He has spent the past nine years serving in academic leadership roles.
“Jon is a person we believe is well prepared for the next step in his career, leveraging his leadership experience, energy and intellectual curiosity,” said Brett Birky, Denver, Bethel Board chair.
Gering received both academic and athletic scholarships to attend Bethel – he played football, and was an NAIA Academic All-American in 1994.
In his presidential application letter, Gering described the intellectual growth, lifelong friendships, and passion for international trips, research and relationships that began and flourished during his time at Bethel.
“These personal experiences enable me to speak with conviction about the transformative power for a Bethel education,” Gering said. “With time and experience, I’ve come to realize that I could be a capable and effective steward of Bethel’s mission and that to do so would be a natural progression of my leadership experience.”
Transformation in the context of history and tradition was a theme for both the board and Gering.
“To be a thriving, vibrant college requires a transformational, collaborative leader who can elaborate and execute a vision imbued with our Anabaptist roots and heritage,” Birky said. “We believe Jon is such a leader.”
For Gering, this means learning more about what Bethel is interested in pursuing.
“During my visit to campus, I want to listen to constituents and learn what makes Bethel important and meaningful to the people who work there. I want to understand their dreams and aspirations ,” Gering said.
These types of collegial conversations are the foundation for Gering’s approach to transformational leadership, which involves “creative thought about what might be possible given the culture, capacity and resources, … leveraging existing strengths so they become a greater part of the fabric of the institution, or identifying new areas for growth,” he said.
Gering’s familiarity with Anabaptist faith and culture began while growing up in Ritzville, Washington, as a member of Menno Mennonite Church.
After leaving Bethel, he embarked on what he describes as a “spiritual journey” involving informal study of comparative religious worldviews, prompted by witnessing firsthand how religious beliefs were used to mistreat people close to him because of their sexual orientation, ethnicity or race.
Gering and his family currently attend First Presbyterian Church, Kirksville.
“I believe I am uniquely prepared to lead Bethel College because of my upbringing in the Mennonite Church, my exploration of and critical thought about non-Anabaptist religious worldviews, and my interactions with marginalized students,” Gering said.
“In my role as president, I would continue to strengthen ties with the Mennonite denomination. I will also welcome and normalize the experience of those who are not familiar with the Mennonite tradition or who may question the broader importance of faith and the church in their personal lives.”
Gering’s commitment to inclusivity includes having served as a trained Title IX investigator and being appointed to Truman State’s Committee on Inclusive Excellence.
“College access has improved greatly in past decades. In my opinion, the more pervasive problem is an individual’s sense of belongingness once they arrive on campus,” Gering said. “It is fundamental to student and employee retention.”
Gering quickly – and unanimously – rose to the top of the list after the Search Committee (composed of board, alumni, faculty, staff and Western District Conference representatives), working since December 2016, sifted 80 initial candidates down to three finalists. These met face-to-face with the Search Committee in Wichita at the end of July.
“I understand that Bethel’s future depends upon the collective good will and disposition of employees, alumni and friends,” Gering said. “The ultimate work of the college president is to praise and empower people, encourage and challenge them to grow as individuals and nurture their love of the college and learning itself.”
Gering is married to Newton native Deborah (Ediger) Gering. She attended Bethel for two years, and has bachelor’s degrees in speech-language pathology and education, and a master’s degree in speech-language pathology, all from Miami University.
The Gerings have three children: Benjamin, 14, Emma, 10, and Emerson, 8.
Deborah is the daughter of Byron and Janet Ediger of North Newton, members of Bethel’s class of 1966. Jon is the son of Warren and Diane Gering of Ritzville, Washington, members of the Class of 1967.
Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the Forbes.com analysis of top colleges and universities, for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.
Bethel College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, parental or marital status, gender identity, gender expression, medical or genetic information, ethnic or national origins, citizenship status, veteran or military status or disability. E-mail questions to TitleIXCoordinator@bethelks.edu.