Alumni Profile: Dr. Jeff Gingerich ’88

Dr. Jeff GingerichMajor: Liberal Arts
Go Everywhere: President, St. Bonaventure University

Start Here

During my first year at Hesston, I began to think about doing something different my second year. I made the big decision to not play basketball and spend the fall semester of my second year in the YES (Youth Evangelism Service) program in Jamaica. Looking back on this, I realize how fortunate I was that Hesston granted academic credit for this experience. This was a truly transformational experience for me. Our group worked with peanut farmers and at a deaf school in a rural part of Jamaica. When I returned to Hesston, I was a different person and thought about the world in new ways.

Two classes were particularly transformational for me at Hesston. I took World Religions my first semester and Foundies IV my last semester. In many ways, those courses served as bookends for me in helping me understand how big and diverse the world is and who I want to be in that world. I can remember lying awake at night thinking about the big questions that Jim Mininger was asking us to think about in Foundies IV.

Go Everywhere

I wanted to spend some time doing voluntary service after college and was fortunate that Mennonite Central Committee asked me to take an assignment directing a mediation and conflict resolution program in New Orleans, Louisiana. I ended up staying with MCC in New Orleans for six years. Here I was particularly exposed to a lot of the realities of systemic racism and the privileges that I had throughout my life. I thought about my experiences with some key professors and classes at Hesston and knew that I wanted to become a sociologist and teach in college to try to have that same impact on students.

Unexpected Blessings

It’s been kind of amazing to me that this farm boy from Iowa has found such a home in Catholic higher education. I’ve always said that working at Catholic schools has helped me become a better Mennonite because I have found such a nice synergy between the Catholic social and intellectual traditions and Anabaptist traditions. I’m incredibly excited about joining the Franciscans at St. Bonaventure and have never felt such a strong sense of calling to a new position. The fit between my personal mission and the St. Bonaventure mission has been striking to me.

Sense of Community

Hesston College has such a nice “niche” in higher education in offering a welcoming academic community to a variety of students. The sense of community on campus is so important to retain. I always think of Hesston as being particularly strong in helping students to take those first steps from their home and to begin to figure out their path in life. Hesston is the kind of place that creates wonderful memories. I always want to be at universities that create that same kind of memories for our students.

On Engineering

Engineering has become a very popular major for students since it has such great applications and career prospects. It is especially fitting for faith-based universities whose mission involves creating a better world around them. Engineering programs produce the future leaders who develop the physical infrastructure for a better and more sustainable world. I’m thrilled to hear that Hesston is engaging engineering education in new ways.