Twenty-Five Years of Leadership, Learning, and Bullfrogs

Twenty-Five Years of Leadership, Learning, and Bullfrogs

Spring 2023

Jo Kadlecek

When most people arrive at Cedar Springs Christian Retreat Center in the summertime, they notice two things: the peaceful setting and the occasional croaks of bullfrogs. Far from the demands and hurried pace of campus life, the sounds, creatures, and blooms of rural life offer an ideal space for reflection and discussion in a spot nestled about two hours north of Seattle.

Turns out there’s been a lot of both for the past 25 years here, thanks to the CCCU’s collection of leadership institutes — including the mixed-gender Leadership Development Institute (LDI), the Women in Leadership Development Institute (WLDI), and the Multi-Ethnic Leadership Institute (M-E LDI), which launched in 2011 — that gather at the Center every June. Almost 800 selected participants from more than 90 CCCU institutions have made the journey over the years. These attendees — vice presidents, deans, directors, and professors — had all been identified as “exhibiting prospective senior-leadership administration qualities.”

For each gathering, they arrive for the week with a packet of readings, current research, and case studies that institute facilitators have created for them. And they are invited to slow down, test ideas, network with like-minded colleagues, and explore the next levels of leadership responsibility, including setting up year-long professional development plans with one-on-one mentors.

“The location intentionally invites leaders to leave their busy lives and enter a time of reflection,” says CCCU President Shirley V. Hoogstra, who serves as an institute resource facilitator and is an alumna herself of the 2000 WLDI program. “We want people to be in a place where their imagination can be free and where God’s Spirit is optimally evident in nature. It’s a quiet place of awe that prepares you for humility and learning.”

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Before they were an annual distinctive of the CCCU, the leadership institutes were a series of conversations in the mid-1990s between Karen Longman — who was serving then as the CCCU’s vice president for professional development — and Canadian philanthropists Barry and Sharon Hawes. Longman and the Haweses were concerned about the lack of opportunities for emerging leaders, specifically people of color and women leaders, within the CCCU. Through their generosity and shared vision, they built on the Executive Leadership Development Initiative, established in 1996 under then-CCCU president Bob Andringa, that offered regular summer gatherings for new presidents and chief academic officers.

“Much of higher education has not done a good job of spotting high-potential future leaders, equipping and mentoring them,” says Longman, a scholar on leadership issues and a regular facilitator and organizer for the institutes who recently retired from the department of doctoral higher education at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. “Through summer institutes like these, the CCCU is uniquely positioned to equip emerging leaders for Christ-centered higher education.”

The result is a long list of institute alumni who are now presidents, deans, provosts, and other leaders across the CCCU’s 185 member institutions. Many alumni say they still return to those original resources to refresh their thinking and stay in touch with their mentors and cohorts for mutual encouragement in their leadership roles.

The CCCU also recently launched the Karen Longman Leadership Fund to honor Longman’s long history of developing Christian higher education leaders and to support emerging leaders in the future.

“The CCCU is about giving our campuses the best possible people for leadership, and that means getting many, including women and people of color, ready to lead,” Hoogstra says. “We want them to be refreshed to lead longer or imagine new ways of leading. That’s why we are grateful for this place and for this opportunity to do just that — to equip Christian leaders to serve.”


289 | Current known Christian higher ed leaders who have attended a CCCU leadership development institute, including:

  • 37 Presidents
  • 46 Provosts (or similar role)
  • 80 Vice Presidents
  • 29 Chairs
  • 97 Deans