MINNEAPOLIS — Aimee Perrin Robertson has worn so many hats at North Central University (NCU) she has difficult time keeping track of them all. She’s held seven roles in her 14 years at the Assemblies of God school, including executive administrative assistant, alumni director, and executive director of advancement.
Since June, Robertson has been executive director of Academic Partnerships, the school’s program to provide an online education to students through churches across the U.S. Currently there are 17 such partner congregations, stretching from California to New York. The school offers 11 fully accredited degrees of varied interests, including humanitarian leadership, digital media, sports management, and marketing. Master’s degrees are available in biblical theology and strategic leadership. Robertson, 45, also teaches a career seminar and advanced nonprofit management courses in NCU’s College of Business and Technology.
The enthusiastic and loquacious Robertson says she has found participants in Academic Partnerships to be invested in the program.
“These students want a place that has virtues,” says Robertson, whose husband, Jordan, is executive director of operations at NCU. “Despite what’s happening in culture, North Central hasn’t walked away from Pentecostal distinctives.”
One site is Christ Place Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, where the school partnership is called The Academy at Christ Place. Nine years ago, lead pastor Rick S. Lorimer started Christ Place Leadership College, a similar concept through a variety of educational providers. Two years ago, the church rebranded and restructured as The Academy in an exclusive agreement with NCU. Full-time youth pastor Bruce D. Riddle is site director.
The nine students participating gather at the church for 6½ hours Monday through Wednesday. They take a full load, 15 credits. All are young, some still living at home, others in their own apartments. Most are working part-time jobs.
In a dedicated space at the facility, the students gather three times a week for study, discussion, and prayer. The daily schedule includes half an hour for prayer, three hours for individualized studies, and 90 minutes of processing material together. A weekly chapel service with church staff as well as an hourlong prayer meeting also are part of the schedule.
“Each class is online and has a syllabus,” Riddle says. “Students can interact with professors, but they are self-motivated.”
The individual students have hands-on practical work tailored to their needs. For example, a digital media major will become part of the church’s sound tech team. Students must write papers on their experiences for credit. The students have duties at Christ Place, which benefit the church.
Riddle, who has been involved in youth ministry for 35 years after working for Burlington-Northern Railroad, says he is grateful that NCU provides an academic adviser for each student to stay on track.
“The pillars of The Academy are we strive to strengthen faith, build character, and pursue purpose,” says Riddle, 67. “We expect these students to spend time in the Word and in prayer. They will be Christ followers, regardless of what degree they earn.”
To better understand the ethos of the campus, the entire group made a quick road trip in October to North Central, a 6½-hour drive. Over 24 hours, the Nebraska visitors stayed in the dorms, ate in the cafeteria, visited with key online program leaders, and attended chapel.
Brody E. Garvey is a first-year student at The Academy. Although he is from Duluth, Minnesota, located in the same state as NCU’s main campus, Garvey decided to move to Lincoln after being counseled by Dillon Bartels, his youth pastor in Duluth. Bartels, who now is youth pastor at North Shore Church in Hastings, Nebraska, had attended Christ Place Leadership College, the forerunner to The Academy.
Garvey, a church leadership major, says he sensed God’s calling to be a youth pastor when a senior in high school. He believes learning at The Academy provides valuable hands-on training.
“It’s a very real and raw learning experience,” says Garvey, 20. “As a group, we journey to get to know one another and we work alongside each other in ministry.” Along with the other students, Garvey ministers three times a week: Sundays to middle school students, Wednesday nights at youth group, and Tuesdays to middle and high school students in public schools.
“The Academy is more than an education,” Garvey says. “It’s a place for discipleship.”
Garvey pays low rent to live in a home owned by a church member. He works about 25 hours a week for Home Care Partners, as a caregiver providing help with daily tasks such as grocery shopping and meal preparation.
TOP PHOTO: Aimee Robertson (center) is executive director of Academic Partnerships at North Central University.
LOWER PHOTO: The Academy at Christ Place visited the Minnesota campus.