Dr. Thomas in a newly-remodeled Engineering classroom
From the President Spring 2024

Shaping the Future After the Storm

By now, most of you are aware of the tornado that struck OBU on April 19, 2023. If you aren’t, I hope you will take the time to read about it in this magazine. But the story doesn’t end there. That is just the beginning of OBU’s next chapter.

We stand at the forefront of one of the most significant opportunities in OBU history. As the tornado tore across the OBU campus, ripping off roofs, uprooting trees and tearing holes in walls, God protected the lives of our students, our employees and our entire community. We praise Him for that miracle and for how He is using the experience to shape the future of OBU.

Although the storm left in its path of destruction considerable damage to every structure on campus, we have moved from the wreckage of that moment to a renewal and indeed, to a revival of OBU’s campus. This renewal is not just about rebuilding and updating our buildings and damaged campus grounds and structures; it’s about the opportunity to emerge from this disaster prepared to transform lives and communities.

Our goal is not to repristinate the past. Our goal is to shape the future.

The tornado hasn’t kept us from moving forward over the past nine months. While we moved ahead with disaster clean-up and reconstruction of buildings, we also made significant strides in meeting educational, employment, and societal needs through our programs and offerings. We have asked, “What does our world need, and how can we meet that need?” We turned our eyes to the community around us to determine how we can serve our neighbors to make this world a better place for God and for good.

Industry leaders told us they need mechanical and electrical engineers, particularly in the field of aerospace. So, we launched new engineering programs in August 2023 with more than three times the number of students initially projected. We transformed Thurmond Hall’s first floor into a high-tech, contemporary home for our engineering programs where our students experience state-of-the-art learning spaces and learn from professional engineers who serve as their professors.

The healthcare industry has experienced many challenges in filling needed positions because there are too few graduates to meet current demand. To help meet this need and provide quality Christian education for the substantial number of graduate students interested in these careers, OBU will launch four new graduate healthcare programs, pending accreditation, over the next three years: Doctor of Occupational Therapy, Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, Master of Science in Physician Associate Studies and Doctor of Physical Therapy.

Communities nationwide recognize pressing concerns in mental health and cybersecurity, global business leaders emphasize the importance of financial and data skills, and the sports industry continues to grow. In response to these community and workforce needs, the OBU Board of Trustees approved new undergraduate programs to begin in the spring and fall 2024 semesters, including cybersecurity, actuarial and financial math, data science, family therapy, sport psychology, sports communication, creative media, and education degrees in art, Spanish and theatre.

To move our future-shaping goal forward, we have worked over the past two years to develop a new OBU Master Plan. Although we had no idea that a storm would hit campus last April, God knew. He had been preparing us to be ready for the substantial work that would need to take place on campus in the aftermath of the storm.

Plans were already in place to move classes and faculty offices out of Shawnee Hall to prepare for the remodeling needs we had identified. Although the extensive damage from the tornado moved the start date of that timeline forward about a month, the groundwork had already been laid.

The reconstruction and renewal of Shawnee Hall is expected to take around 18 months. This building has served every student on Bison Hill since it opened in 1915, and with this renewal, it will continue to serve as the center of learning where future shapers are equipped for the next 100 years.

Portions of Wood Science building have been updated, and additional renovations are part of the Master Plan to meet the needs of the future in scientific research, medicine and forensic science, among others.

Many areas in OBU’s residence centers need updating, and plans are in place to renovate those spaces and replace residential buildings lost to the tornado.

OBU’s most iconic building, Raley Chapel, the home to chapel services, concerts and recitals through the years, received extensive damage from the tornado, rendering Potter Auditorium completely unusable. The spire, tiled roof, stonework, ceiling, stained glass and seating require major rebuilding and replacement. The process to repair and reconstruct this vital location on campus will be lengthy and very costly. We anticipate a two-year reconstruction period at the very least.

Great Need Creates Great Opportunity

Your University needs support in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. While we have financial needs that outstrip our current capacity, we believe God has a plan for our future, and we trust in Him. OBU’s substantial need has provided us with enormous opportunity. We ask for your help as we walk through these next years of rebuilding, renewing and transforming the OBU campus. Please join us as we embrace the greatest opportunity Bison Hill has ever experienced.

How will you help shape the future?


Dr. Heath A. Thomas
OBU President

Thurmond Hall Remodels for New Engineering Programs

New Engineering classrooms

Thurmond Hall serves as the new home for OBU’s mechanical and electrical engineering programs. Extensive remodeling to create the needed classrooms and labs (pictured here) began last year on the first floor and is nearly complete. Plans for the second and third floor are ready to go. OBU’s first class of engineering students began courses in fall 2023. While OBU set an enrollment goal of 12 students for this inaugural class, 37 students began the semester.