CIU commencement celebration includes history made

Brianna North (in middle wearing Delta Epsilon Chi Honor Society medal) poses with family. (Photo by Noah Allard)

CIU commencement celebration includes history made

CIU commencement celebration includes history made

Brianna North (in middle wearing Delta Epsilon Chi Honor Society medal) poses with family. (Photo by Noah Allard)

May 4, 2024

By Bob Holmes

When Brianna North of Murrells Inlet, South Carolina crossed the commencement stage of Shortess Chapel to receive her degree, she made Columbia International University history. She is the first to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in CIU’s new and expanding Health Sciences programs.

North was among nearly 300 graduates who earned bachelor degrees, master’s degrees and doctoral degrees and recognized during separate undergraduate and graduate spring ceremonies on the CIU campus.

Celebrating with her family after commencement, North said in the Health Science program she “learned so much about Jesus and how He integrates with science.”

North, who also played midfielder for the CIU Rams women’s soccer team, has goals of becoming a faith-based personal trainer and then a nutritionist. Her message to those who are considering the challenging Health Sciences programs is to tap into the professors.

“These professors here are very, very special and love their students and will do anything they can to help,” North said, especially noting the assistance of the dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, Dr. David Dewitt, who started the Health Sciences programs just two years ago. He called North “a fantastic student.”  

“One time she showed me her notes and I couldn’t believe how much she was going through to study and prepare,” Dewitt said, adding that having the first graduate of the program is “the culmination of a dream.

“Because when I first came we didn’t even have a beaker on campus, and now we have our health science labs and three different programs.” (Biology, Biomedical Science, Health Science)


Three Generations of CIU Grads Celebrate     

Another family celebrating outside Shortess Chapel after the undergraduate ceremony was that of Aynsley Vivian who earned a Bachelor of Science in Bible Teaching. She was surrounded by her parents and grandparents who also graduated from CIU. She called that “God’s cycle of faithfulness.”

“I’m grateful that CIU has been used to train us up for ministry,” Vivian added. She said she was “called to CIU at seven years old” during a campus visit “and never considered another college.” She moved 11,000 miles to come to CIU — from Australia where he father has been a pastor for 22 years.  

Vivian has secured a position as assistant youth director with Westminster Presbyterian Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina to work with about 65 young women she desires to “mentor and train up to know the Lord better.”


Desiring to Help Fellow Pastors with Anxiety

Meanwhile, after the ceremony for graduate students, Dr. D.W. Feaster mingled with professors and mentors who assisted him with his online Doctor of Ministerial Leadership dissertation on anxiety in the ministry.

Feaster is the pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Rockingham, North Carolina, and says he has struggled with anxiety himself thinking that it was caused by a lack of faith, but his studies showed that is not always the case. For him it was a chemical imbalance.

“It’s OK for ministers to not be OK,” Feaster explained. “Sometimes we as pastors just feel like we need to have more faith and we just need to have it all together, but we’re just humans too and sometimes we need help.”

As for his CIU online experience, Feaster said, “it was exactly what I needed.”

“It has helped me to have more confidence in myself as a leader,” Feaster said. “It has helped me to understand what leadership is — leadership is not about me, but about the people I lead. It’s about serving them. I’m only successful as a leader if they are successful. It’s been exactly what I needed.”   


All the way from China

A half dozen students from China who studied under CIU’s Kepha Institute made the trip to the United States to celebrate. The Kepha Institute is an online study designed for students in East Asia. Graduating with a Master of Arts in Bible Exposition was Gao Shan, a tea merchant who has been serving in the church for many years as a small group Bible study leader.

Through a translator Gao called the CIU program “deeply rooted in the Bible, and not only the biblical knowledge, but also the embodiment of how to live out the Word of God — life transformation in the process.”

It was the second time Gao has been in the United States and the first time on campus. When asked what she thought about the campus, no translation was needed.

“Ah, awesome!”


The Charge to Graduates: Humility

Delivering the commencement address at both ceremonies was Dr. Hans Finzel, the chairman of the CIU Board of Trustees, who is also a CIU alumnus. Finzel is an author, speaker and authority in the field of leadership. For 20 years he served as president of WorldVenture, a global mission agency serving in over 65 countries.

Noting that it was exactly 50 years to the date that he graduated from CIU, Finzel shared “nuggets” on what he would have told himself back then based on what he knows now. Among those nuggets is humility.

“What is the most important characteristic of great leadership?” Finzel asked the graduates. “The most important characteristic is humility. So, if you’re not humble yet, you’re going to need to get humble — when God breaks you, He can use you because your hands are no longer clinched, they are open.”

See the graduate commencement ceremony on Facebook. See the undergraduate ceremony on Vimeo

Higher learning. Deeper faith. A Christ-centered community on campus and online. Apply now or request information on enrollment at CIU by contacting Admissions at (803) 807-5024 or      

Gao Shan poses with CIU President Dr. Bill Jones and his wife Debby. (Photo by Noah Allard)

Gao Shan poses with CIU President Dr. Bill Jones and his wife Debby. (Photo by Noah Allard)