University of Mount Olive Celebrates Founding

MOUNT OLIVE- University of Mount Olive (MOC) honored 31 employees and celebrated 62 years of providing Christian higher education at the College’s annual Founders Day Worship Service.

Jean F. Ackiss, director of Church Support at the College, was the keynote speaker.  Ackiss graduated from University of Mount Olive in 1960, and began working at the College in 1965. Her service to the College has thus far encompassed 48 years.

In her remarks Ackiss provided a historical overview of the College, which was started in 1951 with only $6.17.  Today the College has an operating budget of $37 million.  “Founders Day is a time of reflection, a time of appreciation, a time of opportunity and encouragement, and a time of challenge,” Ackiss said.

Ackiss talked about the history of each building on campus and said, “Each of these buildings was named because someone cared enough to give of themselves and their resources.”  She went on to say, “University of Mount Olive did not arrive when we set foot on this campus.  Others prepared the way for us today and it was a good way.  I believe it is not only or privilege, but it is our responsibility to prepare the way for those who will come after us.”

In closing, Ackiss challenged the audience, “Each person in this auditorium today will leave our mark in some way.  What kind of mark do you want to leave…a black mark, which will eventually become a stumbling block, or a shining mark that will make life better for those who come after us?  The choice is ours, and I trust we will make shining marks.”

Each year during the Founders Day celebration, the College awards one student with the Founders Leadership Award, a scholarship awarded in memory of the late Dr. W. Burkette Raper, president of University of Mount Olive 1954-1995. The award was established in honor and memory of those who with vision and leadership initiated the founding of University of Mount Olive in 1951 and those who in subsequent years have provided extraordinary leadership through dedicated services, leadership, and support for the advancement of the College.

Payable on future educational expenses at University of Mount Olive, the scholarship is presented to a senior in the traditional program who has distinguished him/herself as an individual of character and initiative and who has demonstrated strong leadership qualities toward making University of Mount Olive the institution of Christian higher education envisioned by its founders. The recipient is selected by a committee of faculty, student and staff representatives.

This year’s Founders Leadership Award was presented to Elvia Rodriguez, a senior math education major from Dudley, NC.  In one of the nominations for Rodriguez, a faculty member said, “Elvia has distinguished herself as a leader in the department of education since she first enrolled at University of Mount Olive as a freshman.  In the classroom, there is no one who works harder to understand the material and participate in a leadership role. Elvia goes above and beyond the expectations and pushes herself to excel.”

As a seventh grader arriving in the U.S., Rodriguez spoke no English. She attributes her success to a teacher who worked with her to master the language. Having to overcome this obstacle has given Rodriguez an inner strength that challenges her to succeed and be a better person on a daily basis. One of Rodriguez’s future goals is to master at least eight languages. Outside the classroom, she has distinguished herself as a peer tutor and as a peer academic leader for Supplemental Instruction. Rodriguez has found time to participate in activities outside the classroom and has made her mark there, as well. Last year, she became a walk-on member of the women’s soccer team. She has distinguished herself on the team, having been selected as a Scholar-Athlete of the Month recipient during the fall 2013 season.

Rodriguez is the daughter of Jose and Estebana Rodriguez.

For the final portion of the service, President Philip P. Kerstetter recognized faculty and staff for their continued dedicated efforts.  He presented each service award recipient with a gift engraved with the College seal.

University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Jacksonville, and Washington.  For more information, visit