Sowing Merced Community Connections via Fresno Pacific University

Sowing Merced Community Connections via Fresno Pacific University

Having been an active member of the educational community of Merced since 1980, my commitment to serving the people of Merced County by providing access to educational excellence and the Fresno Pacific Idea comes naturally. Since joining FPU as full-time faculty four years ago, my plan for accomplishing such has undergone numerous permutations as a function of an increased understanding of the enormity of the task I have undertaken. It is easy to become mired in the daily operations of an organization, which can sometimes obscure a larger and longer-term mission and vision. Helping our students work toward personal and professional transformations as educators while undergoing my own professional and spiritual renewal has been daunting; however, I believe that the ongoing supportive nature of this university has made this formidable task possible.

When I consider the size of our Merced campus: 1) in relation to other institutions of higher learning in this area (University of California Merced, California State University Stanislaus in Turlock, Merced College), and 2) in comparison to the size/longevity of other FPU campuses, Christ’s parable of the mustard seed comes to mind: 

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that birds of the air come and perch on its branches. (Matthew 13: 31-32)

I feel immensely fortunate to have witnessed the development of our Merced Campus over the past eight years as it has grown from offering one degree-completion program to five degree-completion programs and five graduate-level professional preparation programs. Our facilities have grown from one building to three buildings over this time period, with additional classroom space on the horizon. My understanding is the decisions to augment program offerings in Merced to carry out the kingdom work Christ has laid before us have been based on local community need. I am proud to be a part of a growth process that consistently places the needs of the people being served at the forefront. Understanding community needs will surely be enhanced through the university’s persistent involvement with key local organizations that share our values and a solid commitment to the betterment of our populace. Careful discernment of our community’s educational needs from individual and collective perspectives will strengthen the roots of our efforts, just as water and nutrients from the earth fortify the roots of a mustard plant.

I wear many hats as a program director at a small regional campus. While I do my fair share of teaching, mentoring and administrative tasks, a good deal of my time is dedicated to reaching out to local school districts to establish partnerships in order to coordinate meaningful clinical experiences for our special education teacher, counselor and psychologist candidates. My recruitment efforts involve prospective students as well as new adjunct faculty to serve as instructors and/or mentors for our students. Two themes have repeatedly emerged when I have asked why they are considering FPU: 1) the university has a strong reputation for academic quality and, 2) the university’s Christian foundation is a personal fit for them. I view these recurring responses as evidence that our FPU-Merced mustard seed has matured to a healthy young plant stage, where we can be seen above ground.

The question now becomes how our FPU community will find the courage for continued growth, not only in Merced, but at all our campuses. There are no easy answers. However, as with so many vicissitudes in life, heartfelt prayer is certain to provide sustenance and spiritual guidance to move forward. My personal prayer is for God’s grace to flow through all of us and allow our university to mature into a tree strong enough to sustain anyone who chooses to find educational growth and faithful refuge through Fresno Pacific University in Merced.


Kelly J. Bentz, Ph.D.

Program Director, Merced Regional Campus, Special Education & PPS School Counseling and School Psychology