Mike Rakes from a very early age felt drawn to help others in their personal growth and development. He eventually turned his focus to the ministry and spent many years leading congregations, and educating and helping others with their personal growth journeys through his consulting businesses.
Now, Rakes has taken the lead of Evangel University as only its fifth president.
“I feel the weight and responsibility of carrying out my role. There’s definitely a mantle that comes with Evangel,” he says, quickly adding he prefers the focus be not on the president but on the mission of preparing students to innovate in an evolving business climate.
Rakes says he has many ideas on how to elevate the experience for students – over 2,000 were enrolled in 2021, up about 3% – and to foster a more culturally diverse campus. But it begins with encouraging and supporting the faculty and staff of roughly 230 people, he says.
“I think the president of the university has to be focused on ministering, helping the faculty and staff to reach and be the best they can be,” Rakes says. “Higher education is not a business that you go out and win. We are not in competition; we are perpetually helping people go out and grow.”
He says the entire team at Evangel is crucial for the university’s success. “The better they are, the better the experience. I want them to feel safe at work and have a good work environment,” he says.
While Rakes says he has many ideas on how to reach more students worldwide, his immediate focus is on elevating the on-campus experience. A $1 million short-term plan includes outdoor basketball courts, a remodeled student union with more charging stations, a large LED screen, coffee shop and visual emphasis on the new Valor school mascot.
He says COVID-19 forced students to stay apart, which did little to encourage connections. “It was an antisocial pandemic,” he says. “I would say the students are going to be so surprised by some of the stuff when they get back in January.”
At Evangel, Rakes says the presidency is a calling rather than a job. “I knew the heart and soul of Evangel. I’ve known it for many decades, and I understand the higher education lane really well. It’s the two of those coming together. I was willing to enter the mission and ethos of Evangel. My mission is 100% aligned to Evangel, so that part’s been easy.”
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