Dr. Vinita Sauder is retiring this summer after leading Union College as president for 10 years. After months of prayerful searching, the university’s Board of Trustees chose Dr. Yami Bazan as Union’s 30th president. Bazan has most recently served as associate dean for Student Affairs at Loma Linda University. In this interview, the two presidents discuss the joys and challenges of Adventist higher education.

Sauder: Many of us on campus first got to know you in November when you spoke for a Power Pac weekend. We had just lost a student in a tragic motorcycle accident that week, and you were here with us through a very difficult time. My question is, before you came in November and got thrown into the deep end, so to speak, what did you know about Union?

Bazan:  I’d always heard about Union from friends as a little gem in the middle of the country with this beautiful spiritual life and passion for service and missions. I had been to campus maybe twice before, but it had always been a fly-in, go to a meeting, fly-out sort of trip.

Having spent time with the community for those five days this past November, I went into the interview knowing this is a really special place. I didn’t know much about Union or Lincoln or Nebraska, but

I had felt God’s presence on this campus through the students, the faculty, the church and even the Pathfinders. 

Sauder: You said in one of your sermons that you love God’s challenges and making a difference. This job is a challenge every single day. There are joys too, but it’s challenging now in Adventist higher education. 

Bazan: Challenges and joys — I want to hear about those. Let’s start with some of the happiest moments you’ve had while serving as president. 

Sauder: Many of my happiest stories start with talking to students. 

I remember one year during registration, a mother and daughter came to my office. The daughter was an English major and her mother described her as an introverted bookworm. She was so concerned her daughter wouldn’t get out of the dorm and make friends. But I started seeing the daughter in the middle of every activity. I saw her at Handshake, vespers, kayaking and just hanging out with other new students. It was amazing. She had zero trouble making friends. That’s the magic of the community we have here at Union. And it has been a blessing to me to meet the shy girl at registration and see the woman she has become. 

I love listening to students and parents. Whether it’s building a new athletic fieldhouse or remodeling residence halls, major initiatives on this campus start with simple conversations with students.

Bazan: The students definitely blessed me!  When I was on campus in November, a student would walk me back to my room after each meeting and pray with me. I thought the chaplain had assigned him to help me, but no, he  was just being kind and making sure he prayed over me, all on his own. 

Sauder: We call it the Union Spirit

Bazan: I experienced the Spirit before I knew about Union. Many of the people who have already made the biggest impact in my life have been Union alumni. 

So many people have reached out to share their Union story since I accepted the job. My mentor in Adventist higher education, Dr. Sue Curtis, messaged me and let me know she is a Union grad.  Also my mentor in academia, Dr. Barbara Favorito, texted me as soon as she found out and let me know she is an alumna. And Dr. Norman Powell, who has been dear to me since he was my elementary school principal, immediately messaged me and said, “Union is where Roxy and I met. You’ll love it there.” 

Those are the joys, but we can’t forget the challenges. What are the greatest obstacles you see Union facing?


In the last decade, the Adventist colleges and universities in North America have seen an enrollment decline of 24% on average.

That’s a real point of pain for our campuses. Union is right in the middle of the pack for that, but being the median isn’t where we want to be when it comes to enrollment losses. 

It’s a challenging time right now. Nationwide, there’s a lot of talk about the value of higher education, and due to inflation, there is rising pressure on the family pocketbook. 

These external forces make it even more important to maintain our unique spiritual environment, which sets us apart from public universities. We have so many students starting Bible study and prayer groups, asking faculty and staff to be their spiritual mentors, and taking the initiative to deepen their own walk with God.


My desire is to make Union a resource so valuable to our churches and our families that students are attracted to come.

We need to go to where they are and bring them into the Union experience by thoughtfully engaging with them. One idea is Public High School Bible camps. When I worked for the Southern California Conference, I led out in junior high Bible camps, and Union could do something like that to connect with the kids who aren’t in the academy system. 

A lot of us in academia are so used to the big campus churches that we forget our conferences are made up of a lot of tiny communities too.

The gift of having worked at a conference office before coming to higher education is understanding just how open and welcoming those small churches are, and also how little our church members know about Adventist higher education. They’re not at a university church. They don’t know what’s happening on campus. 

When I was at La Sierra, a group of 20 or so of us who loved speaking started traveling to any church that would have us. It was equally eye opening for us to learn about them as for them to hear about the university and Adventist education.

Sauder: There’s such a good, tight relationship here already that you can build on. My first year as president at Union, Tom Lemon was the board chair. He told me “Union College is the apple of the Mid-America Union’s eye.” He said the school is crucial to the functioning of the entire Mid-America Union.

A lot of choices the team here faces have no perfect answers. I wish everyone could see how hard we work and pray to do the right things. Taped in the drawer of my desk is a handwritten note from John Kerbs, a president who retired 26 years ago. It’s The Living Bible’s paraphrase of 1 Chronicles 28:20,

“Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don’t be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord my God is with you; He will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly.”

I hope that message will be as comforting to you as it has been to me over the years.


It’s very encouraging for me to come into this position knowing that God goes before me. 

Through you, I know He has sent someone down this road before me. I’m blessed to have a guide such as yourself Vinita!  You’re like Elijah to my Elisha. I’m grateful God has so graciously led my path in a variety of ways to be able to serve, whether it’s been education, ministerial and leadership. I’m so happy to be starting this next chapter, president of Union Adventist University, with your mentorship. My prayer is that God may continue to pour His blessings over this very special place.