November 14, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

Sarah Visser, executive vice president for student experience and strategy at Calvin University, has been selected as one of three inaugural presidential fellows. The program, administered by the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU), is a new year-long fellowship aimed at preparing leaders to answer the call to the Christian college presidency.

“The opportunity to learn alongside the other Presidential Fellows and CCCU colleagues is a tremendous honor,” said Visser. “I’m eager and excited to dig in and learn from these faithful leaders.”

Always learning

For Visser, learning is something she’s been doing her entire career. And she is willing to learn from anyone, no fancy title or position required. In fact, she considers some of her best teachers to be her students.

“She is always willing to listen to student feedback and to listen to honestly what’s happening at Calvin from a students’ perspective,” said Bear de Boo, a senior studying political science and history, who also serves as student body president.

“You can tell she’s intentional from the first time you talk to her,” said Kay Casturo, a 2022 graduate of Calvin, who first interacted with Visser when they served on a committee together back in 2018.

Always accessible

A woman dressed in red academic regalia is seated on stage alongside the platform party.
Sarah Visser seated with the platform party during a recent Calvin University Commencement ceremony.

For both de Boo and Casturo, Visser became a mentor. While their student leadership positions gave them proximity to Visser more often than most students, they both emphasized “she [Visser] never turns down a meeting with a student who wants to meet with her.”

And that includes students who want to talk about challenging issues. In fact, not only does she not shy away from those meetings, but she also sees those conversations as opportunities.

“I love the opportunity to dive into the messy and holy work of struggling for shalom alongside students and colleagues. This is especially meaningful work at an institution like Calvin University, which centers its mission around equipping agents of renewal who think deeply, act justly, and live wholeheartedly. Every day, I’m blessed by the opportunity to learn from and alongside our amazing students, staff, and faculty.”

Proven leadership qualities

For de Boo and Casturo, it’s not hard to see why the CCCU would consider Visser someone who could lead a university someday.

“I see so many qualities in Sarah that already prepare her for being a college president,” said Casturo. “She sees the organization as a whole, she doesn’t silo. She also understands communication and the key aspects of communication among all stakeholders, and she models Christian leadership and has built-in integrity.”

A woman stands behind a Calvin University wooden podium during the January Series.
Sarah Visser introduces one of the 2023 January Series speakers.

“I value her ability to just listen to students and she is also well-informed and has lots of wisdom to share,” said de Boo. “She is knowledgeable about everything at Calvin, and she communicates things well.” Her colleagues at Calvin see these qualities too.

“Dr. Sarah Visser is a proven Christian higher education professional and exemplifies professional courage, professional expertise, and professional kindness in all of her work,” said Wiebe Boer, president of Calvin University. “We heartily endorse the selection of Dr. Visser as an inaugural Presidential Fellow of the CCCU. We are so proud that she is on our team.”

During the one-year fellowship program, Dr. Sarah Visser (Calvin University), Dr. Keith Hall (Azusa Pacific University) and Dr. Ted Song (John Brown University), will have access to numerous opportunities for professional development, leadership development, and networking, providing the fellows with unique access to executive-level decision making, presidential networking and engagement with key issues affecting faith-based education at a national level.

Committed to Calvin

And while Visser sees this as a great honor and opportunity, she is steadfast in her commitment to serving her students and her university well.

“I believe that my call to administration in Christian higher ed is really an acceptance of God’s invitation to help cultivate both personal and collective shalom. If the Christian life is about loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind, and loving my neighbor as myself, then Christian higher education is, at its core, about cultivating both an awareness and response to the call to be Christ’s agent of shalom. And the context for this work is both people and organizations—two things I care a great deal about.”

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