As the third-ranked regional university in the South, determined by U.S. News and World Report, Samford University is well-known for its academic rigor, rich history, and welcoming environment. At the heart of the school's mission is "an encouragement of ethical competency while encouraging social and civic responsibility, and service to others." However, seeking to extend the university's mission to positively alter the trajectory of an entire nation is a challenge from which even larger institutions might shrink.
With that in mind, Samford President Andrew Westmoreland announced last March that the university would undertake a significant goal: provide shoes to the children of an entire nation. In doing so, the school hopes to foster the meaning of the university's mission as well as its vision for the future. Moreover, the school hopes to inspire others to take on audacious goals, Westmoreland explained.
"Leadership isn't defined by enrollment. It's defined by clarity of purpose and commitment to realizing the potential within," says Westmoreland. "This is not a timid goal. But if acting boldly inspires another school to do the same in service to others, then we have succeeded in a much bigger sense."
Samford has aligned its resources with Charlotte, N.C.-based Samaritan's Feet to shoe the entire nation of Dominica. Working on a project with such a huge goal will give alumni, faculty, staff and students an opportunity to come together in a unique and powerful way, according to Samford's Chief Strategy Officer Colin Coyne.
"Too often, as a university or a state or a nation, we fail to realize the power we have in coming together to conquer a common goal," Coyne said. "We have the capacity to do remarkable things if we'll allow ourselves the freedom to imagine them."
Samaritan's Feet is not unfamiliar to the Samford community. Last year Samford student-athletes participated with Samaritan's Feet to provide shoes to Birmingham's inner-city children, many of whom could not afford the socks and shoes necessary to wear to school.
"For most of us, shoes are a luxury item, something we take for granted. But for others in the world, those who live on roughly $2.50 per day, shoes and clothing are a vital necessity," said Martin Newton, Samford's athletics director.
In fact, a lack of adequate footwear is more than a simple inconvenience or lack of comfort. Worldwide, two billion people are infected, and millions die, due to the spread of diseases contracted through unprotected feet, Coyne said.
Samford's involvement extends beyond shoes, however.
"While shoes are the vehicle in this instance, our vision and long-term commitment are much deeper. Our interest is in ministry, health, education, global outreach and so much more," Coyne explained. "Our goal is to make this project an annual opportunity, both deeper with Dominica and potentially broader with shoes for another nation. Who knows? Maybe we'll challenge others to see if they can top what we've done."
On July 27, 2014, "no child will be without shoes in Dominica," Coyne added. Students from Samford's McWhorter School of Pharmacy, athletes, administration, alumni and faculty will travel to Dominica to make sure it happens. Between now and then, the Samford community is working to raise the $100,000 required to make the vision reality.
"We'll get there," said Coyne. "It will take a lot of folks coming together and lots of support from within the university and beyond, but that's leadership: thinking boldly, acting decisively. And, putting your trust in the right place."