The origins of Azusa Pacific University go back to 1899 when a group of spiritual leaders from various denominations met in Whittier, California. The first Bible college founded on the West Coast, the Training School for Christian Workers focused on preparing students for service and missionary endeavors. The initial class of students met March 3, 1900, with Mary A. Hill serving as the first president.
The institution then moved three times before settling in Huntington Park in 1907. In 1939, the Training School became Pacific Bible College and offered four-year degrees. Also in 1939, Cornelius P. Haggard, Th.D., emerged as the right choice to lead the school. Haggard’s early years as president were fraught with adversity—enrollment was down and donations from the prior year totaled only $27. Among his many accomplishments, Haggard launched a variety of innovative fundraising efforts, including the annual Dinner Rally that continues today. Haggard served for the next 36 years, achieving many significant milestones along the way. He served for 36 years until his death in 1975.
By the mid 1940s, Pacific Bible College had outgrown its Huntington Park campus. The Board of Trustees decided to purchase a 12-acre school for girls in the city of Azusa. Classes began on the new campus in 1947, and in 1956, the college’s name was changed to Azusa College.
Azusa College merged first in 1965 with Los Angeles Pacific College, a four-year liberal arts institution founded in 1903, and acquired the name Azusa Pacific College. Three years later, the school merged with Arlington College, which was founded in 1954. Having achieved university status, the college changed its name in 1981 to Azusa Pacific University.
After Haggard’s death, Paul E. Sago, Ph.D., became president, serving until 1989. Among his many accomplishments, Sago encouraged the development and growth of off-site educational regional centers throughout Southern California, and presided over the addition of master’s degree programs and the development of schools within the university.
Richard E. Felix, Ph.D., became president in 1990. Felix painted a vision of a flagship Christian university offering men and women an opportunity to earn not only bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but also doctorates. Felix was instrumental in initiating the university’s first three doctoral programs. This growth necessitated a renewed emphasis on the school’s historic Christian mission and priorities for community building and service. Felix reframed these values as the Cornerstones of the university—Christ, Scholarship, Community, and Service—and oversaw the construction of seven new buildings, a doubling of student enrollment, and the quadrupling of graduate programs. He announced his retirement in April 2000 after the celebration of the university’s centennial.
The Board of Trustees unanimously selected Executive Vice President Jon R. Wallace, DBA, to follow Felix as the 16th president of Azusa Pacific, effective November 27, 2000. New programs under his tenure include the Master of Fine Arts, Master of Social Work, and Ph.D. in Nursing. Spurred by Wallace’s vision to be known first as a Christ-centered institution, today Azusa Pacific University seeks to offer transformational scholarship opportunities within the context of life-giving community and is dedicated to the practice of selfless service. This understanding of APU’s Cornerstones guides the university in all its programs and actions.
In addition, Wallace’s vision emphasizes a commitment to partner with the local community and send students out of the classroom to learn. The Neighborhood Wellness Center, for example, is a university-run clinic that brings student nursing services to the public, and the Azusa Reads Program enlists students to teach local children how to read. The High Sierra Semester (formerly Great Works Program) debuted fall 2001, offering students an opportunity to study classic Western art, music, and thought in the scenic setting of the Sierra Nevada mountains. APU also offers the Los Angeles Term, Azusa Oxford Program, the South Africa Semester, and more than 40 other national and international study opportunities.
Wallace has also overseen the completion of the on-campus residence facility, Trinity Hall, and the John and Marilyn Duke Academic Complex, both in 2003. The Duke Academic Complex added additional classroom and office space, and houses the Noel Academy for Strengths-Based Leadership and Education, the School of Theology and its library, and more.
Additionally, in 2009 Azusa Pacific completed the most fiscally significant project in its history with the building of Segerstrom Science Center, a three-story, 72,000-square-foot academic facility located on West Campus. The center includes a 90-seat lecture hall, 23 discipline-specific classrooms, 3 general-purpose classrooms, 37 teaching and research laboratories, nuclear magnetic resonance and electron microscope rooms, faculty offices, and student study and community areas.
Over the years, APU’s athletic programs have also excelled. Currently, the university’s award-winning intercollegiate athletic program consists of 17 teams, including the recent additions of the women’s water polo and swimming and diving teams. Beginning in 2005, the athletics program has won an unprecedented six consecutive National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Directors’ Cup awards. APU also belongs to the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC).
More than a century after its founding, Azusa Pacific University still serves as an evangelical Christian university committed to God First and excellence in higher education. The institution offers more than 53 undergraduate majors, 37 master’s degrees, 21 credentials, 7 doctoral programs, and 5 certificates to its more than 9,200 students. A member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities and recognized among the nation’s top schools, APU offers quality academic programs on campus, online, and at seven regional centers.
Here are just a few alumni who have gone on to do great things!
John C. Maxwell: John is an internationally recognized leadership expert, speaker, coach, and author who has sold more than 19 million books. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP and the John Maxwell Company, organizations that have trained more than 5 million leaders worldwide. Every year he speaks to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders, and organizations as diverse as the United States Military Academy at West Point, the National Football League, and the United Nations. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have each sold more than one million copies: The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You, and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader.
Dave Johnson: Dan transferred from community college in the mid-1980s, and he was the first Olympic decathlete at APU. He had a broken foot in Barcelona in 1992 but still managed to pull off an Olympic medal. His book, Aim High, chronicles his experience at the Olympics in Barcelona.
Innocent Egbunike: Innocent graduated in 1986, and in 1993 received his master’s degree. Before attending Azusa Pacific, he participated as a teenager in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. From 1980 to 1992, he competed in four consecutive Olympic Games. In 2008, he made his fifth Olympic appearance, this time as head coach of the Nigerian track and field team, leading his country to two bronze medals.
Jim Burns: Jim Burns, Ph.D., is a renowned youth and family expert, an acclaimed author, and the founder of HomeWord, a radio broadcast program heard nationally. In partnership with Azusa Pacific University, he established and now provides leadership for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family, a research and training institute offering biblically based resources for parents and youth.
Bryan Clay: Bryan graduated from APU in 2003, then won the silver medal at the 2004 Olympics, achieving the fourth-best decathlon score in Olympic Games history. In 2007, he launched the Bryan Clay Foundation, which provides academic and athletic scholarships to underprivileged student-athletes. In Beijing in 2008, Bryan won the decathlon gold medal, earning the title of world’s greatest athlete. Bryan is the 10th American to win the gold in the decathlon and the first since 1996.
Christian Okoye: Christian came to APU as a track and field athlete and won many national titles and held a record in discus throwing. In his senior year at APU he switched to playing football and led the nation in rushing yards per game, making him an elite player. He later was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs and became an NFL Pro Bowler.