Press Release

Ohio Wesleyan Is Awarded $600,000 Lilly Foundation Grant

July 27, 2016 – by Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan University will use a $600,000 Lilly Endowment Inc. grant to develop a summer institute that helps high school students develop Christian leadership skills. (Photo by Mark Schmitter '12)

Funds Support Creation of Collaborative High School Youth Theology Institute

DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University has received a $600,000 grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to establish a summer institute that will work to prepare high school students to become Christian leaders for a global society.

The four-year grant is part of Lilly Endowment’s High School Youth Theology Institutes, an initiative created to encourage young people to explore theological traditions, ask questions about the moral dimensions of contemporary issues, and examine how their faith calls them to lives of service.

“Ohio Wesleyan is honored to receive a Lilly Endowment grant to help high school students turn their calls to service into plans of action,” said Ohio Wesleyan President Rock Jones, Ph.D. “We know the need for such programs is great because we see it expressed over and over again in the essays of students who seek to enroll at Ohio Wesleyan. They hunger for integrity, purpose, and meaning. Our summer institute will help give shape and substance to their aspirations while simultaneously cultivating a new generation of morally and spiritually grounded leaders.”

Ohio Wesleyan’s institute, set to begin in 2017, will enroll up to 50 Ohio high school juniors and seniors each summer through 2020. Each weeklong session will feature daily academic classes and applied practicums, along with worship, reflective discussion, and journaling.

OWU’s institute will be led by university Chaplain Jon Powers (program director) and Associate Chaplain Mary Jeffries (program dean) and involve Department of Religion professors Blake Michael, Ph.D., and David Eastman, Ph.D., as well as select university staff. In addition, four Ohio Wesleyan students will be chosen each summer to serve as student leader interns for the program, helping to further their own interests in global servant-leadership.

The initiative also will involve community partners including the Methodist Theological School in Ohio; Coalition for Christian Outreach; Asbury United Methodist Church; Habitat for Humanity, Delaware County; West Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church; Holy Family Parish; and Church for All People.

According to Lilly Endowment, Ohio Wesleyan is one of 92 private four-year colleges and universities selected to participate in the nationwide High School Youth Theology Institutes initiative. The schools are located in 30 states and the District of Columbia. Although some are independent, many of the colleges and universities reflect the religious heritage of their founding traditions, including Baptist, Brethren, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches, as well as Roman Catholic, non-denominational, Pentecostal, and historic African-American Christian communities.

“These colleges and universities are well-positioned to reach out to high school students in this way,” said Christopher L. Coble, Th.D., vice president for religion at the Endowment. “They have outstanding faculty in theology and religion who know how to help young people explore the wisdom of religious traditions and apply these insights to contemporary challenges.”

In addition to the school grants, Lilly Endowment also has awarded funds to the Forum for Theological Exploration, a Georgia-based leadership incubator that seeks to inspire young people to make a difference through Christian communities. These funds will be used for programs to bring together leaders of the high school youth theology institutes for mutual learning and support.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family – J.K. Lilly Sr. and sons J.K. Jr. and Eli – through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly & Company. The Endowment exists to support the causes of religion, education, and community development. Lilly Endowment’s religion grantmaking is designed to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians. It does this largely through initiatives to enhance and sustain the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes. Learn more at www.lillyendowment.org.


Ohio Wesleyan University, founded in 1842, is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers nearly 90 undergraduate majors and competes in 23 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through Ohio Wesleyan’s signature OWU Connection program, students integrate knowledge across disciplines, build a diverse and global perspective, and apply their knowledge in real-world settings. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” listed on the latest President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction, and included in the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “best colleges” lists. Learn more at www.owu.edu.