Palm Beach Atlantic University Community Sees God’s Hand in Presidential Selection

Dr. Debra A. Schwinn

Dr. Debra A. Schwinn dove into her presidential role May 4, hearing the biblical echo for such a time as this: a call for bold leadership to face new challenges. An experienced educator, researcher and physician, Palm Beach Atlantic University’s ninth president had come with a passion and track record for collaboration and innovation.

She had most recently been associate vice president for medical affairs at the University of Iowa, and last fall she had turned down other career opportunities in medicine, saying, “it became very clear that God was calling me to Christian universities.” With “the innovativeness of PBA, the real need and my desire to make sure that Christ-first liberal arts education is deeply supported through these turbulent times for higher education,” the opportunity at PBA “just felt like a really good fit,” Schwinn said.

When she accepted the PBA post in January and spoke of “turbulent times,” no one dreamed of the challenges that would come with the coronavirus. But she shared then lessons God had taught her, including dealing with difficult situations: “You can hide from the world, you can get bitter or you can jump in with both feet and grow and learn something from the situation.”

Months later, after PBA had sent students home to finish the spring semester online, it became clear that the new president had “jumped in with both feet” to meet this COVID-19 challenge. And many in the University community took comfort seeing such a medical professional lead PBA now, as they recalled the Book of Esther and the question posed to Queen Esther, “Who knows but that you have come … for such a time as this?”

Schwinn had been dean of the University of Iowa’s School of Medicine, and before that she spent more than 15 years in leadership positions at Duke University Medical Center and the University of Washington in Seattle. She had earned her undergraduate degree in her native Ohio at the College of Wooster, a liberal arts school founded by the Presbyterian Church, and she received her medical degree from Stanford University School of Medicine.

Honored alumna from Stanford U.

In 2014 Stanford honored her with its prestigious Lifetime Alumni Achievement Award, calling her “a nationally known investigator in molecular pharmacology,” and an “invited lecturer and visiting professor throughout the world,” who has “laid the groundwork for innovations in medical education, bench to bedside research, and team-based patient care.”

Schwinn now sees multiple opportunities for PBA to lead as an innovator. As an example, she explained: “The world is changing, and it is likely that going forward our graduates will need to reinvent themselves every 10 years or so throughout their careers.” She envisions the University helping equip its graduates with new skills as they earn specialized post-graduate certificates in programs of perhaps three courses.

“Maybe you’re running a nonprofit today and you don’t have an analytics background,” she said. “An analytics certificate could really help you do the kind of market segmentation and analysis you need for your nonprofit.” She sees far-ranging possibilities for such new programs. And she sees increasing opportunities for PBA’s departments and schools to work together. In her previous work, she said, “I loved to create centers and institutes that brought people together across the whole university.”

Schwinn has 27 years of research experience as a principal investigator funded through the National Institutes of Health. “To do the best research now,” she said, “you must have different perspectives on the problem, because our problems are more complex today.” To tackle difficult research problems, she imagines strong, broad collaboration, for example, between PBA faculty and students in nursing, pharmacy, kinesiology and the sciences.

In addition to her past roles as innovative researcher, Schwinn has a long record of leadership in fundraising. The pandemic accentuates pre-existing fiscal pressures on universities, she said, creating a “perfect storm” for higher education today. “But ever since God called PBA into existence 52 years ago, innovation has been in our DNA,” she said. “Hence, I am confident PBA will buffer this storm, and not just to survive, but to thrive.”

As the fall term began at Palm Beach Atlantic, Schwinn announced the theme chosen for the academic year: “Trust in the Lord.” The powerful message is based on Proverbs 3:5-6, which says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and He will make your paths straight.”

“I am committed to ensuring that PBA remains a Christ-first university, integrating Christian faith with outstanding academics,” Schwinn said. “Building upon our founders’ strong foundation, my vision is that PBA become the premier Christian university in the country. In ways, PBA is the best-kept secret around; it is time to let everyone in on the secret and follow God’s leading into the future.”

With this issue of Good News, Dr. Schwinn debuts a regular column, which this month considers issues of racial reconciliation. Read it here.

Students back on campus

Palm Beach Atlantic University students are back for the fall semester, under a multi-pronged approach for the best safety practices. The University developed its reopening plan under local, state and national guidelines, and with strong medical leadership of its own. PBA’s nursing and pharmacy schools have faculty experts in infectious diseases, and its new president, Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, has an extensive medical background.

Palm Beach Atlantic University is a private, independent university offering undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, with campuses in West Palm Beach, Orlando and online. The University is dedicated to the integration of Christian principles to prepare students for learning, leadership and service.

New student residence Watson Family Hall has 154 apartment-style units.

Center for Biblical Leadership; athletics benefit from Watson Family’s generous gift to PBA

Palm Beach Atlantic University has begun the academic year with the opening of Watson Family Hall, a new, eight-story campus residence built at the corner of Pembroke Place and South Dixie Highway. Each of the 154 one- and two-bedroom units has a full kitchen, along with increased safety and security features based on intentional architectural design, coupled with leading edge technology.

A community room – used for activities that encourage camaraderie and spiritual growth – as well as private study areas are included on every floor. Watson Family Hall was built by and in partnership with Hedrick Brothers Construction of West Palm Beach.

The building is named to honor and commemorate the leadership and continued generosity of the Watson Family. Their generous gift of $2.5 million will be used to endow several areas that are meaningful to the family. The first is the new Center for Biblical Leadership (CBL) and the second is PBA Athletics.

As the University’s sixth Center of Excellence, CBL was established to confront a leadership crisis that exists today across business and ministry sectors in North America and around the globe. Its mission is to develop and support leaders who seek to integrate biblical truth and spiritual wisdom into today’s leadership best practices.

The Watsons’ generosity also pours over into athletics, endowing an administrative supplement for the position of Athletic Director, ensuring continued strong leadership for this role. Their gift will also be used to update the workout room in the Greene Complex — providing new exercise equipment and a fresh, inspiring look in the gym.

“PBA forever altered the trajectory of my life and I have been blessed because of it,” stated Karl Watson Jr. “We are humbled to give back to the university that means so much to our family and we encourage alumni and friends to match our donation.” He is a 1987 Palm Beach Atlantic graduate who joined the University’s Board of Trustees in January of this year.

The Watson family has been long-time supporters of Palm Beach Atlantic University. Karl Sr. has served as a PBA trustee since 1997 and received the University’s American Free Enterprise Medal in 2007 for his community involvement and civic service. He is the retired president and chief operating officer for Rinker Materials Corporation, one of the world’s top 10 largest producers of concrete block and ready-mix concrete.

4 more grads earn prestigious Fulbright


Three recent Palm Beach Atlantic University graduates have won highly-competitive Fulbright awards to teach English overseas, and a fourth grad has won a Fulbright appointment to conduct scholarly research.


“The Fulbright is one of the most prestigious awards an American undergraduate or recent graduate can win,” said Dr. Carl Miller, director of PBA’s Prestigious National Scholarship Program. “The goal for the Fulbright program is to send the best recent graduates of American institutions abroad for a program of cultural ambassadorship and intellectual exchange and service work.”


Isabella Lindh, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, will serve in Bulgaria; Sarah Selden, from Littleton, Colorado, will serve in Spain; and Chanel Nassir, from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, will serve in Burma. They will begin their Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships (ETA) in January, their appointments delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.


PBA has produced six Fulbright ETA winners in the last three years. Additionally, Dr. Gregory P. Perreault has won a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to Austria. He will research and teach at University of Vienna as part of a project to study digital journalism practices in the United States and Austria.

Perreault, a 2006 PBA graduate, earned his master’s degree from Georgetown University and his doctorate from Missouri School of Journalism. He is an assistant professor of journalism at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.


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