Here are four things that officials say will set Ottawa University’s Surprise campus apart in the Phoenix area’s competitive higher-education landscape. Jackee Coe/

Surprise’s first college campus seeks to set itself apart through adviser relationships and helping students develop skills not normally covered in a classroom setting.

Efforts to launch Ottawa University Arizona’s campus in Surprise this fall are underway, including the city’s plan to spend around $2 million on infrastructure to support the campus.

The campus will begin fairly small — occupying the Communiversity on Civic Center Plaza near Litchfield and Greenway roads. School officials believe they’re on track to reach their goal of at least 300 students for the fall semester.

Ottawa will begin building its athletic field late next month or early June, with construction expected to last three or four months. Construction of a stadium, dining and recreation facility, and phase one of a residence hall will begin this summer and end in early 2018, according to Ottawa officials.

Here’s a closer look at the plans and what Ottawa officials say will set the non-profit Christian university apart from Arizona giants such as the public Arizona State University and the private University of Phoenix.

Surprise’s contribution

Surprise earmarked $4 million in this year’s budget for capital improvements to develop a university campus. However, Economic Development Manager Mike Hoover said the city will likely spend closer to $2 million on infrastructure improvements such as drainage and electrical to facilitate Ottawa’s campus development.

MORE: Surprise aims to become ‘college town’ with Ottawa University expansion

City staff will report how the money will be spent in an upcoming City Council meeting, though a council vote isn’t required as the money was already appropriated. The city’s infrastructure improvements will occur throughout the year alongside Ottawa’s construction projects, Hoover said.

Hoover would not say whether the city discussed additional incentives with Ottawa officials, but suggested future discussions could take place as development progresses.

Councilman Roland Winters Jr. said the capital improvement spending is a necessary incentive that will pay off in the future.

“I think it’s money well-spent,” Winters said. “We needed to get higher education in Surprise. I always felt that a university or a college in a town is icing on the cake.”

Vice Mayor Todd Tande said the facilities Ottawa University plans on building, which includes a football stadium and a park, will add value to the area that Surprise has long sought to develop.

PREVIOUSLY: Communiversity @ Surprise still growing

Ottawa has had a presence in Surprise since 2009 when it was one of several universities operating in the then newly opened Communiversity.

Ottawa University representatives said the school signed a five-year lease that begins Aug. 1 with the Maricopa Community College District to use the 26,000-square-foot Communiversity building exclusively. Ottawa has the option to renew for an additional five years, or purchase the building at the current market value after July 2019.

What degrees will be offered?

Ottawa’s Surprise campus will offer a dozen bachelor’s degree programs in the fall, though some majors, such as business, will have different concentrations to choose from. Graduate-level online degree programs also are available, although no on-campus programs are available yet in Surprise. Ottawa plans on expanding its curriculum over the coming years.

Degrees offered this fall will include:


  • Biology.
  • English.
  • History.
  • Human services.
  • Psychology.
  • Business administration.
  • Leadership and management.
  • Elementary education.
  • Secondary dducation.
  • Early childhood/special education.
  • Exercise science.
  • Sports studies.

Graduate (online only):

  • Counseling.
  • Business administration.
  • Human resources.
  • Education.

The school will also host 19 varsity men’s and women’s sports teams ranging from football to softball in the fall, with about 75 percent of incoming students expected to be collegiate athletes. In recent weeks, the university has been recruiting coaches and student athletes.

While Ottawa will begin with an athletic base, Surprise Campus Provost Dennis Tyner aims to eventually diversify the student body with additional academic programs such as nursing, engineering and computer science. Prospective students have told Ottawa staff that they’re primarily interested in STEM fields.

Setting itself apart


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As the fledgling campus in the Valley, Ottawa is looking to set itself apart in several ways.

Life Advisers

Ottawa University won’t offer the traditional college adviser who meets with students each semester to tell them which classes they should take. Instead, it’ll provide what Tyner calls “Adawe mentors.”

These mentors will involve themselves in nearly every facet of their students’ lives, whether it be academic, social or spiritual. Tyner expects students will meet with their mentor at least once every two weeks to establish a healthy relationship.

The school expects to have three Adawe mentors in the fall.

The mentors will also teach mandatory low-level, liberal arts classes made up of students assigned to them.

“Assigned” isn’t actually accurate. Tyner said the school won’t assign mentors to students based on their major, but rather how well the student connects with their mentor.

Chapel, not classes on Wednesdays

Ottawa University students won’t attend class on Wednesdays. Instead, they’ll have “personal growth” days that begin with a chapel service. Tyner noted that prospective students don’t have to be Christian or religious at all, but they should be comfortable in a faith-based environment.

“We’re not afraid to throw the word ‘chapel’ around and we will have people who come in and will talk about things that are faith-based,” Tyner said.

After the service, students and faculty will all have lunch together, followed by workshops where students will develop their “soft skills.”

Readying students for the workplace

Graduating in nursing or mathematics might signify knowledge in a field, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a good employee. Tyner believes many young people aren’t prepared when entering the workforce. They might know enough about their major, but he says few are taught about “soft skills” such as leadership or time management.

“Students struggle with time management,” Tyner said. “Who teaches them time management? What class is the time management class? Do they get that in the biology class? Is that in pre-calculus? What class is that in?”

Ottawa won’t offer a for-credit course in time management. Instead, it will offer workshops to teach students skills not normally covered in a traditional class setting.

The school will enlist retired professionals around Surprise to share their expertise on what it means to be “work ready” every Wednesday after a student-faculty lunch. Students will decide which workshops they attend based on recommendations from their mentor.

While they’re not mandatory, Tyner said students who aren’t interested in attending the workshops “are looking at the wrong school.”

Flexible term, but not payment

Rather than study four or five courses simultaneously, Ottawa will use what’s called a “flex schedule” where students focus on one or two courses at a time. During the fall semester, a student might take one course for three weeks, two courses for eight weeks and another two courses for eight weeks.

“Students today are better when they’re focusing on fewer things, and so rather than focusing on five or six courses which some of them have a difficult time doing, they’re much better when they’re focusing on one or two courses at a time,” Tyner said.

The course structure isn’t the only difference.

Rather than pay for classes on a per-credit basis, Ottawa University students will pay $13,000 per semester to enroll in up to 18 credits. Students taking fewer credits will pay the same amount as those taking all 18, and unused credits won’t rollover into other semesters, like summer. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

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