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Celebration Praises New Provost Kim Denu

Westmont officially installed its new provost as the community celebrated the life, faith and career of Kimberly Battle-Walters Denu. Her accomplished career spans nearly three decades of teaching, preaching, mentoring, and executive leadership.

Kim Denu speaks at her Installation

“Today is a culmination of my childhood play,” she said. “When I was a little girl, and for as long as I could remember, my two great passions were the church and the academy — a love for God and a love for learning.”

Denu recalled lining up her dolls and pretending to be a teacher when she was a child. She also preached to her German shepherd. “I’d ask him to sit so that I could preach the sermon. He was going to be saved and sanctified,” she said to laughter from more than 1,500 people March 31 in Murchison Gym. “Some might say I was destined to be a preacher and a teacher,” she said. “I don’t know, but I can say the greatest part of my story is Jesus Christ. If there’s anything good about me, it’s only because of Him.”

The service began with a ceremonial processional of Westmont faculty, trustees and the executive team as well as delegates representing many different colleges and universities from across the country. The Westmont College Choir and musicians performed a stirring rendition of “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood. Members of Denu’s family participated, including her mother, who is an ordained minister and prayed for her daughter’s life, leadership and influence at Westmont and throughout the Santa Barbara community. Denu’s husband, Yohannes Denu, read Joshua 1:8-9 in his native Ethiopian language and shared a personal blessing for her. Selected student representatives also read scriptures symbolic and meaningful about servant leadership. Trustee Carol Houston invoked a charge and blessing on behalf of the Westmont board.

Rev. Albert Tate
Rev. Albert Tate

Guest speaker Reverend Albert Tate, founder and lead pastor of Fellowship Church in Los Angeles County and the author of the book “How We Love Matters: A Call to Practice Relentless Racial Reconciliation,” described Denu as a wife, mother, woman of God, integrity and character. “You embody leadership,” Tate said. He served as Denu’s pastor for many years.

His advice to her came in three parts: leadership is hard, do it anyway; stay encouraged; and don’t lose hope. “As you face hard moments and hold onto your hope, know that the One who created you is the one who will sustain you,” he said. “Don’t forget to plug into God because inevitably the One who created you is the One who will sustain you.”

Later in the day, Tate spoke about "How We Love Matters" in a public lecture at Page Multi-Purpose Room.

Yohannes and Kim Denu
Yohannes and Kim Denu

“Leading faculty has at times been compared to herding cats,” said Jesse Covington, professor of political science and vice chair of the faculty. “Part of what makes faculty like cats is a good thing — we are curious, and our diverse disciplines, perspectives, experiences and aspirations are a vibrant asset to the college and to the Kingdom.”

Edee Schulze, vice president for student life, commissioned Denu on behalf of students. “The education we provide must teach (students) to think about today’s issues, but also to think beyond today’s issues and to endure the test of time. Keep showing us how to not just be respectful but truly listen and honor people where they’re coming from and where they are in their development. Keep helping us move toward better and more whole solutions and agreement. Keep Christ first and education second. Keep education fun and enjoyable, celebrating and enjoying the quest of knowledge and wisdom.”

President Gayle D. Beebe welcomed Denu’s family and friends praising Denu’s creative problem solving, sound judgment, compassionate response and wisdom.

“You come at a time in our college’s history that’s fraught with opportunity and challenge,” Beebe said. “We have experienced your enormous capacities and your bedrock integrity. You bring a wealth of credibility to the post and you inspire the confidence of all your colleagues and peers, including myself and the other members of the executive team. Help cultivate the culture that allows us to impact every life impacted by our college. And finally, help us expand our global footprint so that the impact that we desire to have in our community can ripple out into our culture, our country, and indeed our entire world.”

The Blessing from Members of Kim Denu's Family
The blessing from members of Kim Denu's family

Denu became the college’s new provost in August after 25 years of executive leadership experience in Christian higher education. An ordained minister, she previously served as interim director at the District Church in Washington, D.C.

Previously, Denu worked as vice president for educational programs for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (2019–2021), overseeing study abroad, programming, interfaith work, leadership development, planning for academic conferences, specific grants, budgets and support services for chief academic officers.

She spent much of her career, 1997–2018, at Azusa Pacific University, most recently as vice president and chief diversity officer. She served as special advisor to the president and provost, vice provost for undergraduate programs/special assistant to the president, vice provost for faculty support and special assistant to the president, associate provost, faculty moderator and director of the senate and a faculty member in the sociology department (1997–2008), advancing to the rank of full professor.

Denu poses with fellow members of the executive team
Denu poses with fellow members of the executive team.

A two-time Fulbright scholar, she has conducted research projects in South Africa (2002) and Ethiopia, (2018–2019; her husband’s native country). She has published on topics such as African-American issues, women and family matters, leadership, welfare reform and international relations. She speaks on these subjects at various national and international forums and conferences. In addition to serving on local and national committees and boards, Denu has taught undergraduate and graduate students on five continents. As a professor and a scholar, she seeks to model a life of service outside the academy.

Denu earned a Doctor of Philosophy in sociology at the University of Florida, a Master of Social Work from Temple University and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology at Vanguard University.