During his time as a Bethel student in the Rev. Billy Kirk leadership scholarship program, Zachary Gillis ’13 learned to become a better leader while pursuing his degree. Now Gillis has come full circle, having returned to Bethel after graduation to serve as mentor to the current Kirk scholars.

“Four years ago you could not tell me that I’d be here right now,” says Gillis. “I think that’s just God’s sense of humor.”

It was in 2009 that Gillis spoke with an admission counselor who urged him to consider the Kirk scholarship program, which assists minorities and majority students who are immersed in a different culture. Gillis applied, was accepted, and upheld the scholarship by playing an active leadership role on Bethel’s campus while achieving in the classroom.

Upon graduating from Bethel, Gillis moved near his hometown of Merrillville, Ind., where he planned to get a job using his liberal studies degree, with concentrations in music, sociology and theater. But God had other plans for him.

“When I was graduating, I knew that our (former Kirk advisor) was leaving, and that was it,” says Gillis. “I was encouraged to apply for it.”

After talking with Vice President for Student Development Shawn Holtgren ’95, Ph.D., and spending much time in prayer, Gillis returned to Bethel just two months after graduation to take on the role of assistant resident director and campus coordinator for the center for intercultural development. There, he holds many responsibilities, including advising the Kirk scholarship program, which will welcome its 10th class of scholars in the fall of 2014.

“I was initially apprehensive about how they were going to take to me, with me being just two years older than them,” says Gillis of advising the group of students to which he once belonged.

Each year, Kirk scholars have the opportunity to travel to southern California for the SCORR (Student Congress on Racial Reconciliation) Conference at Biola University. This year’s group is pictured here.

“I tend to look at myself as a big brother, but with authority … and we respect each other, which is a wonderful thing.”

The program has advanced since Gillis’ time, offering students more leadership and growth opportunities. Students now attend weekly meetings, organize events each semester and attend a student leadership development conference in Los Angeles, Calif.

The scholars have embraced the rigor of the program, knowing it is preparing them to excel after graduation. Recently, they coordinated Martin Luther King Jr. Day events for the campus, which included a chapel service and a movie emphasizing unity.

“Most definitely, the Kirk scholars have shown that they can inspire and impact others,” says Gillis of the MLK events. “They’re amazing. They’re a force to be reckoned with. They are going to be agents of change on this campus.”

And Gillis’ goal for the Kirk program is to prepare students to be agents of change not just at Bethel, but for the kingdom of God, wherever their careers take them following graduation.

“If you all leave this program as ambitious leaders with boldness, a love for people and, most importantly, an even greater love for Jesus, then my main goal for you all has been achieved,” Gillis recently told a scholar.