The City of Dreams

During the Civil War, people flocked to Nashville. A river port and a railway hub, the city had become a commercial center of the Southeast. Union and Confederate supporters came to town, as well as free blacks, escaped slaves and Northern businessmen. 

By the time the United States conducted its twelfth census in 1900, Nashville—with a population of 80,865—ranked 47th among the top 100 largest urban places in the country. In the waning years of the 19th century, Nashville had also begun to grow as a cultural center, earning the moniker “the Athens of the South.” 

It was in this city—not so far removed from the Civil War, but fast becoming a cultural icon—that J.O. McClurkan founded the Literary and Bible Training School for Christian Workers. Later, it became known as Trevecca. 

Fast-forward a century to January 2013 when The New York Times crowned Nashville an “it” city. “Here in a city once embarrassed by its Grand Ole Opry roots, a place that sat on the sidelines while its Southern sisters boomed economically, it is hard to find a resident who does not break into the goofy grin of the newly popular when the subject of Nashville’s status comes up,” the writer of the article opined. 

Music City, U.S.A., it seems, had finally found its rhythm.

Nashville has experienced unprecedented growth in the years prior to and following The New York Times’ proclamation. Metro Nashville’s population grew at an annual rate of 3.91 percent from 2015-2016, more than quadrupling the 0.8 percent annual average for the United States. In 2015, Forbes named Nashville one of the fastest growing cities in the country. 

Earlier this year, the Census Bureau released population estimates that declared Nashville had overtaken Memphis as the largest city in Tennessee. Nashville is now home to more than 660,000 people. 

City planners don’t expect the population growth to stop anytime soon, either. The Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization predicts that by 2035, the 10-county Cumberland Region surrounding Nashville will grow to a population of 2.6 million. That’s roughly the same size as Denver. 

The city’s incredible growth has also ignited Nashville’s industry. Long known as a center for music, entertainment and publishing, Nashville is now a hub for technology, healthcare and financial industries. 

In 1901, J.O. McClurkan planted the seed that would become Trevecca in a bustling, growing city poised to become a great city. Now, Nashville stands on the cusp of something new—a frontier and a future that is only beginning to be charted. 

And in the heart of that city—of this Nashville—lies Trevecca. 

According to Dr. Dan Boone, Trevecca’s president, Nashville’s explosive growth has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on the University.

“Nashville is now a brand city that is known globally,” he said. “We’re a place that people in Africa know about. Nashville is a hot city that college students want to come to.” 

College students aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed Nashville’s appeal. Always a commercial center because of the city’s railroad hub and river port, Nashville has grown even more attractive to industries of all kinds. Knowing this, Trevecca faculty and staff have worked to nurture industry relationships that benefit students, from quality internships to part-time jobs and sessions with successful professionals in their chosen careers. 

One of the ways Trevecca is building relationships with the city’s industries is through the iWork program. Instituted in 2015, the program allows students to use their earnings from on- and off-campus part-time jobs to offset the cost of their education. It allows students to gain professional skills while earning some “sweat equity” in the cost of their education, Boone says.

“Their workplace is the classroom where they discover and polish their employable skills,” says Ryan Jolley, director of the iWork program. “iWork celebrates the growth that takes place in students as they work, developing a variety of skills, including the soft skills that enhance their ongoing personal and professional development.” 

Nashville’s greater appeal to a wider range of industries is also proving beneficial to the iWork program. Jolley says Nashville offers “seemingly endless opportunities” for student internships as well as jobs that lead to future careers. 

In addition, Trevecca’s Offices of Career Services and Student Employment are working with a wide variety of networks to connect students with workplace pipelines, Jolley says. 

The City of Opportunity

That includes participating in events hosted by the likes of the Nashville Workforce Network, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development and the Nashville Career Advancement Center, among others. 

Jolley is also working to build networks that help students get a foot in the door with employers. That includes a relationship with Opportunity NOW, a Nashville youth employment initiative spearheaded by the mayor’s office in the Nashville Career Advancement Center.

“Trevecca students under the age of 24 have access to the Opportunity NOW job portal that instantly connects them with employers from all across Nashville in a variety of industries,” Jolley says.

Another positive aspect of Nashville’s growth? Nashville is—there’s no other word for it—fun.

“There’s just the fun of this city,” Boone says, before listing some of the reasons Nashville is special. “Professional sports, music of every genre at its best, parks systems, theatre, phenomenal restaurants. And then the world of film-making and songwriting and the joy of having a lot of the creative arts that are all around us.” 

The City as Classroom

Nashville’s transition to “it” city, however, has come with more than a few growing pains. Boone chooses to view these more as opportunities for the University than disadvantages, though.

“[The growth of Nashville] has also created the kind of issues that education is always working on,” Boone says. “Transit systems, immigration, equity for the poor, community development, all kinds of things that are common topics in the majors that we teach are actually happening right here in Nashville.

“I really hope the city becomes our classroom, that students learn to address the primary challenges of human communities by living in this city and learning in the context of this city,” Boone continued.

But Trevecca isn’t simply leaving the work of addressing those issues to students and graduates. According to Boone, the city’s rebirth calls this Christian university in the heart of Nashville to “deepen our understanding of what it means to be Christian in this culture.” 

“Our theology is one of intervention in the life of the community in which we’re found,” Boone says. “In no way do I feel like Trevecca is threatened by Nashville becoming a world-class city. This growth and change do, however, cause us to examine and articulate what it means to be Christian in a changing culture.”

Articulating that truth means that Trevecca’s leadership has had to make specific choices to address some of the pain points Nashville’s recent boom has revealed.

The University has sought to ease traffic congestion and transportation problems by building more housing close to campus, making transportation on Nashville’s MTA buses available to all students and staff and hosting town hall events to encourage community conversation around the issue.

Nashville’s growth has also brought greater attention to diversity issues. Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, the city’s Hispanic population increased by 134 percent, while the Asian population grew by 61 percent. 

In response, Trevecca’s demographics have begun to shift, too. In the five-year span between 2011 and 2016, Trevecca’s overall Hispanic student population grew by 85 percent, the African American population increased by 56 percent and the number of Asian students more than doubled.

“At Cameron Middle School, right up the street from us, 67 languages are spoken in that single school that’s a few blocks from us,” Boone says. “So for us to act like the world around hasn’t changed would not be wise.”

The University is making concerted efforts to address the needs of these students, even creating a new role: coordinator of student engagement and diversity. Brodrick Thomas accepted the responsibility last summer and is working to engage first generation college students, foster community and prepare students to make a difference in an ever-changing, diverse world.

“As a Christian university, our true mission is to go and fill in the divides and cracks between people in our society,” Thomas said last year in an interview about his new position. “This university should be a place where all those students can come and have that conversation about how to move this world into a place that’s more cohesive instead of divided.” 

The City with Vision

As the 1800s slipped into a new century, Nashville became known as the “Athens of the South” in part because of the many colleges and universities that called the city home. Nashville’s institutions of higher education have always sought to shape and influence the city, and that fact hasn’t changed. 

As the city officials and planners of today’s Nashville make the decisions that will frame the capital city’s future, they’re quick to stress that colleges and universities still have a role to play.

“In-demand jobs in fast-growing cities like Nashville require specialization and continuing education,” says Colby Sledge, Metro Nashville Council member for District 17, Trevecca’s district. “Thanks to our wide range of higher education institutions, Nashville is perfectly positioned to serve an educated workforce in a variety of sectors, from high-skill trades to data-heavy research.”

The idea resounds with Boone as he seeks to lead Trevecca—“A growing city needs an educated workforce and that educated workforce really needs a world-class education,” he says—but also issues a challenge.

“This drives us to make sure that our education is relevant, that our students are grounded in Christ-like character, but also able to speak in the language of the culture they’re going into,” Boone says. “It means that our professors and our programs have to be on the cutting edge. It’s our intent to provide that.”

As Nashville continues to expand—those making predictions make it clear that the boom isn’t stopping anytime soon— Trevecca is still nestled close to the city’s heart. Boone’s vision for what it means to be a Christian university in today’s Nashville isn’t built on achieving national—or even citywide—acclaim. 

Instead, Boone believes Trevecca’s success is built on staying true to the University’s mission to send Christian servant leaders into the world.

“With every graduation, we give the world about 800 to 900 more missionaries,” Boone said. “They may be disguised as teachers, PAs, social workers and more, but the truth is, we’re trying to give the world deeply committed Christians who spend their lives in the workplace making an impact in the name of Christ.”


Lunch and panel discussion on Nashville's future

Featuring Mayor Megan Barry, Colby Sledge, Bobby Joslin and Tom Smith

Thursday, Oct. 26
11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Trevecca Nazarene University
Boone Convocation Center

Learn more