Vanguard University Announces Inaugural Deans for New Schools of Theology and Education Amid Academic Restructure

New deans charged with advancing their respective schools in terms of quality and depth, as well as innovation and breadth, across traditional undergraduate, professional and graduate programs

COSTA MESA, Calif. (MARCH 30, 2023) – For nearly 103 years, Vanguard University (VU) has sought to equip its students with a quality Christian education that emphasizes scholarship, academic excellence, student learning and success. As VU continues to grow—currently serving its largest incoming freshman and transfer class in its history and with considerable traditional undergraduate enrollment growth over the past several years—the academic structure of the university must also evolve to meet the institution’s growth and commitment to become the leading source for Christian higher education in California. 

Toward that end, Vanguard recently announced a transition in its academic structure and leadership, establishing multiple Schools and a College, each of which will be led by deans who will serve as the chief academic and administrative officers of their respective school or college. The College of the Arts and Sciences will house the core of Vanguard’s academic offerings, including the humanities, social sciences, performing arts, STEM and allied health programs; the School of Theology and Ministry will offer undergraduate, non-traditional and graduate programs in theology and ministry; and the School of Education will offer programs including Liberal Studies, Early Childhood Education, the Teaching Credential Program and Graduate Education. Additionally, Vanguard plans to establish a School of Business in the near future. This new academic structure will be reflected at the start of the 2023-24 academic year. 

“This is an exciting time for Vanguard,” said VU President Michael Beals, Ph.D. “Our new academic structure and the leadership of our deans will help Vanguard University continue to grow and flourish while further positioning us to impact our region and beyond. Within this structure, the academic deans will hold responsibility for building an outstanding faculty, delivering high-quality academic programming and ensuring student learning across all programs. We are confident that our students will absolutely thrive in this new era of academic excellence."

VU recently appointed Dr. Mike Wilson as dean and Dr. Diana Avans as the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Vanguard is now pleased to announce the appointment of the new deans for the School of Theology and Ministry and the School of Education:

Dean of School of Theology and Ministry Renea Brathwaite, Ph.D.

Since the founding of VU (then Southern California Bible School) in 1920, the institution has trained ministers and missionaries for effective Spirit-empowered ministry locally and globally. Building upon VU’s single-purpose founding, the School of Theology and Ministry will educate and equip the next generation of ministry leaders through undergraduate, professional studies and graduate programs in theology and ministry leadership.

Prior to this structural change, inaugural School of Theology and Ministry Dean Dr. Brathwaite served as the dean of Professional Studies and VU’s chief diversity officer. “I am humbled and honored to be part of raising up the next generation of Christian leaders, who are spiritually gifted, intellectually prepared and vocationally ready to serve the Church and the marketplace with excellence,” said Dr. Brathwaite. “I see this as a matter of great personal and professional urgency. As we move forward, the opportunity to align with churches and ministries to foster our future pastors and theologians, and those to whom they minister, is deeply inspiring.”

Dean of School of Education Jeff Hittenberger, Ph.D.

VU has had a tremendous impact on early childhood programs and K-12 classrooms and students throughout California and the nation since its teacher credential program was authorized by the state in 1967. With this long-established history, VU is excited to establish the Vanguard University School of Education to consist of programs including Liberal Studies, Early Childhood Education, Teaching Credential Programs, the Teacher Advancement Program and Graduate Education. 

The inaugural dean of the School of Education, Dr. Hittenberger, previously served the Orange County Department of Education for eight years as chief academic officer, providing oversight and learning opportunities for educators in 28 school districts across Orange County. Prior to that role he has served VU as professor, director and provost/vice president for academic affairs. “I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to serve with Vanguard University’s extraordinary School of Education team as we prepare amazing students to bring love and wisdom to classrooms, schools and communities across Orange County and around the world,” said Dr. Hittenberger. “I have made it my life’s mission to equip educators and other leaders with tools of understanding, wisdom and love so that they may, in turn, equip those they serve. I am so excited to continue to do this as the dean of education for Vanguard University, and I aspire to strengthen the relationship between Vanguard University and partner school districts to assure that all educators and students are empowered to thrive.”

Ryan Hartwig, Ph.D., appointed as VU provost and vice president for Academic Affairs in June 2022, said, “As we position Vanguard to meet our bold institutional vision to become the leading source for Christian higher education in California, we must structure our academic programs and services to propel growth and innovation, ensure quality across our programs, encourage and increase flexible and hybrid options for students, maximize operational efficiency and position our programs to nourish our strong liberal arts foundation and meet current and future workforce needs.”

About Vanguard University
Founded in 1920, Vanguard University (Costa Mesa, CA) is a private, Christian, comprehensive university of liberal arts, sciences and professional studies that encompasses more than 2,200 students from every region in the country, over 33,000 alumni worldwide, 100 full-time faculty, over 30 undergraduate programs and six graduate degree programs. A hallmark of a Vanguard education is collaborative scholarship in the arts and sciences, which foster the intellectual development, moral maturity and spiritual vitality of its students for the public good. Rooted in a strong academic tradition and commitment to student success, Vanguard University is recognized by the U.S. News & World Report 2023 rankings as a first-tier regional university in the West, a Top Performer on Social Mobility, a Best College in the West for Veterans, a Best Value School and a Best Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program. Vanguard University represents a diverse student population, with 63 percent students of color, 44 percent Hispanic and nearly half of students the first in their family to attend college. Further information about Vanguard University is available at

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