The Town and The Gown is a series of articles spotlighting the relationship between Rhea County and Bryan College. What started in 1925 with a history-making trial in Dayton where William Jennings Bryan served as a prosecuting attorney led to the founding of Bryan College whose existence in our community influences the quality of life here. Today’s article will feature Dr. and Mrs. Doug Mann, the college president and his wife.
The Manns have a longtime connection to Rhea County. For each, the connection began in childhood. An energetic little boy along with his entire family came to the Bryan College campus several summers for the school’s annual family Bible conference. One of those summers holds a special spiritual significance for Doug. It was in Dayton that he came to know the Lord in a personal way. His salvation experience changed the trajectory of his life.
Mrs. Mann (Susi) was also a regular in Dayton during her childhood. Her memories include many happy times at her grandmother’s farm. The land bounded by Richland Creek and the Tennessee River provided an ideal setting for family gatherings. There Susi enjoyed Sunday dinners, holiday celebrations and hours of fun with cousins canoeing, horseback riding, and roasting marshmallows around campfires.
What began in their childhood continues today as the Manns strengthen their ties to the area that is now their permanent residence. Come to know this couple and their family as you read about their lives of commitment, service and leadership.
Doug grew up in North Carolina with parents who met in Dayton in the mid 1950s while students at Bryan College. Hot July weeks on the campus with his family gave him a fondness for the college. When he developed his after-high school plan, it included a freshman year at Bryan followed by 3 years at UNC at Chapel Hill and law school. However, in Doug’s words, “I got here and I never left. This has been a significant place where the Lord has worked in my heart. I ended up staying here for 4 years and loved every minute of it.”
Susi had an even stronger link to Bryan College. Her family moved to Dayton in 1982 when her father, Dr. Bob Simpson, began teaching math at Bryan. From seventh grade on, her adolescent years were spent in Dayton where she often attended faculty functions on Bryan Hill. When it came time for college, she applied only to Bryan.
The Manns emphasized their comfort as college students both with the campus and the community. A favorite memory for Doug was being a volunteer coach for the soccer team at Rhea County High School. It was the second year of the newly formed team and Doug celebrated the first victory with the team. Through that experience, he discovered his love for coaching which he has demonstrated throughout the years, on the athletic field, in the classroom, and in the administrative office.
While a college student, Susi kept her strong connections to the community. She continued her involvement in First Baptist Church. She was also a member of Bryan’s puppeteer troupe which enhanced the lessons being taught in Rhea County classrooms in Bryan’s Bible Education and Ministry (BEAM) program.
Graduation in 1992 found Susi focused on a November wedding and Doug preparing for a move to Atlanta where he would be teaching Bible and coaching soccer. Three years later, they were off to the cold winters of Chicago where he received a Master’s Degree in Church History from Trinity International University. Then back down south in Athens, Georgia, Doug taught history at the University of Georgia and received his doctorate there.
During their Chicago and Athens years, the Manns became parents to four children, Robert, Andrew, Margaret, and Jacob. “Lynchburg (Virginia) was a great place to raise a family,” Doug shared as he began to talk about their next 12 years. Although he had gone to Liberty University to teach, Doug soon moved into an administrative role.
According to the Manns, they weren’t looking for a move or a change, but what Doug described as pings or nudges kept occurring in regard to opportunities at Bryan. After several such occurrences, Doug and Susi realized they needed to explore the possibility that God was sending the messages.
The Manns moved to Dayton in 2018 when he was named the school’s Provost and Vice President for Academics. Dr. Mann moved again in July 2020. This time his move was to the president’s office at Bryan College.
“What makes an education at Bryan College distinctive?” I asked. His answer was clear, “Every college provides the education to prepare students for their first job, but we do far more.” The “far more” he explained as preparation for all of life, the transitions in work and family, the influence graduates will have as leaders in their communities at churches and civic affairs. “Bryan is the point at which transformation by the message of the gospel and transformation by education of the mind intersect,” he added.
Dr. Mann linked his vision for the college’s programmatic growth with its expected direct impact on the local area. The engineering program, now in its fourth year, will graduate its first class in 2022. He expects this program to continue to grow in numbers and to provide training required for employment in local and area industries. During the 3 years since the engineering program began, students have completed internships at Suburban and Master’s Manufacturing in Dayton, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, TVA in Chattanooga, and 5 other locations outside of East Tennessee.
Another local link that Dr. Mann shared was Bryan’s plan for a nursing program. The college anticipates a beginning date of Fall 2022. Bryan is currently consulting with Rhea County Medical Center on possibilities for collaboration between the institutions. The 4-year program will culminate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Following satisfactory completion of the state board examination, graduates will receive a Registered Nurse license. The impact on the community will be significant as students can prepare locally for employment in this field. In addition, graduates can contribute to the health of our community by providing nursing care.
Dr. Mann identified computer science and digital communications as two other programs for immediate enlargement. He explained that vocational needs have dictated the necessity for expansion in order to meet employment demands.
When I asked about his leadership philosophy, I heard words which described a heart focused on being a servant leader. “I want to model Christ Above All (the school’s motto) and to empower our team of administrators, faculty and staff in achieving the mission of the college which is to educate students to become servants of Christ to make a difference in today’s world.”
He described his job as one of articulating goals and vision for the college and marshalling the resources for the team to achieve them. “I want to empower them and serve them,” he added. “I want to be their biggest cheerleader and their biggest coach.”
Doug and Susi both expressed their desire to strengthen the bond between the college and the community. While being respectful of safety restraints, the Manns have hosted several dinners for limited-size groups of local leaders and Bryan family members. The after-dinner exchanges always focused on how each can help the other.
What we want to do is “bring the community to Bryan College,” Doug said. He talked about athletic events, musical concerts and theatrical performances that attracted many before the pandemic and his desire to see the community return to the hill.
When asked for a guiding scripture, Doug quoted the words from Luke 10:27, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” After hearing his story it was easy to see how his childhood decision began a life of devotion to the Lord he loved and that throughout life, his decisions about family, academics and career were guided by his understanding of living out that love.
Susi’s scripture choice seemed to fit the personality I had observed during my time with the Manns. It was Philippians 4:4-7. It’s in those verses that the apostle Paul says rejoice in the Lord. Further Paul says not to be anxious, but in every situation be in communication with God and His peace will guard your hearts and minds in a way that is really beyond human understanding.
When I looked at the two faces on the computer screen (It was a Zoom interview.), I saw a couple who appeared to embody joy. I saw a husband and wife team who seemed to be great spiritual and academic leaders for the college and equally great residents for the community.