When David Janzen decided to leave California Polytechnic State University, becoming president of Tabor College was not on his radar. But, spread too thin between leading Cal Poly’s software engineering program, being a full-time professor, doing research, owning a company and serving in ministry on-campus and at church, Janzen says he and his wife, Karen, recognized it was time to make a change.
“We knew God was calling us to something new,” Janzen says. “We had no idea what it was.”
As it turns out, that call was to a familiar Mennonite Brethren institution in Kansas from which Janzen earned his undergraduate degree 31 years ago.
“I wasn’t making plans (to become president of Tabor College),” Janzen says. “But it was very much a moment of God bringing everything together and preparing me for this.”
Janzen was inaugurated Sept. 24 as Tabor’s 14th president, bringing an entrepreneurial spirit to campus as he seeks to elevate Tabor to the highest level of Christian education and partner with USMB churches.
From Kansas to California and back
A native of Independence, Kansas, and Enid, Oklahoma, Janzen is a 1990 Tabor graduate with degrees in mathematics and computer science. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science from the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
Janzen was Cal Poly’s first hire in software engineering in 2006, where he helped grow the program as director and taught the capstone course.
For the past 15 years, Janzen has served as a full-time faculty member at Cal Poly, with previous stints in education at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., and the University of Kansas, as well as five years as a software engineer at Sprint in Kansas City.
Janzen’s involvements have extended beyond the classroom. He is co-founder of Steadfast Innovation LLC, which created the handwriting note-taking application, Squid, and is the owner, consultant and trainer of Simex LLC, for which he develops and presents training courses to professional software developers.
Eventually, his schedule contributed to his desire to make a change.
“I was just too busy,” Janzen says. “I was spread too thin.”
When, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Cal Poly offered an early exit program with an incentive to retire, Janzen took the opportunity.
“After praying, my wife and I said, ‘I think God is in this,’” he says.
Janzen announced his decision to leave Cal Poly a week before Tabor President Jules Glanzer announced his retirement. But it took some nudging—including a text from a friend and a call from Tabor board chair Susan Franz Koslowsky—to persuade Janzen to consider the position.
Certainly, Janzen had considered leaning into Christian higher education again, having served as an adjunct faculty member in computer science at Westmont College in Montecito, Calif., in fall 2020, while working remotely for Cal Poly.
Seeing Tabor’s prospectus sold him on applying.
“I was very impressed with the quality and the transparency,” Janzen says. “It felt like they were really being honest with themselves—what are the strengths and what are the challenges that we have at Tabor. They weren’t sugarcoating it.”
Janzen says he and his wife—who also attended Tabor from 1986 to 1988 before graduating from Fresno Pacific University—prayerfully discerned God’s direction with an “open hand” mentality, giving it his best and leaving the rest to God.
Tabor’s board of directors selected Janzen, and he accepted the offer.
“Dr. Janzen’s professional and higher education experience, his familiarity with Tabor as a former student, his Mennonite Brethren background and strong spiritual commitment and passion for Christ, caused his application to stand out,” Koslowsky says. “His conservative values along with an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit was a unique combination and blend that we felt could serve Tabor well.”
Committed to the mission
Janzen began his role as president July 1, 2021. He is excited about Tabor’s mission of preparing people for kingdom work, as well as new and renovated spaces on campus and an opportunity for growth.
“I sense that there is a genuine interest in our mission,” he says. “Across the board people are genuinely leaning into that mission, and they want to be a part of it.”
Janzen has inherited a campus with the recently-constructed Shari Flaming Welcome Center and Shari Flaming Center for the Arts, and Tabor has enjoyed two consecutive years of record first-year enrollment, highlighting a need for new residence halls, Janzen says.
Janzen hopes to foster continued growth by elevating the quality of education.
“We have a strong academic program, but if we’re going to grow, I think we would financially be a little more stable if we would get a little bit bigger,” Janzen says. “We’re primarily going to grow through academics.”
While this won’t mean diminishing athletics, Janzen says he hopes to not only raise the level of excellence and academic rigor among current programs but also explore the creation of new programs.
He has invited constituents, including board members, to mentor students and faculty and hopes to leverage his connections to equip faculty and staff by connecting them with students for internships and ideas for undergraduate research projects.
Likening his vision to track and field, Janzen hopes to raise the bar.
“What happens when a pole vaulter or high jumper clears a height?” Janzen says. “The first thing they do is they celebrate, and then they raise the bar and they strive to do even better. I think that’s where we are.”
Faculty chair Christopher Dick says the general reaction has been positive and enthusiastic based on an appreciation for Janzen’s academic training, experience as a faculty member and commitment to involving faculty in governance and decision-making.
“I have already heard several times from faculty that Dr. Janzen is ‘a good listener,’ and is hearing questions and concerns in a spirit of care and collaboration,” Dick says. “There are many things that we are doing well at Tabor in terms of the education we are offering students. But there is always room for improvement. President Janzen brings a couple of really important pieces to the table. First, he is a firm believer in liberal arts education—something that is at the core of Tabor’s identity. However, with his business experience, he is also interested in innovation. I’m excited about how he can merge these two commitments.”
Entrepreneurship and innovation
Janzen brings an interest in entrepreneurship to Tabor. In 2009, he taught a ground-level class on Android at Cal Poly in which he helped students start businesses. As a result, student Andrew Hughes developed the app Squid, and Janzen later joined Hughes as a partner. Squid has more than five million downloads and has been named by Google as one of the top six education apps among two million apps in the app store.
Janzen says he sees entrepreneurial opportunities at Tabor, too, and the institution is exploring grants, fundraising and possibly building toward that goal.
“We desperately need entrepreneurs,” Janzen says. “Businesses are closing all the time. If we don’t keep starting companies, starting businesses and growing businesses, people won’t have jobs, and we won’t be providing products and services for people to live their lives.”
Janzen envisions expanded innovation to all areas of campus.
“I think that we have students that come with a willingness to work hard and a desire to try things and take some risks,” he says. “I think we’re going to be very successful in exploring this space of entrepreneurship.”
Partnering with churches
As president of one of two U.S. Mennonite Brethren institutions, Janzen sees Tabor as a partner with MB churches.
“I believe that Tabor is a first-class extension of the Mennonite Brethren churches’ young adult/college ministry (and) that we should be partnering very closely with the churches in pouring into that demographic,” Janzen says. “We want to help the churches, and we want the churches to see us as their partner.”
Tabor is making strides through its Tabor 20 program, he says, which seeks to make Tabor accessible, affordable and attractive to MB youth.
“One of the goals that I have is that every student who comes through Tabor would go back into the churches equipped to help the church thrive,” Janzen says.
Most of all, Janzen is optimistic about the road ahead.
“I have a lot of hope for what God is doing and will do through Tabor College,” he says. “This is going to be a really exciting season to see what God does. I’m very appreciative that I get a front-row seat to it.”
Janae Rempel is the Christian Leader associate editor. She joined the CL staff in September 2017 with six years of experience as a professional journalist. Rempel is an award-winning writer, having received three 2016 Kansas Press Association Awards of Excellence and an Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals award in 2022. Rempel graduated from Tabor College in 2010 with a bachelor of arts in Communications/Journalism and Biblical/Religious Studies. She attends Hillsboro MB Church.