If you ask any Boyce student about Dave DeKlavon, they won’t talk about him like he’s just a professor. Of course, he certainly is one — he has a Ph.D. in New Testament and served as the school’s associate dean for academic administration since Boyce became a four-year college in 1998. His academic credentials are without question, having earned his Master of Divinity and Doctorate of Philosophy degrees from Southern Seminary, and as associate dean helping to build the fundamental degree programs at Boyce College from the ground up.

Despite all that, invariably your average Boyce student will talk about him like he’s a father. And in many ways, he is. He is well known for his consistent (and rather dry) humor throughout class, he talks to a different student during each class break, and he opens his home 11 times a year to host each Boyce hall for an evening. It is all an intentional effort to build strong relationships with the students, whether they have a class with him or not.

“We are the unofficial mom and dad over the dorms,” he says about himself and his wife, Jan. “We come to athletic events as much as we can, try to be a part of all of the student life things that we can, and get to know some of the students one-on-one. We help with the student leadership events, so if there are any student leaders we don’t know, we get to know them and try to cultivate a relationship. We just try to do as much as we can.”

DeKlavon’s own life experiences played a major role in making him the kind of professor and administrator he is. Born in Pittsburg, DeKlavon’s parents moved to Florida when he was nine years old. He lived in the Fort Lauderdale area until he started attending Southern Seminary in 1989. During that time, two major events shaped the trajectory of his life.

First, his father died unexpectedly when DeKlavon was 19. As a freshman in college, there was a very real possibility at the time that DeKlavon, who was one of six children, would have to drop out of school. But with help from family and church friends, DeKlavon was able to finish his studies. But the loss of his father deeply changed him.

“It was just a defining moment,” he says now. “To lose your dad at 19, you understand suffering and loss in a whole new way. You understand having to trust God to supply what you need because dad’s not there to help with your tuition. So many valuable life lessons came out of that trial.”

The other significant event was his call to ministry. DeKlavon became a Christian at age nine thanks to a fourth-grade Sunday School class but began to “fall away,” as he puts it, when he entered his teenage years. He didn’t like going to church and tried to “get kicked out of youth group,” he said. But there were two youth group volunteers, a husband and wife, who didn’t give up on DeKlavon. Through their regular teaching of Scripture and caring attitudes, DeKlavon started taking his faith seriously.

As a senior in high school, DeKlavon taught at a youth event during which two people made professions of faith. When he got home that night, he began to feel a strong sense that the Lord was calling him to ministry. After college, DeKlavon and his wife, Jan, moved from Fort Lauderdale to Louisville, Kentucky, so he could attend Southern Seminary. He completed his M.Div. in 1992 and his Ph.D. in 1998.

‘Is there some way I can have an impact?’

Right before he finished his doctoral program, DeKlavon was hired in 1997 as associate dean for academic administration, a role he continues today. Back then, Boyce College was known as Boyce Bible School, and even though it had been around since 1974, it only started offering associate of arts degrees in 1994 and carried a minimum permitted student age of 25 so it wouldn’t compete with four-year degree programs. A year after DeKlavon’s hiring, the school transitioned to Boyce College, an accredited four-year school with bachelor’s-level degree programs.

Since then, the enrollment has increased exponentially. In its first year as an accredited institution, Boyce had only 100 students on campus. By 1999, they had 230. “We were the fastest-growing college in America,” DeKlavon said with a smile. Today, more than 800 students are enrolled in bachelor’s- level degree programs and more than 1,000 students are on campus. That growth was incremental, gradual, and at the beginning, a little “hectic,” he said.

“Back then, we didn’t look at this as eventually becoming over 1,000 students 20 years later. The main question was, ‘How do we get through this semester?'” he told Southern Seminary Magazine last September.

But for DeKlavon, each student is not just a number on a spreadsheet. After each new conversation with a student, DeKlavon takes notes about the student and what the two of them talked about. He then emails the student to let them know he enjoyed their conversation. Throughout their career at Boyce, DeKlavon and his wife pray over each student individually from his notes about them. In many ways, DeKlavon personifies the diligent organization of an academic dean mixed with the genuine care of a father. And it happened that way for a reason.

If there are any student leaders we don’t know, we get to know them and try to cultivate a relationship. We just try to do as much as we can.

DeKlavon vividly remembers one specific emotion he had as a teenager visiting a friend’s church for a period of time. One day, he and his sister arrived to his Sunday school class a little early. His sister sat on one side of the room with the girls, and DeKlavon was the first boy to sit on the other side of the room. One by one, the other boys in the class took their seats, each filing into rows in front of and behind his. Not a single boy sat in his row.

“Here I am, the first one there, and yet nobody sat on the same row that I did,” he says now, looking back. “I felt so isolated. I thought, ‘This is just horrible.’ It stuck with me.”

When he started going to college, DeKlavon went out of his way to sit with students who were by themselves, a practice he continues as a college professor.

“These are kids that are students that are in my class, but outside of class, is there some other way I can have an impact on them?” he says, listing the couple from his youth group and good professors he had as a student as inspiration. “They had a huge impact on me. When I became a professor, I realized this is my chance to do that for others.”