0 Houghton alumnus John Roman speaking to students.

Continuing Tradition

January 22, 2024

I want to die in my desk chair.

It sounds like the start of a really sad story, doesn’t it? It isn’t. Instead, it’s an authentic and enthusiastic statement made by John Román that emphasizes his dedication to his students, his faith, and his alma mater. John is a graduate of the class of 1977, but his Houghton story began at Wesleyan Academy in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.

In the 1960s, Wesleyan Academy was full of Houghton alumni, some on short-term missions trips, some as early-career educators, some as visiting faculty. Houghton’s connection to Wesleyan Academy began in the 1950s, when Robert ’38 and Norva (Bassage ’38) Crosby identified a need and helped launch an English-language Christian school. Following the Crosbys were John ’52 and Ruth (Ross ’55) Putney. They served their entire careers at Wesleyan Academy, finally retiring in the 1990s. These early connections attracted dozens of Houghton alumni, faculty and staff to serve in Puerto Rico, including Phillip “Phil” ’67 and Donnalee “Donnie” (Berry ’68) Stockin.

The essence of servant-leadership is helping others to be successful.

John Roman ’77

“Phil and Donnie planted in me the seed of servant leadership. Phil’s investment in me was life-changing. What I learned at Houghton was a reinforcement of what Phil and Donnie taught me: The essence of servant-leadership is helping others to be successful,” explains John.

When the Stockins returned to Houghton, they brought with them an energetic and inspired thirteen-year-old to study at Houghton Academy: John Román. John finished high school at Houghton Academy and launched into life at Houghton (then College) with the same gusto as he approaches everything.

At Houghton, John came to a true relationship with the Lord. “I finally understood what my pastors and the Stockins were telling me,” John reflects. “The Lord made me see that I had talents from Him, and, regardless of what they were, they didn’t mean anything if I didn’t use them to testify about who God is and what He has done.”

John completed a dual degree in Spanish and physical education and pursued his calling as an educator, scholar-servant and Christ-follower. In 2002, John returned to Wesleyan Academy as the Athletic Director. In 2020, he became the Headmaster. With this role came a renewed sense of calling John couldn’t ignore.

“God put it on my heart to reestablish our connections with Houghton University and Houghton Academy. I think we, as Christian educators, are negligent if we’re not encouraging our students to attend Christian colleges.”

John wants his students to attend Houghton University. “When parents ask me why I’m not encouraging students to attend major secular universities, I tell them Houghton is a game changer. Nowhere else equals the spiritual environment that Houghton provides.”

John is constantly looking for new ways to introduce his students to Houghton. “In Puerto Rico, we say ‘kids eat with their eyes’ – that is, we have to show them Houghton so they can experience what it means when we say Houghton will treat them differently than a secular university.”

Wesleyan Academy participates in Houghton’s Partner School program. So far this academic year, twenty students are taking advantage of the opportunity to earn college credits while in high school. “There are financial obstacles for students to leave Puerto Rico to go to college. Our students can earn up to twenty college credits, which helps them with the financial ramifications of attending university in the States.”

While recognizing the financial benefits, John clearly recognizes that his students are advancing academically in preparation for whatever God has in store for them. He is hearing from his students and their families the ways that Houghton faculty go above and beyond what typical college professors will do. As he personally experienced on Houghton’s campus decades ago, now, John’s students are experiencing today just how Houghton faculty continue to care. “No one is just a number.”

John’s passion for getting students to Houghton played out in the life of Houghton junior Daniel Rosario ’25. A member of the Houghton men’s basketball team and a biology major with intentions of becoming a physician, Daniel is a graduate of Wesleyan Academy. When John learned that Daniel was looking for a school where he could play ball and pursue an interest in medicine, John knew he had the answer.

“Danny is gifted academically, and he would have done well anywhere,” remarks John. “But sometimes, Wesleyan Academy is a bit of a bubble. It’s a challenge to prepare our students for life in the secular world, where they’re required to defend their faith. When I speak to Danny now, I see tremendous spiritual growth. He’s sharing with me more and more about how his faith is growing.”

What’s next for this partnership between Houghton University and Wesleyan Academy? “If you think that the only thing I’m interested in is getting our students to Houghton, you’ve got another thing coming.” John laughs when he says this, but this is the man who transferred himself to attend school in the United States at the age of 13 and ran 100 miles a week for four years of college. He might be laughing, but he’s absolutely serious.

The connections between Houghton and Wesleyan Academy are growing beyond the classroom, just as John envisioned. In May of 2020, Professor Eli Knapp ’00 led a Mayterm ornithology course in Puerto Rico, hosted in part by Wesleyan Academy. In the fall of 2023, President Lewis was invited to speak in chapel, giving John’s students another opportunity to catch a glimpse of Houghton.

This past October break, Men’s Head Basketball Coach Jeremy Bialek led his team on a missions trip to Guaynabo, hosted by John Román, Wesleyan Academy, and fellow alumnus and Houghton trustee Omar Haedo ’87. The team played an exhibition game, hosted clinics and had opportunity to connect with Wesleyan Academy students. Daniel Rosario was back on his home court, alongside teammates David Rosa ’25 and Pedro Cruz ’25, who also hail from Puerto Rico.

In coming years, Houghton’s first-year Science Honors students will have the opportunity to study and conduct research in Puerto Rico as guests of Wesleyan Academy. Using drone technology, Honors students will have the opportunity to develop a research project and carry out that research.

In the future, John Román would love to see the Houghton tradition continue with student teachers and early career educators joining the team at Wesleyan Academy. Like Phil and Donnalee Stockin and countless other Highlanders, Houghton students and alumni can impact Wesleyan Academy students – students like John Román, who are ready to be equipped to lead and labor as scholar-servants in a world that so desperately needs them.

The Lord made me see that I had talents from Him, and, regardless of what they were, they didn’t mean anything if I didn’t use them to testify about who God is and what He has done.

John Roman ’77