Tilstra to retire

Vice president for student life announces retirement


Doug Tilstra, vice president for student life at Walla Walla University, has announced plans to retire in July after 44 years of service to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In 2017, Tilstra joined the leadership team at Walla Walla University as vice president for Student Life, where he is responsible for housing, spiritual and social programs, student missions, campus ministries, athletics, food service, student government, security, counseling, and health and wellness services. His accomplishments include establishment of a restorative student discipline process; expanding the university’s health and wellness services; strengthening cooperation between mental and physical health services for students; entering partnership with a security services provider to enhance campus security; helping the university navigate the COVID-19 pandemic; and hiring several important staff members who provide strong leadership for the university.

“Dr. Tilstra has brought a wonderful suite of qualities to his leadership of student life at WWU. Among them are a passionate commitment to Christ and to the mission of Seventh-day Adventist higher education, and a unique ability to listen carefully to his colleagues and encourage them through creative collaboration and genuine friendship. We are all better because we’ve been able to share these years with Doug,” said President John McVay.

Tilstra began his professional career as a pastor and mentor, serving in the Gulf States, Northern California Conference, and British Columbia Conference. In 2000, he joined the faculty at Southern Adventist University (SAU) as professor of church leadership. An avid outdoorsman, Tilstra became SAU’s director of outdoor education and leadership in 2011, and for six years was responsible for that area of study’s curriculum design and adventure programming.

He holds a doctoral degree in organization and management with a specialization in leadership from Capella University, and two master’s degrees—a master of divinity degree from Andrews University and master of science in education from Southern Adventist University. He has a bachelor’s degree in theology from Pacific Union College, and is a Georgetown University-certified executive leadership coach and a certified emotional-intelligence trainer. He has also authored or coauthored numerous articles and professional papers on the subject of leadership.

As an administrator at Walla Walla University, Tilstra has served on leadership groups that have contributed to the overall improvement of the university, including the President’s Cabinet, University Master Planning Committee, Budget Committee, Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, Emergency Planning Committee, Haven Advisory Committee, Student Life Leadership Team, Risk and Safety Management Committee, and Suicide Prevention Taskforce.

In addition to his administrator duties, Tilstra enjoys teaching a class called Ministry of Jesus each spring quarter. He said, “I have been both personally and professionally deepened by teaching the ways of Jesus, and by thinking about what it really means to follow him as I do my job.”

Tilstra is also known for volunteering to teach the Chan Shun Sabbath School Class at Walla Walla University Church, as well as continuing to teach a weekly Sabbath School class that was founded more than 20 years ago and is now facilitated online. He has been active with organizations focused on preventing domestic violence, including the North American Division’s EndItNow program.

“I often say that here at WWU I get to work with people here who are really good at what they do, who really love Jesus, and who really love students. I’ve been struck by how many people here are characterized by those three qualities,” Tilstra said. “It’s been a privilege to work with this group of people these past six years.”

As he looks toward his retirement in July, he and his wife, Lorraine, plan to split their time between British Columbia, Canada, and Tennessee, where they are excited to spend time with their children and two granddaughters.

Posted Feb. 3, 2023.

Portrait of Doug Tilstra
Tilstra joined the leadership team at WWU as vice president for student life in 2017, where he is responsible for overseeing WWU’s spiritual programs and campus life.