Wiley Scott ’90 Named 2018 Alumnus of the Year for the College of Arts & Sciences

Having grown up in the projects of Bradenton, Florida, Wiley Scott thought his future would look more like the local Tropicana Orange Juice factory than Bethel University. But thanks to a few key mentors and his own determination, Scott made it to college—and now serves as a senior vice president for Young Life, one of the nation’s best known youth ministry organizations.

By Jenny Hudalla ’15, content specialist

July 20, 2018 | 2:35 p.m.

Wiley Scott '90 serves as the senior vice president of the eastern division of Young Life.

Wiley Scott '90 serves as the senior vice president of the eastern division of Young Life.

The still waters of Lake Champion reflect the remnants of a sunset, casting pink and orange hues across the walls of the camp’s rustic clubhouse in upstate New York. Inside, more than 400 high school students stomp their feet to a Kanye West song while Wiley Scott ’90 claps along from the back, knowing what comes next.

It’s been 30 years since he first witnessed the transformation—within minutes, the same rowdy, energetic teenagers who rivaled the noise of a concert hall sit in silence on the floor, every face upturned as a Young Life pastor shares the gospel. “Fresh out of college, I sat on a windowsill and thought, ‘What more can I give my life to than this?’” Scott says.  

Now the senior vice president of Young Life’s eastern division, Scott lives a life very different from the one he left in his hometown of Bradenton, Florida. Having been raised by a mother and stepfather who struggled with substance abuse, Scott and his three siblings grew up in poverty. Most of his family worked long hours at the local Tropicana Orange Juice factory, and Scott thought he’d do the same—until his high school basketball coach pulled him aside for a five-minute conversation that changed the trajectory of his life.

“He told me I had what it takes,” Scott says. “He told me he didn’t want me to look back on my life and say, ‘I wish I would have.’” A year later, Scott enrolled at Bethel University. It was his first time living away from home, his first time visiting the northern half of the United States, and his first time in a predominately white community—and it was hard.

With help from faculty who would become lifelong mentors, Scott learned to navigate and thrive in new cultural terrain. He became a resident assistant, helped launch the weekly student worship service now known as Vespers, and earned leadership roles in a campus multicultural group and on the basketball team. “I wouldn’t have the job I have today without my Bethel experience,” Scott says. “Being at a predominately white university helped me cope and function in a predominately white, faith-based organization.”

As the longest standing senior vice president at Young Life, Scott oversees about 600 staff and leads a ministry that impacts more than 350,000 adolescents annually. While his face-to-face time with kids has decreased over the years, Scott’s influence on strategy and fundraising allows him to have a greater hand in shaping the direction of the organization. “Every day I’m reminded of how unbelievable it is that I’m here,” Scott says. “If you truly understood where I come from, it’s an act of God that I sit in this seat.” 

Still, there are some days Scott finds his seat less comfortable than others. As an African-American male in a leadership position, Scott is often the only minority voice at the table—an opportunity he says is both an honor and a tremendous responsibility. He aims to use his authority to create avenues of opportunity for others, especially women and people of color. “My career path parallels my story,” he says. “I’m trying to make sure kids like me have an opportunity to know and follow Christ.”

For Scott, that starts with a safe environment, engaging leaders, and commitment to spiritual discipline. When high school students arrive at Young Life camp, they willingly surrender electronic distractions to make room for things like Scripture, fellowship, and prayer. “It’s just them, their leader, this place, and the gospel,” Scott says. “And when the Holy Spirit shows up, it changes everything.”

It changed everything for Scott years ago at Bethel, and he hopes it will change everything for the teenagers who bow their heads in prayer before streaming onto the now twilit grounds of Lake Champion. Scott—who had been watching quietly from the back of the clubhouse just as he did so many years ago—stays to offer words of encouragement to the leaders who will succeed him when his time at Young Life is over.

“The older I get, the more I realize it’s less about me and it’s more about what I leave behind,” Scott says. “It’s about giving back, pouring in, and being intentional about investing in the lives of other people. That’s faith in action.”

Nominate the 2019 Alumni of the Year

Every year, Bethel honors three outstanding alumni who are making a difference in their communities. If you know an incredible alum who deserves to be recognized, tell us! Nominations are accepted year-round and remain in consideration for 3 years.

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