Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Klassen's story continues

by Louise Matthews, guest blogger

I remember one of my assignments given by Dr. Libby Hostetler during Jr. Block as an education major at Bluffton: write a story, create illustrations and bind it together to make a picture book.

Last week, I rediscovered my book, “Look, It’s Snowing!” among our children’s library collection at home, “copyright 1976” according to its information page. Perhaps this is evidence that my Bluffton liberal arts education prepared me for my recent endeavor…

In my current role as director of The Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center, I was thrilled to be included in the early conversations with author Lisa Weaver to explore possibilities for publishing her third picture book.

The story is based on an actual account of John P. Klassen creating a medallion from lead bullets to give to volunteers with Mennonite Central Committee who brought food and relief aid to his Russian village in the early 1920s. (Klassen later came to the USA and taught art at Bluffton from 1924-1959.)

I encouraged Lisa to pursue publishing her story, Swords to Plowshares, and even offered to host a book launch at the center when it was eventually published. That seemed the least I could do to support Lisa’s story with connections to Bluffton University.

Little did I know that I would eventually be accepting the challenge of publishing the book through my role at The Lion and Lamb. I asked several colleagues to serve as consultants for this project and with their input, we selected an illustrator and a creative designer. Amanda Huston, art major and recent Bluffton grad, was willing to take on the challenge of illustrating her first picture book and Alison King, with her own design business and previous experience, accepted the role as creative designer.

Amanda, Alison and I met together for the first time one year ago, Sept. 12, 2013, to create a plan and work toward publishing Lisa’s picture book. Coincidentally, on Sept. 12, 2014, exactly one year later, 55 cases of printed copies of our book were to be loaded onto the truck at Friesens Printing and headed toward Bluffton, Ohio, for delivery! (At this point, delivery is expected the week of Sept. 21.)

True to my word, I am pleased to announce a book launch for Swords to Plowshares: The creation of John P. Klassen’s Mennonite Central Committee medallion. And YOU are invited!

Consider coming to campus on Homecoming, Oct. 4, 2014, and stop by The Lion and Lamb between 9 - 10:30 a.m. for an informal reception with author Lisa Weaver and illustrator Amanda Huston. Books will be available for purchase for $21.35 and for signing.

Books can also be ordered at

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Deeper learning

Put a bunch of faculty from various areas around a table and it won’t be long until the question is asked, “How are your classes going?”

Last Tuesday’s faculty/staff lunch, I joined members of the business, communication and sociology faculty at a table. The consensus was that classes are going very well. The professors expressed excitement that their students are engaged and eager to learn, making it a joy for them to be in front of the class.

“What initiated this change? What is different about this fall?” Nobody at the table had an answer.

In talking with a colleague later, it occurred to us that this year’s incoming students read Ken Bain’s book “What the Best College Students Do” as their summer reading assignment. Bain, as the guest speaker for the Opening Convocation Forum in the first week of school, then stressed the need for a commitment to “deep learning” which leads to a higher purpose.

Are new students more engaged this year because they had more of an idea what to expect from the college experience?

I did not ask my dining companions if there was some different education technique being employed in their classrooms. Last academic year, the faculty took a year off of the typical faculty governance work for a “retooling” effort, which included the study of Bain’s book, “What the Best College Teachers Do.” Teaching faculty were encouraged to take a critical look at their courses and perhaps add new teaching methodology to their classroom presentations.

One prof shared last year that he had successfully implemented a “Jeopardy” contest in his classroom. The first portion of class the students played Jeopardy with questions stemming from the previous day’s homework reading. The students reportedly loved the competition, and learning increased.

A cheap ploy to get students to do their homework? Obviously. But it worked.

Could it be that the combination of these two studies, with students considering “What the Best College Students Do” while the faculty consider “What the Best College Teachers Do” have created a synergy on campus where deep learning does indeed happen?

Or as President Harder said during the President’s Forum, “Education is not something that is done to you, or for you, but with you.”

Let it be so.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Prepared for Life

Shaped by the historic peace church tradition and nourished by a desire for excellence in all phases of its programs, Bluffton University seeks to prepare students of all backgrounds for life as well as vocation, for responsible citizenship, for service to all peoples and , ultimately, for the purposes of God’s universal kingdom.
Bluffton University mission statement

Last week I had the opportunity to chat with Bluffton alumni in Lima during a video shoot for new television commercials. (Set to air in 2014-15.) I usually feel at a loss during these shoots. Our able videographer and his assistant do not need my help. Sometimes I’ll step in as the “talent” while he adjusts the lighting, but most of the time I just hang out with the person to be videotaped. We chat until it’s time to film.

What great stories these alumni have to share.

Tyson Goings ’01 was telling me about his work at Lima Senior High School as one of several school counselors. His role is to connect students in need with agencies providing assistance. I believe he now has a social work license. (I could be wrong about this as I wasn't taking notes.) He meets with nearly 10 percent of the school body at some point during the school year, many of them on a weekly basis.

As we chatted it hit me, "Weren't you a recreation management major? How did you get from rec management to social work?”

Jennifer (Liechty ‘82) Zickafoose, an HPER (now known as Health, Fitness and Sport Science) major, found her calling teaching as a middle school intervention specialist. In her brightly-colored, inviting classroom at Lima West Middle School, she passionately shares the dramatic results of a reading system she uses to reach her students.

I’m sure there are many other examples of how Bluffton prepared students for not only vocation, but for all the twists and turns that life may present; to be open to new opportunities and callings; to have the courage to step out in faith.

You’ll be seeing a lot about the Power of Purple in Bluffton University circles in the coming months. We define the Power of Purple as the work of two or more to produce an effect greater than their separate efforts, or the combination of multiple experiences producing a greater learning than either offers alone, much like the way red and blue combine to create purple.

Much like preparing “for life as well as vocation.”

Friday, August 29, 2014

Facebook official

Guest blog by Chay Reigle '15

Bluffton’s campus has seen its fair share of relationships; its acres have served as the spot for a first date that leads to many more. It’s been the location for numerous weddings during the summer months, most recently in late June for 2014 alumna Megan (Moreo ‘14) Etzkorn, who married the love of her life while standing atop a rock in the prayer labyrinth. And, building on the 100+ year legacy, I’m happy to say that Bluffton’s newest couple are two happy beavers.

J. Denny and Jenny Beaver, that is. Our newest mascot, Jenny, was officially welcomed to campus in a video reveal the day before classes began. I’m Chay Reigle, senior public relations major at Bluffton and creator of the video, and boy, what a wonderful time it was making Jenny a reality this summer.

To clear up any confusion: J. Denny and Jenny are not married, nor are they related. They’re both beavers, and so they go by the surname “Beaver.” They spent the summer enjoying campus. Whether J. Denny was driving Jenny around in a golf cart, Jenny was besting J. Denny at carpet ball in Bob’s Place, or the pair was reading a classic book on beavers in the Musselman Library, the two seemed all but inseparable these past few months.

As the summer student worker in the public relations office, it was my task to create the video from start to finish. That means writing the script, scheduling the time of shooting with two very busy performers, finding and scheduling the extras, filming every scene multiple times to get it right and then editing the video. It was filmed in one day over a six-hour period, stopping only for lunch and the occasional water break. 

Both performers maintained their roles throughout the entire day, and if I had the slightest clue of who were under the costumes, I’m sure they would tell me that walking around in a beaver suit on a hot, humid day is not fun.

That’s right: to this day I have no idea who any of the J. Denny or Jenny performers are. They communicated with me through thumbs-ups and pointing at their wrists to ask how long our break would be. Students not knowing the identities of the performers is part of the mascot mythos, and my performers were real troopers to take orders all day without a peep out of them.

While the image of J. Denny—and now Jenny—appears on the surface to be a product of the university, their livelihood absolutely depends on the students. Students are the ones who volunteer their time donning the beaver costumes. We are the ones who tag J. Denny and Jenny in Facebook posts, take selfies with them and high-five them at basketball games. In fact, every Bluffton University video featuring J. Denny has been produced by a student.

Creating this video was my favorite part of my summer job. I think Jenny is a great addition to the Bluffton identity, and I’m happy to see that J. Denny finally found someone. 

Next time you see them, take a moment to appreciate all the hard work that goes into creating the personas that staff, students and alumni alike have become so fond of when we reflect on our times at Bluffton.

>>> news release introducing Jenny

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The heading-to-college caravan

Driving on SR 15 Saturday afternoon, I couldn't help notice several caravans heading to move-in day for some college – or at least that’s the conclusion I reached.

One in particular caught my imagination. “Dad” was driving a pickup loaded with what appeared to be either a sofa or a futon covered with a tarp. Right on his tail was this cute little yellow car. Its driver, a young lady with straight blond hair, chewing her fingernails.

She was so close to the pickup that I assumed as soon as he moved back into the right lane that she would zip on by him. Instead as soon as there was (barely) enough room between the pickup and the vehicle being passed she too moved to the right lane, never leaving more than three feet between the two vehicles.

At that point I noticed a third vehicle in the caravan, a mini-van, drove by “mom.” She was leaving a reasonable amount of space between her and the little yellow car, but definitely not enough to invite anybody to get between them.

Caravans much like this one will be heading to Bluffton on Friday. Parents will be bringing their first, their last, their only child to college. Students will be relying on one parent, two parents, siblings or extended family to help settle in.

If I might be so bold to give a bit of advice from the realm of “been there, done that.”

Dad, look in the rearview. See that little girl/beautiful young lady afraid to lose you? I know you want to hold her tight and never let her go. But for her sake, she has to know that you know she can do this – on her own. Of course you can do nothing to keep her from tailgating right now, but encourage her to be courageous, to set her own destination and find her own way.

Mom, why is it that we are always in the rear, counting heads, making sure nobody gets off track? Your daughter may not make the same choices you would. She may change majors, she may decide to take a semester abroad, she may dye her golden locks purple. It’s OK. It’s her journey. Give her advice. But do not insist that she follow your advice. You've given her a firm foundation. She may stumble as she finds her way, but she will find her way.

Daughter, in the cute little yellow car, I know you are nervous. It’s a big step moving away from home. They may not say it, they may have trouble showing it, but your parents are so very proud of you and want the very best for you. And as hard as it is for you to leave, it’s just that hard for them to let you go.

So once the final box is unpacked. When it’s time for goodbye hugs, time for orientation activities to begin. Stand tall, take a deep breath, leave that nest…

But do try to call home at least once a week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Burned out?

RT @teewy5 Focus on your purpose. Remember why you do what you do. We don't get burned out from what we do, we get burned out when we forget why we do it.

With the new school year comes new beginnings, full of excitement, expectation and opportunity, much like a brand new doodle-free notebook just waiting to be filled with notes of knowledge to expand our minds.

So what’s this about being burned out?

The academic year has cycles. It’s not unusual for students to struggle in late November, February and in April with stress, with feeling burnt out. Those are the times when academic projects are typically due and finals or mid-terms are looming. Throw on top of that preparations for Christmas, spring break and graduation. Too much to do and too little time.

Which leads to burn out.

For those of us in the working world, burn out doesn’t come in such a predictable timetable. Sometimes it feels as if we’re Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day”; the alarm goes off, we go through the same morning routine, drive to the same place, talk to the same people, do the same things, eat the same foods, go to bed at the same time only for the alarm to ring so you can do it all over again.

That’s where @teewy5’s (aka Tyler Neal ‘13) tweet comes in. Why do we do the things we do? Why is it important to finish that chem lab/history research/business report/English paper? I propose that its importance lies not in the grade, but because it’s a step toward the ultimate goal of becoming a chemist, historian, entrepreneur, published author…

So, students, as you make your way to that first class of 2014-15 with your brand new doodle-free notebook, keep your eye on the prize and remember why you are doing this.

And add a few doodles along the way – Carpe Diem.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ah, the memories

Nothing like a stroll through your old stomping grounds to make memories flow. Seeing that I work at Bluffton, campus typically doesn’t feel much like my “old stomping grounds.” Once in a while though…

Like earlier this week as I walked into Bren-Dell to see how renovations of the lobby were proceeding.

From alumni and student feedback received following announcement of the class of 1964 class gift toward Bren-Dell lobby renovations, I think it’s safe to say I’m not the only one with fond memories of this space.

Bren-Dell (named after long-time professors M’della Moon and Naomi Brenneman) opened in 1962 as a residence hall for women. At some point, it became a men’s hall and in recent years has become a ‘split’ hall, housing men and women on separate floors.

The constant? The lobby. It has always been a place to gather, to hang out, to watch TV; a short-cut from Ropp to Marbeck.

I could tell my stories of cutting through the lobby… flirting with the guys watching M*A*S*H (one in particular)… eventually joining the guys to watch M*A*S*H (one in particular)…

But what are your memories of this space? Please do share!