Thursday, October 30, 2014

Break a leg


Ramseyer Theatre is the best. I have great memories of building sets, setting the stage, helping with costumes, box office duties, ushering… and once in a very great while serving as an extra on stage. However, I don’t recall ever having an actual line in a Bluffton production. Probably for good reason.

The last time I was on stage, in front of an audience, was the fall performance in 1984. I have no idea what the play was. I’ve looked through old Istas, contacted Carrie Phillips on #AskAnArchivist day, but no luck. *

Whatever the show was, I was playing the part of a peasant townswoman. Hair kerchief, apron, brown shirt, dingy skirt… and a diamond ring.

See, my guy and I had gotten engaged just a few weeks prior to opening night. I vividly remember director Gene Caskey catching the light bouncing off the diamond during dress rehearsal, and one of the stage hands offering to hang on to the ring for me, and me just twisting it around so that the diamond was “hidden” in the palm of my hand. Yea – that ring was not coming off my finger without a fight.

Tomorrow night is opening night for the 2014 rendition of the Bluffton University fall production in Ramseyer Theatre, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Thornton Wilder which I have never heard of. But it does sound intriguing.

The play is set in 1942—or maybe the dawn of human history, or maybe the present. Mr. Antrobus comes home from a busy day inventing the wheel and the alphabet to be greeted by his wife of 5,000 years, slingshot-obsessed son, precocious daughter and ever-present maid (not to mention the dinosaur and mammoth). The family faces repeated catastrophes, both natural and human-made, in this genre-bending, comic allegory of the human condition, struggling to survive war, floods, ice and themselves—by the skin of their teeth.

Remember Ramseyer, a cozy theatre, comfortable seats, budding thespians, simple sets where the acting takes center stage? There’s time to get your tickets and support Bluffton’s students on this historical stage. 

And if you happen to catch a flash of light from the maid’s finger.** Don’t think a thing about it.


**I have no knowledge whether the maid is or is not engaged and if she is, whether she will or will not defy authority and keep the ring on.


* Carrie came through. The fall 1984 production was "Squaring the Circle."


Friday, October 24, 2014

Balance/Tension/Growth


I have a friend who takes great pleasure in keeping the world informed as to how many weeks it is until Christmas (nine – in case you were wondering.)

Which when viewed with a Bluffton student focus translates to just 27 more class days (plus finals) until Christmas break. No wonder people are starting to get a little stressed. Mid-terms, papers, presentations and projects are all coming due – or at least looming. Then you add the concerts and theatre productions to perform, athletic contests to compete in, special projects to complete for work or extracurricular organizations… it’s enough to make one want to hide until it all goes away.

Step in the student life professionals who work hard to provide ways for our students to stay balanced, serving their emotional, social, physical and spiritual needs.

Balance is the key word here. One must be hitting the books first in order for stepping away from the books to be helpful.

There must be tension in order for there to be balance. Think of a teeter totter. It’s pretty much pointless without someone on both ends. In the same way too much tension without balance is a bad thing – think of a spring that’s too tightly wound. Once it lets loose, look out, as it can cause some major damage.

Whether you are a new student experiencing a semester-end for the first time, a parent of a student struggling with balance or non-student dealing with the tension between work, home and community – it’s all the same. 

Embrace the tension. Seek the balance. And Grow through the process.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Honor Code a Disservice?



Let me be very upfront here. I love Bluffton’s Honor Code.

As a student, the idea that profs would leave the room during tests – in effect saying, you are adults, you know right from wrong, we are going to trust you to make good decisions – was very powerful. And the way that the honor system – this expectation that we will make good decisions – enveloped campus life in general, helped create the person I am today.

Now did we always make good decisions – well… no. But we learned from those not-so-good decisions.

To be faced with a real, flesh and bone example of where the Honor Code was a disservice, where the honor system failed one of our students, completely caught me off-guard.

A few years back, there was a campus-wide discussion about the validity of the Honor Code in today’s world. Students and members of Student Senate actually initiated this discussion. Students and faculty were concerned about the ease of cheating with cell phones in everyone’s pocket, about standard processes being followed in all classes, and about graduating unprepared students into the world and how that reflects on a Bluffton University degree.

Now I understand their concern.

The honor system is what you make of it. It can be an extremely effective tool to teach ethics and personal responsibility. Or it can be just another system to be worked, as this graduate admitted to me last night. “You know the honor system. I worked the system. I did whatever I had to [in order] to graduate.”

So sad. Yes, he has that piece of paper and he can say “I am a college graduate.” Unfortunately that only gets him in the door. It’s going to be his drive, his knowledge, his initiative, his trustworthiness that gets him the job and helps him keep that job. He also shared with me that he lost a job earlier in the week for sliding by, for doing just enough to get by, for working the system. So sad.

In recent years, faculty have strengthened the Honor Code. Policies have been clarified to make sure it is presented the same in every classroom, in every discipline; a revised version of The Pledge to be signed on essays and research papers has been added. The goal remains for all students to embrace the spirit of the code which was established by chemistry professor H.W. Berky in the early days of Bluffton University.

It is my belief that the vast majority of students today do embrace the honor system. They learn from it, grow because of it. Unfortunately though, as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Watering the seed

Alumni chat at the reception prior to the President's Banquet.

Servant leader. That is how Bethny (Ricks ’06) Brown sees herself. She said Bluffton “definitely watered the seed” of servant leadership which her parents had planted. Bethny strives to promote ethical work environments in her role as executive human resources director at Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.

She accepted the 2014 Outstanding Young Alumni Award Saturday evening at the first President’s Banquet. Bill Herr ’61 received the Lifetime Service Award which is presented to an alumni who has “made a difference in the lives of others.”

After retiring as a high school math teacher, Bill began to volunteer, and was then hired, as chaplain at Bluffton’s Mennonite Memorial Home. In his remarks, Bill also spoke of the importance of service and focused on the motto “The Truth Makes Free” to illustrate how Bluffton encourages students and alumni to serve. “Seeking truth means following in Jesus’ footsteps, which requires service.”

In recent years the tradition has been to celebrate alumni and donors in two separate Homecoming banquets - the alumni award banquet on Friday night and the President’s Dinner for donors on Saturday. Inevitably come Monday morning, the conversation on campus would lead to how nice it would have been for the donors to hear the touching alumni stories, and for the alumni to hear the inspiring donor stories.

So this year, the two banquets were merged into one Saturday night extravaganza. Have to admit I was a little concerned. Taking two full banquets and merging their content into one? But to be honest, the program moved along quite nicely and the program was over at 8:20 p.m.

President Harder outlined projects which were possible thanks to donor support, such as the new Collaborative MBA program which began last summer; the “Swords to Plowshares” children’s book recently published by The Lion and Lamb Peace Arts Center, and initial concept planning for a new science building to support growing enrollment.

Still in process is fundraising for the Alumni Field project. The hope is to reach the $1 million goal by spring so the planned FieldTurf and track resurfacing can be in place for the fall 2015 sports season.

I’d be interested in how others feel about the combined banquets. I left the banquet energized by the exciting things my alma mater (and current employer) is doing and the way it – and by extension we – touch student’s lives for the good.

>>>  more about the President's Banquet

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Blowing bubbles

Photo courtesy of the Sidney Daily News 
Bubbles and more bubbles. Bubbles inside of bubbles. People inside of a bubble.

If you’ve ever seen one of Dr. Luther Shetler’s bubble presentations, you know what I’m talking about. Luther taught math at Bluffton from 1950 to 1984. Although I never had him for class, he left a definite impression on me.

Back in the day I picked up extra jobs as a banquet server in Marbeck. The benefits, beside the extra pay, were the leftover desserts and sometimes being able to catch snippets of the banquet programming. One night Luther gave his bubble presentation. I was mesmerized. It was so cool.

Luther’s legacy is living on through one of his students. Just received an email that Darryl Nester ’88 will present Bubble Math, tomorrow afternoon as part of the Mathematics Seminar series.  In the description Darryl writes, “We’ll discuss topics like minimal surfaces, hyperbolic paraboloids, the isoperimetric inequality, Maraldi’s angle, catenoids, Moebius strips, … but mostly, we’ll just blow lots of bubbles.” Just like the presentation I enjoyed so many years ago.

Does Darryl consider Luther as a mentor? I cannot answer that question. But it is good to see that the ‘Bubble Math’ fun lives on.

This Mathematics Seminar is set for 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014, in Centennial Hall 109.

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 www.bluffton.edu/lionlamb

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.