Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Poking a sleeping dog?

To me, the idea of taking a year to explore hot-button contemporary issues is a kind of like seeing how often one can poke at a sleeping dog before it wakes up and bites you. But never one to back down from a challenge, for the past three years Bluffton’s faculty has chosen to explore a “significant contemporary issue in cross-disciplinary ways” through general education courses and student-life programming.

Student-initiated recycling programIt’s an interesting concept. Select Forum speakers, academic courses and student activities all focus on exploring this one theme throughout the year. First-year students are assigned summer reading focused on the topic, and then the author of that book is the speaker at Opening Convocation. A faculty member is selected the “civic engagement scholar” and serves to champion the theme. The year is wrapped up with Civic Engagement Day with additional speakers, student and faculty presentations and other events and activities.

a scene from 'Whatever Kindles'The first two themes were: Environmental Stewardship: Living in the Natural World in 2007-08 and Living with Uncertainty in a Complex World) in 2008-09.

Some examples of student initiatives from these studies included a campus-wide recycling program and the introduction of Trayless Tuesdays (where there are no trays in Marbeck to save water, dish soap and food) in 2007-08; and the performance of “Whatever Kindles,” a fictional docudrama exploring the everyday experiences and struggles of members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, and men from across campus walking one mile in women’s high-heeled shoes to raise awareness of rape, sexual assault and gender violence in Walk A Mile In Her Shoes® in 2008-09.

This year the chosen civic engagement theme is “Beyond Borders: The Role of Immigration in a Global Community.” Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and author of the required summer reading Enrique’s Journey, was the Opening Convocation speaker.

In the President’s Forum address, President Harder recalled Ms. Nazario’s challenge for us to deal with the “shades of grey” surrounding the immigration question. He said, “One of those ‘shades of grey’ issues for most of us is the reality that our own ancestors were immigrants to the United States, often coming here out of their own sense of desperation. They—and we as their descendants—benefitted tremendously from the opportunity they found in America.”

Hmmm. It’s going to be an interesting year to see where the students go with this one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's celebrate!

photo by D Sharon Pruitt
It’s official. Bluffton University has received re-accreditation through The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools! And we’ve received the maximum 10-years of continuing institutional accreditation. Meaning the next scheduled comprehensive NCA evaluation isn’t until 2018-19!

Why the celebration? This is such a good thing on so many levels. Primarily it means that Bluffton credits and degrees will continue to be accepted and respected by other universities, employers and other organizations. Bluffton has been continuously accredited since 1956 (or so – don’t quote me on the year.)

Peer reviewers found that Bluffton “[is] fulfilling our stated mission with integrity…looking ahead and preparing for the future…shows sound evidence of student learning and effective teaching…creates an environment that fosters and supports inquiry, creativity, practice and social responsibility… and engages and serves its internal and external constituencies and community neighbors in ways that both values.”

The reaccreditation process began in spring 2006 with preparations for a self-study. During the self-study five committees worked to pull together evidence of the many ways that Bluffton fulfills its mission based on five criteria given by the HLC/NCA. This is when institutional memory is huge. To be able compile information about a conference/program/event that happened nine years ago that perfectly supports a criterion is - to borrow a phrase – priceless.

Each committee drafted a chapter of the resulting 268-page self-study document. Then the fun really began. Editing. Proofing. Locating and compiling supporting documents. Building an on-line “resource room.” And I was only on the fringes of all this fun-ness. And we won’t have to do this again to this extent for another 10 years! Woohoo!

To be honest, it is an important process to undergo. Both to take the time to look up from the immediate task at hand and really see what amazing things have been accomplished around us, but to also identify what opportunities we may be missing. Bluffton is a stronger university for having gone through this process – and I don’t say that just because they pay me.

(President Jim Harder announced the official reaccreditation during the annual President’s Forum on Sept. 15.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Win-Win Proposition

Another great thing about the beginning of the school year? The student workers are back!

Through the Learn and Earn program, a campus job is offered to any student that wants one. I never realized how unique this is to Bluffton University until my son went to college (at another school – long story). I’m on his case to get a campus job and he’s saying “But I’m not a work-study student. A what?

But I hadn’t thought of it from a larger school perspective. They wouldn’t have enough jobs to offer to all interested students. Another plus for the smaller school!

We so rely on our student workers at Bluffton. Our campus jobs are not gimmes. Our students are doing real work that is important to our success and that gives them great work experience.

For example: last weekend a “Game Day @ Bluffton” event was held to celebrate the home opening football game. Individualized invitations were created by a summer intern (a senior art major/graphic design minor) to send to prospective student-athletes for women's basketball, men's basketball, baseball, softball and football. What an amazing learning experience for her to not only create the different postcards, but see the project through the printing process. And then to see the results when 70 prospective students arrived on campus for the day.

Student writers research and compose news releases about future events; a web assistant helps ensure Web content is up-to-date; a photographer/intern takes photos, writes captions and helps with other general PR duties; a student secretary processes mailings; and that’s just in the public relations office. There are also students working as research assistants, admissions ambassadors, general office assistants, clerks, as well as janitors and Buildings & Grounds workers.

So why am I so excited that the student workers are back? There is so much to do that one could easily become buried beneath a pile of minutia. To have competent student workers, who are willing and able to take some of the load, and receive life lessons and build their resumes and portfolios at the same time – what a Win-Win Proposition!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thank you, Fred

Word came this morning that Fred Amstutz has passed away after a short illness. Fred served Bluffton University for many years in numerous capacities—directing Marbeck Center, admissions, alumni affairs and church relations. He and his wife, Mary, became surrogate parents for many Bluffton students as they led BASIC (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) groups in their home.

After he retired from Bluffton, he and Mary continued to be very involved in campus life. It was not unusual to see them at ball games, music and theatre events, Homecoming and May Day.

I had the privilege of having an office next to his when he worked in church relations. Somehow or other, he was able to hang a wind chime outside of his second story office window in Riley Court. To me, Fred was a lot like that wind chime; gently and continually sharing good vibes to everyone around.

Arrangements are pending at Chiles-Laman Funeral Home.