Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May Day, shepherding and the view from the long run

Guest blog by Steve Harnish, professor of mathematics

This year I ran the May Day 4-Mile Run with Sunny—our faithful family pet who is part German Shepherd. Her shepherding instincts really came through in the first three miles. I started near the back, not wanting to get in the way of other runners and planning to enjoy a leisurely jog. However, seeing all the ‘wayward sheep’ running ahead of us, Sunny sprinted to catch the next one, the next and the next…

Although she slowed some in the last mile, she resumed a fast clip in the final 100 yards, finishing just behind 2011 graduate and retiring Beaver soccer player, Brian Good. She eagerly lapped-up two bottled waters and wore with pride my second place medal for the 45-49 year olds.

This May Day run with Sunny helped me reflect on deeper meanings of that day and the shepherding motif behind much of what we do at Bluffton. No, the role of shepherd is not easy, and none of us do it perfectly. Still, as a professor there is no greater pride than to witness our students’ personal and academic growth over their four years at Bluffton.

I think of my two advisees graduating this year—Mary Good and Matt Weaver. Their leadership and mentoring skills make me proud (in a good, humble Mennonite kind of way) and thankful for the solid life-skills our students develop at Bluffton.

I think of them as shepherds in their local communities as evidenced by Mary’s teaching in the clinical practice classroom and volunteer tutoring at The Future Church in Lima, and Matt’s work as hall chaplain on campus and pastoral intern at his home congregation in Holmes County.

It’s tempting as faculty and staff to attribute that growth largely to our own guidance. Yet I know an important part of that learning and personal development comes from the students that we shepherd in turn becoming mentors to each other and to us faculty and staff. In working with a student on a research project, I love seeing how their own interests and learning can help steer the research into directions I could never have predicted. I definitely benefit from their input in the process.

Finally, this shepherding theme makes me think of other graduates I’ve seen in the past month—David Riddle ’10 and Ariel Kennell-Boehr ’06. I saw David on May Day. It was nice to catch-up on his experiences during his first year after graduation. I can tell that he enjoys his students at Grant County High School in Kentucky and that they are in good hands under his mentorship.

After several years teaching middle school mathematics in Leipsic, Ariel Kennell-Boehr is completing a two year master’s program in mathematics at Ohio University.

When Ariel returned to Bluffton to offer a guest lecture on bioinformatics at an April math seminar, her strong communication skills showed through. She stepped us through a lucid introduction to a very technical topic—the use of matrices to find matching gene sequences. Afterwards, Ariel and professor of biology Bob Antibus compared notes on the use of these algorithms in scientific research and Ariel made good connections with many of our upper-class math and biology majors who are considering research or graduate school after graduation.

I would venture that my neighbor Hans Houshower and his staff have one of the most rewarding jobs on campus. By interacting with alumni years after graduation, the big-picture view comes into better focus.

While at times each semester I can get bogged down by hundreds of homework assignments, quizzes, and tests to be marked and graded…the view from the long-run helps me remember what Bluffton is all about: Students, shepherded by caring and skilled staff and faculty, who in turn enrich our lives and “pay it forward” by becoming leaders in their professions and mentoring youth in their communities.

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