Thursday, December 11, 2014

Finals Week through Twitter

Must be the end of fall semester. The parking lots on campus are starting to empty and Bluffton’s Twitter feed is filling up with students celebrating (or stressing about) the end of fall semester finals and the beginning of Christmas break.

@BlufftonU: So finals week is upon us. Remember to breathe!

@BKurilec5: Finals week...when cleaning my room sounds fun. #needtofocus

@ScoutWeber: I just want it to be Christmas break already so I can chill and stop worrying about school

@BlufftonBound: Good luck on those finals, Beavers!! Study hard, but don't forget to take a break tonight for the Finals Breakfast :) #BlufftonU #tradition

@RebeccaMarieHan: @BlufftonU thank you for the Christmas breakfast tonight, it was amazing! #thankful

President Harder, faculty and staff members serve breakfast.

@EAlpeter: I'm getting so anxious to go home

@MIGUEL_GILLIE25: Hoop session and lift to ease the pain #Active #Focused

@j_fayee: Couldn't stay awake when I was writing my paper and now I can't go back to sleep now that I'm in bed...

@JonesWt13: Anyone wanna come keep me company while I study

@j_fayee: Honors party at Rudi's!!

@MIGUEL_GILLIE25: Exams have been in my favor so far this week let's hope it stays that way.

@JonesWt13: Got up a little early to study before my final, and I haven't looked at my notes or anything... #imscrewed

@AmyBlankenship6: Another semester in the books! #finalsweek

@BKurilec5: DONE with Capstone.

@kroushia6: I get to go home tomorrow

@j_fayee: Just finished my last final at Bluffton ever!

@blufftonU: You made it! Now go home and get some sleep

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Both the volleyball and women's basketball
teams made time for site seeing while in St. Louis.
What are the chances? Sometimes things just happen like they are meant to be.

Like when a season-opening tip-off women’s basketball tourney is scheduled for the same weekend in the same city as the volleyball team is playing in the first round of NCAA post season tournament AND when volleyball plays Friday and basketball plays on Saturday/ Sunday AND when the basketball team is planning to be in town Friday night anyways for team bonding. One could not have planned this any better.

While I had heard the word serendipity before, I remember being encouraged to embrace the concept of serendipity in my first ever collegiate class taught by Dr. Ray Hamman. He talked a lot about serendipity, of “fortunate happenstance” or “pleasant surprises,” of “making discoveries, by accident, of things which they were not in quest of.” (Wikipedia) And to being open to make the most of these “pleasant surprises.”

Like rearranging basketball team bonding activities to include cheering on fellow student-athletes in the national tournament. 

I had the opportunity to drive one of the vans for the women’s basketball team. We were very close to a mutiny in my van as we drove all over the Washington University at St. Louis campus trying to find the gym, especially as the time ticked closer and closer to game time.

Once we finally arrived. I have to admit that I was pretty focused on the volleyball game and didn't pay much attention to the team sitting at the end of the court. That is until the game was over. After the announcement that fans needed to stay off the court following the game, that storming the court could be grounds for legal action.

Win or lose, the volleyball team always huddles after the game to do the Beaver Call.

Was it planned? Was it one of those moments of embraced serendipity? But the basketball team joined the volleyball team on the court. Classmates. Fellow student-athletes. Friends.

I’m a Beaver, You’re a Beaver,
We are Beavers All
And when we get together
We do the Beaver Call
B-E-A-V-E-R Beavers! Beavers!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Different decades... Same spirit

1942 May Day processional
Guest post by Carrie (Holcomb '99) Phillips
Archives and special collections librarian

As I've been working with students in the Introduction to the Study of History class with their assignment work in the archives, I've been wondering how many other college and university archivists out there are alumni of the institutions they serve. So while my unofficial facebook straw poll of my own librarian and archivist colleagues populates, I'm going to talk about why that's working out REALLY WELL for me.

Carrie Phillips with
student assistant Dana Otto
As a 1999 graduate of Bluffton, I've got four years of my own Bluffton memories to think of fondly. Singing in the nun chorus of The Sound of Music. Living in the same Ropp Addition room during two different years. Studying for Humanities II with the guy I'd eventually marry. And lots more.

Because I have these memories to support the study that I've undertaken to be in this vocation, I think I'm especially well-suited to care for the traces of Bluffton from times past - all of the memories and stories which are tangled and embedded in the materials for which I care on a daily basis. The decades may be different, the technology is different, and the names are different, but the experiences and spirit surrounding them are often remarkably similar - something I know because of the context I have as a fellow Beaver.

And speaking of technology, I'm particularly excited about a project we've been working on in the archives to make some of those stories and experiences a little easier to revisit. Using equipment purchased by the Ohio Private Academic Libraries consortium (of which Bluffton is a member) and some that we have here at Musselman Library, we've begun digitizing some of those traces of Bluffton from times past, and we're posting them online at a site we're calling Bluffton University Memory.

To date, my assistants and I have scanned and posted more than 500 photographs from the University Archives photograph collection, as well as about 20 years' worth of issues from The Witmarsum, the student newspaper. The collections are searchable, so you can look for photos of your residence hall, or writeups from early football games or accounts of what life was like at Bluffton in the time surrounding World War II.

As a legacy alumna, it's been really fun to find traces of my grandparents here - something that happens more often than I ever expected in my daily work. Using Bluffton University Memory, I can read about their selection as May Queen and Most Popular Man in the May 23, 1942 issue of The Witmarsum and I can see photographs of the 1942 May Day processional, as they crossed the field of onlookers prior to the Maypole dance.

With this post, I invite you to browse the site and see what memories you find. As we continue to add more issues of The Witmarsum, more recent photographs and even more content, I expect to connect more and more alumni to more of these stories and experiences.

Spend some time reminiscing with Bluffton University Memory, and send your comments to!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Finding Your Purple Profession?!

Guest post by Shari Ayers, Director of the Center for Career and Vocation

I humbly submit to you that I am a “Lost Item Whisperer” – finder of lost papers, pursuer of wayward keys, the first person you should call when your passport has seemingly evaporated on the night before that trip-of-a-lifetime. I’m not sure that “lost item whisperer” is an actual profession, but if it is, I’m your gal. 

I have noticed that what often prevents people from finding the things they have misplaced is the tendency to concentrate their search in the expected places. The key to finding lost things is to look in the places that are unexpected, inconvenient and sometimes downright mystifying. (How did my cell phone get in the cereal box?!) The key, in other words, to finding things is to be open to surprise.

November is National Career Development Month. Bluffton’s Center for Career & Vocation is working with wonderful partners around campus to provide workshops, employer visits, networking events, lunch discussions and much more. All of these opportunities are clustered around the theme: “Finding Your #PurpleProfession … through Curiosity, Hope and Gratitude.” It’s a mouthful, I’ll grant you! You may find yourself wondering: what’s a Purple Profession and why does it need finding? Who lost it in the first place?

Here in the Center for Career & Vocation, we use the term Purple Profession to describe those creative, vocational moments when two seemingly unrelated things are held together in a new way: 
  • It could be an undecided student who is leaning toward a double major in business administration and youth ministry because she wants to be a thoughtful, effective leader for faith-based organizations.
  • It could be a public health major who opts for a semester in Guatemala because he wants to use his bilingual skills and his global experience to help change the world.
  • It could be a graduate who always knew she wanted to be a math teacher, but who is now surprised to find that she can also put her Bluffton theatre experience to use to produce the first play her inner city district has seen in almost a decade.

I don’t know if a Purple Profession is ever truly lost, but I do know that in my own life this kind of innovative, exciting, emerging work has usually been found in surprising places, and quite often at unexpected (perhaps even inconvenient) times. What has helped me to be open to such creative callings has been cultivating a spirit of curiosity, a sense of hope and a deep well of gratitude for the opportunities before me. These are the same things we are trying to generate throughout this month long series of events and conversations.

Kendra Nickel and I like to say that the Center for Career & Vocation exists to help students emerge from their Bluffton experience feeling both “career ready” and “purpose led.” Sometimes that can seem like an unexpected, inconvenient and even downright mystifying goal. Always, though, it feels like helping someone to find that true #PurpleProfession.

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


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

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!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's Summer Time

Faculty and staff enjoy ice cream served by the President's Cabinet to celebrate summer.

May is such an odd month for those of us working at Bluffton University.

According to our academic calendar, summer officially began on May 5, the day after graduation. It is so crazy quiet on campus. Student parking lots are empty.  When you do see faculty strolling through campus, they are often wearing shorts, t-shirts and sandals. I ate lunch at Marbeck earlier this week - thinking there might have been a dozen of us in The Commons.

Outside of the Bluffton bubble, it’s not yet summer, which begins for some on Memorial Day, for others in early June when local schools are out for the summer. (Thanks Polar Vortex.) People are wrapping up the school year, competing in end-of-the-season sports tournaments, planning graduation parties. Life has definitely not slowed down off of Bluffton’s campus.

Which leaves us in a type of limbo straddling these two worlds. Not that I’m complaining. Especially because this “slow” time doesn't last long – or at all for some of us.

While lunching at Marbeck, I learned that roughly 8,000 visitors are expected on campus through various conference and events this summer – beginning with soccer tournaments and the Special Olympics which together brought an estimated 2,000 people to campus just last weekend.

And that does not count three orientations for new students, a Discovery Day for prospective students and the Ultimate Frisbee Alumni Reunion, which are all happening on campus in June alone.

Then there are multiple off-campus alumni events to host, publications to design and print, student life activities to plan, summer research to conduct, etc.

It is true, there is a different vibe on campus in the summer, it’s more relaxed and much quieter (well at least until the band camps start in July.) But don’t let our casual clothing fool you… a lot happens on campus while the students are away.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency

by guest blogger Robin Bowlus, public relations director

Next Wednesday is a big day on Bluffton’s campus. It is Civic Engagement Day. The day when the yearlong campus-wide study of our Civic Engagement theme is celebrated with presentations by students, faculty and staff.

This year’s theme, Race and Ethnicity in America: Celebration, Struggle, Opportunity has focused on celebrating the particular contributions and experiences of people from varied races and ethnicities. At the same time, we explored the ongoing struggle in the United States, including our region and our campus, toward equally welcoming people from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Each year, a planning committee works to ensure that the Civic Engagement theme is well incorporated into the academic and student life events on campus. And, as part of Civic Engagement Day, the committee works to have a keynote event to cap off the day.

Last September, I prepared for my annual watching of the Miss America pageant. Something I have done since, well, forever. In fact, my mom tells a story of me as a four-year old “cutting my hair” after we watched the pageant. I wanted to “have pretty hair” not realizing that their hair was styled in up-does, and not cut off.

I soon got over my fascination with the pretty hair, dresses and princess crowns, and what I saw was educated girls being recognized for their talents in music, dancing, etc., their physical well being and their poised public speaking skills on issues of the time. As a young person, I didn't really see women being recognized in this way. Anywhere.

That night in September, I watched as Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, was crowned Miss America. She was my “pick” too, so all in all it was a good night. It wasn't until the next morning on the morning talk shows and social media sites that I saw her being questioned by the media and others for “not looking American enough to be Miss America”. WHAT!?

You see, while she was born in America, her parents are from India. So she is the first Miss America of Indian-descent. The media firestorm that erupted the following weeks was unbelievable even for me as a communication professional who watches the media with great interest.

Ms. Davuluri is a graduate from the University of Michigan and plans to go onto medical school after her reign this year. Her talent was an ethnic “Bollywood” style dance routine. And her platform, cultural competency, is what I feel helped her manage the media firestorm that she found herself in. Watching and following the story, I knew we had to invite her to Bluffton to be our Civic Engagement Day keynote speaker.

Her personal story and last seven months of her life are exactly what we have been talking about all year. So I shared my idea with the Civic Engagement committee and they said yes. Then, Miss America said yes! She will speak this Wednesday, April 9, at 7:30 p.m. in the Sommer Center. The event is free and open to the public. She will speak on her social media campaign #CircleOfUnity – Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency.

Since 1921, the Miss America organization has been celebrating the successes of young women. Each contestant has a platform, to advocate for organizations and causes that they are passionate about; most often, causes they each have personal connections to. Since September, Nina has been traveling all across the U.S. to companies, national events, and colleges and universities like Duke, Tulane, The Ohio State University, Loyola, Bluffton and many more.

I invite you to come to campus Wednesday night and engage in this civic conversation.

>>> more about the Civic Engagement Day keynote address

Learn more about the many philanthropic efforts of the Miss American organization at 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Make memories

Saw a Facebook post this morning which both made my heart leap for joy, and my stomach drop with panic.

“There are only 6 Monday nights left in this academic year. #fistpump” (Thank you Carrie Phillips.)

Not sure why spring semester always seems more stressful than the fall. Could due to a lack of sunlight, cold weather, cabin fever?

February is typically the worst. Mid-terms and projects, all due before spring break. Then once students return from break, it’s like a mad dash to the finish line. Graduating seniors start to panic, realizing that they will soon be out in the “real world.” (I'm starting to panic because my trusted student assistants are leaving me for the summer.)

If I might give a piece of unsolicited advice to you seniors… do not fear the “real world.”

While it can be frightening to leave the comfort of the known, just think, where you would be now if you had never gotten on the bus for your first day of kindergarten?

You have spent your past four (or so) years preparing for “life as well as vocation, for responsible citizenship, for service to all peoples and ultimately for the purposes of God’s universal kingdom.”

Just six weeks before you take on the world. Finish your college experience strong. Take advantage of the Center for Career and Vocation. Send out resumes. Prepare for your next step.

But at the same time, be sure to make memories. Compete on an intramural team. Play Tennis Ball Golf. Stay up late with friends and floormates solving the world’s problems. Enjoy meals in The Commons. Make trips to the Whippy Dip. (I hear it opens Friday!)

While the “real world” is not to be feared, make sure you enjoy every last moment as a student on Bluffton’s campus.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Taking on Cancer

Baseball vs. Cancer 2014
Cancer is one of those diseases which has touched just about everybody at one time or another, whether through a parent, a grandparent, friend, neighbor, child, niece or nephew or yourself.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Bluffton baseball players have "taken on" cancer by raising funds for childhood cancer research, then shaving their heads in the week before heading south for spring training. 

I would suspect that some do it because Coach said to, or that the team expects it, but others have more of a connection – or so I've learned through social media.

But it wasn't just the baseball guys who got involved. Math professor Dr. Darryl Nester ’88 also stepped up to the plate.

In all, more than $800 was raised in cash during the lunch-time head-shaving extravaganza from students, faculty, staff and others who attended, for a total team donation of more than $8,500.

New this year, faculty, staff, alumni and friends joined forces to crochet caps to show support for the guys.
More than 80 caps were crocheted, enough for every person who participated, with the extras going to a local hospital to be given to cancer patients.

All in all – not a bad day for Bluffton University.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thinking spring

The mammoth pile of snow at least two 'blizzards' ago.
There’s a pile of snow taking up a parking spot in the Riley Creek lot.

That’s not unusual. Every winter when the lot is plowed, snow is pushed into two huge piles, one at the back of the lot on the grass near Sauder Visual Arts Center, the other to the front of the lot at the corner of the driveway and Elm Street.

What is unusual is the size of these mammoth piles of winter’s gift to us.

We in the PR house have decided to make a game of it rather than continuing to be depressed by the sheer size of these mountains of frozen moisture. We have all selected a date when we think the blockage of vision when looking right will be completely gone. Dates range from the optimistic March 8, to the pessimistic April 7, with the realists selecting dates in between. When the snow is gone, we all go out to eat.

Let’s just say, I will gladly pitch in to buy another person’s lunch if the snow leaves us quickly… that is as long as the pile melts naturally with the warmth of the sun and sweet spring rains.

Then came yesterday, a snow day for the Bluffton village schools which warmed up nicely mid-afternoon. Do you see where this is going? Huge pile of snow, day off of school, relatively warm temperatures? I felt like that old grump resisting the urge to yell at the kids to get off that snow pile, so my chosen “melt by” date wouldn’t be in jeopardy. Others in the office were cheering the kids on knowing the snow pile needs all the help it can get to melt by March 8.

Today? Today I’m enjoying warm rays of sunshine. Walking outside without bundling up. Yes, it’s just a tease. It’s way too early for winter to be completely finished. There will be more snow.

But for today, the school kids are in school and the pile is melting naturally.

And I’m enjoying happy thoughts of spring.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Making student-alumni connections

Chris Wagler, alumni relations student assistant and phonathon caller
Guest blog by Chris Wagler '16

As college students prepare for the real world, connecting with alumni in your field is crucial. Not every college student gets that chance and those who do benefit significantly. I have been given that opportunity as a phonathon caller. I first thought “Oh you just ask people for money.” I could have not been anymore wrong about that. What I learned from just one year of working the phonathon will stay with me forever.

I spoke with an alumnae last year who guided me through her journey to becoming a CPA. We talked about what classes she took and how much studying she did. This experience helped me plan out my classes. It was great to hear a story from a recent graduate who knew the material and it helped reduce my stress level.

The phonathon gives you a chance to connect with alumni and thank them for the annual charitable gifts they send to our university. Without them, I would not be here and many other students would not either. Most of the people I speak with are pleased that we call them.

The calling software allows the student-callers to see what the alumni's major and extracurricular activities were when they were students, so we can find some common ground for our brief conversation. I was able to talk with one alumnus about the soccer program and how far we have come. Another alumnus talked about grad school and what path he took. I had a couple questions about grad school and he had some valuable advice for me.

I have also been able to learn more about the history of my school and alumni are always interested to hear about the improvements in curriculum and facilities.

Bluffton is truly a community and talking to past alums helps reinforce that idea. Alumni have stories that can change your life. Many talk about how different school was back then compared to today. Some had to work two jobs and that makes you appreciate what you have now. One alum had no idea what career he wanted to pursue and talked about how worried he was. He assured me that by the time graduation comes; you know what you want to do with your life. To think that a person can get all this and get paid is wonderful. Who doesn't want a job like this?

I truly look forward to working the phonathon when I can learn more about Bluffton’s past and how it can influence my future.

by Chris Wagler
Student Alumni Association vice president, Bluffton University Business Leaders treasurer,
Alumni office student assistant and accounting tutor

Editor's note: Students from Bluffton will be calling alumni in early February for the annual winter Phonathon. This is your chance to learn about Bluffton today from current students, share experiences and advice and, yes, support your alma mater. 

To make it more exciting, an anonymous alumni couple will match new and increased gifts to Bluffton, given Feb. 1 - March 2, 2014, up to a total of $30,000. So when the phone rings, say “Hello” and accept the challenge to help raise $30K in 30days.

Friday, January 24, 2014

What is a mentor?

Ron Geiser
I didn’t call him a mentor. Didn’t see him as one who “took me under his wing,” providing guidance and direction leading to professional success in my chosen career.

He was my boss. He gave me jobs that needed done so he could focus on other projects.

Looking back, he was also a mentor.

As a student back in the 80’s, I worked as a writer for Ron Geiser in the Bluffton communications department. My beat was academic affairs and the music department. It was my responsibility make my way to College Hall and Mosiman Hall each week, gather information for future events and write news releases about them. I also wrote feature stories, a few of which appeared in the magazine.

I can still remember him shaking his head as he watched me write out a release longhand - with paper and pen - and then type the finished piece. He “encouraged” me to compose articles directly on the typewriter. What a time-saver and important skill for a future journalist/communications professional to learn.

Ron brought me back to Bluffton in a staff role in the 90’s. Again I didn’t see him as a mentor as he gave me the assignment to “desktop publish” posters and brochures using WordPerfect, an assignment which directly lead to other roles I would eventually serve in at Bluffton.

Ron also served as Bluffton’s sports information director for many years. It is for this role that he’s being inducted into the Bluffton Athletics Hall of Fame tomorrow night, along with athletes Becky (Reineke ’98) Boblitt and Bill Lape ’62. I’m really excited for him to be given this recognition.

A student once asked me to be her mentor.  I’m sure I gave her a “deer in the headlights” look while thinking “If I’m your mentor and you don’t succeed professionally, does that mean I’ve failed you?” That’s more responsibility than I want to take on.

But I will gladly be a supervisor and give assignments, and suggestions on how to do them well, so I can focus on other projects. Do them well and I’ll give you more challenging assignments. Then maybe, someday, you’ll look back and call me a mentor. And I’m OK with that.

That’s just one more thing I learned from Ron.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Adapt and Overcome

The rescheduled video shoot in the temporary admissions Welcome Center.

Let’s just say it’s been an interesting beginning to the semester on Bluffton’s campus. And that might be an understatement.

First came the “Polar Vortex” which delayed the beginning of spring semester for only the second time in recent memory. So instead of starting classes on Tuesday, classes began on Thursday.

I could whine about having to reschedule a full-day video shoot originally set for Wednesday. But that inconvenience is minor compared to the campus aftermath of the cold snap. A busted water line in one section of Riley Court resulted in waterlogged faculty and admissions counselor’s offices.

It’s no secret that “adapt and overcome” is my mantra. Our friends in Riley Court have embraced this concept and made it their own.

While disaster recovery professionals work to rehab the area, the admissions welcome center is now set up in the Marbeck Center Gallery Lounge. A little harder for visitors to find, but what an authentic first impression of what it’s like to be a Bluffton student.

Offices that were affected are scattered across campus for the time being. It’s definitely not the ideal situation. Hall meetings – those wonderful impromptu gatherings between departmental colleagues which often lead to creative ideas – will be harder to come by. However, hall meetings with colleagues from other areas will be more likely to happen – perhaps leading to new levels of understanding.

While it’s not an ideal beginning to the semester, what an example of Bluffton’s core values – Discovery, Community, Respect and Service.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Getting around on campus

As I sat at my kitchen table wearing multiple layers and warm fuzzy slippers earlier this week, choosing to stay inside rather than brave the sub-zero temps and even more dangerous negative wind chill, my appreciation grew for those willing to face the elements.

The following was written back in the relative warmth of November.
A note from Kevin Nickel, vice president for fiscal affairs… 
Many weather sources, including the Farmer’s Almanac, are forecasting a colder than average winter with higher than average snowfall. Hopefully the weather ends up being better than forecasted but no matter what happens, Buildings and Grounds is prepared to handle it. Ice melt, road salt and sand have already been purchased and are being stored on campus for use this winter. Machinery has been prepared to use for removing snow from our nearly four miles of sidewalks.

B&G staff has also reviewed a comprehensive plan for snow removal on campus. The first area of concern is removing snow from the 84 building entrance areas, a job that needs to be done by hand. Priority is given to areas around residence halls and classroom buildings and, once those are clean, sidewalks and areas around office entrances are cleaned. Cleaning the entrance areas and sidewalks takes six people about 2.5 hours. Once snow is removed, ice melt or salt is applied. During heavier snowfalls, an outside contractor cleans the campus roadways and parking lots, beginning from the center of campus and working out.

In order to keep the sidewalks around Sommer Center from pitting and flaking, only sand will be used in that area. After this winter, the concrete will be fully cured and we can begin using ice melt and salt.
From the warm inside looking out it can be easy to second guess the good folks in B&G, "How about a little salt," "why didn't they get an earlier start," etc, etc.

Consider this: four miles of sidewalks, 84 building entrances, six people. That is impressive.

Thank you B&G for all the work you do, in every season.