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.”