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Alumni Awards

Each year an Awards Committee of the Alumni Association bestows Young Alumnus, Outstanding Alumnus and Distinguished Achievement Awards on select graduates. The awards have been given since 1960.

The Young Alumnus Award recognizes character and citizenship, achievement or service rendered, honors and recognition received. The recipient must be 39 years of age or younger.

The Outstanding Alumnus Award is given on the basis of character and citizenship, service to church/community or college or other outstanding achievements, honors and recognition.

The Distinguished Achievement Award acknowledges character and citizenship, achievement in a chosen profession or vocation and work of benefit to humanity.

To make a nomination, please complete and return a nomination form to the Office of Alumni Relations, Bethel College, 300 E. 27th, N. Newton, KS 67117 or e-mail

2022 Award Recipients

Young Alumnus Award:

Ashley Klein, the recipient of the 2022 Young Alumnus Award is dedicated to her community – it says so, right on her CV: “I hang out with dogs and make my community better.”

Klein, of Newton, graduated from Bethel College in 2013 with a double major in psychology and natural sciences. As a student, she started her own business, Blue Skies Pet Care, to help pay the bills.

At the time, Klein knew of no other pet-care business in Newton. Twelve years later, Blue Skies has grown by leaps and bounds.

As her degree neared completion, Klein says, she was faced with whether to start applying to graduate programs or stay close to home (she was born and raised in Newton) and keep building the business.

“I decided that rather than taking it out-of-state, out of the community, I would keep it local,” she says. “If you stay in the community, you get to see the benefits – in a small community, you can directly see the difference a person or business makes.”

And Klein started that even before graduation. Early on in her business, she realized Newton really needed a dog park.

Clients told her they would drive all the way to Wichita to use parks that weren’t even free, requiring an annual membership fee.

She began working on the project in 2012. She secured Caring Hands Humane Society in Newton as the fiscal sponsor for tax-deductible donations, found matching grants, and “did a lot of fundraising with individuals.”

The Newton Dog Park, located in Centennial Park and free to the public and their dogs, opened in September 2016.

In 2018, Klein hired her first Blue Skies employee in addition to herself. Today, she has seven – pet caregivers, team leaders and the newest, hired just this month, professional dog trainer Vanessa Hajek.

As a psychology major at Bethel, Klein focused on canines whenever possible – independent study, senior project. She did a 9-month internship at Caring Hands with a dog trainer, and kept honing her skills in that area by volunteering at the shelter.

“I use my psychology major all the time,” she says, “and not only in animal behavior, but working with people, often people of different backgrounds.

“I [wouldn’t call myself] a people person but my communications courses, convocation and other [Bethel experiences] helped me develop my skills working with people.”

Nor was the dog park her last community-focused effort.

She continues to volunteer as a dog trainer at Caring Hands.

She currently serves on the board of trustees of the Newton Public Library. As the board representative to the NPL Foundation, she is currently deeply involved in a major capital campaign to build a new library.

She’s also part of both Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harvey County, serving on the Fundraising Events Committee for three years, and Newton Young Professionals.

She was Events Chair and a council member for NYP from 2019-21. In 2017, she was the Newton Young Professional of the Year.

“I enjoy Newton,” Klein says. “Too often, people become educated or whatever and then move on. I didn’t want to be one of those people.

“I felt like I could stay here and make a difference in the community.”

The 2021 Young Alumnus Award will be presented (along with a program by the recipient for Bethel students, faculty and staff) in convocation on Oct. 10, 2022.

Outstanding Alumnus Award:

Jalane Schmidt, the Outstanding Alumna for 2022, is redefining what it means to be an “active scholar.”

Schmidt was raised in Newton and graduated from Bethel College in 1991 with a B.A. in Bible and religion.

After Bethel, she spent two years in the  Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Washington Office which, she says, propelled her in the direction of divinity school.

She then headed down the scholar’s track, earning an M.Div. degree from Harvard Divinity School, followed by an M.A. and Ph.D. in religion from Harvard University.

She did postdoctoral fellowships at Oberlin (Ohio) College and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and was an assistant professor of religion at the University of Florida-Gainesville.

In 2007, she joined the faculty of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where she is currently an associate professor and director of the Memory Project under UVA’s Democracy Initiative.

In 2015, Schmidt published Cachita’s Streets: The Virgin of Charity, Religion, Race and Revolution in Cuba with Duke University Press.

The book is based on Schmidt’s years of field and archival research in Cuba on religions of the African diaspora, popular religion of Cubans, and Latin American and Caribbean religions.

“These were topics that occupied my research and teaching up to 2016,” Schmidt says. “And then the public conversations started about what to do with the Confederate monuments in Charlottesville.”

In 2016, Zyahna Bryant, then only 15, started a petition to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a public park in downtown Charlottesville, which led to a series of public meetings – all of which Schmidt attended, and which began to change her.

She saw, she says, that this “demanded a different way of thinking, research and teaching than I had been trained to do.”

She became involved in organizing speakers against the monuments, and then counter-protests when white nationalists began targeting Charlottesville after the City Council voted in February 2017 to remove the statues of Lee and General “Stonewall” Jackson, located nearby. She helped found a local chapter of Black Lives Matter.

“I had to learn how to be much more succinct,” Schmidt says. “In a public meeting, you have about 3 minutes to make your point. And I was learning on the fly – Civil War history [and Jim Crow history were] not what I had studied and researched.”

Charlottesville grabbed world attention on Aug. 12, 2017, when white nationalists under the banner “Unite the Right” came to Charlottesville to rally, leading to clashes with counter-protestors that left one of them, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, dead after a man drove a car into a crowd.

And Schmidt was on a path of “public scholarship and public history” from which she hasn’t deviated.

Since 2017, Schmidt has put together museum exhibits, co-led historical walking tours of downtown Charlottesville and helped plan and carry out public educational and commemorative events – all with a goal of exposing the true history of the town and its Confederate monuments.

In 2019, she co-founded two advocacy organizations, Take ’Em Down C’ville and Monumental Justice Virginia, and became the director of the Memory Project, which sponsors “different events and projects around town that have to do with democratizing the historical narratives we tell about ourselves.”

Says Schmidt, “Teaching history [can be done] through more than just writing. I’ve done the 300-page, peer-reviewed book for the university press. Now it’s public history, to teach [about] white supremacy.”

Take ’Em Down C’ville and Monumental Justice Virginia organized their affiliates statewide and lobbied the Virginia General Assembly in 2020 to overturn a century-old state law that prohibited localities from removing Confederate statues (one reason why the Charlottesville statues were still standing more than three years after the City Council had voted to take them down).

“I used skills I had learned in the MCC Washington Office for this,” Schmidt says.

“During the 2020 legislative session, we went to Richmond three times a week for the hearings on the bills. We were pounding on this. It was just before March of 2020, and we barely got [the bill overturning the law] through before everything shut down.

“That was one of my proudest moments – using scholarship to do public advocacy work and to change a 120-year-old law.”

The Charlottesville statues came down in the summer of 2021.

Schmidt’s latest use of her research and interview skills and historical scholarship has been to direct and produce a documentary film for the Memory Project, Unveiling: The Origin of Charlottesville’s Monuments.

For the film, “we interviewed African-American residents of Charlottesville, giving them the last word [on the monuments].

“The film is a distillation of years of scholarship into an accessible medium. It premiered in July 2022, and maybe the coolest thing was we had the screening outside in the park where the Lee statue used to be. That’s poetic justice.”

Schmidt notes, “The work of public history [means] shifting to doing the teaching in public. It includes documentary film, social media and public events.

“People will come, schoolchildren will come, to a public event, a film, a museum exhibit. Those are the ways of making scholarship accessible to the public.

“I credit my Bethel education for encouraging the advocacy – not being cowed into shrinking away from making change or agitating for change. You can’t allow yourself to be talked out of standing up for something. It’s never convenient to make trouble, but you have to do it anyway.”

The Outstanding Alumnus and Distinguished Achievement awards are presented at the annual Alumni Banquet on campus the Sunday evening of Fall Festival, this year on Oct. 9.

Distinguished Achievement Award:

William “Bill” Schmidt might be said to work as a translator – only the “languages” he’s translating are “human” and “computer.”

Schmidt is the principal compiler engineer for Intel Corporation’s development software engineering group, a position he took earlier this year after working for IBM for 29 years.

For most of those years, he and his family (spouse and “college sweetheart” Lori Voran and daughters Rebecca and Rochelle) lived in Rochester, Minn.

In 2021, Bill and Lori moved to Wichita to be closer to aging parents.

Bill grew up in North Newton as a “campus kid.” “Anyone with much history at Bethel probably knows my parents, Hartzel and Ilene Schmidt,” he says.

“Dad passed away in 2021 at the age of 95 after a full and humor-filled life. He ran the BC business office back in the 1960s and ’70s.

“Mom personally ran the college from her fiefdom in front of Harold Schultz – at least, that was the rumor among many students and faculty. Actually, she was ‘just’ his very efficient secretary, who guarded the entrance to the inner sanctum. She served in the same capacity for several other presidents after Dr. Schultz moved on.”

Both Ilene Schmidt and Lori’s father, Omar Voran, now live at Kidron Bethel Village in North Newton.

Bill Schmidt identifies with the Bethel Class of 1982, although it took him until 1984 to finish his coursework, when he completed a B.A. with a double major in mathematics and music.

“Throughout my time at Bethel, I dithered between being a music major and being a mathematics/computer science major,” he says, “until I ended up with almost enough credits for both but not quite enough for either.”

He and Lori got married in 1982, and Bill began working full-time for Kansas Gas & Electric as a COBOL programmer while taking one class per semester to finish his bachelor’s degree. 

After a few years of programming work, he decided to return to school for his doctorate. He was awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship, and attended Iowa State University, Ames.

“Professor Arnold Wedel was extremely pleased that I selected his alma mater,” Schmidt says. “I received my M.S. in 1991 and Ph.D. in 1992 [both in computer science] and went to work at IBM in Rochester.”

Schmidt was a voice major at Bethel, and after moving to Rochester, he began “re-engaging in some musical activities.”

He sang with the Choral Arts Ensemble of Rochester, a 40-voice select choir, and the Rochester Aria Group, which put on recitals of opera excerpts, and also served on the boards of both organizations.

“One highlight of my amateur musical ‘career’ was being asked to come back to Bethel some years ago to sing the baritone solos in Orff's Carmina Burana for the annual Masterworks concert with the Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra. That was a tremendous pleasure I will never forget.”

Schmidt was also a member of the board of the Rochester Duplicate Bridge Club. “I enjoyed playing competitive duplicate bridge for many years,” he says, “though I have to admit my severe limitations.

“This is another skill that was born at Bethel, playing with Arnold Wedel, Richard Rempel and some other students in Arnold’s office over the occasional lunch hour.”

Working at IBM, Schmidt held a variety of positions, most recently senior technical staff member and toolchain architect for Linux on Power. Then, after almost 30 years, he “felt a need for a change of scene” and joined Intel.

As the principal compiler engineer, Schmidt develops tools called “optimizing compilers” used by software developers who write code for Intel’s CPU and GPU architectures.

“If you have a computer running Windows, chances are there are applications on your computer that were developed using these compilers,” he says.

A compiler, he explains, is “a special kind of program that translates programs that human beings understand into programs that computers understand.

“People use high-level languages like Java, C++, Python, Fortran, SYCL and so forth to express what they want computers to do. But computers only understand encodings of binary digits – zeros and ones. The compiler is responsible for making the conversion from high-level concepts to low-level machine instructions.

“An ‘optimizing compiler’ attempts to make the translated program as efficient as possible according to some chosen metric or metrics, usually one of speed, size and power consumption.

“What I love about the field is that the problems we solve are always challenging and require creative thought to meet all the constraints.”

Starting in 1992 at IBM, Schmidt  has worked on compilers for his entire career, both proprietary and open-source compilers.

He has contributed to 85 issued patents, mostly in the area of compiler optimization, and was named an IBM Master Inventor. He served on the Core Technology Invention Review Board for many years. 

Since 2006, Schmidt has been a member of Bethel’s STEM Advisory Council. In 2020, he began serving on a small committee to help design Bethel’s new Software Development major.

He co-taught an independent study course with John Thiesen in January 2020, although, he says, “that mostly reminded me how much work teaching is and how grateful I am to people who are good at it.”

Bill and Lori Schmidt’s two daughters, Becky and Rochelle, live in St. Paul, Minn., where Becky is a customer relations coordinator for Kansas City-based Examinetics, as well as a part-time paramedic and fitness trainer, and Rochelle is a mortgage fraud investigator for Wells Fargo.

Bill continues to work remotely for Intel, while Lori is retired as medical administrative support staff, first at Mayo Clinic and later at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, but keeps busy as a volunteer for the American Red Cross.

The Outstanding Alumnus and Distinguished Achievement awards are presented at the annual Alumni Banquet on campus the Sunday evening of Fall Festival, this year on Oct. 9.

Awards Committee

  • Jeffrey Graber ’04, Newton, Chair
  • Gwen Neufeld ’89, North Newton
  • Monica Schmidt Spicer ’11, Newton
  • Richard Zerger ’69, McPherson

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.