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Bethel presents top academic awards virtually

May 11th, 2020

Ad Building and threshing stone

As with almost every other activity normally held in the spring semester, the internet was the venue for presenting the Thresher Awards, which went to five graduating seniors.

May 8 was the scheduled date for the convocation at which they would normally have learned they had received the highest academic honor given each year.

Instead, at 11 a.m., a video of the professors reading the citations from their home offices went live on Bethel’s Facebook page.

David Long, professor of visual art and design, gave a Thresher Award in art to Georgia Anderson, Wichita.

He briefly described how she prepared her senior show (ceramics), which then shattered in firing, and how she started over, creating an even stronger collection.

“What impressed me the most about Georgia’s working method and attitude is her ability to consistently move forward,” he said. “She quickly figured out what she wanted to do, selected the design language she was going to use and started plugging away.

“It is my feeling that this current body of work could easily be the springboard into a graduate program. It is that strong.”

Naomi Epp, North Newton, received a Thresher Award in biology from professors of biology Francisca Méndez-Harclerode and Jon Piper.

Reading the citation, Méndez-Harclerode said, “The biology department … is blessed with many good students. However, if we were to pick [one] who excelled in most … areas and embodied the spirit of a liberal arts institution, we would have to pick Naomi Epp.

“She has consistently excelled academically. The work she produces in the classroom and lab stands heads and shoulders above the rest. Moreover, her enthusiasm and engagement inside the classroom and lab are without equal.”

Presenting a Thresher Award in English to Justice Flint, Wichita, Professor of English Brad Born said Flint “demonstrate[ed] a unique combination of intellectual vigor, creative thinking and deep engagement with literature. Her formal written scholarship has been exceptional.”

In the prospectus for her senior thesis, on “Christian Independence in Jane Eyre,” Flint “promised that her scholarship would foreground ‘the theological commitment of its author and the surprising ways in which her heroine negotiates the tensions of being a gifted and independent-minded woman who is also devout and sincere in her faith,’” Born said. “Those words aptly describe Justice herself.”

Madison Hofer-Holdeman, Wichita, is the recipient of a Thresher in theater, presented by John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts.

He noted that Hofer-Holdeman made her Bethel debut in The Last Night of Ballyhoo as a first-year student in fall 2016, and then appeared in every theater production for the next four years, ending with The Theory of Relativity in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 shut-down.

“Madison’s record of stage accomplishments remains unblemished,” McCabe-Juhnke said. “She has shown exceptional dedication, maturity and depth of understanding about the craft of making theater.

“Her excellence is a testament to her acute instinct for acting, her exceptional tenacity and her genuine receptivity to critique.”

Finally, Rachel Messer, assistant professor of psychology, read a citation on behalf of herself and Brad Celestin, assistant professor of psychology, to Ryan LaCombe, Abilene, Kan., for a Thresher Award in psychology.

Among LaCombe’s accomplishments, Messer noted his “[dedication] to gaining experience as a health-care provider through both applied work as an athletic training student and his independent research on ankle injuries and recovery in athletes, during which he conducted a nearly two-year-long study.”

In addition, “his leadership as the head of his research groups over the years has allowed him to grow and shine.”

The five students graduate from Bethel May 17 (virtually, of course) – Anderson with a B.A. in art; Epp, a B.A. and a double major in biology and chemistry; Flint, a B.A. in English; Hofer-Holdeman, a B.A. in English; and LaCombe, a B.A and a double major in athletic training and natural sciences.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel is the highest ranked Kansas private college, at #12, in Washington Monthly, Top 200 Bachelor’s Colleges; ranks at #23 in U.S. News & World Report, Best Regional Colleges Midwest; is’s highest ranked Kansas small college with the highest earning graduates; stands at #57 among 829 U.S. colleges and universities listed by lendEDU as “Best for Financial Aid”; has the #10 RN-to-BSN program in Kansas according to; and earned its second-straight NAIA Champions of Character Five-Star gold award, based on student service and academic achievement, all for 2019-20. For more information, see 

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.