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Professor named local Woman of the Year

April 28th, 2020

Ada Schmidt-Tieszen

Professor of Social Work Ada Schmidt-Tieszen was named a Newton Area Woman of the Year for 2020.

She will retire from Bethel at the end of the 2019-20 school year, after 35 years on the Bethel faculty.

Schmidt-Tieszen graduated from Bethel in 1974 as a member of the first class of social work graduates.

She spent most of the next decade in Denver, where she practiced social work – as director of an assistance center for low-income and transient people; coordinator for a Meals on Wheels program serving five metropolitan counties; clinician for Southwest Denver Mental Health Center; and assistant executive director for financial development for the YWCA of Metropolitan Denver – and served as an instructor at the University of Colorado and the University of Denver.

While there, she also completed a Masters of Social Work degree at the University of Denver.

She joined the Bethel faculty in 1985. Since 2011, she has served as the program director for social work at Bethel. During her time in the department, both her daughters, Tina Graber and Alison Schmidt-Tieszen, have graduated with social work degrees from Bethel.

Schmidt-Tieszen received the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award at Bethel in 2009.

Reading the award citation, Brad Born, Bethel professor of English who was then academic dean, said, “Perhaps the highest compliment students give Ada is their recognition of her personal and professional integrity, and praise for her modeling the skills and practices that she seeks to foster in others.

“In the words of students: ‘She exhibits the traits and skills we learn in class’; ‘She is a real role model for me’; ‘Observing her is the best example of all.’

“That integrity of Ada’s performance at Bethel transcends her teaching,” Born continued. “It was that integrity that led her to complete a Ph.D. [in social welfare and social policy at the University of Kansas] in 2004 even though her earlier professional experience and teaching had earned her tenure in 1993.

“That integrity is evident in Ada’s contributions to the local community.” She has served on the Board of Directors for Offender Victim Ministries of Newton and, currently, for Mirror, Inc., a substance abuse treatment nonprofit.

Schmidt-Tieszen’s professional and academic interest areas are disaster social work, social justice, child welfare, women’s issues, policy, social work practice, conflict mediation and qualitative research.

She spent her most recent sabbatical focusing on Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), visiting MDS projects and interviewing people who had experienced natural disasters to “[explore] how to incorporate social work into disaster situations and how social workers [can] work with disaster [response] organizations.”

Schmidt-Tieszen said some of what she learned in her sabbatical research can apply to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“People who have gone through hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and [other natural] disasters can suffer trauma,” she said. “With the coronavirus, people have said it’s a kind of community trauma. People who have [lost] family members or experienced the disease close to them, health workers, all of us, may feel traumatized.”

She believes social workers and mental-health practitioners need to prepare for a coming “mental health pandemic.”

Schmidt-Tieszen is one of three Newton Area Women of the Year for 2020. The award has been made to three women annually since 1956. There will be an awards brunch at a later date to be announced.

“One of my students, who is going to graduate [from Bethel] in social work this year, nominated me,” Schmidt-Tieszen said. “For a student to have thought highly enough of me that she would nominate me feels like a huge honor and privilege. It’s very special.”

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.