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Bethel’s 112th commencement sees 300th social work graduate cross the stage

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- By the relative randomness of alphabetical order, Greta Steingard, Henderson, Neb., was the 300th student to earn a degree in social work from Bethel College since the program was accredited in 1974. Steingard was one of nine social work majors who walked across the Memorial Hall stage on May 22. One of her two major professors, Ada Schmidt-Tieszen, was in the first class of social workers to graduate from Bethel in 1974.

Although Steingard came to Bethel on a music scholarship in 2001, she was also interested in social work, she says. She is one of three siblings who were adopted, so "social workers have influenced our lives. And I like working with and talking to people."

One of the most outstanding parts of her social work education, she says, was "how close-knit the social work community [students and professors] at Bethel has been. The classes were small, and in those intimate settings, we really got to know each other and to share. Being able to do that enhances the learning experience."

Schmidt-Tieszen was also drawn to social work because "I wanted to work directly with people," she says. Later, she became more interested in policy and in "changing people’s environments." She was associate executive director of the YWCA in Denver when Larry Friesen (Bethel’s other professor of social work) called her in 1985 to see if she would be interested in applying for a vacant faculty position in the department.

Schmidt-Tieszen was one of six social work majors who graduated from Bethel in 1974. Like Steingard, she remembers her class as "an interesting group of people all interested in serving others," with most of whom she remains friends to this day.

In addition to Steingard, 105 students received a bachelor of arts (43) or a bachelor of science (65) degree on May 22 (two graduated in abstentia). According to John Sheriff, vice president for academic affairs, the class of 2005 comprised 44 men and 64 women from 13 states and three foreign countries (Canada, Peru and Russia). Seventy-two graduates were from Kansas, with three or more graduates each from Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Minnesota.

Before the conferral of degrees, Sheriff introduced the commencement speaker, Bethel professor of psychology Paul Lewis, who was also the recipient of the 2005 Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award.

"Student evaluations from the 17 years Paul has taught at Bethel give ample evidence that he is a master teacher whose courses are perceived by students to have interesting material, engaging discussions and phenomenal lectures," Sheriff said. "Students credit him with making learning fun and interesting, making them open their minds and think, bringing a spirit of excitement to class and, yes, being eccentric and funny--for which they love him."

In his address, which he titled "On Reconciling the Secular with the Sacred," Lewis detailed seven virtues he said were necessary for helping to create a better world: humility, knowledge, courage, moderation, honesty, justice and piety.

"There are many other secular--meaning worldly actions and experiences--and sacred virtue sets that could have been chosen," Lewis concluded. "At this point in my life, these are the virtues I’ve selected, and have seen in you as a class and in the Bethel community: humility as a foundation for all that follows, and the capstone, piety, ultimately providing the ground for the entire set. Each virtue’s relative goodness is found in relationship to the others."

The commencement invocation was given by Randy Smith, Raleigh, N.C., father of social work graduate Emily Smith of North Newton. Another father-daughter pair was English graduate Elizabeth Zerger of McPherson, whose father, Richard Zerger, is professor of chemistry.

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