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Summer work shores up study, expands student horizons

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – For several Bethel College students, exploring their various fields of study didn’t end with the school year.

Seniors Emily Kerbs, Laurie Steffen, Michael Unruh and Joel Linscheid all spent the summer working in positions that allowed them both to apply their respective majors and experience personal growth.

Kerbs, a global peace and justice studies major from Newton, interned for DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) in Miami. Her work involved guiding various groups of middle school- and high school-age youth through a week of exploration of, appreciation for and service in the city.

This summer alone, Kerbs says, DOOR logged more than 5,000 hours at 18 agencies in the city. Her two favorites were Missions of Charity, an international effort started by Mother Teresa’s order of nuns to provide shelter and food for women and young children, and Branches, which works with children of low-income families, mostly those of migrant workers.

However, one of Kerbs’ fondest memories comes from her experience with a third organization, Open House Ministries, where she helped pass out graphic Bibles to children and where, she says, “I saw the excitement and curiosity that one Bible could bring to a child.”

“This summer ended up being a crash course in urban ministries,” says Kerbs. “Finally, [I feel like] I am able to answer the question ‘What are you going to do with your degree?’”

Steffen, a Spanish and psychology major from Kingman, spent the summer at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., in a position with the Psychosocial Research Department of the Pediatric Oncology Branch. Steffen and two others collaborated with oncologists and social workers in the Clinical Center.

“NIH is unique in that it is both a research and clinical setting,” Steffen says. “I was working in the pediatric clinic where families from all over the world were coming to enroll in protocols studying and treating various disorders and diseases. Part of my job included attending grand rounds, which meant that I was sitting in on meetings where the oncologists and other specialists discussed the patients. This led to a very special and important aspect of my work at NIH: the families.”

Listening to families in the pediatric oncology unit required Steffen to rely both on her extensive knowledge of Spanish and her psychology background. Although this was the most rewarding aspect of her work, Steffen says, her main task of the summer was to produce a book explaining the disorder Neurofibromatosis Type 1 (NF1) so that a child could understand it. Despite challenges, Steffen says, she finished a book now under review by doctors in the neurofibromatosis realm.

Unruh, a biology major from Peabody, spent his summer working part-time at Camp Mennoscah near Murdock. While performing the basic duties of a camp staffer, Unruh also served as the Nature Guy, which allowed him to catch and observe the eating habits of snakes as research for his senior seminar.

Camp life gave Unruh a way “to pursue career and academic goals” – after spending that time working with children, Unruh decided to add the Youth Ministry certificate to his Bethel degree.

“I was really impressed with the kids’ interest in my research,” says Unruh. “I’ve seen campers [already] this fall who’ve asked me how my research ended up. After college, I [hope] to find a place where I can work outside with wildlife as I did this summer.”

Linscheid, a music education major from North Newton, also spent his summer working with children but in a much different setting than Unruh. He worked in downtown Kansas City, Kan., at Rainbow Mennonite Church, one of 18 Freedom School sites in the metropolitan area. Freedom Schools are a program of the Children’s Defense Fund and are meant to improve children’s reading skills and self-confidence.

Linscheid spent the mornings with a group of 8-10 middle school-age children working with a reading-based curriculum. In the afternoons, there were field trips and fun activities such as a trip to the zoo, the Negro League Baseball Museum, the jazz museum or a city park.

“I was interested in [the Freedom School] because it was an opportunity for teaching in a diverse setting, out of my comfort zone,” Linscheid says. “My [teaching] experience up to now has been with kids who are like me. These kids were from a totally different cultural and socioeconomic experience.”

Another attraction of the Freedom School for him, Linscheid says, was “the peace component. Every day, there was a ‘conflict resolution activity' that related to the book we were reading and looked at peaceful ways of resolving conflict. Also, every site is supposed to do social action activities. One thing we did was to write letters to Congressman Dennis Moore, asking him to sign SCHIP [State Children’s Health Insurance Program]. He came to visit our site and do the Read-Aloud one day, as did the mayor of Kansas City.

“It was exhausting – the kids were crazy – but it was also rewarding,” Linscheid says. “I was surprised by the life experience of these kids, so different from my own at that age or even now. And it was good to see how the program connected with some of them.”

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the highest ranked Kansas college in the national liberal arts category of U.S. News & World Report’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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