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2nd annual STEM Symposium will look at topics in biology, conservation

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – With rising gas prices, ongoing discussion about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and the recent placement of Alaska’s governor, Sarah Palin, on the Republican presidential ticket, Stan Senner’s lecture topic at Bethel College couldn’t be more timely.

Senner, Anchorage, is a 1973 Bethel graduate and the executive director and vice president of Audubon Alaska. He will give the keynote address for Bethel’s 2nd annual STEM Symposium Friday, Oct. 3, during the college’s Fall Festival.

His lecture title is “Gas Pump Panic: Science, Energy and the Environment in the Arctic.” He will speak at 11 a.m., in a presentation that also serves as the Fall Festival Convocation, in Krehbiel Auditorium of the Fine Arts Center. All symposium events will be held there or in the art gallery area just outside the auditorium and are free and open to the public, except for the evening banquet, for which reservations and payment are required.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, a grouping used by the U.S. National Science Foundation to describe key fields of study and research in an advanced technological society such as the United States. At Bethel, STEM covers biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, pre-engineering, physics and psychology.

For a number of years, the Fall Festival program included lectures by Bethel alumni who have excelled in a STEM area. In 2006, Bethel faculty, consulting with members of the newly formed STEM Advisory Council (15 Bethel graduates in STEM fields, chaired by Dale Horst of Goessel) decided to plan a full-day symposium for the following year with the hope of making it an annual event.

The inaugural symposium last year featured lectures by Bethel mathematics graduates in honor of Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Arnold M. Wedel. This year’s honoree is Professor Emeritus of Biology Dwight R. Platt.

Senner has been executive director of Audubon Alaska since 1999, leading, managing and raising funds for the six-person office and its education, science and policy programs. However, he has been working in environmental protection in Alaska since the mid-’70s. He is a long-time advocate for protecting ANWR from petroleum drilling, including lobbying Congress during the fight for the Alaska Lands Act, and was deeply involved in cleanup after the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

Senner developed Alaska’s first “Watchlist” of declining and vulnerable bird populations and has helped initiate many other important science-based conservation projects, including the identification of “Important Bird Areas” in Alaska and the Bering Sea. An avid birder and ornithologist, Senner’s professional career has included serving as the Alaska representative of the Wilderness Society during passage of the Alaska Lands Act, as executive director of Pennsylvania’s Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and as director of Audubon’s migratory bird conservation program.

Senner is the voice of the Anchorage Bird Hotline and has been profiled in the “Outdoor” section of the Anchorage Daily News. In 2005, he received the Charles H. Callison Award for outstanding achievement in conservation, an annual designation by the National Audubon Society’s board that recognizes one volunteer and one professional who have made exceptional contributions to the organization and its mission. Senner was honored in the professional category.

The 2008 STEM Symposium begins at 8:15 a.m. with a welcome and introductions, followed by the first lecture at 8:30. Jonathan Gering, a 1994 Bethel graduate and associate professor of biology at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., will speak on “14 Years Connected: Reflections on the Role of Contingency in the Making of an Academic Career.” After a break in the gallery area, 1985 graduate Anita Badertscher, a National Park Service ranger at Tumacácori National Historical Park in southern Arizona, will speak on “So, You Wanna Be a Park Ranger?” There will be time for audience questions and discussion after each lecture.

Senner will give the keynote address and convocation at 11 a.m. After lunch, the symposium resumes at 1 p.m. with a panel discussion, moderated by Bethel Professor of Biology Jon Piper and featuring the three presenters. The symposium concludes with a reception at 2 p.m. in the gallery area.

The dinner Friday evening is in honor of Platt. Tickets are $12 per person and must be reserved by Sept 26 by contacting Dwight Krehbiel at Bethel College via phone at 316-284-5211or e-mail at krehbiel@bethelks.edu.

Fall Festival-goers and anyone else interested are also invited to hear the three presenters on Saturday, Oct. 4, at Kauffman Museum. Senner will speak on “Balancing energy and the environment in Alaska” at 9 a.m. At 11 a.m., Badertscher will portray María Rita Durán, a resident of the Tumacácori area in the early 1800s, and give an overview of the national park, which preserves the ruins of three Spanish missions. Gering will present “A festival of sound and sight: The katydids of central Kansas,” featuring photos and sound recordings of the insects, at 1 p.m. All programs take place in the Kauffman Museum auditorium and are free and open to the public.

For the symposium, STEM faculty at Bethel will “cancel Friday morning classes to make it easier for students to attend all or at least part of the symposium,” said Piper.

Piper continued, “Students should find this event not only an occasion to hear some interesting talks, but also a great opportunity to mingle with alumni and [possibly] make employment or internship connections and gain valuable career advice. I am hoping that students will try to attend as much of this event as possible.”

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 only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’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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