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Alumni add expertise to 2011 Summer Science Institute

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College’s Summer Science Institute had another banner year, with the distinction in 2011 of having three science alumni on the institute faculty.

The institute turned 12 this year with, like last year, a capacity 32 students. The 2011 faculty included Gary Lyndaker, Gravois Mills, Mo. (a 1968 graduate in mathematics), Richard Platt, Avenue, Md. (1985, psychology and philosophy), and Darrell Wiens, Cedar Falls, Iowa (1972, biology).

Lyndaker recently retired as an information technology specialist for the state of Missouri following eight years as IT director of the state Department of Mental Health. Platt is associate professor of psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where he has taught for 18 years, and Wiens is professor of biology at the University of Northern Iowa, where he has been for 22 years.

“We’ve had maybe one or two alumni as part of the Summer Science Institute faculty over the years,” says Dwight Krehbiel, Bethel professor of psychology and institute co-director. “This year, for a variety of reasons, many of our own faculty weren’t able to do the institute. So I started thinking of dedicated alumni who would likely be good teachers.”

Lyndaker is a member of the STEM (Science, Technology, pre-Engineering and Mathematics) Advisory Council, which has given Bethel faculty strong support on the Summer Science Institute. Platt is a former student of Krehbiel’s and a North Newton native. And Wiens’ son, Eric, is married to Krehbiel’s daughter, Stephanie, so the two have kept in touch through their children.

“I contacted them,” says Krehbiel, “and it didn’t take very long at all for them to say yes.”

The teaching experience of the three alumni has been mostly limited to college-age students at the undergraduate (and, for Wiens, graduate) level. All three were intrigued by the chance to work with high schoolers.

They noticed that the younger students are “maybe a little more easily distracted,” says Platt, than their college counterparts – but not by very much. And the fact that this is a group that self-selects by a strong interest in science makes a difference.

“I had a couple I feel quite certain will be biologists,” says Wiens. Lyndaker adds, “I have taught college undergraduates who were no stronger, or even less strong, than these students. Overall, they were really engaged and tuned in – like Darrell, I had a couple I think will be mathematicians.”

The students can pick two areas of concentration, with one class meeting in the morning and one in the afternoon. Lyndaker led the section on mathematical puzzles and games, Platt on understanding memory and Wiens on developmental biology.

“We investigated problem solving,” says Lyndaker, “looking at a variety of problems and the different domains they’re pulled from – with a twist. These weren’t the kinds of problems you’d have in class.”

Platt’s students, after looking at aspects of memory and memory systems, chose to focus, in groups, on different memory experiments. And Wiens’ studied formation of organs, starting at the cellular level, using incubating chicken eggs and a photomicroscope he brought with him.

Wiens also brought a graduate student from NIU, Erin O’Kane, because of shoulder surgery he had recently that ended up being more involved than had been originally expected.

Wiens says the Summer Science Institute was a good experience both for O’Kane and for the high school students. A graduate student is a role model, he says, “someone who has gone into the field but who isn’t so different from them, and not as intimidating as the professor.”

And the three alumni faculty enjoyed this short break from the usual summer routines as well as the chance to give something to their alma mater.

“For me, it’s broadening my teaching experience, teaching a group I haven’t worked with before,” says Platt. “The students are getting a little flavor of psychology research and learning about memory. And for Bethel, it’s an excellent opportunity to give prospective students a feel for Bethel, to experience the sciences here.”

“I feel strongly that I got a good education in the sciences, and I would hate to see that fall off,” says Lyndaker. “Math and science are more important than ever in the 21st century.

“I enjoy being involved with Bethel,” he adds. “It was a big part of my life. I made strong friendships and still have contact with faculty and ex-faculty. I don’t have a lot of money, so this is a way to contribute more, in terms of my time.”

The Summer Science Institute has shown Wiens that “students are increasingly coming from urban areas.” The institute students were largely from the Wichita, Kansas City and Dallas areas, with several from Nebraska (Omaha and smaller communities) and elsewhere in Kansas. “Also, high school students, especially the best ones, are being more selective about where they go to college.

“Bethel has a strong academic program and small class sizes and in the Summer Science Institute, they get to see and experience that directly, along with the value system that Bethel holds.

“And for me,” he adds, “I enjoy being an evangelist for developmental biology and teaching it to young people every chance I get.”

“STEM at Bethel is a model for what works and can work at a small school,” says Lyndaker. “Solicit advice and support from alumni; reach out to high schools and [two-year] colleges. These kinds of things will help Bethel survive and thrive.”

In addition to the three alumni, Summer Science Institute faculty included Krehbiel, institute co-director Jon Piper, professor of biology, and Gary Histand, professor of chemistry. Bethel students Amber Anderson and Megan Leary and May graduate Krishna Phifer served as assistants and counselors, with three additional students in counselor roles as well.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2010-11 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is in the first tier in its category in the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of “America’s Top Colleges” for 2011. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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