NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – At the end of the 2012-13 school year, Bethel College honored two of its younger faculty members for their accomplishments and contributions in both scholarship and teaching.
At one of the two final convocations of the year, Brad Born, vice president for academic affairs, presented Rachel Epp Buller, assistant professor of art (with a particular focus on visual art and design), with the David H. Richert Distinguished Scholar Award.
Although she has been adjunct faculty for the last number of years, Epp Buller joined the Bethel faculty full-time only at the beginning of this school year. She graduated from Bethel with highest honors and majors in art, German and history, and completed her masters and Ph.D. work in art history at the University of Kansas.
While working on her graduate degrees, Epp Buller secured three different fellowships to support her study, and served as a graduate fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Immediately upon finishing her doctorate, Epp Buller took the first of several visiting faculty positions at Bethel, and in her very first year presented in the Faculty Seminar series, one of five invited lectures she delivered that year.
“Such a burst of scholarly activity is not atypical of a young scholar with a newly minted dissertation,” Born said, “but the pace and range of scholarship that Rachel has sustained since then is extraordinary.
“She has won numerous fellowships and grants, including National Endowment for the Arts funding for the Kansas Mural Project, a Gerda Henkel Stiftung research fellowship and, most notably, a Fulbright Scholar research grant for study in Berlin in 2011.
“She has curated 15 exhibitions or installations, exhibited her own printmaking and other art in 21 group exhibitions and nine solo exhibitions, presented 40 conference papers or public lectures and authored 17 journal articles and many exhibition and book reviews.”
Furthermore, Born noted, since she joined the Bethel faculty on a full-time track just nine months ago, Epp Buller’s “scholarly output has been exceptional. In the last year, she has curated four exhibitions – in Wichita, Salina and El Dorado – and published five journal articles as well as a book chapter with a telling title, ‘Integrating the Personal and Professional: Reflections of a Full-Time Academic Mama in the Early Childhood Years.’
“In much of her recent scholarly work, Rachel has examined themes of motherhood, in collaboration with other artists, art historians and theorists. This last fall, she published the book Reconciling Art and Mothering, a collection of essays.”
Earlier this month, Epp Buller gave the 2013 Bethel College Women’s Association Annual Faculty Lecture. Next month, she will celebrate the release of a book she co-edited, also focused on issues of the maternal, Mothering Mennonite (Toronto: Demeter, 2013). A third book is in process, this one the topic of her 2011 Fulbright research, which takes her back to Berlin as well Vienna this summer, The Art of Alice Lex: Politics and Recovery in Berlin.
With the David H. Richert Award, Born said, “we signal our respect and admiration for your achievement. We thank you for modeling distinguished scholarship and for integrating your life of scholarship into your vocation of teaching at Bethel College.”
“I was very surprised and pleased to receive this award,” Epp Buller said. “I feel fortunate to have joined such a supportive academic community.
“I believe that, for professors, research and creative work outside the classroom can also serve as important teaching resources – which played out for me this year in the form of curated exhibitions I used as teaching tools and book chapters I incorporated into classroom discussions.”
Born also presented the second faculty award, given at commencement May 19. This was the Ralph P. Schrag Distinguished Teaching Award, recognizing a Bethel faculty member “who has made an outstanding contribution to teaching, and it affirms the importance Bethel College places on excellent teaching by our faculty and meaningful learning by our students.”
The award went to Sarah Masem, assistant professor of nursing, prompting a spontaneous standing ovation from the nursing class of 2013, seated with the other graduates.
After completing an associate of arts degree in psychology at Cowley Community College, Winfield, Masem earned her associate of arts degree in nursing from Hesston College, her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Tabor College, Hillsboro, and her Master of Science in Nursing Education degree from Fort Hays State University.
Before joining the Bethel faculty in 2009, Masem – a Newton native and graduate of Newton High School – worked at Newton Medical Center as a critical care nurse and as the employee health coordinator in Infection Control. Prior to that, she was director of nursing and health educator at the Harvey County Health Department.
The Schrag Teaching Award is based on student course evaluations and feedback from peers who have observe a colleague’s classroom and clinical instruction, Born said.
“Students consistently give very high ratings to Sarah for her teaching strategies, organization, facilitation of student involvement and availability for individual help,” he said.
“Her integration of classroom content with nursing practice is another theme in students’ praise. One student wrote: ‘Sarah teaches in a way that facilitates learning as opposed to memorizing. She told us what we needed to know for tests, but also what practice would really be like.’
“Students also express appreciation for Sarah’s mentoring role: ‘Sarah always makes herself available to speak with even if it has nothing to do with her specific course. [She lends] a soft word of encouragement in the times you need it the most.’”
In his citation, Born included some of Masem’s own reflections on teaching. “I do teach knowledge but that is only a minimal part of what I do,” she wrote. “I model the behavior I want from my students during experiential learning activities and base my interactions with them [on their individuality] rather than a one-size-fits-all style.”
“As Sarah’s statement expresses,” Born said, “excellent teaching does not happen in isolation but rather in relationship, primarily between teacher and students, teacher and colleagues.
“Sarah is one of several nursing faculty whose teamwork in the last several years has enabled our nursing students to achieve very high first-time pass rates on the nursing licensure exam, earning the department recognition for exceeding the national average. When we celebrate such achievement by our students, we also celebrate the teachers whose professional skill and personal commitment fosters that learning.”
“I was completely shocked and honored all at the same time,” Masem said of receiving the award. “It was very exciting for my family, especially my four young children, to see this award presented to me at commencement.
“I am so grateful to the students from this graduating class, and prior classes, for all their kind words. I feel much more inspired and energized as an educator than I ever have.”
Masem will present an honors convocation sometime in the 2013-14 school year.
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.