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Serving Out of the Spotlight

Serving Out of the Spotlight

Assistant Professor of History Sam Mulberry spends about 55 hours a week on campus between teaching, serving on Faculty Senate, co-directing three academic programs, and facilitating a popular podcast network. But really, he'd prefer it if no one noticed.

A cow bone, a balding Mr. Potato Head, and a Nintendo controller from the original gaming system adorn the shelves in Assistant Professor of History Sam Mulberry’s office. In some ways, they serve as a visual metaphor for Mulberry himself—a unique mishmash of things that quietly draw attention and merit recognition.

Though Mulberry has long been appreciated by his colleagues, he was formally honored at Bethel University’s faculty retreat last fall, where he received the Faculty Excellence Award for Service and a standing ovation from his peers. For someone as humble as Mulberry, it was both flattering and embarrassing.

“My goal since I was a little kid has been to not be noticed,” Mulberry says. “I’ve always been more comfortable with the work than with the harvest.”

That much is obvious to those who have known him the longest. In addition to his teaching duties, Mulberry co-directs the Academic Enrichment and Support Center (AESC), the Pietas Honors Program, and Christianity and Western Culture (CWC), and he also serves as an unofficial technology guru for many of his colleagues. 

“Sam is arguably one of Bethel's most valuable assets,” says Professor of Philosophy Sara Shady, who has worked cross-departmentally with Mulberry for years. “He is incredibly creative, serves on more committees than I can count, and he doesn’t want recognition for what he does. He serves generously, simply because it matters for the greater good of all of us.”

Much of Mulberry’s work begins solely because he wants an idea to come to fruition. In an effort to create “the best possible” online version of CWC, Bethel’s hallmark general education course, Mulberry designed virtual museums to make history tangible for the students. He also taught himself to use audio recording and editing equipment to launch the podcast network Live from AC2nd—named after the location of the history department—which now includes eight podcasts hosted by Bethel faculty from diverse disciplines.

For someone whose jobs are highly social, Mulberry describes himself as deeply introverted, even monastic. In fact, he lived with monks shortly after earning his undergraduate degree from Bethel in 1999, when he taught high school art in Mobile, Alabama. He made $100 a month and didn’t spend a penny—instead, he painted, wrote, and allowed himself to embrace both the Catholic tradition of his youth and the Protestant views he encountered at Bethel.

“When I think about my faith, I don’t think about a moment when I stopped being Catholic and started being something else,” Mulberry says. “It’s all me.”

Fittingly, much of the work Mulberry does is at intersections. His upcoming spring semester sabbatical project will utilize history, art, technology, and education to produce a sophisticated tool for faculty development. He plans to film long-form interviews with 20 previous Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching recipients and create a digital archive to help professors refine the art of teaching. Then, if there’s time, he’ll cut and edit the interviews into a 90-minute documentary.

“I don’t know how it’ll turn out, but it’s the work of doing it that sounds fun,” Mulberry says. “I like the challenge of trying to piece something together to make a statement.”

But Mulberry knows his greatest accomplishment won’t be his sabbatical project, or his Faculty Excellence Award, or any honors he might receive in the future. It will be his relationships with students—the early mornings in the AESC office, the dinners at his home with CWC teaching assistants, and the years of mentoring that extend beyond graduation.

“The things I’m proudest of are things no one will ever know about,” Mulberry says. “That’s the work that is deeply rewarding. That’s the stuff that matters.”

Learn more about the history department at Bethel.