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Why We Teach

One professor spent his spring sabbatical interviewing 15 winners of Bethel’s Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching. The resulting documentary illustrates the special relationship between Bethel faculty and students.

By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, GS’16, new media strategist

September 06, 2018 | 2 p.m.

Assistant Professor of History Sam Mulberry ’99, who spent his sabbatical interviewing Bethel faculty on-camera and creating a documentary.

Assistant Professor of History Sam Mulberry ’99, who spent his sabbatical interviewing Bethel faculty on-camera and creating a documentary.

“It is a sin to bore students.”

It’s a statement beloved Professor of Communication Studies Leta Frazier remembers vividly from one of her college courses. Her professor said that sentence three times, standing on top of a desk, as students filed into class and stared at him, puzzled.

As she tells the story, Frazier leans in toward the camera, chuckling, eyes shining through her signature statement glasses. Now over 80, she still teaches in Bethel’s College of Arts & Sciences, in part because of the unique bond she has with her students. And that professor—among other teachers she had through the years—solidified her desire to teach and gave her a model for effectively connecting with students.

As an alumnus of Bethel, Assistant Professor of History Sam Mulberry ’99 recalled the profound way his own professors influenced his life and career trajectory. As co-director of Bethel’s Academic Enrichment and Support Center and co-director of the Pietas Honors Program, he’s gotten to know Bethel’s faculty—and top students from each department—well over the years. His Bethel relationships and interest in filmmaking inspired him to spend his spring 2018 sabbatical interviewing Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching recipients and creating a documentary from the interviews. It was partly a challenge to himself, to see if he could produce a feature-length film. And as a proponent of Bethel’s digital humanities program, it gave him a chance to compile oral histories for Bethel’s Digital Library and spend uninterrupted time using the medium of video to weave together a story.

Some interviewees touched on profound themes about learning, like Assistant Professor of Biology Sara Wyse describing the value of the humanities in scientific conversations. At another point, Professor of Physics Emeritus Dick Peterson—a widely-recognized expert in the world of optics—admits he should have published fewer articles and gotten to know more of his students over the years.

“A moment like that speaks deeply,” says Mulberry. In the process of creating the film, he waded through some 14 hours of film, often coming to campus early in the morning to watch portions of it on the large projector screens in the Clauson Center (CC) 313 lecture hall, which allowed him to see edits in greater detail. Mulberry says the semester-long discipline became a celebration of some of the great teachers that helped form his own career—and a gift to the Bethel community.

“When it’s done right, education is about transformation. Almost…conversion experiences. As a student, I had this view of my life, and it was on a track which was derailed in the best possible way. I remember having this moment of clarity and said, ‘What if I did what I love?’”

— Assistant Professor of History Sam Mulberry ’99

The film ends with University Professor of Art Ken Steinbach telling the story of a successful missionary weeping in the shower because he saw a bug. He realized that, though he was doing good work for the kingdom of God, all he wanted to do was to paint the bug.

It’s a simple analogy that illustrates the profound difference between doing good work—that our friends, families, and churches may affirm—and doing work that lines up with our calling. At Bethel, small class sizes and highly committed, faith-filled faculty walk with students through coursework, but also through the journey of discovering their interests and discerning their path. And through a documentary stitched together from conversations with faculty of every age, field, and personality, Mulberry captured something profound in a way that other media couldn’t.  

“I think this film puts forth ‘this is what Bethel is,’” Mulberry says. “From my experience as a student, and my experience teaching here, this sure feels an awful lot like what I think Bethel is.”

"Why We Teach" documentary by Sam Mulberry '99, assistant professor of history

“Why We Teach”

Of all past winners of Bethel’s Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching—which has been given annually since 1987—20 are still teaching at Bethel and 15 were interviewed for this project:

Dick Peterson – Physics; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 1988
Kathy Nevins – Psychology; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 1991
Patrice Conrath – Mathematics; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 1996
Marion Larson – English; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2001
Leta Frazier – Communication Studies; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2002
Carole Young – Psychology; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2003
Dan Ritchie – English; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2006
Chris Gehrz – History; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2009
Jay Rasmussen – Education; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2010
Nancy Brule – Communication Studies; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2011
Ken Steinbach – Art; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2012
Sara Shady – Philosophy; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2013
Joey Horstman – English; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2014
Sara Wyse – Biology; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2015
Susan Brooks – English; Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching 2016

View the Complete Interviews

“Why We Teach” is a documentary film directed by Assistant Professor of History Sam Mulberry as part of his 2018 sabbatical. The film features interviews with fifteen professors who have won the Bethel Faculty Excellence Award for Teaching and focuses on the philosophy, meaning, and purpose of teaching. 

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