The end of an era: Pandemic times prompt culture shift on campus
Not only has the campus seen seven faculty members retire in the last four years, but the pandemic that has ravaged the world has permanently altered college life as the junior and senior classes know it.
Just over two years ago, Bethel students attended Convocation in Krehbiel Auditorium, free from social distancing guidelines — a time when the biggest challenge was attempting to scan-and-scoot — and roamed campus mask-free. Memorial Hall was not yet a classroom, eight chairs surrounded each table in the Caf, and mass gatherings were encouraged by Student Life to foster a sense of community. Dances followed events such as Gala and home basketball games, Haury Hub teemed with students on a Friday night and events hosted by Student Activities Council ran until students wore out and returned to their dorms.
“I feel like school was more of an interactional experience before,” said Kade Miller, junior from Osborne. “That seemed to be an important part of what Bethel’s identity was, since we are such a small, tight-knit community. With the pandemic happening, I felt we got away from that somewhat.”
The campus had a different air to it. There was far less venturing into Wichita and campus was the focal point of student life. Newton’s already limited supply of fast food restaurants were open late and an 11:00 PM McDonald’s run could turn into a social hour. COVID-19 stripped these opportunities away from students and, as new normals begin to take shape, it’s important to acknowledge the final two classes remaining who carry with them these memories.
“I feel like the campus was a lot closer. There were more events and people hung out a lot more,” said senior Hailey Hill of Halstead. “During the pandemic that all faded away and it was hard to get to know people.”
Hill mentioned the slow but steady return to normal in recent months, and said that “it feels more like you’re getting an actual college experience,” as of late. With next year’s graduating class, pre-covid college will be a distant memory.
As the college experience has changed during the pandemic, staff members have also noted these alterations, both among the student body and the way the campus functioned and functions today.
“Due to the pandemic, everyone — students, faculty, staff and community — have had to have a heightened awareness of health. During this time some activities have had to be canceled, some activities have happened but had to be adapted and/or restricted. In the process of that happening, students, faculty and staff have figured out new ways of doing school,” said Shirley Dietzel, director of business services on campus.
Some staff members noted that not all changes were for the worst. Brad Schmidt, Director of Alumni Engagement, detailed the positivity in these changes.
“It presents a great opportunity to develop new ways of doing things and be creative…in some ways, I think we were all becoming too complacent in our pre-covid lives. We learned quickly not to take things for granted. In that regard, I hope we don't go back to normal, whatever that is. I hope we’ve learned some lessons about taking care of ourselves and each other,” said Schmidt.
The campus is also confronted by a changing of the guard. As mentioned, seven faculty members have left their long-standing posts at Bethel College in the last four years, retiring ahead and in the midst of the many changes brought on by COVID-19.
In 2019, both Dwight Krehbiel and Gail Stucky retired. John McCabe-Juhnke, Ada Schmidt-Tieszen and Patricia Shelly followed suit in 2020. While 2021 did not see any professors retire, the conclusion of the 2022 spring semester will bid farewell to William Eash and Jon Piper.
Each of these professors has been a staple at the institution. For juniors and seniors, these were some of the hallmark professors the Office of Admissions raved about on visits. They were First Year Seminar instructors that left a profound impact on their students and they were friendly faces around campus. Dr. Milliman, Dean of Faculty, outlined their contributions.
“The impact these professors have made in shaping and fulfilling the mission of Bethel College has been profound. All of them have faithfully guided numerous students on the path of pursuing meaningful lives of work and service. Consequently, the legacies resulting from their excellent instruction and powerful examples leave all of us deeply grateful,” Milliman said.
As May is fast approaching, much attention is being given to two men who will take with them the traditions of Bethel College’s past, Dr. Bill Eash and Dr. Jon Piper. Two seniors, Natalie Graber and Mia Loganbill, consider themselves lucky to have studied under their influence.
“Bill has had a profound impact on the Bethel College community and all within it,” said senior Natalie Graber. “The way Bill shows care for others has played a vital role in engaging everyone in this community. This created a space where students can learn and grow while being supported and encouraged.”
Mia Loganbill highlighted the many achievements of Jon Piper, such as teaching his students “about the importance of the environment, especially the native Kansas flora and fauna.” She mentioned the way Piper kept content relevant and “supplemented lectures and labs with memes and jokes.” Some of his biggest contributions included his adaptation to and advising of “countless students with their wide variety of research interests” while creating opportunities for undergraduate experience.
As the college ushers in a new era, it is important to reflect on the days of old. While this campus is built on tradition, it values a rich history of inviting and tackling new challenges.