Scholarship at Bluffton

 

Making a case for change

Dr. Jonathan Andreas believes economists use the wrong statistic to determine the most common measure of a group s welfare. And he invokes Bill Gates to make his point. Per capita income, whether of a family or a country, is determined by the mean, or average, income of the group s members. So, if Gates walks into a room, its occupants average, and per capita, income will rise but that doesn't mean everyone s welfare will also increase, maintains Andreas, an assistant professor of economics.

He asserts that a more accurate reflection of the wellbeing of individuals in a group is median income the actual income of the person in the middle of the pack. Nobody cares about median income in economics, says
Jonathan AndreasAndreas, arguing that use of mean income makes wealth look greater than it really is for the average person. This should be our policy goal, to increase median income. To illustrate, he notes that more than half of Americans have yet to regain their real earning power of 10 years ago, thanks to a 2001 recession that was among the smallest on record but was severe in terms of median income. For most Americans, their real income dropped for years, adds Andreas, pointing out that many people felt the recession continued well beyond its official end in November 2001.

He is now trying to make his case about median income which was part of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois-Chicago in broader forums. Andreas, who earned his Ph.D. in economics in 2009, has an upcoming article about his research in the Journal of History of Economic Thought. He also plans to present his work at two economics conferences this year and eventually to publish his dissertation in a book. Publishing in economics wasn't in his plans when Andreas graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa with a bachelor s degree in American studies. I had no interest in economics in college at all, he admits. But that changed when, after graduation, he spent three years traveling and working in developing countries in Central America and Asia, seeing disparities between nations that were explained by economic variables, he says. I wanted to learn why there are such huge differences, he continues, and why some people are rich and some are poor.

Still, as he moved through graduate school at Illinois- Chicago where he also holds a master s degree in economics and on to Bluffton in 2007, I never really intended to publish, Andreas says. He thought he could make a difference in people s lives through teaching, he explains, and considered research a way of becoming a better teacher, but then I stumbled across something I think can make some difference in the field of economics through publication. A Schultz Fellowship from the university is providing additional time this year and next for Andreas to work on enhancing his dissertation, including his argument about median income. Economists are constantly criticized for doing a poor job with ethical decisions about individual well-being, he says. This is a place where we could improve. If we re not paying attention to the statistical measures, we re not going to have policies that help people.

Tools for teachers; success for students

Teaching remedial reading in Topeka, Kan., in the 1980s, Dr. Sarah Cecire found, with the help of some fourth- and fifth-graders, what has become the focus of her research during the last 20 years. Her students enjoyed word processing projects on the Apple IIe computers that were then new to schools, recalls Cecire, now a professor of education at Bluffton. And when she introduced Twist-a-plot stories, which allowed students to take stories in different directions electronically, she had fourth- and fifth-graders begging to stay in from recess to read and write. I got really interested in the technology at that point because it took these disinterested kids and made them want to read, she says. I got the interest because it captured the interest of my students.Sarah Cecire

Creative use of educational software to enhance teaching and learning has been the primary subject of Cecire's research ever since. Holder of a Ph.D. in educational technology from Kansas State University, she has made more than two dozen presentations on the topic at national and regional conferences, and about 20 more at workshops and teacher in-service programs. She was also a contributor to The online learning idea book: 95 proven ways to enhance technology-based and blended learning, published in 2007. The last two years, Cecire has been a presenter at the national spring conference of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities Center for Research in Adult Learning. Her subjects have been Wikis in the classroom and assignments to engage students in online/blended learning environments; at this year s conference, she is presenting on use of Web 2.0 tools.

In 2001-02, Cecire was the Ameritech/SBC Fellow from the state of Ohio. In that role, she developed materials to aid faculty in creating student-centered Web activities; created an assessment tool to assist colleges teacher education departments in determining how to integrate technology into their programs; and conducted faculty development workshops. Since coming to Bluffton in 2006, she has added to her list of presentations through her work on the value-added component of the Ohio Department of Education s school district report cards. As a value-added specialist, she has been training school personnel, first in Delaware, Ohio, and for the last few years in a seven-county area of west central Ohio.

Applied to students in grades 3-8, the value-added dimension is used to determine individual schools impact on children by measuring how much they progress from one year to the next. By comparing students to themselves, value-added helps factor out home environments and better include top students, who have sometimes been short-changed by achievement testing aimed primarily at bringing low students up to increase passage rates. All students top, average and struggling can show growth, notes Cecire, also Bluffton's director of graduate programs in education and co-editor of The Ohio Journal of Teacher Education. It s not perfect, she concedes about value-added, but it s better than the previous model, where you had to have a certain percentage of students pass the achievement test. The goal is school improvement, Cecire points out, adding that research has indicated that the impact of a series of effective teachers can mitigate even the effects of poverty on students. That s what this is after how we can make our teachers as effective as possible, she says.

Research in the church

Dr. Gerald Mast was introduced to substantive research as a Malone College undergraduate in the mid-1980s. He then learned about presenting and publishing findings as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1996, one year after earning his Ph.D. in rhetoric and communication at Pittsburgh, Mast came to Bluffton, where he has put the research skills he acquired to extensive use.

The professor of communication has written or co-authored two books and been co-editor of three others. His next book, The Calling of Christ: Being the Church in Life and Vocation, is scheduled for publication in fall 2011. About the same time, Mast expects book-form publication of a collection of essays which he is editing with Trevor Bechtel, assistant professor of religion that were written for a 2009 Bluffton conference on 16th-century Anabaptist leader Pilgrim Marpeck. In addition, he and Dr. J. Denny Weaver, his co-author and a Professor Emeritus of religion, are working on a follow-up to their 2009 book, Defenseless Christianity.Gerald Mast

Among his other projects for publication, Mast is writing an entry for the fifth volume and the first since 1967 of Mennonitisches Lexicon, the German-language Mennonite encyclopedia. And he just finished an essay on what he calls the myth of redemptive violence in evangelical popular culture, which will be published within a three-volume set of essays on that culture. The latter writings are only the most recent additions to a list of academic articles and chapters, nonacademic essays, encyclopedia entries and book reviews that runs--- along with his list of conference and other invited presentations for several pages. I ve been a fairly eclectic researcher, says Mast, adding that the relationship between language, especially religious language, and social change has taken a central role in the last decade.

That focus has evolved from an interest in slogans of social movements, which was related to his first significant research project at Malone. He was in a rhetorical theory and criticism class taught by Dr. Kim Phipps, now president of Messiah College, who required group research projects apply in rhetorical theory to American social movements of the 1960s and 70s. While other groups studied the civil rights, women s and anti-war movements, his group addressed the gay rights movement. Malone s library had a complete absence of resources on the topic, Mast remembers. But the AIDS crisis had just begun and, when the members of his group went looking for information at the University of Akron, they saw fliers and brochures for AIDS activists. They subsequently located one who not only exposed them to gay literature but also traveled to Malone to speak to the class about his life and activities as an activist.

That was my first major initiation to research that went beyond a library to talking with the people whose activities and ideas he was studying, says Mast, who graduated from Malone in 1987 with a bachelor s degree in communication arts. Moving on to Pittsburgh, he encountered rhetoric and communication faculty who expected graduate students not to stop at writing papers but to present them as well at National Communication Association and other conferences. They were absolutely committed to getting us into the national conversation, he recalls, and that extended to publication. Many of them provided pages of commentary meant to help students revise their papers for presentation, he says, and one, Dr. John Poulakos, pushed students to carefully consider feedback from conference audiences that would lead to further revisions and submission for publication. Those teachers saw his work in the range of possibility for publication, Mast continues, and they taught me how to write, including how to form an argument.

His first book, Separation and the Sword in Anabaptist Persuasion was published in 2006. His second solo effort is The Calling of Christ, which deals with how church routines and practices from communion to committee meetings shape individuals daily lives. The publisher, Herald Press, wants the book to be read and discussed in Sunday school classes, Mast says. He s also trying, he notes, to make it accessible to college students who he hopes will be persuaded to go to church despite its flawed, imperfect people and usable in some of their classes. You can t live the Christian life without being shaped by its practices, he argues, pointing out that he unapologetically makes a case in the book for rooting one s life in those practices. Doing so gives individuals leverage against reduction of their identity to their work and consumption, he says, explaining that popular media often change people into consumers and identify them by what they buy. The church provides leverage against that complete domination, Mast maintains. An editor of Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History and vice chair of The Mennonite magazine board, Mast has also been adviser for many communication students departmental honors projects.

Birth of a book

When Dr. Lamar Nisly says that getting a book published involves periods of anticipation and long periods of waiting, the professor of English speaks from experience. His new book, about Southern Catholic writers Flannery O Connor, Tim Gautreaux and Walker Percy, was published in January by Mercer University Press. But its roots go back to his graduate-school experience at the University of Delaware in the 1990s. I've had a lot of interest in these authors for a lot of years, says Nisly, noting that O Connor was the subject of his father s doctoral dissertation. Paul Nisly was also an English professor, at Messiah College, where his son earned his bachelor s degree in 1990.Lamar Nisly

When he got to graduate school, Lamar Nisly wanted to explore something in the realm of literature and religion. He was interested in the faith-related questions and issues raised by O'Connor and Percy. Their fiction became part of the focus of his dissertation, and Gautreaux entered the picture after Nisly heard him read one of his short stories at a conference in the late 90s. He subsequently bought a collection of Gautreaux's stories, and I've been hooked ever since, he admits. Nisly did his initial work on what would become the book Wingless Chickens, Bayou Catholics, and Pilgrim Wayfarers: Constructions of Audience and Tone in O'Connor, Gautreaux, and Percy for a summer 2002 conference on American Literature and the Question of Belief at Calvin College. By spring 2008, the book had been accepted for publication by Mercer, where it remained in the queue until its recent release. You have to love a project if you re going to live with it for so many years, says Nisly, who came to Bluffton after graduating from Delaware with his Ph.D. in 1996.

Since then, not surprisingly, a number of his many published and reprinted articles, invited lectures and conference papers and presentations have dealt with one or more of the three writers highlighted in the book. In addition to academics, its audience, he hopes, will include devotees of Southern culture and those interested in how authors address audiences to whom they want to communicate matters of faith. O'Connor, Gautreaux and Percy do that in very different ways, despite their common regional and religious backgrounds, says Nisly. He attributes those differences to their individual experiences with Catholicism and how they were influenced by the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. Nisly's next book project is Conversations with Tim Gautreaux, which he is editing and is tentatively scheduled for publication in 2012.

Returning to his interest in literature and religion, he is considering a future research project on how sin is used as a touchstone in fiction. He is also thinking about studying how a range of American literature looks at fears about security an offshoot of his stint as Bluffton's Pathways Civic Engagement Scholar in 2008-09, when the civic engagement theme on campus was Living with Uncertainty. Regardless of the project, what you end up getting into is intriguing, says Nisly, who also chairs the humanities division at Bluffton. I do enjoy research, he adds, tracing that back to his father and the importance of reading in his family, and to his college experience. I like having a chance to focus on it.

A collector, collator of knowledge
You might say that research comes naturally to Dr. Alex Sider. A test aimed at revealing its takers strengths has indicated that one of Sider's is input, identifying him as a collector and collator of knowledge, the assistant professor of religion says. And reading, learning more about a topic and adding to the collection of information for his projects are what feel like working most naturally, he adds. So it may not be surprising that Sider, a Bluffton faculty member since 2006, currently has three books in the works. Publication of his doctoral dissertation in book form is scheduled for February 2011, and he hopes a second book, about preaching in emergent churches, will follow in the spring. He s earlier in the process on the third one, whose subject is medical ethics.
 
Sider, who earned his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Duke University in 2004, addressed 20th-century Mennonite historian and theologian John Howard Yoder in his dissertation. In the resulting book, Sider says, he  tries to show the deep sense in which Alex SiderYoder was connected to many streams of thought about forgiveness and salvation, for example in the Christian tradition. In addition, he argues that the Gospel isn't about getting rid of conflict as he says many Christians now want to do but rather about demonstrating patient, forgiving and reconciling ways of dealing with it. A number of Christians think that Jesus will protect them from significant negativity and conflict, the presence of which indicates, they believe, that something must be going wrong in their lives, Sider explains. But that isn't and can t be true, he continues, saying there can be no forgiveness and reconciliation without conflict between people. Christianity is a therapy for that, he maintains.
 
Most of the book about emergent churches, titled Presence: Giving and Receiving God, is a compilation of sermons preached by Sider and the Rev. Isaac Villegas over several years after they helped found Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. Sider describes emergent churches as generally urban and small, with congregations of young, or disaffected young, professionals who are spiritual but not religious per se. They tend to worship in a contemporary style but also want a more contemplative experience than megachurch Christians, he says. The idea for compiling the sermons emerged from the realization that a lot of emergent church worship emphasizes spiritual practices but not necessarily preaching, Sider notes. Believing the Gospel isn't good news until it has been received as both good and news, he and Villegas focused on congregational response to their sermons, inviting a discussion on what the people had just heard. Such preaching back to the preacher gives authority to the congregation and combats church leadership by dint of the preacher s personality, which is often the case in emergent churches and has been the undoing of some, Sider points out.
 
While helping democratize leadership in the small churches, the approach also combats the notion of congregation members as passive receptors of the message by seeking a response from them, he adds. It s tremendous as a preacher to pour your heart and soul into a message but have it come back to you in new and completely unexpected ways, he says, calling it invigorating for the pastor and empowering for the congregation. Although a few years away from completion, his third book, on medical ethics, will deal in part with the central roles of dependency and vulnerability in human life. I decided to work on this out of family struggles with chronic illness, and also because I have a historical perspective on the connections between medicine and theology that a lot of the contemporary literature lacks, says Sider, who teaches a class on medicine, suffering and Christian belief.
 
His research, he says, informs him about how arguments on various topics have been extended through time. But he s not only a storehouse but also a translator, thinking about how to communicate those arguments to his students in ways other than those found in books, Sider adds. Research makes me better as a teacher, he says. I feel I have a lot of historical and contemporary examples to bring to bear on what I have to teach.