Bethel College bestows top academic awards virtually

Special to The Kansan

NEWTON–As with almost every other activity normally held in the spring semester, the internet was the venue in which Bethel College presented this year’s Thresher Awards.

May 8 was the scheduled date for the convocation at which five graduating seniors would have learned that they had received the highest academic honor given each year.

Instead, professors reading the citations from their home offices went live on Bethel’s Facebook page recently, bestowing the honorees with their awards.

David Long, professor of visual art and design, gave a Thresher Award in art to Georgia Anderson, of Wichita.

He briefly described how she prepared her senior show in ceramics, which then shattered in firing, and how she started over, creating an even stronger collection.

“What impressed me the most about Georgia’s working method and attitude is her ability to consistently move forward,” he said. “She quickly figured out what she wanted to do, selected the design language she was going to use and started plugging away.

“It is my feeling that this current body of work could easily be the springboard into a graduate program. It is that strong.”

Naomi Epp, of North Newton, received a Thresher Award in biology from professors Francisca Méndez-Harclerode and Jon Piper.

Reading the citation, Méndez-Harclerode said, “The biology department … is blessed with many good students. However, if we were to pick (one) who excelled in most … areas and embodied the spirit of a liberal arts institution, we would have to pick Naomi Epp.

“She has consistently excelled academically. The work she produces in the classroom and lab stands heads and shoulders above the rest. Moreover, her enthusiasm and engagement inside the classroom and lab are without equal.”

Presenting a Thresher Award in English to Justice Flint, of Wichita, professor Brad Born said Flint “demonstrate(d) a unique combination of intellectual vigor, creative thinking and deep engagement with literature. Her formal written scholarship has been exceptional.”

In the prospectus for her senior thesis, on “Christian Independence in Jane Eyre,” Flint “promised that her scholarship would foreground ‘the theological commitment of its author and the surprising ways in which her heroine negotiates the tensions of being a gifted and independent-minded woman who is also devout and sincere in her faith,’ ” Born said. “Those words aptly describe Justice herself.”

Madison Hofer-Holdeman, of Wichita, is the recipient of a Thresher in theater, presented by John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts.

He noted that Hofer-Holdeman made her Bethel debut in “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” as a first-year student in fall 2016, then appeared in every theater production for the next four years, ending with “The Theory of Relativity” in March, just before the COVID-19 shutdown.

“Madison’s record of stage accomplishments remains unblemished,” McCabe-Juhnke said. “She has shown exceptional dedication, maturity and depth of understanding about the craft of making theater.

“Her excellence is a testament to her acute instinct for acting, her exceptional tenacity and her genuine receptivity to critique.”

Finally, Rachel Messer, assistant professor of psychology, read a citation on behalf of herself and Brad Celestin, assistant professor of psychology, to Ryan LaCombe, of Abilene.

Among LaCombe’s accomplishments, Messer noted his dedication “to gaining experience as a health care provider through both applied work as an athletic training student and his independent research on ankle injuries and recovery in athletes, during which he conducted a nearly two-year-long study.”

In addition, “his leadership as the head of his research groups over the years has allowed him to grow and shine,” Messer said.

The five students graduated from Bethel on May 17 — Anderson with a bachelor’s degree in art; Epp, bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry; Flint, a bachelor’s degree in English; Hofer-Holdeman, a bachelor’s degree in English; and LaCombe, bachelor’s degrees in athletic training and natural sciences.