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Chaplain Respects Diverse Religious Views

Katherine LowKatherine Low, assistant professor of religion and college chaplain

There was no chaplain and there were no female professors in the religious studies department at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, when Reverend Katie Low was enrolled as an undergraduate. Her desire to ensure that young women at other small liberal arts colleges have female role models in their religious and academic lives brought her to Mary Baldwin College.

In August 2011, the Nebraska native became MBC’s first new chaplain in 25 years, continuing a tradition of female leadership in that post upon the retirement of Reverend Pat Hunt. As the college’s spiritual leader, Low said she works diligently to “involve language that both holds to the college’s Christian heritage and maintains respect for the diversity of religious views in the college community.”

Low’s favorite address of the fall 2011 semester was given at the opening meeting for faculty and staff, shortly after one of the East Coast’s strongest earthquakes occurred, with an epicenter just east of campus.

“We ask for steady ground beneath our feet, so that we may firmly stand for the mission of this great college,” she invoked.

In the other facet of her dual role, Low is developing a course Low for May Term 2012 that will showcase her expertise in gendered and cultural approaches to biblical studies. In Great Couples of the Bible, students will analyze cultural artifacts about couples such as Adam and Eve, Samson and Delilah, and Jesus and Mary Magdalene to discover what makes some renditions of biblical couples more popular than others.

“Teaching, to me, is about cultivating relationships between the students, the subject matter, and the professor,” Low said.

Former Businessman Finds Calling in Classroom

Joseph SprangelJoseph Sprangel, assistant professor of business administration

As early as high school, Joe Sprangel remembers having a desire to teach, but for the better part of three decades his professional life took a different track. He enjoyed his hands-on work with machines: initially, he repaired pieces of equipment to manufacture car parts, and later he served as supervisor and plant manager. But something kept nagging at him to pursue what he felt was his true calling.

After 28 years in industry — and while putting both of his own children through college — Sprangel earned his doctor of business administration from Lawrence Technological University in Michigan and landed his first position as a full-time instructor at Ithaca College in Western New York. Since joining the MBC faculty in 2010, he has enhanced the Business for a Sustainable Future curriculum with innovative ideas about how to integrate sustainability into a variety of courses.

“I also try to be a sustainability role model,” said Sprangel. “I don’t hand out paper syllabi and try to avoid using paper for the most part in class, and you’ll rarely see the overhead light on in my office.”

Sprangel is working to develop a student organization that would function much like a business sustainability consulting group, giving participants exposure to real-world business decisions. Building on the sustainability aspect, he envisions that the group would use the campus greenhouse (or build a simple hothouse) to grow greens and other plants to be sold for use in Hunt Dining Hall.

Sprangel’s consideration for his students extends beyond lessons and homework. “You may need to help them learn to be punctual in getting to class or timely in turning in assignments. They might need someone to help them understand what it takes to meet or exceed expectations on a project,” he says. “In the end it requires that I have prepared my customers to be successful when they transition to the career phase of their lives.”

Holt Blends Psychology, Environmental Awareness

Jenna HoltJenna Holt, assistant professor of psychology

Jenna Holt, a former MBC adjunct, makes no secret about her wish to see more students choose psychology as a major. In fact, one of her favorite courses to teach is Intro to Psychology, because, she jokes, “it’s a great challenge to get students to see how exciting psychology can be and try to win them over to the ‘dark side’ so they take psych as a major.”

Developing a new course in ecopsychology is just one of the ways Holt is keeping the curriculum fresh and reinforcing real-world applications. Ecopsychology — “ecopsych” for short — is a relatively new field that includes studying the relationship that humans have with the natural environment and the variables that affect our behaviors regarding the environment. Holt was motivated to learn more after conducting a successful pilot study in ecopsychology for her dissertation at James Madison University. Holt’s course is not quite ready yet, but she is looking forward to involving a few students soon in more research that will provide class material.

“I’m eager to draw on the resources of the Spencer Center — which has made great strides in promoting environmental awareness on campus — and Mary Baldwin’s eco-conscious students to expand our knowledge of ecopsychology,” Holt says.

A licensed clinical psychologist, Holt maintains her professional skills by conducting psychological assessments and outpatient counseling in the area. In addition to teaching introductory psychology classes at MBC, she leads Techniques of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Abnormal Psychology, and Applied Behavior Analysis.  

Thomas Helps Social Work Spread International Wings

Mary Clay ThomasMary Clay Thomas, assistant professor of Social Work

It did not take long for Mary Clay Thomas to make her mark as assistant professor of Social Work at Mary Baldwin College. The books were barely resting on her office shelves when she started developing the college’s first international Social Work field placement. The successful program that allows a few students each year to gain real-life experience in El Progreso, Honduras, through a partnership with Organization for Youth Empowerment is now Thomas’ trademark contribution to MBC’s growing Social Work department.

“Our students have learned a great deal about community assessment, Honduran culture, and working with a small NGO [non-governmental organization] in another country,” Thomas beams.

A graduate of an all-female high school in Maryland, MBC’s single-sex environment appealed to Thomas from the start. She honed her interests as an undergraduate at University of Montana and while earning her Master of Social Work at University of Vermont. Thomas began her career in Vermont as a social worker counseling children and the elderly.

Thomas was also part of a team of several Mary Baldwin professors and students who investigated gang activity in Staunton and the surrounding area. The project represented an ideal collaboration between the college and community agencies, and the resulting Comprehensive Gang Model report will serve as a guide for developing training programs for parents, setting up support groups, and tailoring afterschool activities to discourage gang involvement.