From superintendents to classroom teachers, our alumni are educating the next generation of leaders throughout the world. In St. Louis alone, hundreds of MBU alumni are employed in most of the more than 160 school districts. They bring a distinct and intentional perspective to the classroom. One that comes from graduating from a division that integrates learning with a Christ-centered mission aimed at fueling societal change.
It’s a morning Ruth Bontrager will never forget. Inside Classroom 317 in Rockwood School District’s Marquette High School, a wide-eyed, 21-year-old Bontrager sat behind a metal desk and quietly rehearsed.
Before long, the distant chatter of re-energized students slowly began seeping into the school’s hallways. And then it happened: the first bell of the school year rang, commencing the beginning of a life of service for Bontrager—a life as a public school district teacher.
Now in her ninth year as a math teacher at Marquette, Bontrager’s style as a classroom teacher has evolved from that first year—thanks in part to years of real world experiences—but her professional philosophy remains the same:
“I want to teach my students in a way that can reveal their talents and skills, but that’s not all,” Bontrager said. “I want my classroom to be a space that underscores Christ’s love for every one of my students. I have a great opportunity to share the love of Christ through my work.” Miss Bontrager, as her students refer to her, represents thousands of alumni from MBU’s largest academic division. The Education Division’s coupling of theoretical application and Christian tenets are used to train educators who teach with a decisively missional perspective.
“Our objective is to significantly influence students through the demonstrated integration of Christian faith and learning in the classroom,” said James French, division chair. “The goal is that our objective will make the students whom our alumni impact positive change agents throughout the broader community.”
The pairing of education and faith is one French believes enhances the integrity of his division. And he has a fair amount of support to back this belief.
First, there is the growth. In the last decade alone, the Education Division has nearly doubled in terms of students—from 1,138 students back in 2001- 2002 to last year’s enrollment of 2,072 students.
The degree offerings also continue to expand. Complementing the longstanding undergraduate education program, MBU launched its first graduate program in 2000 and the Educational Specialist in 2006. Today, the Education Division offers four master’s level programs, the Educational Specialist and the University’s first terminal degree, the Doctor of Education. The undergraduate program offers coursework leading to certifications in more than 20 areas—from a library media specialist to a high school business teacher.
A hallmark of the program has long been a faculty who offer their students a unique perspective—one that is in hindsight. Out of the full-time faculty, nearly all have worked in the K-12 setting, providing experiences and networking opportunities.
Case in point: Dr. Pam Stanfield, professor of education. Before transitioning into higher education, Stanfield worked as a principal and teacher in the Kirkwood and Wentzville school districts. With more than 30 years of experience, the wisdom she brings to the classroom is memorable to say the least.
“When I taught sixth graders years ago, one of my greatest joys was being able to make a positive difference in the lives of my students,” Stanfield said. “When I became a principal, those joys increased as I was able to influence the lives of students and their families, and also the teachers and staff with whom I worked.”
Now, it is those priceless moments that Stanfield wants her students to experience.
“In my current role I am able to help future educators realize their dreams, and I find joy in knowing that they now will be the difference makers in the lives of their students,” Stanfield added.
Such experiences have, in part, allowed the Education Division to receive some notable accreditations. Missouri’s Department of Elementary Education and Secondary Education has long approved the division’s offerings. And in 2004, MBU became an accredited institution of the National Association of Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), a mark of distinction that sets MBU apart from many of its counterparts across the country. NCATE’s rigorous performance-based system of evaluation fosters competent classroom teachers and other educators who work to improve the education of students—from preschool through grade 12.
And while accreditations, like NCATE, certainly underscore the validity of the University’s education programs, French says perhaps an ever better barometer of his division’s impact can be seen in the lives of teachers throughout St. Louis and beyond. They are the teachers, like Bontrager, who see their vocation as an invitation to change lives.
Simply put, it’s about engaging students in transformative learning through a lens that views every child as an image of Christ, French said.
“We see such life-changing work from alumni working across the country,” French said. “Collectively, their contributions to the education industry are making a profound difference in the next generation of leaders.”