Professors retire: Joyce Becker, Ruth Kath, and Ellen Drewes-Stoen set to leave after 2018

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Professors retire: Joyce Becker, Ruth Kath, and Ellen Drewes-Stoen set to leave after 2018

Ruth Kath

Ruth Kath

Ruth Kath

Ruth Kath

Grace Onsrud and Jorge Contreras

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Ruth Kath

Professor of German Ruth Kath is set to retire at the end of the 2017-18 academic year. During her 39 years at Luther she taught German classes of various levels, led students on J-term trips to Germany and Norway to study sustainability, and was a project director for the “Sense of Vocation” program at Luther.

One of Kath’s legacies at Luther are the Henkel Internships that she established with former Board of Regents member Rick Theiler. The internships allow upper-level German students to live in Germany for six months and work on a project according to their interests at the Henkel corporation.

Adjunct Faculty in French Ruth Caldwell has been Kath’s friend and colleague for Kath’s 39 years at Luther. Caldwell said that Kath was creative in providing hands-on learning experiences for her students, such as teaching them to plant and cultivate German heritage seeds on the fourth floor of Main and helping them to build models of wind turbines and solar-powered cars with German instructions.

“She is a genius at taking something that starts in the classroom and moving it beyond the classroom,” Caldwell said. “She has a wonderful, unusual ability to appeal to all the senses of learning for students.”

German and anthropology major Alison Gau (‘18) said that Kath was good at relating the topics in her class to other events on campus and around the world.

“Kath was excited that we were doing Runes to Rap during the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation,” Gau said. “A lot of the class material was based on that. We gave presentations at one of the events on campus for the anniversary of the Reformation.”

German and Russian studies major Annelise Myers (‘21) said that meeting Kath  as a high school student helped her make the decision to come to Luther.

“When I was first thinking about coming to Luther, I sent her a long email about my interests and she wrote back another long email that really affirmed my decision to come to Luther,” Myers said. “She made me feel welcomed.”

Kath’s home of 20 years recently caught fire, so the beginning of her retirement will be busy as her home will be under construction until the fall. She hopes to spend time gardening and researching her genealogy.

Joyce Becker

Joyce Becker

Professor of Math Joyce Becker retired in December 2017. During her 34 years at Luther she taught a variety of math courses including calculus, statistics, and her favorite class, math methods.

Joyce had 20 to 25 advisees each year and most were aspiring math teachers. Becker said she enjoyed working with preservice math teachers and has fond memories of visiting her students at their teaching placements in Decorah and surrounding towns.

“Interacting with the students [is what I’ll miss most], especially the student teachers,” Becker said. “I would go to Iowa or National or Regional math meetings and I would always run into [students] that graduated in math [ . . . ] and they would always share stories. I get a lot of random phone calls from [former students] saying ‘I remember when you taught us this and I’m actually teaching that now!’ I still get emails from kids I had 10 or 15 years ago. It’s fun, but I’ll miss interacting on a daily basis with those kids.”

According to math education major Payton Knutson (‘19), Becker remains invested in her students’ success even after they have left her class or Luther.

“[Becker] was the first professor I talked to at Luther,” Knutson said. “Coming to college I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I had always liked math. I talked to her and she was just so excited about our math program, teaching in general, and just meeting me. I think that helped me to understand what Luther means and the connection that professors have with their students. Even though she’s retired now she still checks in on me sometimes. She really embodies the Luther community.”

Knutson said Becker’s knowledge and commitment to teaching is valuable to her as she begins her own teaching career.

“Sometimes when you’re learning to be a teacher [your teachers] will tell you one thing, but then as a teacher they actually do something different than what they tell you you should be doing,” Knutson said. “But she actually did everything that she told us we should be doing. She is a good example.”

Becker described one of her favorite strategies for working with students on improving their skills after the 300-level practicum that preservice teachers complete during their junior year.

“I always had [my students] take a video of themselves teaching during their practicum,” Becker said. “Then in the spring, we would all sit back and watch them as a class and talk about what they could do better and what they did well. It was always great fun to watch those.”

The math department will not hire anyone to replace Becker, but they will hire someone to replace Associate Professor of Statistics Paul Savariappan who also recently left.

Becker chose to retire in December 2017 instead of May 2018 because she and her husband wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand. They are planning on traveling to Africa next.


Ellen Drews-Stoen

Ellen Drewes-Stoen

Assistant Professor of Health and Physical Education Ellen Drewes-Stoen will retire at the end of the 2017-18 academic year.

Drewes-Stoen has served at Luther College for the past 38 years. For 25 years she served as head volleyball coach. She stepped down from coaching in 2003 to take on a larger teaching load.

Drewes-Stoen started by teaching skill courses in fencing and biking in her first year. After that she taught tennis, volleyball, fitness for life, methods, foundations, growth and development, supervised student teachers, sections of Paideia 450: Considering Animals and more. She spent her J-terms supervising clinical experiences in the schools and conducting seminars.

Drewes-Stoen expressed that she will miss her physical education methods courses in which she would help future teachers — her students — be creative and improve their skills.

“The courses I will miss the most are my physical education methods courses,” Drewes-Stoen said. “I am not afraid to try different strategies and ideas, and I believe that those efforts serve as powerful examples for teacher candidates. Teaching teachers how to teach, it doesn’t get any better than that! Teaching is my passion, I was born with it, and I will always be teaching something.”

Jessica Carpenter (‘20) stated that she enjoys how Drewes-Stoen teaches and that she is a role model for future teachers.

“I really appreciate Ellen both as an energetic professor as well as a spunky role model for many future educators,” Carpenter said. “She came to class every day with loads of passion to inspire us to be better teachers and better people everyday.”

According to Drewes-Stoen, the past two years have proven to very challenging for the HPE and athletic training departments as they face removal from the Luther program.

“I never envisioned that the health and physical education teaching majors at Luther College would be cut,” Drewes-Stoen said. “With assistance from nearly 100 alums, I did my very best to educate colleagues and administration about the importance of these two content areas that are relevant and very critical to the overall K-12 school curriculum.”

Associate Professor of HPE and Program Director Athletic Training Brian Solberg (‘88) said that the HPE department is grateful for Drewes-Stoen’s work wishes her the best for her future.

“The HPE department thanks Ellen for her years of commitment to teaching and working with the students in the K-12 teaching major,” Solberg said. “Her contributions to the development of the teaching curriculum and departmental goals will be missed, she has mentored many young professionals and fostered their growth during their undergraduate years and beyond. We wish her the very best in this new adventure in her life.”

Drewes-Stoen declared that she will not be replaced by the department and hopes that she will be remembered through her students.

“As I leave the program is leaving with me,” Drewes-Stoen said. “I will celebrate my students and hope that my passion for teaching has served them well, many are now my colleagues and that brings a big smile to my face. I believe my years of service qualify me to say that teaching is the most important job in the world.”

Drewes-Stoen will continue teaching after retirement as well as working with dogs, one of her favorite hobbies.

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