Four Huntington programs to celebrate first graduates

Huntington, Ind.—This year marks a new tradition for Huntington University. Four programs will have their first graduates walk the aisle Saturday.

Master of Education

The university’s Master of Education degree program will graduate one student, Marci Roller. Roller is in her fourteenth year in education and teaches fourth grade at Andrews Elementary School in Huntington. She chose Huntington’s program because of quality, location and the Christ-centered focus of the university.

“I have had two student teachers from the university, and their knowledge of application in the classroom, understanding of the profession, and their integrity helped me know that the program would be high quality,” Roller said.

The program was started in 2005 after local teachers, many of whom were Huntington graduates, inquired if the Department of Education would ever expand to the master’s degree level. The program enrolls between 15 and 25 students each term, and summers have the largest classes. In the summer of 2006, 26 students were enrolled, and this summer, a record enrollment is expected.

“When we graduate our first program completer, that says to us that the program works,” said Dr. Steve Holtrop, associate dean of graduate and adult studies. “People aren’t just starting it — they’re in it for the whole journey. It says to students that the program is doable. And it says to the graduate herself that she accomplished her goal. That’s the most significant thing — especially for a busy teacher, mom and member of the community.”

Roller’s degree will be a Master of Education in elementary curriculum and instruction.

“The biggest draw was the versatility of the degrees being offered,” Roller said. “I waited so long to pursue my master’s because I wanted a degree in curriculum. I believe that it is a degree that can be applied in many of areas in the educational arena. Yes, it applies directly to the classroom, but it also can be used to advance myself in an area of curriculum writing and training in areas outside the classroom within a district if opportunities would ever arise.”

Social Work

The university’s social work program will graduate its first six students Saturday. Huntington’s program focuses on the foundational values of the social work profession: justice, service and integrity. The department also integrates classroom work with experiential learning.

Carla MacDonald, assistant professor of social work, serves as the primary contact for the students’ field experiences.

“Each of the graduating students has had an outstanding experience at these agencies where they performed ‘hands-on’ duties of a social worker,” said MacDonald. “Two of the six students have received offers for employment and have accepted positions within their agencies. This is a reassuring sign of the preparedness that has occurred for the student in their social work profession in transitioning from student to practitioner.”

“Having the amount and variety of experiences in the world of social work has shown me different opinions as to how social work should be and how many jobs there are to choose from,” said graduating senior Chynna Wright of New Philadelphia, Ohio.

Emily Risser, another graduate, echoed this notion. “Through my two practicums that I did my junior and senior years, I was able to begin putting the knowledge and skills I have learned into practice.”

Twyla Lee, director of social work education, is excited about the first graduating class from the social work program. “The first class sets the tone,” she said. “They are representing HU to their agencies.”

Although social work is a new major, the students have confidence in the education and experiences they gained through the program.

“I felt in my heart that even though this was a new program, it was a good one,” said Risser of St. Thomas, Pa. “I had faith in Professor Twyla Lee to create an excellent program because she began other social work programs at other universities. She kept the social work majors updated on the accreditation process, and we knew that it was going to be a worthwhile program.”

“I’m very excited to say that I am from the first graduating class of social work from Huntington,” said Wright. “Not just because it is the first class, but because the program is growing rapidly, and it is thriving so well. It’s good to know that it was started strong and can hold up against pressure. I feel confident in knowing that I was able to help mold the program for those who join it in years to come.”

Other social work graduates include Diana Hochstetler of Wawaka, Ind.; Kimberly Kilander and Sheena Sharpe of Huntington, Ind.; and Beverly Rutan of Hillsdale, Mich.

Digital Media Arts

Jason Latino will be the first person to graduate from Huntington University with a Bachelor of Science in digital media arts.

“When I heard about the creation of the digital media arts program, I felt like I’d won the lottery,” said Latino of Greenwood, Ind.

With the skills he’s learned, Latino is looking forward to using advanced technology to tell his story and share his faith among Christians and non-Christians alike.

“Dr. Lance Clark sometimes characterizes Christian film companies and Christian publishing houses as part of the ‘Christian ghetto’ because what they’re doing is preaching to the choir,” Latino said. “Christians don’t necessarily need to hear about Christianity from other Christians—that’s what churches are for. We want to tell our stories to a much broader audience.”

While Steve Leeper, instructor in digital media arts, celebrates Latino's accomplishments, his efforts will be missed in the program.

"As our first graduating student, Jason has shown patience, initiative, and enthusiastic support as we have been developing the program over the last two years," Leeper said. "It's not easy to be the first one enrolled in a program or the first to graduate. He's been a dedicated student and a valuable guinea pig. We are very proud of him and his accomplishments and a bit sorry to see him go."

Recreation and Sports Ministry

Jason Rahn, of Huntington, Ind., and Matt Gerlach of Shippensburg, Pa., represent the first graduating class of recreation and sports ministry majors.

“I knew I wanted to work in athletics if at all possible, and I also knew that I had always felt a calling to youth ministry, so when this degree was offered, it was a no-brainer," Rahn said.

“The classes that I took in both educational ministries and recreation management have helped me to become quickly acclimated to being in a church and has shown me how to successfully run a program for people of all ages and backgrounds,” Gerlach said.

First introduced in the fall of 2004, the recreation and sport ministry major prepares students to plan, direct, and initiate church-based or community recreation programs and equips them to use recreation and sports as a tool for outreach in the community.

“It is a growing area of interest and one that makes Huntington University distinctive among Christian colleges,” said Connie Updike, assistant professor of recreation management. “Both departments on campus, ministries and recreation, have entertained continuing requests by students, churches, agencies and organizations to support this major. We are pleased to have two outstanding representatives, Matt Gerlach and Jason Rahn, to be our first graduates from the major.” 

Huntington University is a comprehensive Christian college of the liberal arts offering graduate and undergraduate programs in more than 70 academic concentrations. U.S.News & World Report ranks Huntington among the best colleges in the Midwest. Founded in 1897 by the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, Huntington University is located on a contemporary, lakeside campus in northeast Indiana. The University is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU).


Heather Barkley
Director of Communications
Joanne Green
Sports Information Director