You’re looking for a place to sit in the Dining Complex when you notice a new couple sitting at one of the small, round tables. They’re not a new couple; you’ve seen them before, but only since the fall semester started. You recognize Dr. Marvin Stephens from your science class. Beside him sits his wife, Mrs. Susan Stephens, who teaches your friend’s writing class. You ask if you can join them, and they both say, of course.
Set down your tray and join the conversation as Mrs. Stephens introduces herself.
How did you become interested in teaching English and writing?
From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher. I never wanted to do anything else. I loved books. My sister Linda was born two years after I was born. When she took a nap, Mom would put me in my crib and put books in there with me. I never took a nap.
When I was a sophomore in college, I had an English teacher who was remarkable, very gifted, and hard to please. Although I had been recognized for my writing from my high school career, the first essay I wrote for her came back just bleeding all over. It was the first time I had ever received a paper back like that.
But it wasn’t discouraging to me; it just showed me I had a lot to learn. So I made an appointment and went in and talked with her. I understood what she had written and was able to internalize those things I had learned from her, and I found I enjoyed the English classes I was taking in college. I never did major in English though.
What is your educational background?
I started out as a biology major because I loved science. My goal was to get an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s in cell biology and teach college-level courses because I knew I could “do my English stuff” on the side.
Over the time of my undergrad experience, I ended up with an interdisciplinary studies degree with a focus in religious studies, psychology, and English. The Lord knew where I was going to end up as a professional, because with that kind of a widespread degree, you can fit into a variety of different types of situations. I ended up getting that interdisciplinary studies diploma from Viterbo University right here in WI.
What brought you to MBU?
The first time I was at MBU was back in the late 70s. I had become a believer in 1975, and the man that led me to the Lord is Miriam Marriott’s dad. He was on the board at Maranatha when Miriam was doing her senior speech recital. He and his wife and I drove up from Atlanta to Wisconsin in order to see Miriam’s recital, and he wanted to introduce me to the college. I met Dr. Cedarholm, who was the president then, and he asked me if I would share my testimony in chapel. And so the next day, I did. After that service was over, he offered me a contract to teach in the academy. I decided to accept that contract.
I taught in the academy for a year and thoroughly enjoyed it; but I was also supposed to finish up my undergrad degree at the same time. That was the arrangement.
However, I had so much responsibility in the academy that I didn’t have time to take any classes. When I had an opportunity to go up to LaCrosse and teach at the high school there while finishing my undergrad degree, I knew that’s where the Lord wanted me
I moved up to LaCrosse and finished my undergrad degree there at Viterbo. It was in 1984 that Dr. Weniger called me and asked me if I would be willing to consider teaching in the college. The Lord had prepared me for that; I just wasn’t satisfied with high school anymore. I was not at all expecting to move into the college area right away. I was scared to death, but I thought, “Well, if this is something the Lord wants me to do, I ought to be open to it.”
I went down and had an interview, and was offered a position. With great fear, I moved back to Watertown. I lived in the upstairs apartment of the building that is right next to the one where my husband and I have our apartment now.
I knew, after a few years, I needed to think about getting a master’s degree. After teaching a year, I became the Dean of Women. I knew the Lord had called me to teach. And, although I loved the counseling and the working with individual girls, I needed an advanced degree if I would be able to continue teaching at the college level.
As I began looking at master’s programs, I realized that trying to combine graduate work with my ministry at Maranatha was not going to work. So I looked more broadly, planning to leave the college to pursue the graduate studies that would ensure my ability to continue in the classroom. I found an interdisciplinary program at the University of South Florida which I could design myself. I could choose three concentrations and would be able to get the 18 English credits on the master’s level I would need to teach college students.
I chose American Studies, American Arts and Letters, and American Literature to receive a Master of Liberal Studies. It was a wonderful program, so broadening, and it gave me that across-the-disciplines look at things that I loved.
When I finished my master’s program, there was an opening at Clearwater Christian College. I joined the faculty and taught there for 21 years. I taught writing courses and an art appreciation course, which I thoroughly loved.
After I married my husband and before I had made a contractual commitment to CCC for another year, we got a call from Dr. John Brock. Dr. Marriott had met my husband when he and his wife were down for the AACC conference, and he wanted someone to come up into the science area. We both realized that this was a wonderful opportunity! That first year we were on campus for the entire academic year, but since that time, we have returned each fall as adjuncts: Dr. Stephens in the Science department and I teach two writing courses. We’ve been enjoying this unique opportunity now for seven years.
What is your favorite part of MBU?
One of the blessings of being here now is seeing how the university has stayed true to the biblical principles it was founded on and hasn’t deviated from its original purpose of training young people to be servants in their local churches and around the world.
The thing I love most about being back at the university is the fact that I can approach the classes I teach from a biblical perspective, and I don’t have any distractions. I am very, very thankful that I have the privilege of ministering in a classroom, and I really use that word on purpose. To combine teaching students how to think, how to organize, how to write clearly, and how to read with comprehension and understanding, along with the ability to coordinate all of those things with biblical principles, is wonderful.
I love the students. I love the lightbulbs that I see go on. I love challenging students to do something they’ve never done before and think they can’t do. To see someone who thinks he can’t see that he can, that’s very special.
Do you have advice for prospective students?
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” If you keep your heart open to the work of the Holy Spirit and the will of the Lord, and live an abiding life, not sacrificing your quiet time or minimizing that, keeping the main thing the main thing, then you will have a rich college experience. If we keep the main thing the main thing, the other things fall into place.
Can you share a proud moment from your time at MBU?
The proud ones I have had, I had to confess to the Lord, so I won’t answer the question. The best moments I’ve had have been watching students change during their semester: coming in fearful, reluctant, sometimes really dragging their heels, eager but a little scared, and then watching them get interested and rise to the challenge and perform in ways that they didn’t think they could. And that’s, of course, especially part of the 490 class. I’ve seen it in Advanced Writing, in the World Lit class that I’ve taught, and the Contemporary Lit class I’ve taught. I get to see that just about every semester. It is a wonderful thing to see someone change during the course of a class.
Can you tell us about your family?
Small. I have two sisters, and they have families. We don’t live close to each other, but I think I love them more now as an older person than I did when we were younger. That growing love among us is a great gift; there are many families that don’t stay close. Dr. Stephens has children and a very close family also. There’s a real connection between the three of his children, and it’s a great blessing to us as I see my sisters and he sees his children and his sisters’ children growing up and taking their own steps of moving forward.
Do you have any hobbies or hidden talents?
My hobbies are reading, reading, reading, and walking, and writing letters when I have the time to do it. I do love walking, and I love being outdoors.
We have some sandhill cranes, and a family of them loves our backyard. They like pecking around on the ground, and watching the chicks mature has been fun. My husband and I both enjoy sitting in our chairs in the living room and seeing the birds come to our feeders.
Are you working on any big projects right now?
I am editing a book for someone and teaching a Bible study at church. This is the “retirement phase” of our lives, but neither of us want to “go to seed,” so we keep our minds sharp and delight in teaching our Bible studies at Bethany.