Dordt College News

Lorna Van Gilst Retires after 20-year Career at Dordt College

May 25, 2007

Lorna Van Gilst

By Steve Hoogland, Staff Writer
Reprinted w/permission from Sioux Center News

For the past 20 years, Lorna Van Gilst has been teaching in the Dordt College English department. At the end of the 2006-07 school year she is retiring. "Teaching writing has probably been the most satisfying part of my career," she said, in discussing the 20-year career at Dordt, which began in 1987.

Van Gilst, a native of Cedar in Southeast Iowa and a Dordt College graduate from 1967, had been teaching junior high language arts in California at Ripon Christian before taking the position at Dordt. "I hadn't really planned on coming back to Iowa," said Van Gilst. "But I started editing the Christian Education Journal in 1983 and that helped me become involved in higher education around the country."

Van Gilst also completed her master's in education and then heard about a job opening at Dordt. The first position was completing the second year of a two-year term. "I didn't really know if I should apply, but my sister really encouraged me," recalled Van Gilst. "She told me, 'you should go for it.'" She was appointed to that one-year position and then moved into a longtime position.

During her tenure, she has primarily been an English professor. And it has been her role as advisor of the college newspaper "The Dordt College Diamond" that has made her time at Dordt special. She has spent 16 years as advisor to "The Diamond." She also was involved with the yearbook, "The Signet," for a number of years.

"Being involved with 'The Diamond' has always given me a special connection to a group of students each year," she said. "And it has changed quite a bit through the years. Back in the early years, it was quite a communal experience. We'd all be together working late into the night on production in what we called the 'pub room.' It was quite a production."

In more recent years, technology changes have made the production of the college newspaper a somewhat different experience, according to Van Gilst. "But the whole idea of producing a college newspaper forms a close-knit community among those on the staff," she said. "There's a lot of give and take and it's quite a process. There is a lot of collaborating with the stories, the darkroom work, and editing and designing. In the early days, we'd all be together and those things would all be happening together and we'd actually be physically putting down the rule lines and pasting the photos and stories into the pages."

Van Gilst said that she's also enjoyed teaching even basic classes like English 101. "Teaching writing has always been a rewarding experience," she said. "By teaching writing, it has helped me to get to know students in a way that isn't possible in other classes. I've encouraged students to write in a variety of genres. If they work on that throughout the semester, I get to know that student in a personal way and it gives me a connection, and I can help that student to believe in his or her own way of thinking."

Van Gilst said that she always tried to make teaching English more than just sets of grammar rules. "That may have been a perception a number of years ago," said Van Gilst. "You can memorize rules but without writing, but I don't think it's that helpful. You need to learn by learn by writing."

Van Gilst also has been involved in the community in several different ways. One of those connections is coordinating English classes for non-native speakers in the community. The program also has involved Dordt students who help teach English and tutor. "I started having English grammar students teaching English to people in the community on a one-on-one basis one hour per week and would coordinate that and supervise that," she said. "That is for not only students, but for other members who want to do the same thing." Van Gilst said that she has been coordinating that program for the past eight years. During the summer months, Van Gilst has done some of the one-on-one teaching and tutoring herself.

Her experiences with the program through Amistad Cristiana have grown out some of her own international experiences. In the summer of 1994, she was a member of a group of Dordt professors who traveled to the Ukraine. The group also went back in 1995 and 1996 for about three or four weeks each time. "Our purpose was to teach at a university," said Van Gilst. "We had classes with students of English. My focus was on language. Other professors focused on their professional areas. It was very exciting. Sometimes I taught American literature. Through that, I was able to teach English to foreign language learners."

In the 1997-98 year, Van Gilst went to Venezuela for a year through the Fulbright program at the University of del Los Andes. "I taught English in the department of modern English, teaching English and writing to students," she said. "It really changed my life. That's when I began to learn Spanish with some students that were there on an exchange program."

The year before that, already, Van Gilst had been involved with the beginning of the Amistad Cristiana ministry for Hispanics in Sioux Center as a member of the steering committee. When she came back, she continued her role with Amistad. "During the year I was away, I became way more enamored with teaching English to Spanish teachers in particular and became the coordinator of the program for teaching the English program." she said.

During her time at Dordt, Van Gilst said that she has enjoyed working with the students and staff members. "My colleagues are very special," she said. "And the students have been wonderful."

Van Gilst said that this summer she will continue to teach and tutor English. After that, she is exploring teaching English somewhere and eventually hopes to settle in Ripon again. She has a number of relatives in that area. "I've been blessed here in Sioux Center, far more than I anticipated," she said. "I've been stretched in so many ways. I'm going to miss the cultural opportunities here: the music and culture opportunities."

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