Dordt College News

Continuous improvement

August 21, 2012

Faculty off campus work and learn just as intently, but differently

Many businesses today know that focusing on continuous improvement helps a company grow and stay strong.

Academic institutions know that too. In today’s continually changing world, what professors learned in college and graduate school before they started teaching isn’t enough.

One off-campus workspace

Every year a handful of Dordt faculty and staff members deepen, expand, or reshape what they know so that Dordt College students get a high quality education. Sometimes that means going back to school, sometimes going back to work, sometimes immersing themselves in research and writing.

Take last year, for example. Two young faculty members were completing Ph.D.-related leaves. Dordt College has seen many long-time faculty retire in the last decade. Filling these positions are young faculty who are excited about Dordt College and its programs and who are often good teachers, but they haven’t always finished a Ph.D. Their Ph.D. work benefits faculty and students, but it also benefits the institution and its reputation.

Computer Science Professor Nick Breems and his family spent last academic year in England where Breems studied with Dr. Andrew Basden at the University of Salford in Manchester.

Breems spent a profitable year working with a Christian professor who helped him think about computer science in more than just a technical way. Breems interacted and worked with Hindu and Muslim fellow students who were examining the impact of computers on their culture just as he was.

“As you look at problems related to technology in different cultures you begin to see that similar issues connected to technology arise in very different settings,” says Breems. He is currently focusing his research on how computers affect procrastination on the job, using a Christian framework to look at how computer hardware, the content of programs, and people’s everyday lives affect their work and behavior.

“Studying procrastination is usually done by psychologists,” says Breems, but the way technology works is so closely related to the effect it creates that Breems feels compelled to help his students think about how technology will affect their social relationships and workplace habits.

“My students should be able to provide more than technical advice. Knowing something about how technology affects the workplace will help them design better systems that promote healthy organizations,” he says.

Breems will use what he’s learned not only in his computer science classes, but also in teaching his Core 100 class and in Core 399: Calling, Task, and Culture.

Theology Professor Jason Lief recently completed two years on leave to work on his Ph.D. For the first year, he and his family moved to Minneapolis while he attended Luther Seminary. Like Breems, Lief chose his institution for his advisor. He studied with Princeton graduate Andy Root. Lief valued his coursework, but he says that the most profound effects of his time in Minneapolis came through the hours he was required to work within a low income neighborhood, mentoring and tutoring young people at Christo Rey Jesuit High School, helping prepare them for college. Lief worked with Hispanic, African, and African American students, establishing an especially good mentor relationship with a Somali Muslim ninth grader.

“It forced me to relate to a Muslim as an open and warm person and find a way to connect with him and his questions,” says Lief. He believes that it will help him connect with Dordt College students who come from places that aren’t among the college’s historical communities of support.

“I hope that the experience helps me have a posture of generosity to relate to people through the lens of God’s love for us,” Lief says.

For Lief, who began his career teaching in high school, the year deepened his theological foundation and helped him solidify his perspective. He came to see that sometimes people in differing traditions have different words for similar ideas.

“Knowing that helps you have better conversations with students who are from different religious traditions. God transformed me as person through the experience,” he says.

Art and Design Professor David Versluis spent the spring semester in the workplace. Having taught for many years, he found that he needed to be immersed in the technology and processes that his design students will be a part of.

Thanks to a professional relationship he established years ago while teaching in Chicago, he spent three months working in the internationally acclaimed Thirst design studio of Rick Valicenti. Valicenti has won the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Communication Design and earned highest honors from the AIGA professional design organization. The firm’s other, mostly young, designers are experts in their field and also teach typography, graphic design, and intermedia design.

“It was an honor to work at a studio that is doing some of the most cutting edge work in design today,” says Versluis, who is translating a great deal of what he learned into his teaching. He deepened his understanding of and commitment to the importance of typography in design and to using a structured grid system. He also observed and participated in what’s come to be a very collaborative process between designers and clients in the design world today.

“In a world where anyone can create their own poster or ad, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to finesse and nuance in typography and design,” Versluis says. He brought back documentation from many projects to help his students see how a cutting edge design firm works through a project—type, layout, editorial, and pictorial choices.

“Work was hard—the studio goes non-stop from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., but it was worth it,” says Versluis. He believes his students will benefit as much as he did.

Each of these faculty members worked hard while on leave, but they were also deeply appreciative of the opportunity to step back from the busy day-to-day responsibilities of a teaching institution to focus on issues and developments in their fields.


Media Access: Download Word Version | High Resolution Image: 1