Dordt College News

Learning outside the box

May 24, 2013

Every semester professors incorporate into their courses projects and interactions with people and organizations outside of the college.Dordt education professors and students hosted more than 400 middle school students from 20 schools for the local math bee, formerly sponsored by the local state Area Education Agency.

Such experiences help students see the relevance of what they’re learning, allow them to gain experience, and serve the communities of which we all are a part.

The next four pages give a few quick snapshots and a couple more detailed portraits showing how such learning experiences benefit both students and those with whom they work.


After local middle-school spelling bees were dropped because of lack of funding, Dordt education students jumped at the opportunity to keep the academic tradition alive by hosting and running the regional 7th and 8th grade math bees. Math education students serve as tutors at some local schools.

“These opportunities allow our students to get real world application to pair with the theories they are being taught in class,” said Dr. Ryan Zonnefeld. “We love hearing how they grow through these experiences and what they learn about themselves.”

Social work

The Dordt social work department has been serving neighbors for years. Volunteer hours are built into the program—15 hours for freshman and 40 hours for seniors. A main goal of the social work program is to get students to understand how they can assist and improve the community, says Professor Erin Olsen. Students volunteer at organizations such as Kidzone, helping with an afterschool program; Franken Manor, spending time with the elderly; and the Family Crisis Center, monitoring and leading small groups. But these volunteer hours are only a small part of their service time. Senior students spend a semester interning at places such as Hope Haven, the Mental Health Institute in Cherokee, and the Department of Human Services in Worthington.


Kayla Zwart, a business major and communication minor, was part of a team that hoped to bring more attention to what the Sioux Center Public Library offers to the community. They developed a media kit that included cover letters, videos, and marketing plans. For Zwart, a Sioux Center native, the experience of working in the community went beyond trying to get a good grade for her public relations class.

“It was great to explore the community that I grew up in,” said Zwart. “I enjoyed being able to listen to what people have to offer and then sketch out a plan that is for their benefit. Because of this kind of experience I’ve become more comfortable approaching people that I don’t know and working with them in a business relationship.”


Chemistry’s instrumental analysis class had students serve in the community by measuring chemical levels in everyday life situations, determining such things as acidity of soil and well water and radon in basements. These hands-on experiments give Dr. Darren Stoub’s students a chance to use the skills and techniques they’ve learned while they help Dordt’s neighbors.


Every year some health and human performance majors get experience coaching and help small area schools manage coaching responsibilities. This year Jessica Jelsema served as coach for the Hull Christian School girls’ soccer team, and Ally Hogan coached the girls at Inwood Christian School.


Students in Music 314 (Instrumental Music Education) spend some time doing ATMs—Assisted Teaching Modules. In these lab-like experiences, future music teachers go into area middle schools and work with 5th-grade band students on concepts and techniques they are learning in class. The course is offered in the fall semester, just as 5th graders are getting started in band.

“I am very grateful to our area music teachers who allow our students these weekly opportunities to spend a few minutes in front of the classroom with guidance and input from me and their peers,” says Professor Bradley Miedema.

Environmental Studies

At the start of each semester, junior and senior environmental studies majors in the Creation Stewardship Seminar are asked to choose a project that will have a long-term impact, that uses the skills they’ve developed, that can be used by the community, and that involves collaboration with the community. The restored Dordt prairie is the result one year’s project. This year students are working with the city of Sioux Center on a plan to develop Sandy Hollow, a park and former golf course in the area. Students met with local clubs, outdoor and sports enthusiasts, Dordt faculty and students, and the Sioux Center City Park board to find out what community needs the space could meet. At the end of the semester, students presented a master plan for the property that is now being explored for feasibility and funding.

Environmental studies students presented the City of Sioux Center with a plan for developing a city park and former golf course into a recreation space for the community.

Dordt education professors and students hosted more than 400 middle school students from 20 schools for the local math bee, formerly sponsored by the local state Area Education Agency.

Engineers serve as they design

Three Dordt College engineering majors heartily embrace the department’s mission: training Christian engineers to design products that bring restoration and development to the world.

“It’s great being part of a project where you not only get to create an idea but see it fulfill a real need and help people for years to come,” says Senior Hannah Orlow about the senior design project she and two of her fellow engineers recently completed. “This was a wonderful way to end our educational experience at Dordt.”

Orlow, Ryan Tholen, and Tyler Woudstra designed and installed a solar power generation system for Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), located in North Fort Myers, Florida. The students’ goals were a perfect match with those of ECHO. A non-profit, inter-denominational Christian organization whose vision is “Honoring God through Sustainable Hunger Solutions,” ECHO helps international development efforts to be more effective, especially in agriculture.

The directors at ECHO wanted an off-grid, stand-alone, photovoltaic solar power system that could provide electrical power for their Appropriate Technology Center and could be used as an educational tool by their network of community development workers, interns, visiting missionaries, students, and the public. Appropriate Technology is a term used to describe technology that is designed specifically for the social and economic conditions of the geographic area in which it will be used. It is environmentally sound and promotes self-sufficiency by those who use it.

ECHO presented this need to senior design groups at several colleges. Orlow, Tholen, and Woudstra put together a bid proposal with a preliminary design early last September. A month later, they were notified by Craig Bielema (’07), ECHO’s Appropriate Technology director, that they had been selected for the project and that donor funding was available to carry the project to completion.

“Our system will be used as an example of holistically designed appropriate technology—something we learn about at Dordt throughout all of our courses,” Orlow said.

The three seniors, mentored by Dr. Nolan Van Gaalen, worked with ECHO all year and in early April they, along with Dordt’s laboratory systems engineer Andrew Kroeze traveled to Florida to install the system on ECHO’s campus.

The system includes an array of eight solar panels, a bank of four batteries, an inverter, a charge controller, and monitoring system. Its 2.3 kilowatt capacity is sufficient for the needs of the Appropriate Technology Center.

“We are very pleased to have this system operating at ECHO,” Bielema said. “It has been years in the making, and the design team brought it to fruition in a very short time.”

Because ECHO is primarily an educational facility, an important component of the solar power generation system is documentation. The team provided signage, video recordings, labels, and technical handouts for the system. This information shows how the system can easily be built in a developing country to power a village or home.

“The Christian engineer is concerned with the impact a particular design has on communities and the environment,” said Orlow. “At Dordt, we’ve learned the importance of holistic design, stewardship, and a vision for a community of kingdom-committed citizens.”

“Solar PV power systems can be appropriately designed for many locations—even Sioux Center, Iowa,” says Dr. Ethan Brue. Dordt’s new Science and Technology Center will include a similarly designed solar generation system that will both provide power and educate students.

“This project was a great way for Dordt to continue building relationships with ECHO, an organization that has already worked with our agriculture department,” said Tholen. The engineering department is excited about other possibilities for future interaction between ECHO and Dordt College.

“ECHO works with agricultural development workers and missionaries who serve around the world, and our students’ design gives us a chance to help in their mission,” said Van Gaalen.


To market, to market

None of the students in Professor David Griffith’s marketing management class dealt with fat pigs, as the nursery rhyme goes, but they did bring real products and services to the marketplace.

The students developed marketing plans for a variety of for-profit and nonprofit organizations as a course project.

“When students are engaged in real problems the payoff is evident,” says Griffith. “To have an idea and to execute an idea are very different.” The work these students did helps them see the many sides to marketing: understanding the product, analyzing the situation, working with people in the company, making marketing decisions, and implementing recommendations.

Both the students and the collaborating companies and organizations benefitted. Students offered fresh eyes and valuable services. Griffith doesn’t have to search for companies and organizations who want to work with his students. In fact, he is able to pick and choose projects that he believes will offer them the best learning opportunities.

Desiree Den Dulk from De Motte, Indiana, worked with the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra, attending board meetings throughout the semester. She appreciated the challenge of designing posters and coming up with new ways to increase attendance at orchestra concerts.

“I learned how to work with others outside of school and made marketing recommendations that actually affected a real organization,” she says.

Griffith, who has worked as a marketing consultant for more than a decade and has taught MBA students, is pleased with the work his students did. “They’re sharp and hard working,” he says. “Some of them feel more like MBA quality.”



This semester groups of students worked with:

A nonprofit relief organization that operates an orphanage in the Philippines

A local symphony, trying to increase this year’s April concert attendance by 33 percent

Two local companies who are expanding into new markets

The Dordt-related digital media company, marketing its Fourth World documentary

A local optometrist, creating a new name, logo, and website

A landscaping company

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