Dordt College News

Van Essen helped the college grow

June 23, 2014

Quentin Van Essen (’70) participated in several “firsts” over his 34 years at Dordt College: the first Student Services team, the first organized freshmen orientation efforts, design the first retention program, the first soccer coach, the first Campus Visit Day program, the first telemarketing program, and the first professional admissions materials.

Van Essen came to Dordt in 1979, following several years as a high school Bible and German teacher and guidance counselor. It was the guidance counselor role that landed him a place on the first four-person Student Services team. He led career planning and placement services at a time when Dordt’s enrollment had grown to over 1,200 students—with few support services.

Van Essen recalls being called to President B.J. Haan’s office early on.

“He slapped me on the back and said, ‘Young man, we wouldn’t have hired you if we didn’t think you could do the job. Now go do it.’”

Van Essen had hoped for a little more direction in a brand new position. But, as he reflects on his years as director of career planning and placement and later executive director of admissions, he notes that those kinds of green lights have characterized his work at Dordt.

Van Essen moved from student services to admissions in 1989. In the 25 years since, major changes have occurred in the way students are recruited, the biggest being technological. Admissions once relied on three-by-five cards for contact information on prospective students. And recruiters, as they were called then, primarily visited schools with a history of sending graduates to Dordt. The recipe card boxes gave way to a UNIX database, and contacts became more personalized. Today, the process is highly computerized and the Internet, texting, and email are the primary modes of contact and communication. 

In Van Essen’s early years, admissions counselors had almost no contact with parents. Prospective students often enrolled without ever having seen campus. Today they work with parents as much as students, and almost all prospective students and their parents visit campus before making a decision.

“I enjoyed working with admissions counselors,” Van Essen says, adding that it was a little like coaching—finding ways to work as a team toward a goal. On the hallway wall across from his office hang photos of all of the admissions counselors he worked with over the years. There are 34 of them.

“I suppose it sounds like a bit of a cliché," he says, "but the one thing that hasn’t changed at Dordt is its mission.”

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