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Faculty Profile: Art Attema is in the right job

By Sally Jongsma

Attema

Attema

I like my work, and I love the neighborhood,” says Professor Art Attema (’73), as he looks through his window into the pod of business department offices on the third floor of the Campus Center. He says it wryly, because that’s the way the business faculty interact. As we talk, two faculty heads pop into the door, good naturedly ribbing Attema and inquiring when they’re having lunch.

“I like teaching, and students are energizing,” continues Attema. It’s what you expect to hear from someone who’s been teaching for most of his adult life, but as he says it you know he really means it.

Two students poke their heads in the door and ask if they can do their tax assignment on a computer in the back corner of the lab while he holds class.

“You’re going to keep your mouths shut and not send to the printer, right?” he asks in a feigned gruff voice. They assure him they’ll be as invisible as mice.

“For the most part Dordt has such good students,” he says. “I tell people that if I don’t mess them up, they’ll be good, hard workers.” Attema underestimates his role in preparing them to be responsible workers.

“Most places are amazed that we can leave our computer lab unlocked for students to use when they need it,” he says. “But if you set a tone of trust most students respond in kind,” he offers.

Attema, with the help of adjunct Shirley Folkerts, is the business education department at Dordt College. He teaches secretarial science courses and a methods course for business education students. His jovial laugh is known across campus, and it’s hard to find someone more committed to his work, the institution, and his students.

After leaving high school, convinced he’d never attend school again, Attema joined the navy. Three years later, he decided going to school wasn’t so bad after all and enrolled at Dordt College. After a stint as a bookkeeper and several years teaching business education in Christian high schools, he was approached by former business professor Henry De Groot in 1979 about becoming the first full-time business education professor at Dordt.

His response typifies his commitment. Leaving then would mean that all of the full-time teachers at the school were leaving. He said he couldn’t. The college decided they wouldn’t hire anyone that year. By the next year, when the call came again, the high school was on a better footing, and Attema accepted the job.

The changes to the business education program have been huge, of course. When Attema arrived, secretarial science students used Adler and IBM Selectric typewriters. He was expected to help move the business department forward technologically. He did, and today he teaches the range of specialized courses that Dordt offers students in the business education and the administrative assistant majors.

Attema’s eagerness to serve is evident in his daily work and interactions with others. At present, as part of his follow-up work for his eight-year “tenure” paper he’s exploring how to help his students learn to type faster.

“When we used typewriters, I regularly had a handful of students who could type over a hundred words per minute,” he recalls. Once computers replaced typewriters, he found students rarely did that well. By talking to several of the fastest typists he knows, he found that they type by the letter rather than by the word as most typing methods suggest. He’s come to believe that typing by the letter forces more intense concentration, allowing people to type faster.

“It’s concentration that is the key,” he says. When students used the typewriter they had to concentrate and do well because making mistakes meant a lot more work. Once computers came on the scene, it was too easy to fix mistakes. Their concentration lagged, and they seldom achieved what his earlier students had. Recently, more of his students have started passing the hundred-word per minute mark again. He’s hoping to find time to share and test this approach on lower levels, too.