The Voice: Spring 2001

The Voice

New faculty members get their own orientation

By Sally Jongsma

First year students aren't the only ones who go through “freshman” orientation. First year faculty do too. But unlike student orientation, which happens mostly before the school year starts, faculty orientation is spread over two semesters.

Its goal is to bring new faculty together to get to know each other, to become acquainted with Dordt's history, to discuss its reformational vision, and to share pedagogical tools that current faculty find helpful in their classrooms, says Dr. Charles Adams, dean of the natural sciences.

“Dordt has always been very particular about ensuring that the college continues to move in the direction of its original vision,” says Adams, who is a co-leader of the sessions. He and Dr. Jasper Lesage, dean of the social sciences, plan the year-long program and lead the monthly discussion sessions.

“We're at a point in our history where we hire significant numbers of new faculty every year because of growth and because many original faculty members are retiring,” Adams says. Although each new faculty member agrees to Dordt's mission and statement of purpose, people come from a variety of backgrounds and training. Adams believes it is good for them to think together about how their Christian perspective comes to expression in their understanding of their field, in their teaching, in their scholarly interactions with each other, and in relation to Dordt's statement of purpose.

“We've done lots of things informally to orient new faculty in the past,” says Lesage, “but we want to be more systematic about it to help us maintain our identity as an institution. And it gives new faculty an opportunity to struggle together professionally over common issues, questions, and concerns.” New faculty are given a one-course-reduced load, in part so they have time for such discussions.

So far this year the group has met four times with a different topic and book to read each time. They've heard presentations on Dordt's history, traditions, and vision for Christian education; the general education program and its rationale; how professors teach out of their Christian perspective; pedagogical issues; and what it means to do Christian scholarship. They've read, among other things, Transforming Vision by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship by George Marsden, and Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for University and College Teachers by Wilbert J. McKeachie.
Faculty responses have been generally positive. Dr. Mary Dengler, an English professor, describes the sessions as “wonderful.”

“It's been very satisfying to be able to have a different level of conversation on topics that are important to all of us,” she says. She believes it has helped most people see and understand that Dordt is very serious about its Reformed tradition. “Everyone is so busy, it's hard to keep up with anything not needed for class, so it's good to be nicely forced to get together.”

Dr. Tony Jelsma, a biology professor, has taught for several years in a setting that he says emphasized the relationship of faith and academics. While the Dordt sessions were enjoyable and valuable, they didn't change his thinking a great deal, he says. “But I appreciate the seriousness with which Dordt treats the training of new faculty, not just in their academics, but in integrating their discipline with their faith.” Most helpful to him was the discussion on different learning and teaching styles. “Experienced profs, too, might be in a rut and could use some more effective teaching styles,” he says.

Dr. Ethan Brue, new to the engineering department, says he appreciates wrestling together with other faculty on what it means to be distinctly Reformed, but at this stage
in his teaching career he believes the most valuable aspect of the group is the encouragement it provides.

“As new teachers share frustrations and experiences with one another, we realize that we are not the only ones facing these challenges,” he says. “As seasoned professors share their experiences, it is encouraging to know that they have struggled and continue to wrestle with many of the issues we are dealing with in the classroom.”

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