Eric Rowe – Staff Writer
As the class of 2014 prepares to graduate and enter the real world, four Dordt professors are preparing to retire from Dordt: former philosophy professor and current Dean and director of the Andreas Center John Kok; biology professor James Mahaffy; professor of computer science Dennis De Jong; and art professor Jake Van. These men have been members of the faculty for a combined 118 years.
John Kok joined the philosophy department at Dordt in 1983. Kok’s favorite class to teach was Philosophy 201, the introductory class that has since morphed into Core 200. For about ten years in the late 20th century, Kok taught both sections, and every student who graduated went through his classroom.
There were a few recurring lectures that Kok used in that class. In his first lecture, he would ask his students, “What is red?” to stretch their minds and think differently about something that they know very well. For an illustration to teach modal diversity, he would lecture for almost 75 minutes with a geranium in front of him, pointing out the different modes or ways we can understand the flower.
“Those are the kinds of things that students would remember,” Kok said.
On two occasions, students presented him with a red t-shirt with text: “What is red?” at the end of the course.
Since the early 2000’s, Kok has taught less and less. Kok was the primary author for a $50,000 grant proposal which led to a $2.5 million grant, and he served as Dean of Humanities from 1997 to 2010.
When Kok switched to a more administrative position, the dynamic of interpersonal relationships changed.
“Before at faculty meetings, I didn’t shy from asking difficult and provocative questions,” Kok said. “As dean, you are the one who has to answer those questions.”
Kok is also an accomplished editor and has been the managing editor for Dordt College Press for the past 14 years.
“We publish four to eight books a year,” Kok said.
Kok has increased the number of titles under Dordt Press and highlighted many works by Reformed Christian authors which would otherwise be hard to find in English.
This next year will be the first time in 31 years that Kok will not be walking the block and a half from his house to campus every day. Upon leaving Dordt, Kok hopes to take a bedroom in his house, turn it into a study and do what he has been doing for a while now without the administrative position.
“I want to get back to what I went to grad school for,” Kok said. “And that is to read and think and write.”
James Mahaffy studied at Dordt himself from 1966-70 and taught high school science classes before coming to Dordt in 1979.
One of the changes that Mahaffy appreciated at Dordt was a change to the core program science classes so that students could experience a lab.
“When I first came, I was teaching 60 to 90 students two classes a semester,” Mahaffy said. “It was almost enough to make you crazy.”
With core classes, Mahaffy has the goal of getting uninterested students understanding and even liking basic science.
“I have also enjoyed helping students who don’t know how to study learn good study habits,” Mahaffy said.
New students can get by pretty well in English, but science is another story.
“Telling them to study won’t work,” Mahaffy said. “They have to realize that it’s not working.”
As well as teaching, Mahaffy has been able to research his other interests, using historical records to identify patterns of massasauga rattlesnakes in areas that have changed over the years.
“It’s sort of never been done,” Mahaffy said.
The usual scientific principle is that you need a voucher, which is a picture or a specimen, in order to map patterns of wildlife in an area. Mahaffy is suggesting that going back to early newspapers from the 1800s can establish credibly that rattlesnakes were there based off of mortality records and venomous snake sightings.
“I think that I almost have the scientific community believing that,” Mahaffy said.
Mahaffy plans to continue this work in retirement and prepare some of his research into publishable form.
“I may teach the occasional adjunct if they ask me to,” Mahaffy said.
Dennis De Jong
Dennis De Jong is finishing up his 29th year at Dordt. He has taught about half of the computer science courses in his first 27 years and more recently teaches math education and precalculus math.
Over the years, De Jong has seen the computer science program go through several computer languages and the increase of web programing.
“When I started, we didn’t have personal computers,” said De Jong. “We had a minicomputer connected to 20 terminals in a lab for both students and faculty. Professors started getting terminals in their offices and it grew from there. We didn’t have laptops and didn’t have tablets which are all things that we need to address in terms of computer programming now.”
De Jong still keeps a label on his desk from some of his students in a higher level computer science course. In class, when they had information they were done with he would tell them to “throw it in the bit bucket.” At the end of the course, he received an old ice cream bucket with that label naming it “the bit bucket.” The students had written their names in the background in ASCII computer code.
“Yeah. That was a good one. That fit my sense of humour.” De Jong said. “It’s also fun to have former students come back as colleagues.”
Former students Nick Breems and Valorie Zonnefeld currently work for the math department.
De Jong plans to stay teaching part-time this next year and to continue as the supervisor for student math teachers, which involves visiting their classroom four times a semester.
“I like seeing what’s going on in the schools,” De Jong said. “And I don’t have any other projects lined up.”
Jake Van Wyk
Jake Van Wyk was brought in to take over art history and ramp up the more applied arts by using his broad background and skills in fine arts as well as printmaking and graphic design.
In the 23 years that Van Wyk has been working in the art department, the number of art majors doubled and tripled and are now about 5 percent of Dordt’s student body. A graphic design emphasis became very sought after. Today, about 75 percent of Dordt art majors have at least a minor or emphasis in graphic design.
“I do some advising, promote it and know it, but I no longer execute it or teach it,” Van Wyk said. “I am happy to allow other specialists do that.”
Van Wyk was privileged to bring in David Versluis to teach graphic design, allowing him to concentrate on fine arts—clay, sculpture and ceramics.
Van Wyk has taught the capstone course for all art majors and also Core 160: Introduction to the arts.
“It’s fun and a challenge,” Van Wyk said. “In most Christian circles it is a little bit too sensual and little bit too personal. I like to remind them that they don’t have a choice.”
The visual arts are a part of the world that God created, and we can’t ignore that.
“I will miss some of that interaction,” Van Wyk said. “Students give me ideas and make me feel young again.”
With the excuse of demonstrating asymmetrical balance, Van Wyk has a wrestling schtick in Core 160 in which he takes down one of his students. This has led to him running the wrestling club on campus for the past ten years. Van Wyk picked up wrestling late when he was in college and was too stubborn to give up.
“In a way it goes with my mantra of doing things the hard way,” Van Wyk said. “It gets in the blood and system and into your way of living.”
Van Wyk thinks that the physical part of his lifestyle is why he leans toward large-scale projects and using stone, prints and rolling techniques.
“A full life whatever it may be builds into a collective subconscious that should come out of your artwork,” Van Wyk said.
Before leaving, Van Wyk has one more art project to contribute to Dordt’s campus. It is a 20 ft by 16 ft tile collaboration with Versluis. It will be executed with about 1400 lbs of clay and will be fired by Van Wyk.
Van Wyk plans to continue his projects and finally get a website. He has an operational studio on his farm and will stay and work from home.