The gift that keeps on giving: Dordt alumni as professors

Mikaela Wegner—Staff Writer

Education ranks as one of the top majors at Dordt. And out of the sixteen people who comprise the education department faculty, ten attended Dordt as a student. Something about their college experience drew them in, and something compelled them to return, even though they might not be able to place a finger on what did. 

Mary Beth Pollema, assistant professor of education, is in her seventh year of teaching at Dordt. She planned on attending university after high school but did not think she could afford attending Dordt. She looked into other schools, but after attending a wedding on the campus and moving close to Sioux Center with her family, Dordt all of a sudden became a real option. 

“I just fell in love with the campus,” Pollema said. “And I figured, ‘Well, I can go to Dordt and live at home.’”

She commuted from home to save money, but after just a month she switched to living on campus. 

“I never regretted it,” said Pollema. “It was such a formative time.” 

Dr. Gwen Marra, a fellow education professor, experienced the campus community welcoming her with open arms.

“The experiences that I remember most from my undergrad are when I got to go into classrooms and teachers would encourage me to teach as much as possible.” Mara said.

The pressing question remains: why are these past students drawn back? Both Pollema and Marra never thought as students that they would return as professors. But when Pollema returned to Dordt after graduating, she still felt right at home. 

“That’s what really made me excited about being part of the faculty at Dordt, is that that same heartbeat that I was really excited about and thrilled by as a student, that DNA was still there”. Pollema said. 

Dordt played an instrumental role in the life of Pollema, now she had the opportunity to return the favor. She could, as the mission statement of the university states, “[foster] a climate in which discipleship becomes a practiced way of life both on and off campus.”

“I think that’s probably what brought me back, is I wanted to be a part of that effort, of showing teachers how to teach in a way that’s going to impact not only minds but impact hearts.” Pollema said.

Dr. Dave Mulder, associate professor of education, agrees. 

“I am so pleased to be a part of this community,” said Mulder. “For me this feels like an opportunity to give back to a place that I’ve gotten so much from personally and professionally”.

Unlike Pollema, Marra has lived in Sioux Center all her life. A picture of her kindergarten class hangs up in her home, with the younger faces of her and two other Dordt professors in the image. 

Mulder also holds deep ties with Dordt. He feels a sense of legacy with the institution. 

His grandpa helped found it, and his mother graduated from it years later. Because of the deep history he and many other families have with the university, Mulder worries Dordt may not appear as inviting to students who have no connections at the school.

“Are we as welcoming as we think we are?” Mulder said. “I think that’s a question we need to wrestle with. I hope that the answer is yes.” 

A large part of the history of Dordt pairs with its association to Christian Reformed denomination. 

“I’m like a fish swimming in water, I don’t even know the water exists because I’m in it all the time,” Mulder said. “For someone who is new to that worldview… how do we frame that in a way that is welcoming for people and inviting them?”

In an effort to take steps towards welcoming all peoples and backgrounds, Dordt has put together a New Faculty Seminar, which Mulder is a part of. Every two weeks, the group meets to discuss what teaching at Dordt should look like. Mulder feels these meetings help broaden his and others’ worldviews. 

“It’s a big trampoline, let’s invite everybody to come jump.” 

-Mulder

Regardless of technical faith background or legacy with the institution, Mulder believes being a Dordt student is life changing. 

“There’s something formational that happens here – and I don’t use that word lightly.” Mulder said. “I am different today than I was when I came to Dordt because of the experiences I had as a student at Dordt that shaped me.”

When interviewed to teach full-time at Dordt, Mulder was asked a series of questions by the Faculty Senate. One came from a former professor of his.

“How do you see your faith impacting your work?” He said.

Dr. Mulder began to answer, and his professor smiled from across the table.”

“I had this horrible out of body experience.” Mulder said. “I realized, I learnt this in your class twenty years ago and now it became part of me and now I’m saying it!

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