Married professors share their story

Jayden Hoksbergen—Staff Writer 

In the last week of the summer of 1992, Ryan Zonnefeld and a group of his friends went cruising. It was almost time to pack up their high school years and head off to college. Later that night, after cruising to their hearts’ content, they decided to go for a swim at Sandy Hollow, but the campground charged entrance fees and was closed at night. Not to be deterred, the group of friends climbed the fence that surrounded the property and jumped into the lake. It was this same night that Ryan finally mustered up the nerve to ask out Valorie, a friend of his who was entering her senior year in high school. She later became his wife. 

“He asked me out the week before he went to Dordt,” Valorie said. “Real dumb timing to ask out a high school girl.”  

The two dated throughout their time at Dordt College and eventually got married during the Christmas break of Ryan’s senior year.  

Years later, Ryan and Valorie Zonnefeld both work at Dordt University, one of about twenty married couples employed by the college. With part-time workers and adjunct professors included, married couples make up about 12 percent of all staff and faculty working at Dordt. 

Ryan and Valorie serve as full-time professors, working in the education and math departments, respectively. They were hired together full-time in 2009. Before, Valorie coached the Dordt JV volleyball team for a year and worked as an adjunct professor for two years.  

Dordt is not the only school where the Zonnefelds taught together. When they first began their careers, they taught at Calvin Christian School in Southern California.  

After a few years, the couple moved back to Northwest Iowa.  

“I was super homesick,” Valorie said. 

The Zonnefelds taught in some of the area schools after they moved. While Valorie taught at Sanborn Christian School, Ryan split his time between Sanborn Christian and Sheldon Christian School.  

After Sanborn Christian, the couple went their separate ways career-wise; Valorie taught at Western Christian High School, and Ryan worked as principal of Hull Christian School and later taught at Northwestern College.  

When Valorie was hired to work full-time at Dordt in 2009, Ryan still planned on teaching at Northwestern. But due to an unexpected death in the education department at Dordt, Ryan was hired at Dordt only a few weeks before the 2009 fall semester.  

The Zonnefelds admitted that it’s hard for them to keep their work and home life separate.  

“We’re terrible at that; we always have been,” Valorie said.  

“I don’t know if there is separation,” Ryan said, laughing.  

However, the couple does place emphasis on interacting professionally with each other. They have a rule that they will not sit by each other at meetings or any other professional setting.  

“I think it’s important that people respect me for me, and people respect Ryan for Ryan,” Valorie said.   

The education and math departments at Dordt do work closely together at times, and the Zonnefelds do as well. Valorie said they’re each other’s “best colleagues.” The two taught a class for elementary math at Dordt together for several years. They said they always had fun teaching that class.  

Additionally, they work on scholarship together. They often present at conferences and travel to math and science foundations. Valorie is the primary investigator of the Noyce grant, and Ryan works as one of her best Co-PIs for it. 

Even though they try to separate themselves while working professionally, they make an effort to get together for social things throughout the school day. They go to chapel together frequently, and they try to meet up for lunch. They love that they can attend social events and work together at Dordt.  

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