Tabetha DeGroot — Staff Writer
20-year-old Ryan Eckert struggled through his Painting III class at Eastern Illinois University. Painstakingly, he mixed color after color trying to get his still life right. An art major in his junior year, he didn’t feel like he had the talent of his peers. As he finished his painting, however, something suddenly clicked. Eckart finally understood color, and what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
Eckert began teaching drawing, painting, and other art courses at Dordt University this fall.
“Teaching at a university has been my dream since I was 20,” he said. “I’ve spent the last decade trying to make it a reality.”
Eckert spent eight years in school, completing his undergrad at Eastern and getting his MFA in studio art at Arizona State University. He spent his first year after graduating substitute teaching, then teaching grade school and high school in Virginia.
Eckert’s dream of teaching at a higher level came true this year. While teaching at Dordt has taken some adjusting in comparison to teaching younger students, he is enjoying it.
“I love it,” Eckert said. “I love the students and I like being able to teach just art courses.”
Eckert also appreciates having more time to spend with his wife and three-month-old baby, born two weeks after they moved to Iowa.
“I would do this for free,” he said. “There was a point where I didn’t know if I was going to get a university level job ever. The only part I don’t like is grading, but other than that, it’s amazing.”
Eckert personally has a love for painting and likes to experiment in his free time.
“I kind of dabble in different things,” Eckert said. “Abstract, landscape or inanimate objects. Just different takes on mundane things that you would typically overlook.”
Eckert’s road to an art degree was not an easy one.
“I almost changed my major to youth ministry,” he said. “I was really bad at art. I was getting the lowest grades in my class. I even had one of my professors tell me after my first painting class: ‘I don’t know if you’re going to cut it.’”
After some ministry classes and self-examination, however, he decided to continue pursuing an art degree.
“At the time, I was afraid to talk to people,” he said. “So youth ministry wasn’t going to work out.”
About a year later, in his Painting III class, it started to get easier.
“I finally muddled and failed and tried time and time again to get it right,” Eckert said. “After that I understood painting, but it took about three and a half years of doing it everyday.”
After achieving his degree, Eckert knew teaching was the next step.
“Teaching was Plan A and Plan B and Plan C,” he said. “When things weren’t working out, my family said I needed to switch gears, but I felt extremely compelled by God that this is what I was supposed to be doing.”
Eckert applied to only one job last fall, a stark contrast to the 100 jobs he applied for the year before. That job was at Dordt.
“It was the first interview I ever had with a university,” he said. “It just all really lined up.”
Persevering through a painting class led to a bright future for Eckart, and he looks forward to a colorful career.