Studies show students who are the most engaged in academic life and in their campus community are the ones who benefit the most from college.
“What students do at college matters …
The key is engagement, inside the classroom and out,” writes Dr. Denise Pope in the Wall Street Journal article “The Right Way to Choose a College.”
Students who take full advantage of opportunities and resources while in college are more likely to succeed, says Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.
“Numerous studies attest to the benefits of engaged learning, including better course grades and higher levels of subject-matter competence, curiosity, and initiative,” she writes.
One study that looks at engaged learning is the Purdue-Gallup Index, which measured more than 30,000 graduates to understand the most important outcomes of higher education. The study, a partnership between Purdue University, Gallup, and the Lumina Foundation, found a strong connection between certain methods of engagement and future well-being and job satisfaction. There were six key college experiences that indicated whether students were likely to become thriving employees and be more likely to find success post-college:
- Taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting
- Working with professors who care about students personally
- Finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals
- Working on a project across several semesters
- Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning
- Being active in extracurricular activities
“There’s factual evidence of how these six experiences will help students have a better career and a happier life,” says Amy Westra, associate director of career development at Dordt. Westra talks with freshmen about the importance of the Purdue-Gallup Index and why they should seek to gain these experiences during their four years at Dordt.
“I think Dordt excels at these six experiences,” she says. “We have so many opportunities to be involved. There are spiritual growth opportunities on campus with Bible studies and discipleship groups; there’s athletics, art, band, clubs. There’s something for everyone.”
Derek Buteyn, director of residential life, agrees.
“At Dordt, learning isn’t something that’s relegated to the classroom,” he says. “Instead of ‘extracurricular,’ we use the word ‘co-curricular,’ because what happens outside of the classroom supports what happens in the classroom and vice versa.”
The fact that Dordt is a residential campus in a rural setting helps to increase that sense of engagement, says Westra—students are more likely to stay on-campus on the weekends and get involved.
But having opportunities available is different from taking advantage of opportunities. The key to success in college seems to be doing something, not just waiting for opportunities to come to you.
“Don’t let yourself stay in your dorm room. If you’re from the area, don’t stick with your high school friends. Get to know different people and break out of those circles,” Westra advises students. “Get invested and involved with every aspect of college life, from academics to co-curriculars. Don’t sell yourself short. This is the time to explore.”
The class of 2019 includes many examples of seniors who did just that—students who took advantage of the opportunities available to build relationships, get involved, and work hard. We think you’ll enjoy hearing some of their stories.
World Dairy Expo, World Food Prize, National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Convention, State FFA Convention, Central Plains Dairy Expo—Georgia Lucas has participated in so many agriculture events and competitions that she sometimes loses track of the opportunities she’s had. But Lucas knows her varied experiences in agriculture have shaped her in ways that will help her succeed.
Over spring break, for example, Lucas and 10 other agriculture majors went to the National Professional Agriculture Student (PAS) Competition in Denver. Lucas attended a workshop, crafted her résumé and materials, and underwent an interview on the topic of livestock production, competing against students from colleges and universities like Missouri State University and South Central College in Minnesota. Lucas placed second in the competition. This is the third time she’s gone to PAS Nationals—that’s also in addition to participating in the PAS State Competition every year she’s been at Dordt.
“We always do really well, and it’s fun to compete against colleges in different areas and put your skills to the test in a hands-on, practical way,” says Lucas.
Competitions and events aren’t the only way Lucas has honed her skills. Every summer while in college, Lucas has had an internship. She spent the summer after her freshman year working in a crop production internship in her hometown of Monroeville, New Jersey. Then, after her sophomre year, she headed to North Carolina to work for Smithfield hog production. She spent last summer on a ranch, working cattle through remote mountain rangeland in Idaho.
“We spent 12-16 hours each day on horseback guiding the cattle to where they needed to graze,” she says. “I lived in a tent, had to pack enough food for four days, and had no cell phone service. It was the most beautiful land I’ve ever seen. I loved my experience in Idaho.”
Through each of her internship and competition experiences, Lucas drew from the animal science, nutrition, and production classes she had taken at Dordt. Applying what she learned in the classroom was a confidence booster and helped her figure out what she wanted to do after college.
“I had three job offers, but I decided to take a job as a herd manager and business assistant in central Texas,” says Lucas. “It’s going to be fun but challenging, since I’ll be in a management role right out of college. But I think Dordt has really equipped me for this position. I’ve grown in my faith while I’ve been at Dordt, and I know I’m doing this for a higher calling. God is guiding me, he’s opening this door and he’s going to help me.”
“It’s no coincidence that I’m here—that I’m an Indonesian kid living in Sioux Center,” says Ray Badudu, a worship arts and communication major. Badudu can recognize God’s guiding hand throughout his four years at Dordt, particularly through the relationships he’s made with his professors.
One person who stands out to Badudu is Jonathan De Groot, Dordt’s worship arts director and Badudu’s mentor. Badudu first encountered De Groot during his sophomore year when he tried out for the worship team. Badudu says he had made some poor life choices at that point, so the other worship leaders were skeptical about inviting him to be a worship leader.
“Jon saw something in me that the other worship arts directors didn’t,” says Badudu. “Jon stuck to his gut and said that he believed God would use me for something great.”
Now, Badudu leads worship every Thursday night; he leads Wednesday chapel worship every once-in-a-while, and he has participated in New City, the traveling worship arts group.
“Every step of the way, Jon has challenged me and helped me to grow,” says Badudu. “He wants me to think critically and deeply about the decisions I make.”
In part because of his connection to De Groot, Badudu has landed a full-time job as a worship director at First Reformed Church in Sioux Center. Badudu began attending First Reformed during his sophomore year; by junior year, he was volunteering once a month to be part of the praise team. When Travis Else, lead pastor at First Reformed, approached him about the possibility of working as an intern at the church, Badudu turned to De Groot—who also attends First Reformed—for advice.
“Jon encouraged me to say yes—that even though I’d be busy, it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” he says.
That internship turned into a part-time residency and now into a full-time job offer. Badudu says that opportunity happened because of his connection to De Groot and to First Reformed. He is thankful for these and other relationships he’s been able to build during his time at Dordt, and how they have shaped his views of what it means to live in community.
“We have the privilege and honor to join God in the work of building community. Forming relationships with your professors, joining a club, and meeting people beyond the scope of personalities—that requires stepping outside of our comfort zones, which is part of partaking in that community work.”
Jose Benitez prefers to be challenged. Majoring in civil engineering, Benitez chose to play junior varsity basketball his freshman year before moving on to soccer, which he has played since. Hailing from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, Benitez works as a Spanish tutor and translates Spanish in the community. He’s also active in the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Society; in fact, ASCE recently named Benitez to their “2019 New Faces of Civil Engineering List.”
Benitez likes to be challenged academically too, and not just in his engineering classes. When asked what classes he found most interesting in college, he immediately responded with Core 120—English Composition—with Howard Schaap.
“I love Schaap,” says Benitez. “He focuses on stretching students out of their usual way of thinking. He asks provocative questions that makes us think a little further than what we’re used to.”
Benitez says he found a love for writing while taking English Composition.
“I never learned to write as easily as I did in Spanish, so taking Schaap’s course was a great experience. I’m a slow writer, but I love to do it. Schaap was the one who introduced me to it.”
Another professor who made learning exciting for Benitez was Dr. Walker Cosgrove, a history professor.
“You can tell that guy loves what he’s doing, and he knows what he’s talking about,” says Benitez. “He’s always willing to talk with his students after class. I’ve been able to get to know his family, too. He’s great.”
Benitez appreciates the engineering faculty, too—in particular, he admires Dr. Justin Vander Werff, a civil engineering professor with whom he’s worked closely for four years.
“It’s easy to walk into his office and talk. You don’t feel like you’re interrupting him, and he’s always interested in hearing what you have to say,” he says.
Benitez believes that the interaction he has had with professors has made it easier for him to connect with supervisors at his internship at a transportation engineering and planning firm in downtown Denver. While fellow interns from other colleges and universities were sometimes hesitant to ask questions of their supervisors, Benitez was quick to communicate with his supervisor. He interned at the firm during the summer of his sophomore and junior year, initially analyzing data and eventually doing his own design work. Recently, the firm offered him a full-time job, and he accepted.
“We’re a bit geographically and culturally isolated in Sioux Center, so it’s important for Dordt students to get out there, compare ourselves to others, and try to make an impact on the community,” says Benitez. He’s grateful for insightful faculty have helped him grow and feel challenged while he’s been at Dordt.
Jenna Stephens is a self-proclaimed perfectionist, especially in track. For two hours a day, Stephens runs with her teammates, doing workouts and pushing herself until she almost falls over.
“It’s been enjoyable, and it’s pushed us to work hard at whatever we’re doing on and off the track,” says Stephens. “I take a similar approach to painting—I keep tweaking, adding more layers of paint until I’m happy with what I see. I strive for results that I can be proud of.”
Before Stephens decided to double-major in fine arts and graphic design, she had little experience in art; the only art class she took before attending Dordt was an eighth-grade art class. Her parents encouraged her to explore majoring in art because they knew it interested her, so she took a drawing course and a graphic design course during her freshman year. Eventually she took a painting course where she tried oil painting for the first time.
“Oil paint is challenging but also forgiving because it doesn’t dry very fast, so it is a good medium to learn with since I could always go back and tweak things,” she says.
She learned design and technique basics in that painting course and gradually gained confidence and expertise in art. Eventually she took Painting 3 as an individual study course.
“I could decide what I wanted to paint as long as I had some work to show at the end of the semester,” says Stephens. “I spent hours painting in our apartment, standing by my easel, just trying to get enough work for my senior show.”
She painted nature-inspired oil paintings, from snow-capped mountains to a quiet farmstead. Puffy clouds, snowy streams, ominous storms—Stephens painted her way to her own artistic aesthetic.
“Painting 3 was one of the most valuable courses for me because I was forced to figure out what my style is,” she says. “There was no one telling me how to paint. I experimented and figured out what I was happy with.”
Stephens’s paintings were displayed in her own senior art show in mid-February.
“That was probably one of the highlights of my time at Dordt,” she says. “All the classes I took in drawing, printmaking, and art history—all of it fed into my art. So, to finally see all the paintings on the walls, it felt like the culmination of four years of study. To be able to show my loved ones what I’ve been working on was super exciting, and it gave me a boost to keep pursuing art after Dordt.”
Stephens and her husband Conner (’18), an engineer, will move to the St. Louis, Missouri, area this summer. Although Stephens isn’t sure what career path she’ll pursue, she knows she’ll channel her inner perfectionist to work hard.
“I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I’m starting to grasp that it’s not what I want to do, it’s where God wants me to go. I’m trying to lean into that no matter how hard it might seem.”
Organized and detail-oriented, Daniel Seaman was the right person for the job of coordinating Week of Welcome (WOW), Dordt’s freshmen orientation weekend, last summer.
“With WOW, everything is long-term and future-oriented,” says Seaman. “So I had to set goals and objectives for what I wanted to accomplish by certain dates.”
As an education major, Seaman found WOW planning to be the perfect opportunity to put curriculum design into practice.
“I thought, ‘What do I want incoming students to know by the time they’re done with WOW, and how am I going to get there?’” explains Seaman. “I worked backward from there, thinking through what the WOW staff needed to get the freshmen there.”
Seaman says that part of the job was preparing WOW staff—more than 70 students—to get in the right mindset. “I talked with my staff about how they were going to make a difference in the lives of the incoming students, to help the students make their first connections on campus. It can impact the Dordt community.”
Seaman will put to use what he learned as WOW coordinator when he begins work as a music teacher at Calvin Christian School in Escondido, California, in the fall.
“I’ll be doing mostly instrumental and choral music, teaching grades 5-12,” he says. “I’m starting to think about the classroom and how I’ll set it up. It’s fun to look forward to.”
Looking back, Seaman is thankful for the ways he has felt supported.
“I think the atmosphere that Dordt creates brings people that care, and that’s what’s made the biggest impact on me,” he says. “It’s finding a great group of people who are interested in learning and also helping those around us to grow. It’s been fun.”
Bethany Van Eps
As co-president of the Business Club, a section leader in concert choir, a theatre scholarship holder, a speech team member, and the web publisher for the Diamond, Bethany Van Eps is obviously involved on campus. But that’s not all she does—she also leads campus visit tours for the admissions office, serves as the campus Best Semester Alumni Ambassador to talk with other students about studying abroad, and is a middle school youth leader at Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center.
“I’ve always liked being busy,” says Van Eps, a business major from East Grand Forks, Minnesota. “I got involved because these are all things I’m interested in and, thanks to Dordt’s size, it was very possible for me to be involved in it all.”
Being involved has helped Van Eps to build relationships with a variety of people and to explore her interests.
“I have learned more about myself and discovered that I love being well-connected,” she says. “I enjoy walking to class in the morning and seeing how many people I know and can say ‘hi’ to on the sidewalk.”
Saying yes to so many activities means she’s learned when it’s time to say no, too.
“Time management is a big lesson I’ve learned through saying ‘yes’ to so much,” she says. “Keeping school, sleep, a social life, and co-curriculars all running at 100 percent isn’t always possible, so I’ve spent many late nights locked in study rooms.”
Looking back, Van Eps really appreciates the experiences she’s had in theatre.
“The first show I was in at Dordt was Godspell,” she recalls. “I was a freshman. Putting on a pretty show is easy enough but taking the time and energy to truly craft a show, paying attention to details like character development, motivation, and realization is a lot of work. I’ve loved doing theatre this way for four years because it helps to cultivate empathy and shows a respect and reverence for the gift that God gave us in theatre and in artistic expression.”
Van Eps encourages other students to go to campus events, talk to people at club fairs, show up at random club meetings, join a choir for a semester—just get involved in curricular and co-curricular activities.
“We have the unique opportunity at Dordt to try it all, and as my time here draws to a close I’m realizing how much of a gift that really is,” she says. “Sometimes grabbing coffee with an upperclassman who you met at the latest Art Club event or chatting with a friend from swing dance after Praise and Worship is worth an hour less of sleep for the night.”