All professors are academically trained but, in some majors, it’s also important for professors to have worked in a profession related to what they teach.
Professional experience is particularly helpful in majors like computer science, criminal justice, business, and social work. Experiencing firsthand what it’s like to be a social worker or a law enforcement officer allows professors to apply the concepts and theories they are teaching to concrete situations. Being connected to an industry can also be helpful when their students start looking for internships and full-time jobs.
Many Dordt professors have professional work experience, often gained before they stepped in the front of the classroom. Here are the stories of seven Dordt professors who went from working in industry to teaching and found that it had a significant impact on the academic and spiritual lives of their students.
Jon Moeller started his career as a Kansas City police officer, where he was an inner-city street cop for two years before going undercover for three years in narcotics and vice.
“Being undercover was my goal. I was an adrenaline junkie,” he says.
While undercover at some of the most dangerous street corners in the country, Moeller was a getaway driver for a robbery, learned how to cook methamphetamines, bought crack cocaine and other drugs from dealers six to eight times a day, and frequented nightclubs known for having ecstasy—all in an effort to decrease the availability of drugs in Kansas City.
Around that time, he found the Lord and began attending church. Continuing to work as an undercover cop, he remembers how, one day, he was held at gunpoint with a sawed-off shotgun and, the next day, he was driving a bus full of church-goers singing Veggie Tales tunes as they headed out on a mission trip.
“My sense of what was real and what was reality was completely warped in terms of how normal people live, because I’d been running the streets for so long,” he says.
He left Kansas City to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), attending the academy at Quantico, Virginia, before heading to Washington, D.C. He was at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, where he was part of the Hazmat team that went into the rubble to try to rescue victims and evidence. Immediately after, he was part of the team that investigated the 2001 anthrax attacks in Boca Raton, Florida. He then rescued a kidnapped child before heading to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. And then there was the D.C. sniper case, which he also investigated.
“We had two years of non-stop, high profile cases that were going on in the United States,” he recalls. “I’m proud to say I was part of all those things. I had a front row seat of history—you can’t write a script like that.”
He was thankful for the chance to serve the Lord, his country, and his community through his work, and he leaned on his faith to get him through difficult situations like processing the 9-11 attacks.
After years of working in Washington, D.C., Moeller transferred to Northwest Iowa, where his family is from. As an FBI agent, he covered 18 counties in Iowa and 11 in Nebraska, working on everything from crimes against children to bank fraud to cold case homicides.
After retiring from the FBI last year, he began teaching at Dordt. He takes a hands-on approach to teaching. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, he took criminal justice majors to tour state and federal penitentiaries in South Dakota, and he also had students participate in a firearm simulation training in Sioux City. He tells stories about his work as an undercover cop and as an FBI agent, finding ways to link textbook concepts to real situations.
“I love having the freedom to be able to talk about the Lord and the freedom to share how and why that matters. More importantly, I share about why faith matters in this type of workplace,” says Moeller. “I want to prepare Dordt students for what they’re going to face after Dordt. I want them to be prepared to tackle the issues and problems they face, all while glorifying the Lord.”
Tara (De Boer, ’06) Boer has heard many stories of children who have been abused, and of adults who recalled undergoing traumatic situations as children.
“It’s a privilege that people trust me with some of the most difficult things they’ve been through. These are stories that no one else usually gets to hear, so that’s a special spiritual responsibility, too—to stand in the gap with them, to pray with or for them.”
She developed what she calls a “righteous anger” toward child abuse while working at a treatment facility and doing in-home work in Florida.
“I thought, ‘This needs to stop. It is not okay that these helpless, innocent kids are hurt by people who are supposed to take care of them.’ That’s when I developed a passion for protecting children against child abuse, because I saw how long-lasting the effects of that trauma is, and I had a deep urge to tell others how often it happens.”
After graduating from Dordt with a Bachelor of Social Work degree, Boer gained a vast array of experience working with those affected by sexual assault, abuse, violence, and other forms of trauma. She earned her Master of Social Work degree from the University of South Florida and worked with delinquent teenage boys in a residential home. She interned and later worked at a sexual abuse treatment center helping children who had been abused. When she and her husband moved back to Northwest Iowa, she served in family, safety, risk, and permanency services as a supervisor doing in-home work contracted with the Department of Human Services. She then transitioned to doing clinical work and therapy with Family Solutions in Orange City and at Atlas in Sioux Center.
“I think many people like to believe bad things don’t happen in small towns, but when I served in Northwest Iowa as a clinician and as a child welfare worker, I found that those things happen here at the same rate they happen at other places,” she says. “They are our neighbors; they sit in our schools and go to our churches.”
She also started teaching as an adjunct for Dordt’s social work department, which eventually led to a full-time Dordt faculty position and a chance to begin a doctorate in social work at Tulane University. Even though she no longer works full-time as a clinician, she continues to advise other clinicians at Sioux Center Health’s behavioral health program, meeting with them every week to talk through specific cases and provide advice.
“As a profession, social work is constantly evolving. It’s a form of healthcare, so just as you would want doctors and nurses to remain current on best practices and treatments, we need to do the same. Working with the behavioral health program helps me to stay current and that, in turn, helps me to be a better teacher when these topics come up in the classroom.”
Boer also makes sure her students have opportunities to walk alongside someone who has gone through something difficult.
“When you sit and bear witness to someone’s hurt, your perspective changes, and something changes inside the students, too—everything in your limbic system is activated when you hear those stories—you feel the fear and the sadness. But it can also be a place of potential growth and healing that you get to be part of. And if you lose sight of that—if students don’t hear enough of those stories or build those relationships—then they might become apathetic to how urgently help is needed. I don’t want them to lose sight of their passion and what needs to happen for people to get well.”
Dr. Tom Prinsen
Looking back at his career in public relations and advertising, Dr. Tom Prinsen (’90) can pinpoint conversations that changed his life. One happened while he was working as a butcher at a Hy-Vee store in Sioux Falls. He was cutting meat when he overheard a conversation between the meat manager and a Hy-Vee advertising executive: “We’re opening a new store on 49th Street and Louise and need someone to do the advertising and public relations work there. How are we going to find someone to do that job?”
“I told them, ‘I could do that,’” recalls Prinsen. “She looked surprised. So I told her that I had a degree in communication from Dordt, that I’d worked at Hy-Vee for years, and that I’d been part of three Hy-Vee store grand openings—in Sioux Center, in South Sioux City, and in Sioux Falls.”Two weeks later, Prinsen began working as the advertising and public relations person for the newest Hy-Vee store in town. He loved the variety, from writing radio and TV ads to working on a team that handled media relations, but there were times when writing ad copy like “Charmin four-roll on sale for 99 cents,” got a little old.
That boredom led to a department meeting where the managers came up with a wild idea to boost awareness: hand out free Hy-Vee watermelons to Sioux Falls residents. They bought a green 1974 Dodge Dart dubbed “the Seed Machine” and found a watermelon costume for the “Watermelon Bandit.”
“The backstory was, the Watermelon Bandit was the Robin Hood of watermelons, where he’d go to the Hy-Vee stores, take the watermelons, and bring them to the good people of Sioux Falls,” he says. “Imagine you’re out watering your lawn and suddenly someone in a watermelon costume pops out of the backseat of a Dodge Dart, hands you a watermelon that says, ‘Compliments of Hy-Vee,’ and then takes off.”
This out-of-the-box concept was a hit around town. Soon, Prinsen received calls from Sioux Falls residents asking the Watermelon Bandit to make an appearance at family reunions, birthday parties—even a mayors’ convention.
“It was awesome,” recalls Prinsen. “I felt like the world was my oyster. I didn’t have enough experience to say, ‘This is a silly idea.’ We just tried it out.”
Another conversation that changed his life was one he had with his wife. He’d taken a job with Kraft Foods as a sales representative, but he was dreaming of going to graduate school and, ultimately, teaching.
“At a certain point my wife, Karla (Lefers, ’93), said, ‘Look, it’s time for you to either go to graduate school or quit talking about it,’” he says.
So, they sold their acreage with a half-dozen outbuildings, a four-wheeler, and a tractor, and they moved into a one-bedroom apartment with their two children on the University of South Dakota campus. Later, he started a Ph.D. program at Southern Illinois University—Carbondale, where he completed a doctorate in integrated marketing communication.
A third conversation that changed his life was one he had at his son’s basketball game in Indiana. He had been working as a communication professor at Grace College in Winona Lake, which is not far from the recreational vehicle (RV) manufacturing capitol of the world. He’d begun his job at the height of the recession, when RV sales were down by 90 percent, unemployment was skyrocketing, and Grace was struggling.
“At the basketball game, I sat next to another father, who worked for an orthopedic company. I mentioned that I did some marketing research consulting work for Toys for Tots. He said, ‘Hey, we actually need someone in marketing research, if you’re interested.’”
As global manager of market intelligence at Biomet Orthopedics, Prinsen helped provide research when the executives needed to make key decisions. “One of the things I teach in class is this progression: do the research and, based on the research, create a strategy. Based on the strategy, you can do the creative. If you do each step correctly, the next step should take care of itself.”
A fourth conversation shifted Prinsen’s life again—this time, taking him back to Dordt. He learned that Communication Professor Dr. Charles Veenstra was retiring and saw it as an opportunity to return to a place he loved. He has taught public relations, marketing, and communication courses at Dordt since 2016.
“Having seen a lot of institutions and talked with peers that work in different institutions, I appreciate Dordt, because they still have the same mission they had when I was here as a student. So many schools have fallen away from their mission and the core of who they are. You can read about it in the Educational Task and Framework, talk with faculty who currently work here, or talk with parents who sent their kids here. Dordt is still who they say they are.”
Sandy Vanden Bosch
After graduating from Dordt, Sandy (Steenhoek, ’88) Vanden Bosch’s first full-time job was in Iowa City as a bookkeeper with Kinseth, a company that ran four hotels. Within 12 months of starting her job, she approached her boss with an idea—the company was paying too much for external help with accounting, so what if they could do the accounting themselves? Vanden Bosch began partnering with a contractor to build customized accounting software to bring accounting in-house.
As the company purchased additional hotels and restaurants, they needed a human resources department. Kinseth once again turned to Vanden Bosch until they could hire the human resources staff they needed. She also took responsibility for IT until they were able to hire someone to help with timecards and handle computer software.
Kinseth offered a rich learning experience for Vanden Bosch. When the savings and loan industry blew up in the 1990s, Kinseth took over other hotels so the banks wouldn’t have to. During the financial crisis of 2008, Kinseth again partnered with banks to help manage hotels that couldn’t make their mortgage payments. When Kinseth took over a waterpark, Vanden Bosch learned how to manage the finances of a waterpark. When they took over a golf course, she learned how to manage the finances of a golf course.
“I grew as the company grew,” she says. “When you work for a small company, you learn how to do what needs to be done, and as the company gets bigger, you train new people and create new departments.”
By 2014, Vanden Bosch was controller of Kinseth. She had spent nearly 26 years helping to grow the company from four hotels to approximately 60 hotels, in addition to restaurants and other businesses.
“My boss saw me as the person who fixed the problems—every problem that happened ended up on my desk,” she says. “Looking back, I think I internalized more responsibility than I probably needed to take on.”
By the time 2015 rolled around, Vanden Bosch fell ill. She went to eight specialists, but no one could determine exactly what was wrong.
“Every time I saw a different doctor, they’d say, ‘Do you have a job that’s stressful?’ And my husband would laugh and say, ‘You have no idea what kind of stress she’s under.’”
After nearly two years of different medical diagnoses and ongoing sickness, Vanden Bosch gave a year’s notice at Kinseth. At about that time, Business Administration Instructor Dale Zevenbergen called to see if she would be interested in applying for the job opening in finance with the retirement of Dr. John Visser.
She’d planned to work for a bank and had never taught a class in her life. Would this work?
“My husband looked at me and said, ‘Maybe God has a different plan for you than you have for you.’”
Now in her fourth year of teaching at Dordt, Vanden Bosch’s students appreciate her business savvy as well as her ability to take what they read in their textbooks and provide examples from her work at Kinseth. She sees herself as a Christian businessperson helping to teach the next generation of Christian businesspeople; she enjoys talking with her students about what it means to be a Reformed businessperson and to let God guide their decisions.
“At Kinseth, I solved problems, and I feel like I do the same at Dordt. I approach every class with, ‘How do I provide students with applicable business experience in this class?’ I want to help a student who, at the beginning of a finances class, says, ‘I don’t know why I’m taking this class—I’m not a numbers person,’ be able to learn that being financially astute is vital—if you don’t know how to make financial decisions in your company, you’re going to go bankrupt.”
In a human resources class, Vanden Bosch has students read an employee handbook and then write their own policies and procedures.
“A month ago, a former student now working for a business emailed me to say, ‘I’m using the handbook we wrote in Strategic Human Resources to help figure out what my employer should do since they don’t have policies and procedures. Thank you for having me write a handbook, as it’s a good basis for me to figure out how to help my employer,’” says Vanden Bosch. “I challenge my students because I’ve been there myself. I know what I needed in the business world and what my employees had to do, and I want to make sure my students are employable and that they have the skillsets they need when they go out into the workforce.”
Dr. Kari Sandouka
Dr. Kari Sandouka began work in internal audit at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, when she was 21 years old and the median age of Kennedy Space Center employees was about 55 years old.
“I was a newbie right out of college, trying to tell seasoned workers that they were doing their jobs wrong, which was an eye-opening experience,” she says. “I had to figure out the line of professionalism.”
She soon moved into an IT auditor role, where she made sure that IT systems and documentation processes were happening.
“I began a year after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, so we focused on safety and accuracy,” she says.
In addition to building dashboards for engineers, she worked on Shuttle Electronic Tie-In, or SETI, which was like Twitter but for work project status. There was also a Shuttle Electronic Document Tracker, or SEDI, which tracked the signature phases of work. SETI and SEDI kept Sandouka busy, but she never had a manager that could help her with coding or answer her questions.
“I had to find the right resources, ask the right questions, and communicate well to find the answers.”
What she appreciated most about working on the shuttle program was that it was a team effort.
“You needed everyone in their respective roles for the shuttle to launch. Even if NASA and the astronauts got all the glory and the parades, we all knew it was the sum of all the parts that came together to make it happen.”
Sandouka enjoyed the camaraderie, too—at Thanksgiving, 200 programmers, engineers, technicians, and schedulers within her department would gather in the largest conference room for a huge potluck. And whenever there was a shuttle launch, the employees would have chili, beans, and rice together, a tradition that began with the Apollo launch.
She and her colleagues always knew that there was an end to NASA launches. Even though many contracts were up in 2010, Sandouka was able to keep working until 2011.
Now, nearly 10 years later and with a freshly minted Ph.D., Sandouka still relies on her Kennedy Space Center experience at times.
“In our computer science program, we emphasize that students need to know how to teach and learn by themselves. We require every student to do an individual study and to have an internship or practical experience. You learn so much better by doing it.”
When her students return from internships with their own stories to tell, Sandouka often nods knowingly—because she’s dealt with similar situations herself.
“To succeed in computer science, you must constantly teach yourself to learn and to seek out what’s challenging and new,” she says.
Holly De Vries
Growing up on a small dairy farm in Nova Scotia, Holly (Vander Heide, ’00) De Vries felt like farming was in her blood. She loved spending time outdoors with the animals, and she enjoyed science courses at school, especially Anatomy and Physiology.
“When I was a junior in high school, I told my parents, ‘I think I want to be a veterinarian and do large-animal medicine,’” she recalls.
She attended Dordt to study animal science. Instead of heading to veterinary school right after graduation, De Vries applied for a 15-month internship at Dordt’s Agriculture Stewardship Center which, at that point, housed a dairy farm.
“I had a lot of work study students that I helped train to milk and feed cows,” she says. “Essentially, it was my first experience with teaching.”
Even after she applied and was accepted to veterinary school at Iowa State University, she kept coming back to Sioux Center, where Central Veterinary Clinic hired her to walk and take care of the dogs at the kennel on the weekends. After graduating, she started working there full-time.
“Central Vet and Sioux Center offered me everything I was looking for career-wise, as doing progressive large animal medicine was what I wanted to do,” she says.
On a typical day at Central Vet, De Vries would drive out to a dairy farm to check the overall health of the herd. She would use an ultrasound machine to check cows for pregnancy as well as do regular health checks. About 90 percent of the time, she worked with dairy cattle, her specialty.
“Calls changed even in the 13 years I worked at the clinic. At first, we would run out to help sick animals often, but by the end of my time at the clinic we mostly worked in herd health and preventative care,” she says.
Eventually she dropped to working part-time to be home with her daughters. In 2018, she began teaching as an adjunct instructor at Dordt, becoming a full-time instructor two years later. She particularly loves teaching animal science classes. She also enjoys being able to teach alongside one of her former classmates, Professor of Agriculture Dr. Jeremy Hummel (’00), and one of her former professors, Professor of Agriculture Dr. John Olthoff.
“What I enjoy most about teaching is the interaction with students,” says De Vries. “Every student is unique and different, and they bring their own perspectives, character, and personalities to what we’re studying, so I enjoy getting to know them.”
Having been in veterinary medicine for years helps De Vries provide tangible examples regarding, for example, how diseases can impact herd health.
“For labs, I’ve had students do necropsies on animals that have died so that, rather than just talking about the gastrointestinal tract, we can look at one. This allows students to get a hands-on learning experience, and since I have spent years in veterinary medicine, it’s easier for me to find ways to help students apply that through the curriculum.”
Although it was difficult to conclude her work at Central Vet, De Vries feels like God has called her to work at Dordt.
“As a student, I was so blessed—the four years I spent at Dordt were probably some of the best years of my life as I developed as a person and in my career path. As a professor, I feel like I can help continue for other students what my Dordt professors did for me.”
Jeff Kelly serves as director of the K and K Dooyema Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Dordt and teaches business courses. Kelly has found teaching to be gratifying and, at times, a bit nerve-wracking.
“I’ve been in boardrooms with CEOs of the largest restaurants in the country, and I’m comfortable with managing the entire group with their different thoughts and pain points. Put me in front of 35 freshmen, and I’m in uncharted territory,” he jokes.
But teaching is a role he loves, and it’s one that he’s been hoping to dive into since he first coached college football at Westmar College and Black Hills State University years ago. Growing up, Kelly also played quarterback on the football team. He sees his years playing and coaching football as instrumental in shaping his business acumen.
“I’m a huge fan of execution. As a quarterback, I was in a leadership role for the team, and I really enjoyed watching plays unfold—how they turned into a series, and a series could turn into a score. In the business world, it’s the same thing.”
After coaching, he landed a job at Gateway Computers in North Sioux City as a team manager of 70 people at a call center. In many ways, he continued to put his coaching skills to work.
“I had to work under pressure, manage people, and also be strategic. In a football game, you have 40 seconds to call the next play, and you have no idea what the result might be. My experience with football set me up for being effective in business, because I knew how to interact with people, how to motivate my team, and to execute plans.”
Next, he entered the regional food distribution world by joining Harker’s Distribution. He began as an inside sales and customer service manager; after eight years on the job, he left Harker’s as the Vice President of Supply Chain. He went to work for Heinz. With accounts all over the country, Kelly traveled nearly every week of the year.
It was a great learning experience, but the job was also demanding. So after three years on the road, Kelly accepted a position as Vice President of Corporate Advancement at Pizza Ranch in Orange City, where he focused on execution and strategy, particularly within the supply chain. He worked for two additional supply management companies in Colorado and North Carolina before he heard about the director position for the K and K Dooyema Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Dordt University.
Today, Kelly loves to draw on his business experience as he stands in front of the classroom.
“Several students told me last semester that they appreciate when I take the time to build out a concept with a personal story,” he says.
He looks forward to the Covid-19 pandemic being over so that he can spend more time interacting individually with students. For now, he is content to rise to the challenge.
“God always takes care of me; he uses my career to challenge me. I just keep figuring that, with the next opportunity, I’m going to grow and learn in some way, and I can share what I’ve learned with the people I’ve worked with. It’s been a beautiful, symbiotic relationship. I just try to follow God’s Word and follow his path.”