Dordt College News

Geels sets longevity record

August 17, 2011

Dr. Edwin Geels, who holds the distinction of being the longest serving employee in Dordt’s history, retired this spring after 46 years on the faculty of Dordt College as a professor of chemistry.

Geels came to Dordt in 1965, having completed his Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Iowa State University in January of that year.

He says he looked around once or twice over the years, but he and his family liked small town living. Research grants from places such as the Petroleum Research fund, the National Science Foundation, and the Research Corporation kept him engaged and enthusiastic about his teaching at Dordt. Over the years, those grants also supported the work of many students and several local high school teachers in the area of electron transfer reactions of radical anions.

Geels is an organic chemist turned biochemistry professor.

“When I first taught biochemistry we only offered one semester of it. And I myself had never had such a course because it wasn’t even a field when I was in college,” he says.

The growth and development of biochemistry is one of the biggest and most exciting changes Geels has experienced in his teaching career.

Dr. Edwin Geels“We knew so little about the cell back then,” he says. “We know so much more now, and we’re not nearly done learning.” He attributes part of the recent growth of biochemistry to the pharmaceutical industry. As scientists learn more about the cell, they are better able to target cells with drugs they create for very specific purposes.

But Geels believes that knowing more about the cell has also given us the knowledge to better care for our bodies and avoid many of the increasing array of pharmaceutical drugs.

“We know so much today about the proper way to take care of the bodies God gave us. That’s not theoretical knowledge; that’s information we can live,” he says. He has developed a passion for helping his students learn how the way that God created his creatures and his world gives them the tools to live healthy lives. To their questions about whether they need to “know this for the test,” he replies that they need to know it to live.

“We’ve learned why smoking, excess salt, excess sugar, and certain fats, for example, aren’t good for us. Biochemistry helps us take good care of ourselves.”

Seeing such evidence of God’s creative work has kept Geels energized and motivated through the years. “There’s always something new to learn; everything is new and interesting when you see the world as God’s creative handiwork,” he says.

During the last five years of his career, Geels, along with some of his students, has been studying the parasites and diseases of honeybees. Funded by a grant from the Northern Plains Undergraduate Research Center, Geels has explored using small cell bees as a way to avoid the mites that infest honeybees across the country—and the dangerous chemicals used to kill them.

“These small cell bees, which are the original God-created size of bees, are 30 percent smaller than the present commercial and hobbiest honeybees. In many ways, this enables them to successfully resist the attacks of the parasitic mites that have been killing colonies of larger bees for over 40 years,” says Geels.

During his 46 years at Dordt, Geels has kept busy on diverse fronts. He’s taught summers at other institutions, served as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, played euphonium in the Campus/Community Band, and run a business as a professional numismatist as he bought and sold silver and rare coins.

Even though Geels recalls teaching with a hand crank ditto machine, he’s embraced new technologies that make teaching easier and more exciting. He enjoys integrating three-dimensional video clips of proteins into his class presentations and appreciates being able to navigate powerpoints rather than chalkboards and overheads. In fact, these presentations may give him more of a sense of awe than it gives his students who have grown up on technologically advanced graphics and videos.

“It’s simply amazing to be able to see the atoms in a protein in three dimensions,” he says. “When I studied chemistry in college, no one knew what we learn today in introductory chemistry.”

Although Geels will no longer be in the classroom, he’ll continue to use what he’s learned about the complexity and beauty of creation.

“I think science when I look at anything, but it isn’t abstract,” he says, giving as example, “Nutrition isn’t just science, it’s caring for the body.”


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