Dordt College News

Ron Vos pushes students to see big

August 16, 2010

Big picture

These two words keep coming up when you talk with Agriculture Professor Ronald Vos, the recipient of this year’s John Calvin Award.

The annual award is given to a faculty member for commitment to teaching from a Calvinistic perspective and for developing reformational insight in his discipline.

“Students generally expect to learn a lot about a small segment of the world,” says Dr. Vos. He admits that he sometimes frustrates that expectation.

“You need to be able to break things down to understand the specifics of how the world works, but as you do so you also need to see how they fit together so you can see how the creation works together as a whole—how the pieces you study fit into the “big picture.”

Seeing the big picture has also helped Vos serve on two boards of new Christian Universities in Africa that are interested in starting agriculture programs. He believes that it helps him see potential pitfalls and suggest direction.

“Having a broad vision helps people look past specific disagreements but still be able to work together as Christians in the world,” he says.

Unfortunately, integrating doesn’t always come naturally to students, Vos believes. Our society values experts in a particular area more than it values generalists. Vos would agree that people must become experts but he believes they should also have a broad understanding of how their particular area of expertise relates to others.

For example, he says, economics is important but it, like public policy, agricultural production, social media, and poetry, it is a subset of creation that interconnects and interrelates with others.

Interconnections, Vos believes, help students develop wisdom rather than simply gaining knowledge.

“It’s not always appreciated at the time, but sometimes students will come back later and say, ‘So that’s what you were trying to tell us.’”

Vos has been finding it especially gratifying over the past few years to teach the children of some of his early students at Dordt because he believes that it demonstrates the extension of the kingdom from one generation to the next. He’s taught at Dordt for twenty-five years, but he started teaching in junior high school even earlier, immediately following his graduation from Dordt in 1970.

“I continue to love teaching and interacting with students,” he says. And he finds it a blessing to be at a point where, as a teacher, he can see the big picture in teaching and not get as overwhelmed by bad days or sometimes endless grading. Instead, he focuses on finding fresh new ways to share his growing enthusiasm for what he teaches.

That’s a never ending job.

Vos teaches courses in agronomy; agricultural economics; two cross cultural core courses, Service and Learning in Hungary/Ukraine and Service and Learning in Southern Africa-Zambia; Core 211 Creation Care and the Environment; and a Core 100 course. He steeps himself in the details of agriculture, supervising and conducting research, attending field days, learning new production methods.

“Things are always changing in agriculture—new ideas, new equipment, new ways of doing things.” But for Vos that simply means that preparing for new courses is more enjoyable because it’s fresh.

Looking back, Vos says that Dordt College has had a profound impact on him, beginning as a student.

“The reformational worldview I embraced here opened my eyes to the breadth of the gospel and its relevance for everything I do and teach,” he says. “It was more than one course or even two, it was an awakening, a sense of excitement about how faith shapes how you view creation.”

He tries to make sure that his students have a similar experience.


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