Dordt College News

Brue teaches God at work in the world around us

August 12, 2009

Ethan Brue

For Dr. Ethan Brue, studying surface tension is part of life in Christ.

“Surface tension is God’s way of caring for water bugs on ponds,” he says. “Thinking this way helps you see afresh how God is at work in the world you’re learning about.”

Brue says that thinking about God’s sovereignty should be a natural part of how we think about the world, but he notes that college professors like him are trained in institutions that see a physical explanation as the whole story. It takes a different way of seeing the world and often additional time to think beyond the physical explanation to tie something like surface tension to the larger narrative of God’s working in creation.

“Biases in most educational systems today work against the teaching we want to do here,” he says, describing a typical approach as one in which professors teach and students learn small pieces of knowledge that they then try to put together somehow. He wants his students to see first of all the sovereignty of God as creator and ruler of his whole creation and then to study the details of how he daily directs the whole creation to work together to sustain its creatures. He believes that such an understanding will have a significant effect on how they learn and how they use what they have learned when they work as engineers.

Brue, a professor of engineering, was presented the John Calvin Award late last spring. Each year, this honor goes to a faculty member who demonstrates a commitment to teaching from a Calvinistic perspective and who passes on reformational insight to his or her students. Recipients are nominated and selected by colleagues and alumni.

“It’s given me a humbling sense of appreciation for the students I’ve served—that something from my teaching sticks with them enough that they would take the time to write back about it,” he says.

Brue has never really considered himself an engineering professor so much as a life mentor for students with the interest, passion, and skills to do engineering. He thinks of his work as sharing with his students the experiences and skills he’s gained in engineering.

A lot of that work with students happens outside of the classroom—advising, conversations in the hallway, interactions around summer research. “Mentoring is a powerful way we have an impact on our students,” he says, noting that it couldn’t happen apart from the foundation laid in the classroom.

Brue finds teaching exciting and demanding. “Anyone who works with people knows that you can’t plan for and predict everything,” he says. He’s grateful for his students’ “what about…” questions that sometimes force him to tell them he’ll have to fully answer that tomorrow and sometimes help him see ideas in a different light. That’s part of the joy for him.

“I love the little surprises, the new ideas, the unexpected opportunities to talk about broader issues,” he says.  Such opportunities arise not only with current students, but also with prospective students. “I enjoy recruiting students because I’m enthusiastic about who we are at Dordt College, what our engineering program can offer them, and how we can learn together about the world God created and how we are called to serve in it.”

The demanding part is also very real. He is energized by creating new projects that will help students better understand what they’re studying. He values the freedom to reshape a course as he learns more about the subject and his students. But such creativity takes an enormous amount of time, and that’s where his humanity constrains him. He also needs sleep and his family needs time with their husband and father.

His former students commented on his commitment and his passion when they nominated him for the John Calvin Award. One noted that Brue devoted much of his time outside of class to helping students, and that “his faith is evident in the way he builds relationships with his students.”

Another alumnus said, “In all of his engineering classes, he provided students with opportunities to reflect on and explore the implications of a biblical, reformational perspective on their work as engineers and in their broader involvements in life as a whole, lived in God’s world.”

“To be part of bringing students here to experience what I did as a student and help them see the freedom of serving in a wide open world of opportunities…that’s exciting,” he says.

“I feel a deep indebtedness to the many excellent Christian teachers I have had among the Dordt faculty,” says Brue, noting as many before him have, that it was not easy to accept such an award. “They continue to serve as my teachers and mentors in many ways.  Dordt is a rich place to serve.  This award is not an individual award; it belongs to the entire community of faculty and staff at Dordt. We do not teach alone.”

Ethan Brue biography

Dr. Ethan Brue graduated from Dordt College in 1992. He earned both an M.S. and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at Iowa State University. Brue was a research and development project leader at Pioneer Hi-Bred International before accepting a position at Dordt College in 2000. At Pioneer he designed and tested prototype equipment and instrumentation for seed corn research and production, including a plant-scale fluidized bed biomass gasifier to convert corn residue into energy.

Since coming to Dordt College, Brue has conducted a variety of funded research projects related to sustainable energy technology, including alternative approaches to ethanol production and biomass gasification applications. Dordt’s engineering department was awarded funding from the Iowa Energy Center (IEC) for Brue and his students to  develop a farm-scale sweet sorghum to ethanol production system. Vermeer Manufacturing is an industrial collaborator on the project.

Brue is a licensed Professional Engineer (P.E.) in the state of Iowa.

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