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Faculty Profile: Vander Zee challenges students to care for creation

By Sally Jongsma

Helping students see the beauty and the absolute marvel of the biological world has made Dr. Delmar Vander Zee ('66) an impassioned and engaging professor for nearly thirty-five years.

For Vander Zee and, he hopes and prays, for his students, learning is more than head knowledge.

Dr. Delmar Vander Zee

Dr. Delmar Vander Zee

"Understanding the biotic world gives us a sense of the awesome task, privilege, and responsibility we have to take care of creation," says Vander Zee, whose title is professor of biology and environmental studies. In addition to his biology courses, he teaches several environmental studies courses and stresses environmental stewardship whenever he can. For him, stewardship is a direct result of understanding how the creation holds together. In fact, he pushed for and helped get the environmental studies program started at Dordt College almost twenty years ago. In the late 80s he worked with colleagues in the agriculture department on field nitrate research. The pioneering effort helped the Agriculture Stewardship Center get outside funding to continue such research. And before there was even talk about service learning on campus, Vander Zee and his students were busy trying to restore, preserve, and sustain natural habitats on campus and in the area because they believed it was an important thing to do. A native prairie plot they planted behind the science building was uprooted to make way for construction of the new campus center and parking lot, but he's been assured it will be replanted on land the college received from the Kuhl farm.

Environmental challenges inevitably arise as communities and institutions grow physically.

"There is always an environmental impact to being technologically busy in the world," Vander Zee says. The challenge is to be open to and understand what the real and long-term impact of changing the environment actually is, he believes. And, he tells his students, Christians and Christian organizations should lead the way not only by wrestling with such issues but by responding to them in concrete ways that show we take creation care very seriously.

According to Vander Zee, anyone who walks on campus-or his yard-should be able to see something different-like the twelve stones that God told the people of Israel to set up so that others would ask their meaning. Christians have a responsibility to live in a way that shows they take very seriously God's command to maintain and sustain his creation.

Vander Zee doesn't just rest on his passion to inform his commitment. He's basically earned an unofficial second degree during the last thirty years by the work he's done with the Ausable Institute for Environmental Studies in Michigan and Washington state. He's attended many seminars and forums; he's developed and taught courses in land resources, field botany, and ecological agriculture; and he's directed the program at the Washington campus.

"It's very important for faculty to keep developing past tenure review, so that we can keep current in our field at levels that may not be required for a specific course but that will give depth and insight to our teaching, " Vander Zee says. He's also worked hard as a member of the Faculty Status Committee to set in place policies that encourage and hold faculty members accountable for continuing to expand their knowledge, keep up with new developments, and deepen their understanding of their field of expertise. And he initiated one of the first departmental program reviews in the late 80s, a process that is now mandatory for all departments. One of the results of that review was that biology majors also hone their professional skills by conducting a directed research project during their senior year

"My summers have been like working sabboths," he says, "time to study, learn, and grow. They've made him more and more committed to being a prophetic voice for creation care.

"A statement made in a commencement address by Dr. Gordon Spykman some years ago remains with me always," he says: "'Nothing matters but the kingdom, but because of the kingdom everything matters."