Marissa Wynja ’18
First grade teacher, JAK Academy, Ti Rivière, Haiti
Marissa Wynja

Servant’s heart

Marissa always knew she wanted to be an educator, and her time at Northwestern confirmed her calling. She spent a summer teaching English in Eastern Europe and student-taught in Denver, where she worked with students from diverse cultural backgrounds. Both experiences helped her prepare for teaching at the Jean Alexis Kuislin Christian Academy, where two of her fellow teachers are Northwestern alumni. As a student, Marissa was a member of the Red Raider dance team, a discipleship group leader, a student ambassador and orientation staff member, and a “semi-frequent” participant in intramurals.

Why Northwestern?

I chose Northwestern because of its strong core values in faith and quality of education. It’s home to some of the kindest people, and the idea of being involved in several activities while building relationships with so many people had me sold. Plus, I’m from Orange City, and being close to home was a bonus.

Why did you decide to major in education?

I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was young. Growing up with parents who work in education, I had peace going into college that this was the path I wanted to take as well. I love walking alongside students as they slowly learn a new concept and seeing their confidence grow as it finally clicks.  

How did your Northwestern education prepare you for your teaching position?

Northwestern's education professors made me feel valued as a person and as a future educator. Having so many opportunities to work in a variety of classrooms and working with faculty and staff who have a wide range of experience in the field was so helpful in preparing me to become a teacher. I have so much yet to learn, but thanks to Northwestern, I have skills—from time management to working with kids with trauma to learning a new language—while also integrating faith in all I do. This took years of practice, and while I am still learning, my time at Northwestern made the transition to my own classroom much easier.  

How would you describe NWC professors?

Northwestern professors held us to a high standard, and they were always there to talk and answer questions of all sorts. Some started every class with a prayer or devotions, while others would meet with me over a cup of coffee simply to ask how things were going. I am so thankful for the professors who invested in me while on campus and still reach out and check in.

What experiences at NWC impacted your decision to teach abroad?

Throughout college, we talked about what it looked like to be a teacher as servant—looking at an education career as a way to serve and bless others. I spent a summer in Eastern Europe with Northwestern’s Summer of Service program, and part of my role was teaching English. I fell in love with learning about a new culture while also working alongside children of all backgrounds. It was one of the most stretching and affirming experiences I’ve had. When searching for jobs, I couldn't help but come back to this foundation of serving that my education was built on. 

How has teaching abroad impacted your faith?

Being in a new country where life is simpler yet more difficult in some ways has taught me to rely on Jesus for everything. Not always having reliable power or control over the unrest going on in Haiti has required stubborn me to surrender full control. I also have some students with severe trauma that comes out in some pretty rough behaviors at school. Jesus has been generous in showing me that even when I disobey him over and over again, he still loves and cares just the same amount; therefore I have no excuse not to do the same. Even when I am frustrated or feel unequipped, I am reminded that all I need to do is follow and trust that the Lord will provide. Many of my students come from difficult home lives where nearly everything is inconsistent, including food and guardians. They have already endured more than I ever will. I’ve been learning what it means to trust that God will provide my daily bread and that he is protecting and providing for my students even when I cannot.