Religion professor receives teaching excellence award

John Vonder Bruegge, instructor in religion at Northwestern College, has been named this year’s recipient of the Northwestern Teaching Excellence Award. He received a $1,500 check and a plaque at the college’s Honors Convocation on May 5.

The award is sponsored by the Alumni Association and the Student Government Association (SGA). Students nominated 27 professors for the honor, with 60 nominations being received. A selection committee—composed of two SGA members, three members of the Sigma Tau senior honor society and the past two award winners—pared the nominees to three finalists.

Factors considered in the decision-making process included the number of nominations in relation to candidates’ class sizes, quality of nominations, professional development, research and publications, institutional service and student course evaluations.

The other finalists were Dr. Graham Lemke, associate professor of business and economics, and Dr. Scott Monsma, associate professor of sociology.

Vonder Bruegge, in his fifth year on the faculty, was described by those who nominated him as having a love for both students and Scripture. Students said they enjoyed his classes because of his focus on helping them understand the material, his strong effort to get to know them, and his quirky sense of humor.

“He made biblical studies accessible, interesting, exciting and even challenging for me, all the while maintaining a respect for students and an infectious love for the material,” wrote senior Kailen Fleck, a theatre major from Friesland, Wis. “He is an understanding and compassionate prof who greatly encourages his students to constructively form their own opinions while still maintaining a sense of incomplete and unsatisfied curiosity and wonder of the mystery of God.”

“He has the distinct ability to make any subject matter absolutely fascinating and is one of the most respected Northwestern professors I know of among my peers,” wrote Sara Moser, a senior religion major from Rockford, Iowa. “He has high expectations for his students but is encouraging so students feel they can actually meet his expectations. In fact, because they respect him so much, students really strive to meet his expectations and do well.”

Moser said Vonder Bruegge also went above and beyond his responsibilities as her academic adviser. “He has taught me what good teaching and good interaction with students can look like,” she wrote.

Vonder Bruegge’s teaching interests include early Christian history and literature, the New Testament and archaeology, Johannine literature, and Josephus and ancient Judaism.
A Ph.D. candidate in religious studies at Yale University, Vonder Bruegge earned a Master of Divinity degree from Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis and a Master of Theology degree from Harvard University. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri.

Prior to joining Northwestern’s faculty, he served as a research assistant at Harvard and Yale and as a teaching fellow and lecturer at Yale Divinity School. Vonder Bruegge also participated in an archaeological excavation in Turkey and studied archaeology in Israel and Greece.