Koene named Iowa Professor of Year

Piet Koene, instructor of Spanish at Northwestern College, has been named Iowa Professor of the Year for 2004 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Koene was selected as part of the U.S. Professors of the Year program, a national program sponsored by Carnegie and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education that recognizes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country. It is one of the most prestigious awards honoring professors.

Nearly 400 professors were nominated this year. In addition to 47 state winners, four national winners were chosen in four categories: baccalaureate colleges, community colleges, master’s universities and colleges, and doctoral and research universities. Announcement of the winners were made at an awards luncheon and Capitol Hill reception in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 18.

Koene is the first Iowa Professor of the Year to come from the western half of the state since the initial state winner was named in 1988. A member of Northwestern’s faculty for nearly five years, Koene received the college’s Teaching Excellence Award in 2003. He serves as chairman of the modern foreign languages department and is a major reason why the number of Spanish majors at Northwestern has tripled in the last four years to approximately 50 students.

A native of Canada, Koene graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and earned a master’s degree from the University of Toronto. He met his wife, Rosa, while living and working in Honduras. He also developed a passion for the Spanish language, Hispanic culture and missions while in Honduras—a passion that led to teaching and motivates a life characterized by service.

“He doesn’t just talk about the importance of knowing a language in order to love our neighbor better; he creates opportunities for us to actually do it,” says Jessica Mueller of O’Neill, Neb., who graduated last spring.

Students describe Koene as challenging, patient, generous, humble and tireless, with a fun sense of humor. He is known for assigning activities that require his students to interact with Spanish-speaking people in the community. Often that interaction is in the form of ministry: teaching English as a second language or working with youth at Amistad Cristiana, a Hispanic church he and his family attend in Sioux Center, Iowa.

“I cannot just lecture, and students cannot just absorb it,” Koene says of teaching Spanish. “They have to learn to use the language—to use the material and practice it in very concrete ways.”

Koene strives to provide plenty of opportunities for students to get that practice. In addition to encouraging students’ ministry to the area’s growing Hispanic population, he helps organize monthly Spanish chapels and serves as an adviser to the Spanish Club. He’s led study trips to Mexico and Spring Service Projects to Honduras. He also advises the college’s Spanish House, whose residents commit to speaking only Spanish and each week share a meal with Koene and his family.

“We speak Spanish the whole time,” says Lindsey Fredriks, a junior Spanish major from Ripon, Calif., about those meals. “We have a good time, and we laugh. When I think back on my time at Northwestern, the first thing about learning Spanish that comes to mind is the Koene family and my experiences in the Spanish House.”

Koene also serves as a translator in the community and has his students attend court cases to see him interpret a trial.

“He focuses special attention on the difficulties of Hispanics in this area, in the U.S. in general, and in Latin America,” Mueller says. “You can’t come away from his classes without having to struggle with issues of social justice and our responsibility as Christians.”

Community members are invited to a reception honoring Koene on Saturday, Dec. 4, 5-7 p.m. in Northwestern’s DeWitt Theatre Arts Center lobby.

Information on 2004 national winners
List of 2004 state winners
Previous Iowa Professors of the Year
Article on Piet Koene in Nov. 27 Des Moines Register
Article on Piet Koene from Summer 2003 Classic (PDF: go to page 15)