Political science prof receives Northwestern Teaching Excellence Award

Dr. Jeff VanDerWerff, professor of political science at Northwestern College, has been named this year’s recipient of the Northwestern Teaching Excellence Award. He was honored during the college’s commencement ceremony on May 14.

Sponsored by the Alumni Association, the award is administered by a selection committee made up of members of the Student Government Association and the Sigma Tau senior honor society, along with past award winners and a representative of the Faculty Development Committee. Nominations were received for 15 faculty members. The committee chose Dr. Tim McGarvey, professor of music; Dr. Byron Noordewier, professor of biology; Dr. Jackie Smallbones, professor of religion and Christian education; and Dr. John Vonder Bruegge, assistant professor of religion, as finalists along with VanDerWerff.

The major factor used in selected the award winner is evidence of strong teaching ability. The committee looks at faculty vitae, service reports and course evaluations in addition to the comments of nominators.

A member of Northwestern’s faculty since 1999, VanDerWerff is described as a very dedicated professor. “Whether it be the amount of time he spends grading to ensure students receive valuable feedback or just simply discussing ideas over coffee, there is never a doubt in my mind that he is putting all he has into his work,” wrote one student in a letter of nomination. “Dr. VanDerWerff is quite possibly the best teacher I have ever had.”

Students also commended VanDerWerff for his integration of faith and learning. “He has broadened my range of political ideas, not only in relation to my world and country, but also to my heart and my faith,” wrote a student. “He truly challenges students to identify the brokenness of the world, seek possible solutions and then live lives that pursue God’s redeeming work in the world. During discussions, students are able to share opinions because they feel comfortable in the positive classroom environment he creates. Rather than telling us the ‘right’ answers, Dr. VanDerWerff challenges us to think about how a Christian should seek justice.”

VanDerWerff teaches American politics, public policy, religion and politics, and constitutional law. He also serves as the pre-law adviser. A 1983 Northwestern College graduate, he holds a doctorate in American politics and public administration from the University of Kansas and a master’s from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Research interests include religion and politics and political theology. He previously worked for eight years as a counselor, assistant director and associate director in Northwestern’s admissions office.