April 24, 2024 | Matt Kucinski

Stacia Hoeksema surrounded by students, faculty, staff, and family celebrating her.
On Tuesday, April 23, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and family members surprised Stacia Hoeksema in honoring her as the 2024 Professor of the Year!

Stacia Hoeksema has been teaching in Calvin’s social work department for more than two decades.

“Stacia is the best of us,” said Professor Mark Mulder, a colleague of hers. “She gives an incredible amount of herself to her colleagues, but even more so to her students.”

On Tuesday, April 22, 2024, those words were validated when a gathering of family, friends, colleagues, and current and former students showed up to celebrate Hoeksema for being named the 2024 Professor of the Year—an award granted by the Student Alumni Association on behalf of the senior class to honor a current Calvin faculty member who has made an impact on the lives of his or her students.

“To me, this is the most meaningful award because the students are why I’m doing this,” said Hoeksema. “These are amazing students, and I’m grateful to be someone who gets to be part of their life.”

Prioritizing her students

For many students, Hoeksema is seen as a central figure during their college years.

“She’s kind of like a mom to everyone in the department,” said Lilly Cooper, a senior social work major. “She takes really good care of all of us.”

“She’s the most compassionate person I’ve ever met. She genuinely cares for her students,” said Annaliese Admiraal, a senior social work and sociology double major.

“She prioritizes us and our needs first,” said Aviva Philip, a senior social work major. “Whenever she comes to the department, she’ll sit with you and talk with you … and then she’ll go back to her work.”

Helping students feel seen, heard

Hoeksema takes the time to invest in her students, because she knows college is a high stakes time for them.

“It’s an important time in their life. They are asking important questions such as who am I? What is my place and purpose in this world? How do I understand my faith and my relationship with God as my own rather than just the way I was raised? Important parts of the differentiation process happen here, and to me it’s so rewarding when students allow me into some of their struggles, their questions, their doubts,” said Hoeksema. “I just love being a part of that, and so this award is really, really meaningful.”

She is also committed to making sure everyone feels welcome.

“I think she’s the most culturally competent professor I’ve ever met,” said Philip. “Being a BIPOC person coming into the social work department she embraced me, welcomed me, and made me feel just as important as every other student here, possibly even more. It’s one of the reasons why I think she deserves this, and she should be recognized for whatever she does here.”

“I really want Calvin to be a place where everyone feels like they belong, so that means a lot to me to hear that students feel like I’ve been able to create such a space,” said Hoeksema. “Honestly, I believe that creating a place of welcome and belonging is an important part of what God calls us to do in this world, so for students to say that is even a small part of the impact I’ve made here is really rewarding.”

Creating community behind bars

And Hoeksema not only creates these spaces where students feel they belong on Calvin’s campus, but also at Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia where she’s taught in the Calvin Prison Initiative Program for the past four years.

“She’s got a big heart and that shows,” said Cora Vanden Heuvel, a senior social work major who traveled to Handlon Correctional Facility to take an inside-out class taught by Hoeksema. “She’s also incredibly empathetic. She’s really humble, she knows she has a lot to learn from them as well, and she looks forward to those conversations that take place in that setting where everyone is excited to learn from one another.”

“It’s really fun being a social work professor there, because so many of the relational skills that we are working on, the students are actually using not only with other inmates but also in their relationships with their families at home. So, I love being able to teach that practical piece,” said Hoeksema. “They are so welcoming and encouraging and it’s just such a rewarding part of my teaching experience.”

Christ-centered approach

And whether teaching in a classroom or in a prison, Hoeksema’s faith is at the center.

“She radiates faith in everything she does and in service to people,” said Admiraal.

“It’s the reason I went into social work. To me, faith and social work are inextricably linked. And I think it’s really important for students to explore that,” said Hoeksema. “We have students who are all over the place in terms of their faith journey. So, creating an environment where students can wrestle with and ask hard questions about the brokenness and suffering and injustices of the world is essential in our field. Yet, they are in a place (at Calvin) where they are invited to pursue a relationship with the One who holds them and the world together and who calls them through their role as social workers to be a part of the redemptive process. That’s remarkable work and I’m so grateful I get to do it each day."

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