May 10, 2010 | Myrna Anderson

Biology professor Peter Tigchelaar wins Professor of the Year.

A quarter of an hour into Biology 323: “Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy,”  sophomore Kara Bielema stood up and announced, “I’m through with this! I’m out of here,” and stalked out of the lecture hall. Her classmates trailed out after her, and, after a brief pause, so did the professor Peter Tigchelaar. He found his vagrant class waiting in the hall with 50-or-so other students, biology faculty and family—and Norm Zylstra with six boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts.

"May I guess that at least some of you are in on this?” Tigchelaar queried.

The throng had gathered to congratulate the 35-year-veteran of the biology faculty on his accession to the title of Professor of the Year. Within minutes, the well-wishers were back in the classroom, munching on donuts and shaking Tigchelaar’s hand.

For the students

"He’ll take this seriously,” said Tigchelaar’s daughter, Jayne Rauwerda, who had taken the day off to be present with her husband Jim, 20-month-old son, Sammy, and her mother, Pat. “His whole heart is his students—totally.”

Professor of the Year is an honor conferred by a vote of Calvin’s senior class. And as in recent years, that vote has been organized by Zylstra, Calvin’s coordinator of young alumni and student programs.
"We’ve gone completely paperless this year,” he said of the process. which started with student nominations from which the names, genders and academic fields of the nominated had been stripped.

A committee of student leaders winnowed those nominations down to six, and Zylstra e-mailed that roster to the entire senior body politic for a vote. He learned that Tigchelaar was the winner last week.

"Never before in the history of Calvin College has the senior class so overwhelmingly voted for a single recipient,” said biology professor David DeHeer, who attended the celebration.  “Peter has mentored, befriended, helped and encouraged so many students.”

Keeping the lid on ...

The Professor of the Year festivities, including Bielema’s interruption, were originally planned for last Wednesday, May 5. However, when Zylstra learned that the honoree had planned an exam for that day, he postponed the hoopla. After that, the challenge was to keep the news from leaking out. “I got a few e-mails from students, saying, "Congratulations,’” Tigchelaar confessed. “I just figured something was up.”

He is delighted to be the people’s choice: “Short of getting married and having a bunch of grandchildren and all of that, I can’t think of anything that would mean more to me than being recognized by the students,” Tigchelaar said.

The Professor of the Year award is important because it recognizes the student voice, Zylstra said. “We have to realize that it’s important to continue to hear that voice—even when they’re alums.” (Earlier this year, English professor James Vanden Bosch was honored with the Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching, an award bestowed by the office of the provost.)

It was really hard to disrupt a class, said Bielema, a biology major, especially one taught by a professor she admired so much. “Tig, I didn’t mean it,” she said, hugging him at one point in the celebration.
"I know,” Tigchelaar said. “I didn’t know what you said. I just thought, ‘She has to go to the bathroom.’”

Receiving encomiums

Norm Zylstra and donuts

Reacting to the walkout

She's outta here!

Watch video of the Biology 323 walkout.

Previous Professor of the Year honorees

Cal Jen, business

Todd Vanden Berg, sociology

Joy Bonnema, biology

Dave Warners, biology

Steve Matheson, biology

William Vande Kopple, English

Dale Brown, English

Jennifer Holberg, English

James Vanden Bosch, English

Richard Whitekettle, religion

Ken Bratt, classics

Larry Louters, chemistry

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