Honoring master teachers and life-changers

Make a nomination

Nominations due January 1.

These professors have made an impact in the classroom—and lives—by consistently integrating faith with learning.

Presented annually by the alumni association, this award recognizes Calvin's outstanding faculty. The criteria include teaching excellence, spiritual impact, care for the whole student and lasting influence.

Award recipients

We congratulate the 2017 recipients, Robin Jensen, professor of art, emeritus, and Dale Cooper, professor of religion emeritus. Celebrate with us:

Current recipients

Robin Jensen: The artist continues his jaunt

Robin Jensen never pictured himself as a Calvin College professor. Now, looking back on a 30-year teaching career, he is deeply grateful for the experience and the chance to inspire creativity in young people. Jensen was an Air Force veteran teaching art at in Dayton, Ohio, when Calvin College became aware of him and sent the only teacher of art at the college at the time, Edgar Boeve, to meet him. “I was in an interview situation before I knew it,” he recalled. “But I could tell right away that I was at home [at Calvin], as far as teaching.” Jensen coined the term “jaunting” to describe his artistic adventures—journeys on which he invited students to join him. “The word ‘jaunt’ itself means a happy journey,” he said. “Well, that fits with education—it’s a journey, and it should be happy, to learn things. So I had my own definition for jaunting, which was ‘a life journey full of creative adventures, personal growth, praising God and wonderful surprises.’” He called all of the projects he assigned to his art students, jaunts. Students related well to his term and the teacher-student bond was strong. Peter De Boer ’81, an alumnus who nominated Robin for the award wrote, “Life is a jaunt for Robin. It’s a jaunt with and for God. He’s a faithful servant who is eager to see what is around the next bend and then illustrating a light-hearted lesson about what he found.” Jensen said that his favorite class was the basic introduction to art, which was a part of the core curriculum and full of non-art majors. He found joy in coaxing creativity from his students, championing the approach that “the art was in the idea,” and creative expression would eventually flow from a student’s need to express that idea. Jensen required many sketches from his students, to encourage them to see deeply and get to know the subject of their art. “I’d always say, ‘Everything talks, you just have to know how to listen,’” he said. He is also remembered for his bicycling interim experiences, the first one a cross-country jaunt from California to Florida in 1980. That’s also how photography was introduced into the Calvin curriculum, as the “academic” component of that class. Many Christian Reformed adults recall fondly Jensen’s simple, eye-catching drawings of people reacting to Heidelberg Catechism themes in the study books penned by Gordon Spykman and used by many churches in the 1960s and ‘70s. Today, Jensen continues to create art—primarily through computer-manipulated images—and to ride his bicycle. Recently, he was featured in Florida newspapers for going on an 87-mile bike trip on his 87th birthday. De Boer noted that Jensen “continues to be a purple-clad, soft-spoken ambassador for Christ through his artistic expression and love for dusty, two-lane classrooms.”

Cooper

Dale Cooper: The “little fellow” with a big impact

Dale Cooper describes himself as an “unusually ordinary little fellow,” but of course, there’s no one in the Calvin College community that would agree with that assessment. For 30 years, “Coop” made his mark on the Calvin community, both in religion department classrooms and as the college’s chaplain. “His pastoral heart has endeared him to generations of students,” wrote Crystal De Weerd Unema ’67, who nominated Cooper for the award. When he was three years old, his mother contracted polio and never left the iron lung to which she was confined; Cooper’s dad quit his job as an onion farmer and spent the next 39 years at her side. The experience shaped his life. Today, reflecting on a career as a pastor of college students, he said, “To be given the privilege of being able to enter the arena of human pain, in my case, with younger people at Calvin College, students who were in the hospital or bereaved, those were certainly among my most fulfilling parts of ministry. “Perhaps, probably, God used those circumstances in my family’s life so that I could minister to others,” said Cooper. He believes he had “the best of three worlds” as a college teacher and chaplain: he could teach, he could preach and he could be a pastor to 4,000 young people. Among his favorite classes to teach were courses on John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and the interim explorations of the contemplatives, especially Thomas Merton—and the meaningful time spent taking students to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, where Merton lived. Cooper said he is often asked if he is worried about the faith of the next generation and of the church they will be leading. “With as much sincerity as I can muster, I can tell you that I am not discouraged about the future of the church,” he said. “And young people—more specifically my students here at Calvin College—have been instruments of God to give me fresh hope.” It was always Cooper’s aim to walk alongside of his students and to orient his ministry around five things: to help them feel understood; to feel accepted; to feel that they are loved; when necessary, that they are forgiven; and to feel that he, as their chaplain, is trustworthy and would keep his promises to them. He is Calvinist-characteristically humbled by receiving the Faith and Learning Award and believes that perhaps the spiritual virtue of gratitude is the best response. “I think that one of the ways God could be honored in this would be—at least for this little fellow—to cultivate gratitude,” he said. “It has given me the opportunity to reflect of the gifts God has given, and one of them is my long, long participation in the life of Calvin College.” One thing’s for certain: “Coop” is not a “little fellow” in the lives of hundreds and hundreds of Calvin graduates who had the blessing of his teaching, preaching and wise counsel. “Rev. Cooper has influenced students for years as a Christian role model,” wrote Unema. “His caring, counseling and spiritual guidance to Calvin students is superior… and he truly embodies and reflects the Christian values to which all Calvin alumni can aspire.”

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Eligibility and selection criteria

Only Calvin alumni may make nominations for this award. Faculty eligible includes emeriti or faculty who have moved to another institution.

This recipient is a master teacher, making a significant impact on Calvin students in training for a life of service in God's Kingdom.

  1. Any living, formerly full-time Calvin College faculty member is eligible.
  2. The membership of the Calvin Alumni Association will nominate candidates. Only Calvin alumni may nominate candidates.
  3. The criteria for selection consists of the following areas:
    • Excellence in teaching: This professor creates in students an excitement for learning, draws them into the subject matter, and challenges their intellect;
    • Spiritual impact: This professor is a Christian role model for students, nurturing faith and facilitating spiritual growth;
    • Concern for students: This professor is concerned for the welfare of the students and eager to help them learn and grow;
    • Lasting influence: This professor's teaching has a continuing influence on former students.