By: Rieneke Helder | November 11, 2022
According to Human Resources, there are currently around forty-seven faculty, staff, and coaches at Redeemer that were once students here. This population comprises around 20% of the employees at Redeemer. From the outside, one can only imagine what the transition from student to faculty might be like. Three alumni who now are employees of Redeemer shared their experiences, including what drove them to want to work at Redeemer University in the first place.
Hank de Jong, an alumnus from the class of ’99, is now Associate Vice President of External Relations. This role renders him responsible for two areas: donor relations and strategic relations, the latter of which includes alumni, parents, community, government, and churches. Generally, all external stakeholders fall under de Jong’s responsibility.
“After graduating, I worked first at Mission Services of Hamilton and then at EduDeo Ministries,” de Jong explained. “I’ve always loved Redeemer, and I loved my time here. I have lived in very close proximity to Redeemer, so I have been here often since graduating. I’ve always had a strong affinity for Redeemer and its energy.
“The reality is that I had conversations with a number of people in leadership over the last five to seven years about the potential of me working here, but it never came to be—until this last time, when Dr. Robert Graham approached me and talked about me potentially joining the staff. I think in the back of my mind I knew at some point that I would end up working here. But until Dr. Graham spoke with me a few years ago, I had yet to feel released from what I was doing at the time. I wasn’t quite done what God was calling me to do. But this last time, I felt like the time was right to make the transition.”
In this role, de Jong’s stories of his time as student have been crucial in being able to represent Redeemer well in his interactions with stakeholders. It is evident that Redeemer’s mission has shaped far more than just him.
“I can share the impact that Redeemer had on my own life,” de Jong said, “how it actually situated and prepared me well for what I did beyond Redeemer. I worked in and networked with a lot of other not-for-profits, and I was always encouraged to see that many of them had employees who graduated from Redeemer. I saw Redeemer in action while I was working outside of here, and that is a story that I share when I connect with donors.”
In addition to the world of donor relations, personal testimonies of a Redeemer education come in handy when working in admissions, to which Sarah Bittel can attest to.
Bittel graduated from Redeemer in 2019 and knew fairly quickly that she wanted to return one day as a faculty member. Today, she serves as Senior Admissions Manager in the admissions department, overseeing and supporting the work of admissions counselors and helping with some of the more big picture ideas.
“I have wanted to work here since my second year as a student,” she shared. “That’s when I started in Admissions as a student worker and that’s when I thought, ‘I want that job.’ I wanted to talk to students forever and ever about why I love Redeemer.
“I began my role in the summer [after graduating], so it didn’t feel weird to transition out of being a student right away. But as students got back into things it was definitely strange not being a student anymore, knowing that there were things like Hotspot and dorm dinners still going on, just not for me. On top of that, being an admissions counsellor involves a lot of travel. I went from being involved in absolutely everything as a student to being on the road for three months in a row. It was a hard transition in that way.”
Ultimately, Bittel sees merit in her experience as a student here and believes it has translated in some very positive ways to her ability to do her job well. At the same time, her role here now has shaped how she looks back and reflects on her years of undergraduate studies:
“I feel as though I am able to portray the Redeemer experience so that other people can feel it. The facts and details are important, but the stories are what help me to do my job well. I have the passion for Redeemer because I was a student here. Inversely, I am now able to see all that goes into thinking about the students in a way that I couldn’t before I worked here, when I was one of the students being thought about.”
As for future goals, Bittel is excited for the future for both herself and Redeemer University and more than content to stay longer to see more of what God is doing:
“I don’t feel left behind, but I think other people have felt that for me. Even some parents and friends have asked if I’m planning on leaving Redeemer; I think it seems like less of a jump into the ‘real world.’ Personally, however, I have experienced so much growth here, and I love the world of Christian higher education so much.
“Having been a student at Redeemer when they had lower enrollment and had to make some hard decisions, it makes me so excited to see how many people are coming now, to see students thriving and going out to shape the world wherever they end up.”
Similarly, Kyle Spyksma—Interim Vice President, Academic and Associate Professor of Mathematics and Physics—graduated from Redeemer in 2001 with a degree in mathematics and computer science.
“I’m responsible for everything that goes on program-wise and classroom-wise,” he explained. “The lines of responsibility all come to me and through me to the senate.”
He believes that what he learned in his degree has translated well to his role now: “A big part of the role is being organized; you have to think logically. Math, physics, and computer science are all about trying to figure out how to break a very complicated problem down. That skill has really helped me in my job now.”
Unlike Bittel and de Jong, Spyksma did not begin his studies at Redeemer. “My undergrad experience began at a large university in British Columbia,” he shared. “I can still tell you what my student number was there—that’s who I was. Initially, I wanted to do a year at Redeemer to help construct [my] worldview. I didn’t see it at the time, but really, that’s what I felt I was missing studying math and physics at a big, secular university. I came and had such a great experience that included getting to know my professors, and it was by God’s providence that I actually ended up taking my old physics professor’s job.”
As with other alumni, Spyksma’s experience as a student has helped him discern how to be a part of the leadership team at Redeemer:
“I had a very good idea of what some of the founding faculty wanted Redeemer to be because I was being taught by them when I was a student here more than twenty years ago. I understood the housing model, and I lived in the same dorms that students are living in now. I experienced the relationship between life on campus and life in the classroom, how important each one is. I understand the importance of those gatherings, the real sense of community, the joy and the fun that is part of being at Redeemer, and those are things I really treasured and don’t want to let go of, even if now my focus is really on the academic side of Redeemer.”
A Redeemer education is by no means a streamlined process that grooms employees for Redeemer, but it is interesting to see the proportion of employees that once went here as students. Regardless of where alumni end up, the evidence of Redeemer’s impact on their lives is encouraging for the community of Redeemer and all those backing its mission.
As Hank de Jong put it, “Redeemer is important today in preparing students to be distinct Christ-followers in a world that is clamoring for hope. The brokenness in our world is being exposed all the time. Redeemer prepares students to shine the light and grace of Jesus into those areas of brokenness, to be people of hope wherever God calls them to.”