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Faculty and Students

Mentoring Young Politicians

Professor Doug Koopman spent 15 years venturing through the corridors of Capitol Hill before arriving in the corridors of Calvin College. And it wasn't disillusionment with the political sphere that made him take up teaching.

"There is nothing too dirty about the politics in America that Christians have to wall it off. There are more people of integrity, character, ethics, and sincerity in politics than I can count. And I try to get my students into that system," he said.

Indeed, thanks to his influence, several of Koopman's former students now stride through various state and federal corridors of power. "He's very versatile—a good scholar, a good teacher, a good administrator. He's very willing to engage with students," said Corwin Smidt, director of Calvin's Paul B. Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics.

A 1979 graduate of Hope College, Koopman sampled two seminary programs before finding a semester-long internship at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. "I moved down there and fell in love with the city and the church. A three-month internship became a career," he said.

To stay, Koopman knew he needed a job, and he found one in the office of Illinois representative Paul Findley. In the ensuing years, Koopman would work for representatives Larry Winn, Paul Henry (for whom he worked as press secretary), Fred Upton, Dick Armey, and Peter Hoekstra. From 1990 to 1992, Koopman was a staff person for the joint economic committee.

Working full time in politics, he also worked part time on his doctorate at Catholic University. "I knew I wanted to teach college, and I knew I had to figure out what I was going to do when I grew up."

In 1995, a mature Koopman came to Calvin. In addition to teaching, he served as program director for the Henry Institute. Along with Smidt, Koopman formulated the Paul B. Henry Semester in Washington, D.C., which sends Calvin students into the world of politics.

"Already, Calvin has a self-perpetuating network in Washington to help young grads get a start. This last semester, six seniors went to Washington; five are going to stay," Koopman said.

It is Calvin's vision of transforming culture that allows him to forge his redemptive connection to politics. "Calvin is a wonderful place where I can encourage students to be active in political life and to keep their Christianity with them as they do so," he said.

More than one former student of Doug Koopman will tell you that, in the words of Rebecca Jones Hunt '99, "He can certainly hold his own with a paintbrush and gallon of paint." Helping to paint her new apartment was one way Koopman prodded Hunt out of her comfort zone and into the Washington scene.

"I spent a semester there, loved the city, but was way too level-headed and responsible to just move out there and see who would hire me. Professor Koopman called friends, old colleagues, and former friends, looking for someone who was hiring—all the while encouraging me to ‘just move out there and throw caution to the wind,'" she reminisced.

Since 2000, Hunt has worked for Michigan representative Peter Hoekstra, writing legislation and shaping public policy. "Where would I be without Doug Koopman? Probably still in Grand Rapids," she hazarded.

Elizabeth Wallish '99, another Koopman protégé, now works as controller for the Henry L. Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank dealing with issues of chemical and biological weapons and terrorism. She told a similar story of Koopman's magnanimity: "Professor Koopman has been an incredible encouragement to me in both my personal and professional life. He has challenged me to expand my thinking about God's plan for me in the world."

He also helped her paint her living room.

 

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Philosophy professor Rebecca DeYoung
Political science professor Doug Koopman

 

"Calvin is a wonderful place where I can encourage students to be active in political life and to keep their Christianity with them as they do so."

 

 

Rebecca Jones Hunt
Rebecca Jones Hunt poses near a familar landmark. Hunt, who works in the office of Rep. Peter Hoekstra, is married to Ryan Hunt '01, who works in the office of Dianne Feinstein, senator from California.

 

 

"I absolutely love my job," said Elizabeth Wallish of her work at the Stimson Center. In addition to its work on chemical and biological weapons, the center studies best practices in emergency response to terrorism, peace operations, and confidence-building measures to reduce risks in countries with nuclear capabilities.