Professor of the Year: Cal JenMay 22, 2009
For presumably the first time ever, Calvin’s prestigious Professor of the Year award is going to a professor who is named after the college. Business professor Cal Jen, the son of Chinese immigrants, was born the year his father graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary.
"So that is how I got named Cal. I got named after this place,” said Jen. “My three siblings all have biblical names, so I am the only one with a non-biblical name. But in Reformed circles, it is almost better.”
The Professor of the Year is selected through a vote of the Calvin graduating class. Jen is the 12th winner of the award. “I don’t feel very deserving,” he said. “There are so many better professors here who have been doing it for so much longer.”
Jen teaches in the business department currently, but that was not always the case. After teaching architecture classes for eight years in the Calvin engineering department, he switched to business at invitation of his good friend Dave Cook, the chair of the business department. Cook asked Jen to teach an introduction to business class to help students better correlate theory with practice. He has taught in business at Calvin for almost four years.
Senior Camie Venhuizen, who wrote a nomination for Jen for Professor of the Year, was in the very first section of intro to business that he taught. Venhuizen confessed that she was initially disappointed that Jen was substituting for a professor she really wanted to take: “I was upset because I thought I would be missing out on an amazing opportunity to learn from such a gifted man; little did I know or realize what I would actually be gaining instead … ,” she said. “I feel so blessed to have had Professor Jen; I truly believe that it was a providential act from God,” wrote Venhuizen, who referred to Jen as the “greatest blessing of my entire college experience.” Jen, she said, became a great friend to whom she could go to for “advice, editing, prayer, conversation, listening ears, and encouragement.”
On Thursday morning, May 7, Norm Zylstra, Calvin coordinator of student and young alumni programs, organized an impromptu party in Jen’s class (and without Jen’s prior knowledge): “Our concern was that they would have a test that day, and we didn’t want to come busting in on a test,” Zylstra said. Fortunately, he added, there was no test and the party went very well. Jen will be presented with a clock that has a plaque on it commemorating his victory at the Zero Day Brunch on Saturday, May 23.
"God has always given me a heart for college students,” said Jen. "I am not entirely sure why, except that I recognize it.” He likes to encourage a discussion-oriented atmosphere. He said that he tries to call on every single student in his classes every class period to encourage them to share what God has given them to share. “I think discussion format helps to engage the students,” said Jen. "Rather than just talk to them, I’d rather draw things out of them, and help them learn from each other. Not just from me, but to learn from each other.”
Before coming to Calvin, Jen grew up in Taiwan where his parents served as missionaries. He spent two years at Calvin College as a student before earning his bachelor’s degree in science and his master’s degree in architecture from the University of Michigan.
After finishing up his education, Jen held several positions in the business world. He worked for a long time as an architect for Domino’s Pizza, during that company’s time of explosive growth beginning in 1982. Jen stayed on at Domino’s for nine years and rose to the rank of Senior Vice President of real estate and human resources. During his time at Domino’s, Jen also taught part-time at the University of Michigan. He had about 100 employees directly under him at Domino’s and an operating budget of approximately 20 million dollars—but was not content with where he was in his life.
"I thought this is great, but I didn’t go to school to become a business person. I went to school to be an architect,” said Jen. So he started his own architecture firm in Ann Arbor in 1992 and named it AMDG Architects. When he relocated the business to Grand Rapids in 1994, he began teaching again, this time at Calvin College.
Jen, who sold his interest in his firm in 2007, said that perhaps this Professor of the Year award is a small confirmation that he is where God wants him to be for now: “The award will encourage me to figure out how to reach students even more, deeper, to teach them adequately, to make it fun, to make it enjoyable,” said Jen. “I am always thinking about how I can make every class period memorable. How can I draw each student closer to God?”
Although he went to school to be an architect and not a "business person," Jen is enjoying his time in the business department. “I just feel tremendously blessed to be here,” said Jen. “Calvin is a wonderful, wonderful college with a wonderful mission.”
~by Matt Decker, communications and marketing