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Building Relationships
Communications professor Quentin Schultze takes teaching beyond the classroom.
Bv Phil deHaan '84

 

Calvin College professor Quentin Schultze skipped childhood. But not by choice.

The youngest son of an alcoholic father and a paranoid schizophrenic mother, Schultze grew up, for the most part, on his own. His parents divorced when he was in fourth grade, at a time when his two older brothers, one nine years his senior and the other a dozen years older than he, were "long gone."

He lived for a time with his dad, but mostly with his mom, the two of them together in a tiny and run-down trailer. Guidance from his parents, now both deceased, was infrequent. He was, he said now, painfully introverted, afraid to let anyone know what his life was like.

A nominal Catholic as a child he said that what saved him was grace. "It's why I'm a Calvinist," he said witb a wry smile. "It was nothing I did to survive. It was God's grace. He had something in mind for me."

Yet Schultze acknowledges that God's grace, even during childhood, had a face. Or, at first, a voice.

"Ham radio may have saved me," said Schultze. His smile now is accented by eyes that shine a little behind his glasses as he travels back in time to the 1960s when he was a high school student in Chicago and ham radio was his refuge from the world. "I had a lot of friends that I met via ham radio. I discovered it in high school and I really got into it. I was able to get away from my problems and just talk to people on-line. One kind man in particular was like a father to me. He was about my dad's age and he had a son about my age. Ironically, he was blind. We used to talk via Morse Code late at night. And I met other people like that. Ham radio got me through a lot of tough times in my life."

After high school Schultze went on to the University of Illinois where he wanted to study engineering, as a result of his technical interest in ham radio. As an Illinois State Scholar he could attend any of the state schools on a free ride, another gift that he said he never really earned (although his grades would beg to differ!). He soon discovered that he enjoyed the artful aspects of communication more than the technical side. He became a communication major and went on to earn his bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degrees at Illinois.

He points out that he never even took a graduate admission exam; his grad work was all by invitation. "One more sign from God," he said, "that I was on some sort of mysteriously pre-ordained track."

Since 1982 he has been a communication arts and sciences professor at Calvin. And his background, he said, has significantly shaped who he is as a teacher.

"The situation I grew up in created in me an empathy for underdogs of all kinds," he said, "and I think students are among the least listened to people in society. So for me a big part of teaching is helping them (students) find their voice and see their responsibility in life. What makes it worthwhile at a school like Calvin is that they almost always rise to the occasion. They recognize that life is more than a job, income or status -- it's a calling with cosmic responsibilities and ultimate implications. In a nutshell, that's what a Calvin education is all about."

His affinity for students is a big part of why Schultze has been named the 2000 recipient of Calvin College's prestigious Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching, the eighth such honoree dating back to the award's inception in 1993 by then-president Anthony Diekema. The award includes a one-of-a-kind medallion and provides the winner with a significant financial stipend thanks to the George B. and Margaret K. Tinholt Endowment fund, set up at Calvin by an anonymous donor in honor of George Tinholt, a former member of the Calvin Board of Trustees.

The respect Schultze has for his students is evident in the way he included them in the writing of his most recent book, the forthcoming Communicating for Life (Baker Book House). It's a Biblical theology of communication. And it represents, he said, "the culmination of my Biblical thinking during what is now a 25-year career in communication."

That's a significant admission. For Schultze is a world-class scholar and researcher. His work on the intersections of faith and electronic communication has made him a sought-after lecturer, consultant and media source. He began by studying faith and advertising, wrote extensively on the medium of radio and then published a well-received book on evangelicals and the mass media and one on TV evangelists before moving on to become one of the top experts in the country on faith and the Internet. He not only wrote a book called Internet for Christians (since translated into Korean, Japanese, Spanish, German and Finnish), he also was one of the founders of the Gospel Films (now Gospel Communications Network) website, called Gospelcom.net, a alliance of over 230 Christian organizations that consistently ranks as the most visited religious website on the internet.

He has written or edited nine books and some 41 book chapters and scholarly essays. He has written over 100 articles for religious periodicals, done over 300 interviews for print media and over 200 broadcast interviews with media outlets ranging from The Today Show to Larry King. He has done book reviews, numerous college and university lectures, talks to 200 church and parachurch groups and scores of scholarly papers.

Yet he is most proud of the scholarship behind his latest book, largely, he said, "because of the way students invested themselves in making it a stirring and inspirational manuscript."

Last year, in January 1999, Schultze taught a three-week course at Calvin called "Communicating for Shalom." The course essentially was a chapter-by-chapter critique of the book, then in draft form, by the 18 Calvin students in the class. At the end of the three weeks, said Schultze, the book had changed, the students had changed and he had changed.

"God used the course to build community," he said, "and to teach us the power and responsibility of human communication. It's a much better book because of it (the course). If you give Calvin students a challenge they more than rise to the occasion. The daily news gives you one picture of young people in our society. Teaching at Calvin, for me, produces a very different and positive picture."

The writing of that book mirrors Schultze's philosophy of teaching. He believes strongly in "investing in his students." And he said, when that happens "students respond by investing God's gifts in their own education."

"In that class," he said, "we were co-learning. And those are the situations in which the best kind of learning takes place. I look at teaching as investing in students. I invest time, talent and expertise. Students almost always respond by investing too. And then we are able to learn together."

His desire to co-learn with his students is one of the reasons Schultze's research is always on the cutting edge, as with his vast internet expertise. "Students need," he said, "to feel the relevance of lectures and discussions. One way to gain that relevance is to teach at the connection between age-old questions and current events. So, for example, what does the growth of the Internet say about human nature? Why are the two things that people look for on the internet sex and God? What does that say about who we are? About what our needs are? My research is first and foremost a way to keep my teaching relevant. It doesn't change the questions I ask, but it does change the context."

That philosophy also guides Schultze's writings, most of which are aimed at a general audience.

"I discovered," he said, "that for me the best teaching is accessible to any motivated student, whether it's a 17-year-old or a 70-year-old. I want my courses and my writing and my speaking to be accessible to any educated reader or listener. And I try to be both informative and inspirational. I believe communication is at the heart of who we are as people."

Schultze's former students resonate with their mentor's love for communicating. They send him letters or e-mail regularly (he gets some 100 e-mails a day!), keeping him posted on their various ventures, including work in TV, radio, film, newspapers, public relations, the Internet and more. One student noted that the first paper he wrote for Schultze earned him the lowest grade he had ever received in college. He added that Schultze then spent considerable time with him, taking the paper apart and exploring ways to improve it.

Said the student: "Those one-on-one sessions vastly improved my work in communication studies and in other disciplines as well." He concluded by calling Schultze a man of extraordinary scholarship and passionate commitment to students.

Another student said simply: "He is widely recognized as a leader in Christian communications, one who understands how both traditional and new media can be valuable tools for transforming our culture. He instills this understanding in his students by relating communications to their experiences in today's diverse and influential cilture. His students gain not only knowledge but also the cultural and media literacy so needed for Christians to serve effectively today."

Even those who have not been his classroom students have learned from Schultze. Ken Wales, producer of Christy, a CBS TV series, calls Schultze a master teacher and notes that his students "go out into the world and in turn influence others with their values, their intelligence and their fine accomplishments." Added Wales: "(His) very life teaches others to love God and serve their neighbors."

Rich DeVos, co-founder of Amway Corporation, got to know Schultze through the pair's work for Gospel Communications Network. He calls Schultze "a natural teacher, called by God to encourage others to learn" and notes that Schultze's students, under his leadership, built the Gospelcom website into the leading internet ministry in the world.

Schultze shrugs off the acclaim. "The classroom," he said, "is a place for cosmic purpose. Undergraduate teaching is primarily a weaving of relationships. Calvin values, as do I, the daily interaction of students and faculty as crucial to a Christian liberal arts education. That interaction is deeply satisfying and a source of real joy. It creates a kind of spiritual annuity that lasts beyond the life of any professor or college. That's what teaching is all about."--Phil deHaan is Calvin's media relations director.

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