International Intelligence: North Park Faculty
North Park faculty bring a world of wisdom to their classes—and we mean literally.
The international migration of students and faculty is a major trend in higher education, U.S. News and World Report announced just prior to publicizing its ranking of the world’s best universities last year.
“International reputation is an undeniable component of today’s world-class universities,” the magazine noted. “How better to evaluate that than to assess to what degree international students and international faculty are attracted to a given institution?”
By this criteria, North Park University does more than hold its own among its liberal arts peers. Not only do students come from 40 states and 33 countries, the faculty represent an equally eclectic mix. Hailing from as nearby as Canada and as far away as Taiwan (not to mention from dozens of nations in between), North Park professors bring with them perspectives as rich as their cultural backgrounds. They have come to teach in Chicago for a variety of reasons, not least of which is its reputation as a world-class city (and the second best global city for getting an education, according to Foreign Policy magazine in 2008). They have come to teach at North Park for the high caliber of its student body, whose commitment to faith and learning is equally impressive.
Meet just a few of North Park’s international faculty “ambassadors,” and learn how their experiences from living abroad not only enhance the life of their classrooms, but also enrich their approach to mentoring students and teaching them what it means to be global citizens.
Rajkumar Boaz Johnson, Professor and Chair of Biblical and Theological Studies
Home Country: India
He is casually known as the “slumdog professor”—a take on the 2009 Academy Award winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire. That’s because, like the title character in the film, Boaz Johnson grew up in the slums of India. Most of his childhood friends were illegally trafficked into slavery, and none that he can recall lived beyond age 30.
“I pinch myself every day to see whether this is a reality—teaching at North Park,” says Johnson. “God must have a purpose!”
His classes are filled with international illustrations from his younger days in India and teaching experiences in different parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe. In March, Johnson took a group of North Park students to India to visit the New Delhi slum where he was raised and to see the high school he attended as a teenager.
“My style of teaching is quite ‘Indian non-linear,’” he describes.“It is more in line with making disciples, just like the rabbis in the Bible and the gurus in India.”
Although he has taught around the world, Johnson says North Park University is still one of the most fascinating places to educate. “We have the world here,” he says. “We have Christian students who are very serious about their faith, and non-Christian students who are quite keen on learning about Christianity, all based in this huge center of rich culture called Chicago. I would not want to teach at any other place.”
Ida Maduram, Associate Professor of Education
Home Country: India
Maduram knows it was God’s guidance that brought her to Chicago all the way from Nagercoil, a small town at the southern tip of India. She teaches the first courses of the teacher education program as well as method courses, and observes students from the time they begin their studies until they graduate as prospective teachers. As students prepare to teach the children of the world in Chicago and beyond, she helps facilitate their shifts in perspective on diversity and their ability to adapt to other cultures.
“India is a potpourri of many cultures, languages, traditions, religions, and ethnicities,” Maduram says. “It has added rich and intimate perspectives to my understanding of the universal similarities within different cultures and how to celebrate human experiences that make us who we are.”
Stephen Chester, Professor of New Testament
Home Country: England/Scotland
Before coming to teach at North Park Theological Seminary in 2006, Stephen Chester spent all of his life in Great Britain—a fact that his accent, if not his teaching style, betrays. “I suspect my students feel that British educational culture has left me with a regrettably robust attitude toward grade inflation!” jokes Chester, who was born in Liverpool, England, lived in Wales, and studied at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
In addition to spending 18 years in Scotland, he married a Scottish wife (Betsy, with whom he has two sons, Iain and Mark), and became a minister of the Church of Scotland. He and his family currently worship at Immanuel Evangelical Covenant Church/Community Covenant Church—a partnership of two diverse congregations. “It has been a privilege and a joy to see the reality of the grace of God cutting across all human distinctions and bringing together those so different from each other in the name of Christ,” he says.
Chester adds that he has been thoroughly impressed with the North Park students he’s had the pleasure of teaching. “I most enjoy their commitment—to understanding the Bible, to ministry, to truth, and to Christian service.”
Tom Zelle, Professor of Music
Home Country: Germany
Anyone who thinks that art and science make strange bedfellows might enjoy a conversation with Tom Zelle. This longtime musician and skilled conductor is also a closet scientist, taking lessons in quantum physics and global scaling in his spare time. The subjects are deeply intriguing, says Zelle. “I seek some sort of Renaissance diversity in my studies and life—such as looking through a telescope at night, understanding nature, writing literature and poetry, learning other languages, and much more,” he explains.
Zelle, who hails from Hamburg, Germany, says his German European heritage figures prominently in his pedagogical approach. “I remember all things that served me as a student and that helped me in my education and I try to pass them on,” he says simply. Strong influences include German language, grammar, and literature; philosophy; nature; and European Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical music. An international perspective, Zelle notes, is a lens that “creates more relativity”— although not the type we associate with a famous physicist. It’s an attitude of “not knowing rather than knowing,” he explains. “The ability to see things from other points of view can be quite liberating.”
Anne Marie Andreasson-Hogg, Professor of Scandinavian Studies
Home Country: France
French, Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian—Anne Marie Andreasson-Hogg has an impressive repertoire of languages that she can speak as well as teach. The daughter of Scandinavians, she was raised and educated in France. Today she teaches Scandinavian language courses (primarily Swedish), as well as literature and Viking mythology, and an occasional course on French pronunciation. Her interest in English first blossomed in high school, when, to improve her listening comprehension, she would tune in to American radio broadcasts such as “Unshackled,” from Chicago’s Pacific Garden Mission. “I can still remember the voice of the announcer welcoming the ‘many listening friends at home and abroad,” she says. “I never thought that one day I would live and work in that very city and even get to see the Pacific Garden Mission building!”
Watching her own students realize the wonders of another culture still excites Andreasson-Hogg. “Some students have no prior knowledge of Scandinavia. . . . Others have Scandinavian ancestors, and for them, learning the language and deepening their understanding of the culture is an important part of understanding who they are as young adults. I really enjoy sharing this process of self-discovery.”
Dimitra Loukissa, Associate Professor of Nursing
Home Country: Greece
From philosophy, to democracy, to the arts and medical sciences, Greek contributions to Western civilization go on an on. And students in Dimitra Loukissa’s undergraduate, graduate, and RN-completion nursing classes are sure to benefit from several aspects of this fruitful legacy. “I incorporate the Socratic dialectic method in my teaching approaches to promote analytical and critical thinking,” says Loukissa, a native of Athens, Greece. “I encourage my students to be intellectually curious—ask a lot of ‘why’ questions and search for possible answers, and make connections between relationships and facts. Missing to see even a small correlation can make a huge difference on someone’s state of health and its progression.”
While still living and practicing in Athens, Loukissa participated in World Health Organization (WHO) projects in various European countries. “This exposure offered me the opportunity to collaborate with other professionals having a variety of perspectives and cultural backgrounds,” she explains. Another unique story she can share with her students is her experience attending the 2004 Olympics in her hometown. “This was a life-altering experience that will stay with me forever!”
Nnenna Okore, Assistant Professor of Art
Home Country: Nigeria
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is more than just a well known axiom—it’s also a truth upon which Nnenna Okore has built her reputation as an internationally acclaimed sculptor and installation artist. Born in Australia, raised in Nigeria, and educated in Swaziland and the United States, Okore creates works that incorporate materials found in urban environments, reflecting the way natural and man-made materials evolve, decay, and transform.
“I try to broaden my students’ understanding and perspective of art by showing them non-Western art, especially works, techniques, and processes by African artists,” she says. “I enjoy the great sense of community at North Park, the high level of engagement and enthusiasm of my students, and the collegial and collaborative spirit promoted across disciplines.”
Ching-Eng Wang, Associate Professor of Nursing
Home Country: Taiwan
Nursing is a profession based on caring for others, which is perhaps one of the reasons Ching-Eng Wang was drawn to it.
A native of Taipei, Taiwan, Wang remembers going with her grandmother to deliver food to poor neighbors as a child. “We were poor, too, but she always told us that we needed to share food with those who were less fortunate than us,” remembers Wang, whose grandmother passed away at the age of 105. “She was the most kind person I’ve ever known.”
Wang adds that she enjoys the “creativity, spontaneity, and kindness” of the students she teaches at North Park. She came to the University because of its Christian identity, but notes that growing up overseas has helped her “see things from many different perspectives.”
Her decision to teach was ultimately a cultural one. “Educators are well respected in my native country,” she explains, “and we follow Confucius’ philosophy about setting high standards for students.”
Linda Cannell, Professor and Seminary Dean of Academic Life
Home Country: Canada
As the leader of CanDoSpirit Network, an international community of Christian leaders seeking to transform congregational life and theological education worldwide, Linda Cannell understands the challenges of promoting unity in the face of diversity. She also knows the importance of seeing singular issues from myriad perspectives. “Since I have been to several countries, I’ve found that having an international perspective makes a great deal of difference on how one views things,” says the Winnepeg, Manitoba native. “And by the way, Canada and the United States really are different!”
In addition to serving as academic dean of the Seminary, Cannell also teaches educational ministry. She says it’s a pleasure to work with North Park students. “They are bright and committed to ministry.”
Jim Dekker, Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Center for Youth Ministry Studies
Home Country: Canada
Canada may be popularly known for maple leaves and hockey, but it is also a country defined by diversity. Like its neighbor to the south, it is a country populated by immigrants and their descendants.
“Diversity is woven into our history, politics, religions, and economy” says professor Jim Dekker, an Ontario native who teaches undergraduate and Seminary courses in youth ministry.
“My parents knew we were a minority among many minorities, so we needed to listen closely to pick up nuances of differences,” he explains. “I find myself offering our students more diversity in thinking about issues, going beyond arguing the poles—seeing beyond the single apparent factor and learning to listen to the nuances.”
While Dekker enjoys travel and likes to visit the Philippines “whenever I can,” when he’s States-side, students might find him indulging in a number of other unique interests.
“I love being in nature and building computers, and I invented a multilayer strategy game,” he says. “Any challengers?”
Read more stories from the Spring North Parker.