As a political science professor, one has to be involved in politics, and Prof. Jeffrey VanDerWerff has taken his political experiences to the next level. Not only has he been a part of Northwestern’s campus for years and even served on the Board of Trustees, but he’s been personally involved in the politics of Iowa.
In the spring of 2016, VanDerWerff received word from a friend about an opening in the Iowa House of Representatives. While this had never been VanDerWerff’s original career goal, he never overlooked an opportunity to participate in democracy. With support from the community and encouragement from family, he decided to campaign and start an eye-opening process he’ll never forget.
During 2016, there were two other candidates running for election along with VanDerWerff: Skylar Wheeler and Kevin Van Otterloo, the mayor from Rock Valley. While all three were conservative Republicans, Wheeler was the most right-leaning, which made him stand out, along with his younger age. VanDerWerff spent his free time going door-to-door campaigning in the community, trying to prepare for the upcoming debates. There were three to four debates over the next few weeks, and the Republican primary was held in June of that year. While VanDerWerff received 25 percent of the vote, Van Otterloo received 28 percent and Wheeler won with 40 percent.
Though VanDerWerff didn’t win the election, there were still many people who signed off on him being a good alternate, and he still enjoyed the overall experience. While the press and publicity were hard on his family for those months, he loved being involved in local politics, and the debates were fascinating to him. It also gave him a new perspective in the classroom as he’s now able to bring more political experiences to his students’ education. Through the process, he also became good friends with Van Otterloo, and they still keep in touch to this day.
However, VanDerWerff’s career in politics didn’t start with his run for Iowa House of Representatives. He’d been involved with NW social sciences department for years before that and even studied on NW’s campus.
Originally from Washington, he grew up in the Reformed Church in America and had heard of NW through Reformed connections. A relative of his kept encouraging him to visit the college, so after a while, he did, and he ended up getting his bachelor’s degree in political science and business/economics from NW.
After graduating with his masters at the University of Missouri, he worked for Congress in Washington until a position in the admissions office at NW opened up. He applied and worked there for five to six years before transitioning into a political science professor.
He married his NW sweetheart in the early ‘90s when he was renting a house from her father. They had both attended college in the Midwest, but the move to Iowa was tougher than expected. Along with the summers being too hot in comparison to Washington, the conservative Reformed mindset was also more evident in Northwest Iowa. They made their adjustments and eventually started a family. VanDerWerff now admits that he’s “more of an Iowan than [he is] anything else.”
In all the years he’s been at NW, his years teaching students are by far his favorite ones. He enjoys his colleagues and the culture of campus, and he loves the subject he teaches, along with the focus of citizenship.
Helping students determine what they believe and why has been his goal, and he tries to help them figure out how our faith fits into our public life. VanDerWerff wants his students to engage in democracy by not only participating but also making it their own.
Though half of his time currently goes towards being the dean of social sciences, he still walks alongside undergraduates as they consider what they want to be in light of faith.