There are plenty of superheroes named Chris in the world. In a large array of Marvel movies, Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, Chris Evans plays Captain America and Chris Pratt plays Star-Lord. However, those fictional superheroes do not compare to the assistant professor of education and English and real-life superhero here on Northwestern’s campus: Dr. Chris Nonhof.
Nonhof may have started out as a Dordt Defender during his undergrad, but this is his sixth year being a part of the Red Raider family.
“I never thought in a million years [my family and I] would end up back in Iowa,” Nonhof said. “And never in a billion years thought we’d be at Northwestern.”
Something that makes NW unique from other colleges and universities is the relational community. That is one of the main aspects that influenced Dr. Nonhof’s decision to come back to northwest Iowa. He sees a lot of qualities in Ron Juffer, NW alumni and former education professor, that embody the idea of relational community.
“[Other colleges] don’t have a Ron Juffer,” Nonhof said.
Before coming to NW, Nonhof was a high school English teacher for 16 years. He decided to switch to being a college professor because he wanted to know what happens to high school students after they graduate.
“It’s shown me a totally different aspect of education I didn’t know about,” Nonhof said.
Being a college professor has given him a whole new perspective on education and teaching. He claims that he would be a better high school teacher now after being a professor for the past six years.
Nonhof’s job as a professor comes with more responsibilities than just teaching college students how to be educators themselves. Only about one-fourth of his job is focused on teaching. There is also an administrative side to his job where he serves both as an academic advisor and on committees. It was a tough learning curve for him at first and it was frustrating at times.
“I’m starting now to really enjoy the administrative aspects,” Nonhof said.
Some people who have influenced Nonhof are his colleagues: Dr. Laura Heitritter, Dr. Lila Sybesma and Dr. Derek Brower. Nonhof has gotten to know his colleagues both professionally and personally. He considers them to be good people and extraordinary educators.
“I’ve worked with so many incredible people, but I’ve never worked with a team like I have now,” Nonhof said.
When asked what his favorite part of being a professor is, it was easy for Dr. Nonhof to answer the question.
“Oh, the students!” Nonhof said. “Actually, sharing space with students and going out for coffee with them.”
He enjoys being able to get to know his students both inside and outside of the classroom, and he said that it’s a lot easier and more flexible to do this with college students than high school students.
Kelsey Schwenson, a senior education major, commented on how welcoming of a person Nonhof is and how she can go to him for advice.
“He’s very honest with his students and doesn’t sugarcoat anything which makes me laugh,” Schwenson said.
Nonhof has no doubt that the students he is working with and helping to become teachers will be the most prepared teachers when they start out. They have had to be flexible during this time of navigating around COVID-19, and Nonhof has had to be more flexible with his job during this time as well. He has been able to model for his students what it looks like to adapt and be flexible in times of uncertainty and change.
Nonhof reminds his students that “the best teachers are the ones that can roll with the punches.”
His advice to students during this point in the semester is, “Finish strong. There’s so much good work to still be done.”