Q/A with a Valpo Professor – Susan VanZanten, Ph.D.

Susan VanZanten, Ph.D.

Christ College — The Honors College

With an accomplished history in private, liberal arts educational settings, Dean VanZanten is passionate about fostering a supportive community. She’s a frequent speaker and writer with numerous publications who is guided by her faith in everything she does.

Dean VanZanten has shared her intention to retire at the end of the 2021-2022 year. She’s currently serving as the consulting dean of Christ College and Prof. Jennifer Prough ’91, Ph.D., is the interim dean. Rev. Brian A. F. Beckstrom will begin serving as the assistant vice president for mission, church, and ministry in January 2021.

Inside the College

What do you think is unique about Valpo students?

Everyone always talks about “Midwest nice,” and I think that is very true of Valpo students. They’re friendly and outgoing and are pleasant to work with. They’re genuine and honest and open.

What was most memorable about your time as dean of Christ College?

What stands out is how close the students and faculty are. There’s a real sense of community and identity. The faculty and students of Christ College really care for each other and support each other. Often in honors programs there’s a sense of competition —people who are used to being the best and want to prove themselves — but at Christ College, there is much more a sense of community than competition.

What did you enjoy in your role leading mission and spiritual life?

The opportunity to develop more of a sense of the diversity of faiths and practices, even within the Christian faith. I would like to encourage interfaith and intrafaith dialogue and experiences, without diminishing or diluting Valparaiso’s Lutheran identity. It is important that our spiritual life pro – gram recognizes, affirms, and encourages different expressions of faith.

Outside the College

You’re a member of the Conference on Christianity and Literature. How has your Christian scholarship and your faith influenced your leadership or teaching style?

I believe that as a Christian your whole life is inspired by and governed by your faith. It imbues everything I do — trying to be a faithful servant in my work, which I view as a vocation, something I’ve been called to do. That means trying to do good work but also trying to do thoughtful work. In my teaching and leadership at an institution like this one, I try to draw on Christian faith and intellectual traditions to make Valpo a better place.

You’re also a member of the Emily Dickinson International Society. What drew you to this?

I’ve always taught Emily Dickinson because I’ve taught a lot of American literature, but about 10–15 years ago her poetry really started to speak to me on a personal basis. Her poems about the beauty of the environment and struggling with questions of faith and emotional struggles spoke to me, so I started doing more research on her work. I’ve written a couple of academic papers, particularly about her poems on faith and doubt, and also wrote a book with devotions based on her poetry. I often find myself quoting her poems, which I find deeply meaningful as well as intellectually interesting.

How do you like to spend your free time?

Travel, but that’s not happening right now because of COVID-19. I have one son who’s 28 and lives in London, so I typically go to London at least twice a year. I love London — going to theatres and parks and museums. The rest of my family lives in Washington state, and I like to hike and go to the beach when I travel there.

Locally, I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. I usually walk a couple miles every morning. My go-to stress reliever is jigsaw puzzles. I’ve done maybe 15 since COVID-19 hit and always have one going on the dining room table.