Campus News

Faculty Profile: Dr. Dennis Engbrecht

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Dr. Dennis Engbrecht is deeply passionate for Bethel College and for the Bethel College community. Engbrecht attended Bethel College from 1967-1970 as an undergraduate student, then transferred to McPherson College in central Kansas, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1972. He earned a master’s degree in 1976 and a PhD in 1985. He met his wife, Karla, in Topeka, Kansas, and they were married in 1974. In 1986, he began his employment here at Bethel College and now serves as a professor of history. Engbrecht said that he originally planned to become a high school teacher, and taught high school students for five years before he sensed God leading him to teach in a Christian institution of higher education. “Senior Vice President Dr. Dennis Engbrecht.I started out thinking that I was going to be a high school teacher, and I was really enjoying it,” said Engbrecht. “It was kind of a mystical moment. I was actually sitting in a church service listening to someone who I greatly admired speak, and it was one of those inner voices, or I should say it was more of an inner message I sensed that said, ‘You’re going to be teaching and working at a Christian college,’ and I thought, wow, that’s interesting.” Engbrecht was living in Kansas at the time and found employment at Mid-America Nazarene College. “I wasn’t dissatisfied with teaching high school,” said Engbrecht. “I loved high school kids, loved working with them. I was a youth pastor, I was working with campus life, and we had a really good campus life group of about 75-80 students, and it was a good situation, and it was in the community where my wife was raised, and my father taught there. You know, we thought we were going to be in Topeka, Kansas for the rest of our lives, but the Lord had some other plans and we followed them.” Engbrecht also shared that he feels a special connection with Bethel College. “I love Bethel,” said Engbrecht. “I grew up in the Missionary Church, so I would say its denominational affiliation and the fact that I went here, my father went here, and I had two sisters that went here. I had a strong affinity for the school. Even though I had graduated from four other schools, this was the one that I considered my alma mater.” That connection largely developed during Engbrecht’s childhood and college years. “When I left (Bethel College), I said, I’m going back there,” Engbrecht said. “I thought I’d come back as a student, but it was 16 years later that I was invited by then president Dr. Jim Bennett.” Dr. Bennett actually invited Engbrecht on three different occasions to work at Bethel before Engbrecht said agreed to come in 1986. “The timing was right,” said Engbrecht of the third invitation. “Bethel was at a very transitional point, a very difficult period of time. The school was really struggling with its sense of identity and some financial issues.” Engbrecht has served as Vice President for Student Development, chairman of the Department of Religion and Philosophy, and eventually as Senior Vice President here at Bethel College. Since starting at Bethel, he has typically taught a half-load of courses, or about 6 credit hours per semester. “About four and a half years ago, Dr. Cramer asked if I would move down to the executive office, and at that point, I felt I was ready to transition from student development,” said Engbrecht. “I loved it; I enjoyed it, but if you’re going to be working that closely with students, particularly in those different areas, you’ve got to be somewhat youthful… so I moved downstairs into the executive office.” Engbrecht also served as the interim president on two occasions, first serving in that capacity while Dr. Cramer was recovering from a heart attack, and second, during Dr. Cramer’s sabbatical leave. This year, he is returning to full-time teaching. “I’m returning to my first love,” said Engbrecht. “This is what I always wanted to do, is to teach, and I kind of felt like I’d almost been hijacked out of teaching and into administration. But, even when I was in administration here, I taught May term courses, I taught graduate courses in church history and some other areas. Always tried to keep my fingers in the teaching, in the classroom. If I got too far from that for too long, it was like, I’ve got to get back in the classroom. So, coming back to the classroom has really been wonderful. This is a great stage of life for my wife and I.” Yet, after all that Engbrecht has done to serve the college, he said he is most passionate about teaching and helping students to find their life calling. “Education in the classroom itself is a means to an end, and the end is serving students,” said Engbrecht. “And I know that sounds like a cliché, but that’s really what it boils down to. I want students to know God. I want them to at least be on the path to discovering their calling in life, if not discovering their calling while they’re here.” Engbrecht said that he enjoys the deep connections he experiences with students. “I’m involved in mentoring students. A lot of times, students follow me back up from the classroom to my office and we talk about a variety of things. That’s ultimately what education is all about. I do love history. I’m kind of passionate about it, but it’s the students that I’m really here to serve.” In closing, Engbrecht shared his hopes and desires for his students and colleagues. “I have a deeply commited desire to see God do something very significant in the lives of all faculty and students,” said Engbrecht. “That’s what it’s all about; that’s what matters.”
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