When I was considering colleges, a lot of people at Houghton told me that their college has the best professors. The rational side of my mind was skeptical. Firstly, the people making this claim were obviously biased. Secondly, how would you even assess something like that? It would require a massive amount of data from colleges all over the country.
But after I started attending classes here, I realized the claim wasn’t an empty one. Houghton professors aren’t like most professors I’ve met, or even like most people. They are friendly, giving, caring, and willing to expend huge amounts of love and energy for their students. Their office doors are almost always open, their homes are places where student frequently find themselves eating meals, and they are willing to offer all sorts of helpful advice, academic and otherwise.
In other words, I’ve come to agree with the people I once doubted: Houghton professors really are the best.
I can’t offer you an unbiased opinion or well-grounded data to backup this claim. But I can offer some stories of times Houghton professors have gone out of their way to help me. And though these are my experiences, they are not uncommon ones. They are, in fact, exactly the sort of experiences you can depend on when you join the Houghton community, too.
Time No. 1 – A Birthday Cake
My freshman year, I took a study-abroad semester. Something that’s unique about Houghton Honors programs is that they send both students and faculty to another location to live and learn together. So while I was in London, I also had Houghton faculty with me. And as my birthday is in April, I had Houghton faculty with me, in London, the year I turned 19.
Birthdays are hard in study-abroad programs. They are days where you have to cram your commitments around Skype calls that still feel inadequate, and days where you might be tempted to sell your soul if it meant getting to hug your mother again.
In recognition of this, my professors baked me a cake. They gathered my study-abroad cohort, pulled out candles, handed me a card, and sang Happy Birthday. It didn’t fix the missing my Mum part, but heavens, it helped.
Time No. 2 – A Good God?
At another point in college, I ran into a problem. It wasn’t an abnormal problem; it was a problem that Christians have been struggling with for centuries. It’s a problem you might recognize, for it’s a problem I think all people of faith must stare in the face eventually: if God is loving, how does he allow such evil in the world?
I’m an answer-seeker. I don’t like things I can’t solve, and I like even less things I can’t understand. This qualified as both. So I did the only thing I could think of—I picked four faculty members and went to their offices to seek help. With some I scheduled appointments, with others I merely showed up at their offices one afternoon and asked to talk.
Each of them welcomed me in: my questions, my confusion, my hurt. They listened. They asked helpful questions, and each gave me a different perspective, one that was rich with their own struggles to understand the same issue. At none of these offices was I told to stop asking questions or made to feel like an inconvenience. Rather I received universal support and help, despite the fact my questions had nothing to do with my schoolwork.
Perhaps most importantly, I received a vision of what the Christian life could be: four examples of handing difficult questions with grace.
Time No. 3 – Writing Career
Last week I went to a research presentation of a poet. While I was sitting there, pondering the state of the universe and how I was going to break into my own writing career. I must have been frowning something fiercely, because one of my professors, who was in the chair next to mine, leaned over and asked me, “Are you sending work out to be published?”
I was taken back enough that it took me a moment to work up to speaking.
The professor spoke into my silence. “If you’re not, you should. Your work is good enough.”
The words stuck with me throughout the rest of the day, like a warm quilt around my soul. I hadn’t solicited this encouragement, and I don’t know how the professor knew I needed it. He has seen enough of my writing to speak out of knowledge and not just blind faith, but he also hasn’t been involved enough in my recent work to know any of the particulars. Rather, he was just doing what most Houghton professors do on a routine basis. He was being kind.