Faculty Profiles

Faculty: In Their Own Words - Dr. Ray Vander Zaag

Faculty: In Their Own Words - Dr. Ray Vander Zaag

Dr. Ray Vander Zaag, Assistant Professor, International Development Studies, has taught at CMU full-time since 2000.

What do you love about your work here?

I love learning and researching about topics that are interesting to me. Being a professor means learning about thought-provoking topics and then teaching others about them. To me it's crucial to have an idea of what's important and engage students with that idea. I find it exciting when my students and I find interest in the same things. A part of me likes to think I helped them discover a passion for that particular subject matter.

What are you researching and writing?

My research has been about faith-based Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). I've done about 20 interviews with staff of faith-based NGOs in Haiti and I'm in the process of analyzing and writing about what I've learned through those interviews. The research I'm doing has a lot to do with what the organization's role is, what they do that's distinctive, and what they contribute, from the perspective of the people actually working in those organizations. I first started to learn about development when we lived in Haiti for nine years.

What are you teaching right now that you're most excited about?

I'm teaching a second year International Development Studies (IDS) course called Rural Development. My background is in farming, I have a master's degree in crop science, and the first work I did in Haiti was in a rural development project. Most students don't have a sense of rural farm life anymore, so it's exciting to share and explore those ideas. Most of the poorest people in the world are rural people, so it's important that students understand rural life in order to more fully understand international development work.

Where or how do students give you hope?

The fact that my students are different from me, but still think about the same things I thought about at their age and continue to wrestle with them is what really gives me hope. When you work with students and let them express their agenda, you always have good conversations—even if sometimes you disagree.

What are you reading for enjoyment?

I'm reading a book called Haiti Will Not Perish by Michael Deibert. It describes the last 20 years of political history in Haiti. The country gets a lot of attention in the news, so it's nice to step back and get an analysis of the country's history and try to understand why life is still a challenge for many people there.

What do you most long for in your work?

I long for discipline. I want to be more disciplined in my reading and teaching. I also want students to live by the foundations of Christ through CMU, despite all the "distractions" that are in the outside world. I want them to see, feel, and experience those core perspectives of mercy and love and find ways to bring these into their everyday lives.

What saying or motto inspires you?

"You can't help people you're not in relationship with." The thing that struck me most about working in Haiti is that if there's no trust or connection, then it's really hard to help someone. Then you're helping someone out of guilt or a position of power, but once you get into relationships and ask questions and listen and have dialogue, it becomes meaningful and genuine.

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