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Q&A: Ray VanArragon

Q&A: Ray VanArragon

Professor of Philosophy Ray VanArragon

As a professor of philosophy, Ray VanArragon spends a lot of time thinking about the implications of free will and moral responsibility, especially from a Christian perspective. So when Bethel launched the R.E.A.L. Experience—designed to help students line up strategic, hands-on learning experiences that’ll make them more attractive to future employers—he jumped at the opportunity to get involved. R.E.A.L. helps students round out their learning and prepare, holistically and morally, to lean into God’s calling on their lives and do it with excellence. We sat down with VanArragon to chat about Bethel’s unique learning environment and how it prepares students for meaningful service in tomorrow’s careers.

How long have you been at Bethel, and what do you love most about working here?

This is my 13th year at Bethel, so I’ve now lived in Minnesota longer than I have lived anywhere else! One thing I especially love about Bethel is the Humanities program, which gives me the opportunity to teach a wide variety of subjects with a team of professors from other departments. I get to teach some history, English, theology, and even psychology—in addition to philosophy. Through a four-course sequence of general education courses, we get to watch our students grow over the first year and a half of their time at Bethel. And together we get to study some of the greatest works of Western civilization. It’s a wonderful thing.

How would you describe the learning environment at Bethel?

I’ve always been impressed with how much students want to learn. They understand what a valuable opportunity they have to get a Bethel education, and they take advantage of it. I think the truly unique and beneficial element of their learning experience is the general education curriculum, which gives every student a solid grounding in the liberal arts. The curriculum is exceptionally well thought out, with courses that build on each other and are taught by faculty from different departments across the College of Arts & Sciences. I think this part of the Bethel education really makes a difference; there aren’t many places that offer the kind of Christian liberal arts education that we do.

Tell us about the R.E.A.L. Experience. How does it augment and build on Bethel's commitment to real-world, hands-on learning?

The R.E.A.L. Experience is a framework and curriculum designed to give students more and better opportunities to build hands-on skills that will help them thrive in their careers—and as people. It makes us more intentional about offering and showcasing hands-on learning opportunities, so departments might add activities or assignments to their programs that they didn’t offer before—with the strategic goal of preparing students more effectively for real jobs. As a university, we’re getting clearer about what real-world activities accomplish, what skills they promote, and how they get our students ready for life after Bethel. And we also make this clear for our students. They can see exactly how what they do in our classes benefits them, and they can explain to potential employers how those experiences prepared them to be productive members of the workforce.

What’s your role in this initiative?

I’m sort of like an ambassador for the R.E.A.L. Experience. Faculty members are so busy that they don’t have a lot of time to learn about R.E.A.L. on their own. So I explain to faculty what it’s all about, and how it’s a great thing for Bethel and a great thing for our students. It’s so important that this is offered in a thoroughly Christian context. We prepare students for the job market, but we also seek to help them become whole and holy persons whose lives are centered on Jesus Christ. At Bethel, we never lose sight of that. It’s a special thing that we get to do here—and I believe it’s changing the world for the better.

Why do you think a Bethel education is a great value for students/parents?

A liberal arts education helps students develop the skills that employers will always want: the ability to think critically, solve complex problems, communicate clearly, be creative and innovative, and so on. Those skills are timeless, and our graduates will need them no matter how the job market changes. And it’s going to keep changing!

Every student at Bethel studies the liberal arts and focuses on a specific major or two. It’s a package deal. And the R.E.A.L. Experience ensures that students develop exactly the skills—within their majors, through general education courses, and outside the classroom—that will set them up for a productive and satisfying career. Bethel is an exceptional place where learning is firmly centered on Christ—yet also well-tailored to real workplaces and the real careers our students will land in down the road. A Bethel education is a significant investment, but a worthwhile one.

Find out more about the R.E.A.L. Experience and Bethel’s Career Development & Calling team, which equip students for meaningful careers.