Robin Rylaarsdam Named Provost of Bethel University

With more than 20 years of experience as a professor and administrator, Rylaarsdam is passionate about developing students, supporting faculty, and seeing the breadth of what a Christ-centered learning community can accomplish.

By Jenny Hudalla '15, lead communications specialist

January 08, 2021 | 3 p.m.

Robin Rylaarsdam is the next provost of Bethel University.

In mid-February, Robin Rylaarsdam will begin her new role as provost of Bethel University.

After an extensive nationwide search, Robin Rylaarsdam has been named the next provost of Bethel University. With more than 20 years of experience in Christian higher education, Rylaarsdam has a proven track record of academic development, student success, and meaningful faith-learning integrationand she looks forward to bringing those skills to Bethel.

“I am so excited to work with a community of teacher-scholars who share a love for Christ,” says Rylaarsdam, who will begin her new role on February 15. “I’m ready to embrace the learning curve, discover all the great things going on at Bethel, and hear about people’s dreams and goals for the future.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northwestern College in Iowa, Rylaarsdam went on to earn a Ph.D. in molecular biology and genetics at Northwestern University. She served as a professor and administrator at a handful of Christian colleges before accepting a position as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, Illinois, where she advocated for program development and expansion in graduate programs, improved undergraduate retention, and advanced diversity and inclusion efforts among both students and faculty. 

According to Provost Search Committee co-chairs Tracy Reimer and Chris Moore, Rylaarsdam was chosen from a pool of more than 50 competitive candidates based on her extensive accomplishments, effective leadership, and commitment to liberal arts education. "Robin is highly relational," Reimer says. "She has advocated for students typically underrepresented in higher education, and she excels at nurturing inter-university collaboration and developing external partnerships."

“I am so excited that Robin will be Bethel's next provost. Across the university, her passion for Bethel's core mission is evident, and her capacity to achieve it is outstanding.”

— Chris Moore, provost search committee co-chair

Rylaarsdam was drawn to Bethel in part because of her own transformative experience as a student at a Christian liberal arts school—which she says was key in developing her faith holistically—and because of her passion for Christ-centered education as a whole. Having grown up in the Reformed tradition, Rylaarsdam has long believed in the importance of lifelong learning and service to God in every discipline and endeavor—a conviction consistent with Bethel’s mission, vision, and values.

“Robin holds to our views of justification by faith, the sole authority of Scripture, and the Triune God,” says Scott Ridout, president of Converge, Bethel’s founding denomination. “She is able to navigate the tensions of faith and science brilliantly, and we look forward to the ways she will enhance the integration of faith and learning at Bethel.”

While Rylaarsdam’s career has taken her beyond the lab bench, her scientific background has made her a curious, data-driven, and collaborative leader. She enjoys interacting with a wide range of disciplines, is passionate about developing educational approaches that uniquely serve graduate students and adult degree-completers, and deeply values the open exchange of ideas as a means of academic and personal growth. “I’m comfortable discussing many sides of an issue intellectually,” she says. “Early in my scientific training, I learned to critique an idea while supporting the person—and that has stuck with me throughout my career.”

Robin Rylaarsdam is the next provost of Bethel University.

In her free time, Rylaarsdam enjoys playing piano, cheering on the Chicago Cubs, and spending time outdoors with her husband, Doug, 16-year-old son, Todd, and Siberian husky, Colby.

As colleges and universities across the country face financial challenges stemming in part from changing demographics and attitudes toward higher education, Rylaarsdam hopes to leverage entrepreneurial thinking and restorative relationship-building as part of the solution. The polarization of society, she says, has depleted our collective ability to engage in appreciative discourse—and if institutions of Christian higher education hope to make an impact on the world, they must “send out students who are prepared to go into their communities and point divided factions back to Christ.” 

For President Ross Allen, Rylaarsdam’s skills, insights, and commitment to serving Jesus and society are a testament to her preparedness for the job. “I’m so excited to welcome Robin to Bethel and our leadership team, and I’m incredibly grateful to the search committee for their excellent work to find the right provost for this critical time in Bethel’s history,” Allen says. “As we accelerate our innovation, strengthen and expand our academic programs, grow our endowment, and continue to provide students with a transformative education, I am confident that Robin’s expertise will help us answer our call to do and be more.”

In June 2022, the university will seek an affirmative vote by the Biennial Assembly of the Corporation, which would finalize Rylaarsdam’s appointment as provost of Bethel University.

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As a leader in Christ-centered higher education, Bethel University integrates faith with top-ranked academics to prepare women and men for excellence in leadership, scholarship, and service. Through meaningful relationships with faculty, experiential learning opportunities, and a Christ-centered community, our students learn to tackle the world's most challenging problems as they prepare for unique callings in the Kingdom of God. 

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