John M. Cimbala received his Ph.D. degree in Aeronautics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). In 1990, Cimbala was granted tenure and made an associate professor of mechanical engineering. During the academic year 1993-94, Professor Cimbala worked at NASA Langley Research Center, where he advanced his knowledge of computational fluid dynamics and turbulence modeling.
I began my teaching career in July of 1984, fresh out of graduate school. I was already a Christian at that time, having accepted the Lord several years before. During my first few years of teaching, however, I kept my Christianity quite separate from my job. Christianity, although the most important thing in my life, was something to be practiced at home and at church; my Christian beliefs were not displayed in the office or in the classroom.
Don't misunderstand methis is not to say that I acted immorally or in any way condemned Christianity while at workit's just that my Christian beliefs were not openly displayed or discussed. You might say that I was a "Closet Christian." It would be fair to assume that none of my students and none of my colleagues even knew I was a Christian, except for those few who happened to attend the same church.
My "closeted" condition lasted until January of 1987, when I attended a seminar at Penn State entitled "The Christian Faculty Workshop" (which has since been updated and renamed "Relating to Students"). This workshop was the catalyst that permanently changed my outlook about my role and purpose as a Christian faculty member. In particular, the workshop motivated me to begin to share my faith with my students and with my colleagues.
I started by displaying a few Christian posters and wall hangings in my office. I then began to introduce myself as a Christian on the first day of class. After telling the students my name and educational back ground, I would tell them a little about my personal life, such as "I have two boys, ages 7 and 4. I am a Christian, and that's the most important part of my personal life. I like to swim for exercise. . . ."
I remember the nervousness and sweaty palms the first time I did this; but looking back, those few words spoken on the first day of class set the tone for the rest of the course. Once I had identified myself as a Christian, it was then very easy later on in the semester to announce lectures by Christian speakers, to state my views on certain topics, and, where applicable, to mention God in my lectures. For example, when I teach the second law of thermodynamics, I explain how the entire universe is winding down like a giant windup clock. "How did the clock get wound up in the first place?" I ask the students, and continue, "Does this prove the existence of God?"
In the past couple years, I have developed a lecture of my own on science and the Bible, stressing in particu lar the conflict between creation and evolution, and the evidences for the existence of God. I generally present this lecture several times a year to various churches or campus Christian groups. I always announce these lectures to my classes, and several of my students have attended. In many cases, the mere announce ment of the lecture prompts some students to ask questions after class. 1 can recall several instances where I've had the opportunity to explain my faith and to witness to nonChristian students after class. I feel that the Lord is using me as His ambassador to engineering students; this is my ministry, and the classroom is my mission field.
I have some simple advice for Christian faculty who may be in the same situation now as I was in 1987 wanting to start to share your faith in the classroom, but not knowing exactly how to begin.
First, pray for boldness to announce your Christianity to your students.
Second, and most importantly, be a good teacher. I have learned that in order to become an effective witness to your students, you must first become an effective teacher. If your teaching is poor, students will not look to you as a role model, nor will they take your Christianity seriously.
It is critical that you show genuine concern for the students, prepare well organized lectures, and show them that something is important to you. In short, you must be willing to put sacrificial time into course prepara tion students can really sense when this is (or is not) done.
In closing, I quote from some letters I received from students in one of my classes in the fall semester of 1992, after I had asked for feedback about my lectures, homework, etc. One student wrote the following:
"Your class is the only class I enjoy day in and day out. I feel that your lectures are easy to follow, neatly outlined on the board. . . . You are the first instructor I've had at PSU in three years who openly leads a Christian way of life. That means a lot to me, since most of my professors don't."
Another student wrote: "Your lectures are great! They are very clear and easy to follow (which is a big compliment because not all profs are good at this). The homework requires thought, yet is not impossible. . . . Actually I'm glad you gave us a chance to comment, because I have been wanting to since the first day when you said you were a Christian. I am too, and I thought it was quite a courageous thing to doyou see, students often get frustrated and annoyed with teachers, and to continue the rest of the semester as a testi mony knowing that we all know you're a ChristianI thought would not be easy. But you are excellent, and people respect you. Thanks, because my friends know I'm a Christian. Actually I'm probably the only one they know besides you, and I'm glad they know you are too, because we can tell you're fair and care about us."
Such letters have encouraged me to continue to share my Christian faith in the classroom, and I hope they are as motivating to other faculty as well.