Brody Van Roekel ’16
Graduate student, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Brody Van Roekel

History in the making

Right after graduating from Northwestern, Brody was accepted into Western Michigan University’s graduate program to study medieval history. Eventually, he wants to earn a doctorate in history or theology before returning to a university setting as a professor or college ministry staff member.

How did you become interested in medieval history?

I never considered studying medieval history until the end of my junior year. After taking a combination of courses about European medieval history, Latin, German and history of the English language, I connected with a couple different professors who led me to consider studying the time period. The more time I spent researching medieval history, the more I grew to enjoy it. I also appreciate the added challenges of working with the different languages, cultures and beliefs that medieval history encompasses.

What do you most appreciate about the history professors?

It’s probably a well-worn axiom for Northwestern profs, but the one-on-one interactions they regularly encourage really stand out. It’s one thing to have professors in class; it’s an entirely different thing to meet with them in less formal settings to discuss everything from ideas to life events. They absolutely cared about my performance as a student, as most profs would. But more importantly, they cared about me as a person. They wanted to know who I was and what I cared about. Even now, I feel entirely comfortable reaching out to them to reconnect and catch up on life. It’s largely due to the wonderful concern they showed me that I decided to continue in academics.

How has Northwestern prepared you for graduate school?

Initially I was worried about taking the next step in academia and wondered how I would stack up compared to people who graduated from larger universities. When I arrived at WMU, I met people who completed their undergrad at huge state schools with nearly limitless resources and opportunities. Yet, when it comes to performance in courses, so far I feel like I can compete with those students academically. It’s also been encouraging to see the reintroduction of ideas and concepts in my graduate courses that I’ve already been introduced to while at NWC. My experience at Northwestern has prepared me to think about and expand on many of the ideas that my graduate classes are now raising for me.

How has studying history challenged your faith?

An important part of studying history is studying context. Things don’t just become the way they are; something made them that way. This can obviously be extended into faith considerations, examining both past and present beliefs and practices. That same context can offer significant difficulties about faith because historically, there are often good reasons why people may not like Christianity or Christians. Yet, starting from this vantage point, steps can be sought to—in theory—pursue reconciliation.

What is your favorite memory from your time at Northwestern?

The greatest experience I had at Northwestern was working within residence life. There were some not so great parts, but overall, working as resident assistant and assistant resident director is something I will never forget. The opportunity to get to know a small group of guys in profoundly deep and lasting ways helped me become the person I am today. Whether it was RA training every fall, waking up on the first day of Christmas break for cinnamon rolls in our resident director’s apartment, or living in Colenbrander Hall for four years, I wouldn’t trade a minute of it for anything.