Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Jim Helfers
A few years ago, GCU had a major in Martial Arts. Dr. Jim Helfers taught a few courses, including one on traditional Okinawan weapons. Today he sticks with literature and humanities courses. That range in itself is a testament to what a good liberal arts education can do for a person.
Dr. Helfers graduated from college with intentions to become a journalist. Working to break into newspapers in San Francisco, he ended up working as a technical writer.
“All of my coworkers were checking off their calendars for vacation and retirement,” he says. “I could do the work, but it was not exciting work.”
Inspiration for a change came from Harper’s magazine. After another day of technical writing, Dr. Helfers sat down to a story about a group of scholars translating the works of philosopher Thomas Aquinas. The project was decades in the making.
“I was reading this and thinking, ‘This is exactly what I want to do,’” says Dr. Helfers. “I applied to graduate school and was accepted at the University of Michigan. That is how I got into teaching.”
Dr. Helfers came to Arizona in 1990 as an instructor at ASU. In 1992, he responded to an opening for an English professor at GCU.
“A friend urged me to apply,” he says. “I had an interview, hit it off with the Dean and liked the campus. I went to a Christian college as an undergrad, so this felt like coming home.”
Dr. Helfers worked in at least 15 jobs before becoming a teacher. He worked in a youth center, as a railroad tie wood treater, a cabinet shop worker and pipe organ repairman, among other varied jobs. He says he enjoyed every single one.
“Teaching is my calling, but I was able to work in many different jobs because of my liberal arts education. Admittedly, it doesn’t take a liberal arts education to be a pipe organ repairman, but it did help with technical writing.” he says. “What you major in is less important than the kind of person you become and the skills you learn in college.”
According to Dr. Helfers, a Christian university gives students a unique opportunity determine who they are. Students at GCU will learn skills such as critical thinking, being a good citizen and being a leader. This may also be the last place in life they take a sustained examination of themselves and their worldview.
“A Christian university is willing to give the Christian worldview a measure of respect,” he says. “Many secular schools have serious problems with respect for a Christian worldview.”
More important, he says, than what you do right after graduation, is the person you have become.
When he is not teaching, Dr. Helfers is an avid bicyclist, karate instructor, backpacker and an associate of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He organizes a team for the Arizona ride to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and has toured much of Michigan and New England by bicycle. He continues to bite chunks off the Arizona Trail every year, but concedes there are some places in Arizona you do not want to hike in the summer.