As a student who enjoyed nature, Dr. Bruce Howard ’74 began his education at Wheaton College eager to study biology. But in a cramped classroom in the back of Edman Chapel in 1970, sitting two feet away from Professor Emeritus Arthur F. Holmes ’50, M.A. ’52, he experienced an epiphany.
Dr. Holmes distilled the calling of the Christian into two tasks. The first was the creation mandate found in Genesis: to be fruitful and multiply. The second was the missionary mandate of the New Testament: to make disciples.
This pivotal moment gradually led Bruce to understand that the creation mandate could be applied to business enterprise.
“God created the world with all its resources,” Bruce says. “And then God stamped us with his creative image, saying, ‘Take these resources and do something good with them and leave the world better than you found it.’ When we do that, God is glorified and people are well served.”
During the spring of his junior year, Bruce changed his major from biology to economics. Following graduation, he worked as a hospital accountant prior to earning a master’s degree in administration-accountancy from Northern Illinois University.
For the next three years, Bruce enjoyed a career in international banking. He found that working on the front lines of high finance in downtown Chicago was both intellectually stimulating and rewarding.
“Success in banking is all about channeling resources to their highest and best use,” says Bruce. “That’s a noble calling. It may not be the most important calling, but as the latest financial crisis proves, when that section of society isn’t working well, nobody does well.”
In the fall of 1978, a family crisis occurred that would permanently alter the trajectory of Bruce’s life. Bruce’s father, Arne Howard HON, a Wheaton economics professor since 1947, suffered a heart attack and required bypass surgery, a procedure that was still fairly new at the time.
“I remember sitting across the desk from the surgeon,” Bruce recalls. “He said, ‘Don’t worry, I performed this operation on a pig last week and it went very well.’”
During Arne’s recovery, Bruce took over his father’s course load, committing to teaching two undergraduate accounting classes that were moved to evening slots so Bruce could continue his day job. Since Arne’s recovery required him to work reduced loads for two terms, Bruce filled in for his father for the remainder of the school year.
When Arne retired in 1980, the College asked Bruce to join Wheaton’s faculty full time to help develop the study of business, then an emerging academic discipline.
Not wanting to leave the world of enterprise entirely, Bruce accepted the opportunity to work in Tyndale House Publishers’ accounting department from May until August and to teach at Wheaton from August until May.
“That’s how I got into teaching,” says Bruce. “I backed into it.”
After a year of full-time teaching, Bruce began a Ph.D. program in economics at Northern Illinois University and completed the degree in 1989. He went on to chair Wheaton’s Business and Economics Department from 1995-2007 and served as faculty vice chair from 2004-05. During Bruce’s tenure, what was once a fledgling discipline became one of the College’s largest majors.
With 35 years of teaching under his belt, Bruce has developed a pedagogy regularly recognized for its effectiveness and creativity.
True learning, says Bruce, is a lot like breathing: It must contain both the acquisition (inhaling) and application (exhaling) of knowledge. To facilitate this, Bruce incorporates handson exercises in class that may involve props like PVC pipe, tennis balls, water balloons, and plastic cups.
“In his search to find increasingly effective methods with which to cause learning to persist and be applied beyond the classroom, Bruce is constantly challenging the status quo,” says Enoch Hill ’05, assistant professor of economics.
Bruce is also widely known for his seamless integration of faith and learning.
“Bruce’s enthusiastic commitment to Jesus Christ permeates his roles as adviser, colleague, leader, mentor, scholar, and teacher at the College and his service to the community at large,” Dean of Natural and Social Sciences Dr. Dorothy F. Chappell hon says.
As the Carl R. Hendrickson Professor of Business, Bruce receives one-third load relief in teaching. But colleague Dr. Steve Bretsen, William Volkman Professor of Business and Law and business and economics department chair, notes that Bruce voluntarily donates his load relief to junior faculty so they can work on their scholarship, even teaching an overload on occasion.
Over the years, Bruce has advised countless students, including HNGR interns and student government members, and has offered premarital counseling to many couples, including Phil ’88 and Lisa Maxwell Ryken ’88.
When Katie Mann ’18, an applied health science major, studied microeconomics with Bruce last fall, she learned principles applicable to her vocational and spiritual life.
“Dr. Howard helped me see that I can be a missionary and serve the Lord in whatever field of study I choose to pursue,” she says.
Former student Kurt Keilhacker ’85, managing partner at TechFund, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund, recalls Bruce as a “gifted teacher, smart businessperson, faithful spouse, dedicated parent, earnest friend, and humble servant of the Lord.
“We looked up to Bruce, and he gave us hope that we might aspire to such a life ourselves,” says Kurt.
In his teaching and in his life, Bruce hopes to impart two simple truths to all of his students: to leave the world better than you found it and to strive, with God’s help, to become the best version of yourself that you can possibly be.
“My job is to help young people grow and enlarge their understanding of what it truly means to become the man or woman that God intends them to become,” Bruce says. “Working with students is so terribly rewarding and joyful. I just love what I do.”