Steal her secrets: Reading advocate Deborah Van Duinen shares her passion for a book-driven career


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOTV)- Her suit fits just right, she knows everyone in the room, and you can just tell she’s got it going on!  You wish you could be her or simply wish you knew her secret to success. WOTV 4 Women wants to give you a deeper look at the many power women who are helping make West Michigan a thriving place for women at work.  We’re having them dish the details on everything from work life to home life and what has led to their career success!

25 career questions with Deborah Van Duinen, Hope College English Professor and Big & Little Read Lakeshore director. March is National Reading Month, making Deborah the perfect career woman to highlight. Deb is a passionate and kind-hearted woman with a love for reading and empowering the community around her. From her work with the Big Read program to her students, she does it all with a smile on her face. Continue reading to learn more about Deb and her career! 

Q1 – Describe your job and why you love it.

I am an Associate Professor of English Education at Hope College and the Director of the Big Read Lakeshore and Little Read Lakeshore programs. This means that I get to teach fun and interesting undergraduate student about literacy, books, and life. It also means that I get to do literacy research and study young adult literature and the ways that adolescents read and write. Spoiler alert – it’s fascinating! In my role of Director of the Big and Little Read Lakeshore programs, I have the privilege of orchestrating events and activities along the Lakeshore around the reading of a common book during the month of November. Last November, over 10,000 people participated in our programs. Who else gets to say that they run a book club for the entire community?! My job is amazing, and I love it! 

Q2 – Dig through you purse and tell us three must have items you found and 1 item you were surprised to find.

  • Notebook for jotting down ideas for my writing projects, book or podcast or recipe recommendations from friends, and so that my kids can doodle in something when they are bored. 
  • King peppermints. These were sermon-only candy during church services when I grew up. Now I’m addicted to them and take them with me everywhere!
  • Hand lotion. Michigan winters are long and cold, and my hands get dry! I love putting on hand lotion when I’m in my minivan waiting to pick up or drop off my kids.
  • Surprising item? A loonie and twoonie (Canadian coins). I grew up in Canada and my parents and siblings still live there. Whenever we visit them, we always come home with a handful of Canadian change. I haven’t cleaned out my purse since our last visit in January! 

Q3 – When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a medical doctor when I was little. It’s funny now that while I have my Ph.D. and am officially a “doctor”, it’s a very different of doctor than I ever imagined. For the record, my kids don’t think I’m a “real” doctor. Despite trying to convince them that I am a doctor of ideas, they still don’t buy it!

Q4 – What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

Work smarter not harder.

Q5 – What’s the job you’ve had (in your lifetime) that still gives you nightmares?

I worked part-time on an assembly line at a Chrysler car factory during high school. I was in charge of putting sealer on the drip rails and shock towers of the cars. It doesn’t sound very complicated, but I managed to mess it up quite a bit and I got yelled at a lot! 

Q6 – What’s the best thing you’ve done to advance your career?  

I quit my high school English teaching job to get my Ph.D. It took 7 years to complete (and was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done!) but getting the degree has opened so many doors for me. 

Q7 – Flats or heels?

I’m a heels wanna-be. 

Q8 – Crying at work? Okay or not okay?

Crying at work is okay…sometimes the stories I read with my Hope students make me cry in class!

Hope College – The Big Read program held at Diminent Chapel featured author Edwidge Danticat as the keynote speaker

Q9 – Work/life balance? How do you make it work?  What time do you “clock out”?

I’ve been trying to embrace the tensions and seasons of work/life balance. There are times when my work life is out of balance because of an article or grant proposal deadline or when final grades are due. But it can’t always be that way. I also need times of renewal, rest, and play. Sabbaticals are a gift in this regard – I wish women in all occupations could have them! 

Q10 – Eating lunch at your desk? A do or a don’t?

I do eat lunch at my desk but I’m not sure I’d recommend it to others! I get crumbs on my computer keyboard and am probably not as productive in the long run, but it feels great to catch up on emails! 

Q11 – What makes you grateful?

My own life experiences and journeying with family and friends through difficult times have taught me the importance of being grateful for life, health, the gift of a new day, grace, and love.

Q12 – What was your biggest blunder in a job interview? What did it teach you?

Not doing enough homework ahead of time. It taught me that you can never be too over prepared!

Q13 – Describe your morning routine.

  • Wake up
  • Quiet time/prayer time
  • Have my cup of black tea (PG Tips from England) with milk
  • Get breakfast ready
  • Wake up kids
  • Eat breakfast together
  • Drive them to school (our routine is to say one thing we’re thankful for)
  • Exercise
  • Walk to work.

Q14 – Proudest career moment to date.

It was an honor to receive the Michigan Reading Association’s Individual Literacy Award for my work in the field and with our Big Read program.

Q15 – What’s the most important thing in your life right now?

My faith and my family – my amazing husband Jon and my 4 incredible kids.

Q16 – What time did you wake up today?

6:32 a.m.

Q17 – What’s the first thing you notice when you meet someone?

Their eyes. Our eyes can communicate so many different emotions!

Q18 – What are you reading right now?

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zetner (A young adult novel recommended to me by my daughter Claire…she said it would make me cry and it has!)

Q19 – In a typical day how many emails do you answer?


Q20 – What’s your favorite TV show?

The Wire

Q21 – What’s your favorite spot for a meeting in West Michigan?

Lemonjellos in Holland

Q22 – What’s your favorite app?

WhatsApp (the way I keep in touch with my family in Canada!)

Q23 – What experience in life made you the most nervous?

My husband and I bicycled in Southeast Asia for 5 months in 2003. We had some crazy adventures! Bicycling through the busy city of Hanoi, Vietnam (with no traffic lights!) made us feel like we were in a video game!

Q24 – What’s one question you always ask in an interview?

Give an example of when you changed your mind about something or someone.

Q25 – What’s the best part of your job?

I love the entrepreneurial aspect of my job as a college professor. My work with the Big Read, for example, only came about because I randomly applied for a NEA Big Read grant during my second year at Hope. I had no idea at the time that 7 years later it would become what it is today.

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