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Brothers to share stage at Concordia U’s Poehler Lecture

When Concordia University, St. Paul, holds its 11th annual Poehler Lecture on Faith and Learning Tuesday, April 24, there will be two lecturers rather than one. However, they do share the same last name. The Trapp brothers were selected for this honor based on excellence in academic disciplines as well as their maturity in the Christian faith.

Dr. Dale Trapp is professor of physics and earth science. The Rev. Dr. Thomas Trapp is professor of theology and Hebrew. The brothers were installed at what was then Concordia College, St. Paul, September 12, 1982, the same date their parents observed their 40th wedding anniversary.

The Poehler Lecture Series is an annual event exploring the ways in which Concordia faculty members connect Christian faith with academic discipline. The series is made possible by a gift from Robert and Elisabeth Trembath and is named in honor of the Rev. Dr. Willy August Poehler, Concordia’s president from 1946 to 1970 and the father of Elisabeth Trembath.

Dale Trapp (left) and Thomas Trapp will present the Poehler Lecture at Concordia University, St. Paul. Photo provided by Concordia University, St. Paul

The Poehler Lecture Series is an annual event exploring the ways in which Concordia faculty members connect Christian faith with academic discipline.

This year’s event will be held in the Beutow Music Center Auditorium on the Concordia campus beginning at 7 p.m., and is free and open to the public. The Trapp brothers’ presentation is titled “Head to Head — Heart to Heart.”

Speaking of faith

Thomas Trapp holds the following degrees: A.A. from Concordia College, Ann Arbor, Michigan; B.A. from Concordia Senior College, Ft. Wayne, Indiana; M.Div. from Concordia Theological Seminary, St. Louis, and D.Th., Ruprecht Karl Universitat, Heidelberg, Germany, where he was a full-time Fulbright Scholar 1971-73.

Dale Trapp holds these degrees: BS from General Motors Institute; MS from the University of Michigan, and PhD from the University of Minnesota.

For the Trapp brothers, speaking about their faith comes easily, whether it’s in leading a chapel service, worshipping in church on Sunday, in the classroom, or on a personal level.

The advance of technology and changing student priorities are among the differences the Trapp bothers see compared to 1982 when they joined the Concordia faculty. Dale has transitioned from lantern slides to 35mm slides to overheads to digital presentation. (He said he doubts Concordia even has an overhead projector anymore.) His students over the years have done calculations by hand, with slide rules, and now with computers. He laughed that another change is that textbooks are “thicker, growing thicker with each new edition … and they cost more, too.”

Tom, who uses a PowerPoint projector every day in class, noted that with computer technology students have a permanent record of what’s happening in class. He said years ago a student might have been given a word to look up before the next class meeting while now a student with a laptop or notebook computer might “Google” a word and have the answer within seconds. With student work coming to him in digital form, he doesn’t have the loads of paper he used to carry home evenings and weekends and wouldn’t want to go back to that.

It’s a new age

Students arriving at Concordia today are different than 30 years ago. Many of them are married and have families; in some cases they are pursuing a second career. They are busier than ever and have less time to prepare for classes. A sick child might mean a missed day in class. And, because of student athletes’ schedules, Friday afternoon classes are largely a thing of the past. With college education more expensive, many students have to work, often at unusual hours. The start of the school day may not be the first activity of the day for these students.

Tom lamented that students today “don’t seem to know how to tell a story. They don’t see the connectedness of a narrative.” That is probably all a part of the digital/media age we live in. Attention spans are very short.

Dale commented about recent news about scientific research achieving a speed faster than the speed of light and how things long taken as fact can change overnight. He wants his students to be “surprised,” but as Tom says, “realize that reality doesn’t change; it’s our perception that changes.” He reminds that it is a broken and redeemed world. That reinforces the reality that “Jesus is my savior; it’s not how smart I am,” said Dale.

“The truth of the Gospel is so good I want everybody to hear it,” said Tom. He is accepting a call to the parish ministry, but brother Dale plans to continue teaching at Concordia University, both getting the good news out to people.

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