Northwestern College to Award Honorary Degree to Retired Biology Professor

Northwestern College will award an honorary Doctor of Education degree to Professor Emeritus of Biology Virgil Muilenburg of Orange City during graduation on Saturday, May 11. The commencement ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. in the Rowenhorst Student Center.

Muilenburg was a Northwestern biology professor for 37 years until his retirement from teaching in 2000. During that time, he played a major role in growing the department’s number of faculty and majors, as well as its stellar reputation as a top science program in the region. Students knew him as tough but fair. His skill as a teacher and his high standards meant they graduated thoroughly prepared for their careers or for success in competitive medical programs.

“Prof,” as he was known to countless students, was especially gifted as a faculty adviser. He took the time to get to know his students’ interests and strengths, gave them opportunities to explore different fields, challenged them to set high goals for themselves, and helped guide them into careers that matched their passions and abilities. Many found direction because Muilenburg took them under his wing, pushed them to work harder, and encouraged them to continue their studies in graduate school.

Muilenburg’s life of service extended beyond the classroom. Students were his adopted family, and he made it a practice to invite groups of them over to his apartment for pizza and ice cream—a tradition he continues even today. In more than 50 years, he has hosted well over 2,000 college-aged guests, and he still keeps in touch with several hundred of his former students.

Muilenburg’s influence was recognized by his alma mater in 2003 when he received its alumni award for Distinguished Service to Northwestern College. And when Northwestern launched a fundraising campaign for a new science center, he gave sacrificially himself and helped secure gifts for the building as a member of the campaign’s leadership team. Now, in retirement, he spends his summers working on campus, mowing the lawn as a member of the college’s grounds crew.

Born and raised in Sioux County, Muilenburg graduated from Northwestern Classical Academy in 1958 and Northwestern Junior College in 1960. He was a member of the second graduating class of the new four-year Northwestern College when he was awarded a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1962. Muilenburg then earned a Master of Natural Science degree in zoology from the University of South Dakota before beginning his decades-long teaching career at NWC.