November 2012

The month of October found us quite busy at Calvin College. In addition to the normal patterns of the fall semester with mid-term exams, cooling temperatures and accelerated library research, we also celebrated an inauguration.

Many of you have complimented me on the inauguration activities, but I must say I had nothing to do with all that was good in this celebration. The inauguration was an opportunity for me to watch and enjoy the celebration of Calvin College: worshipping, enjoying academic lectures, listening to great music performances and celebrating with students, faculty and staff on campus. As I walked into chapel early in the week, I was surprised (and felt rather bashful) to see an image of my beard on the t-shirts students were wearing to celebrate the inauguration.

After the laughter and the celebrations ended, I returned to my deeply held conviction that my call to serve Calvin College is no different than that of any other employee who serves our students.


Students are reminded that education at Calvin features active and collaborative learning beyond the four walls of the conventional classroom.

  • In anticipation of the November elections, a group of students from communication arts and sciences (CAS) 305: “Persuasion and Propaganda” has made a project of registering their fellow students to vote. The group used posters, social media and an on-campus registration booth to get the message out. Previous projects for 305, taught by CAS professor Randy Bytwerk, have promoted recycling, blood drives and student evaluations of faculty.
  • Also this month, the students in English professor Lew Klatt’s “Creative Writing” class are writing poetry based on photographs and other works from two Center Art Gallery exhibitions. The poems will be displayed alongside the photographs, creating a dialogue between the two works of art.
  • Every year, Calvin’s senior computer science (CS) majors take the ETS Computer Science Major Field Test, which measures their knowledge in computer programming, discrete structures and systems. All of Calvin’s 2012 CS seniors scored above average, and Calvin’s average senior scored in the 99th percentile—placing our students in the top one percent of CS students nationally.

Student Life

Our student traditions also reach out into other cultures and the broader community.

  • In November, all seven Calvin residence halls hold their annual auctions to raise money for their community partners. Students bid on home-baked and knitted goods, a month of singing lessons or bathroom cleaning, pledges to shave their heads or legs or jump in the Sem Pond and other wacky services—all to benefit the agencies where Calvin students tutor and run after-school programs throughout the year.
  • On Nov. 9, the residence halls will also play host to International Treasure. Dorm lobbies will be transformed to represent different countries or regions of the world—Korea, South Africa, Singapore, New Zealand, Spain, Brazil and the Caribbean are this year’s hotspots—and students will travel between them to sample the music, art, dance and foods of each. International Treasure is family-friendly and open to the public.


We find ways to invite the community to campus.

  • Back in 2006, a Ghanian student named Nathan Tonlaar founded an ACT prep program with Ottawa Hills High School that continues at Calvin today. Throughout November, Calvin students will be prepping students from eight local high schools for the ACT exam through the Excel Program, a partnership of Calvin’s office of pre-college programs and service-learning center.
  • The Oratorio Society’s performance of Handel’s Messiah is a highlight on the Calvin events calendar every year. This year, the performances will take place at 8 p.m. on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 at Calvin’s Covenant Fine Arts Center. Calvin senior and tenor Fitah Rasendrahasina will perform alongside soprano Martha Guth, tenor Eric Jurenas and bass Richardo Lugo in this year’s Messiah.


We also seek ways to bridge cultures around the world.

  • Calvin students studying in Budapest this semester are helping refugee children with homework, working at a nursing home and a children’s hospital, studying the Bible with young adults and holding English lessons for high school students. These service-learning efforts are all the more remarkable because the students do not speak Hungarian, and their clients do not speak English.
  • For 14 years Calvin has been fostering a significant scholarly exchange with China, and at the beginning of this month, Calvin’s Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity held a final major conference for Chinese philosophers at Peking University. The event, titled “Creating Character,” served as an occasion to honor Calvin philosophy professor emeritus Alvin Plantinga.


Enrollment is showing some promising gains as we continue to rely on our many ambassadors.

  • The ReCommend ONE initiative continues. To date, 443 alumni, faculty, staff and parents have each chosen a high school senior as their personal “come-to-Calvin” focus this year. The next step is to encourage your “one” to visit Calvin. In November, they can choose among these visit options:
  • Please remind your “one” student that he or she can apply to Calvin for FREE until Dec. 1 (Jan. 1, if the student resides outside the U.S.).

Alumni and Parents

Our grads stay connected both on and off campus.

  • Christmas at the Campus Store is a perennial celebration for Calvin alumni, family and friends as well as a great way to “buy Calvin” for the people on your list. This year, the Calvin community will shop the Campus Store from 9 a.m. through 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 1. A portion of all sales—from Calvin wear, John Calvin bobble heads, faculty-authored books, global gifts and all other items—will benefit the Grand Rapids Area Alumni Network Scholarship Fund, which supports first- and second-year Calvin students.
  • One of the most requested guests for alumni network events around the country is River City Improv, a troupe of Calvin grads skilled at the art of improvisational comedy. River City Improv will perform in Plymouth, Mich., on Nov. 17 and in the San Francisco Bay area from Dec. 6 through 8.


All of our efforts, both on and off campus, are possible because of the generous support of our donors.

  • Higher education is under close scrutiny about its cost and value. We have made the review of Calvin College’s financial position a high priority as a first step in a new strategic planning process that starts this year. Like many other colleges, we face rising benefit costs, lagging faculty and staff salaries, low investment returns and higher future debt-service payments. Calvin College must begin to adapt to these new realities now if our academic excellence is to remain sustainable and affordable. With declines in family income over the past several years, we recognize we cannot simply pass these costs on to tuition-paying families. Last month, the campus community received a financial review, and the Board of Trustees has commissioned a planning and prioritization process which will envision an exciting future for Calvin College and help to focus resources on the priorities we identify over the next year. Our need to engage in this process is serious, but time is on our side, and we are not alarmed. We work from a firm foundation: Calvin College’s Reformed Christian mission is clear and compelling, our academic reputation is strong, enrollment is increasing, and our ratio of assets to liabilities is positive. We can meet these challenges with a united and joyful spirit as we work together to preserve academic excellence and serve our students well.
  • Attendees of the annual Scholarship Dinner, held Nov. 12 at De Vos Place, will hear from Calvin strategic communication major Aemelia Tripp about how the Pella Promise allowed her to study abroad in Hungary and work at an internship in Chicago. (The Pella Promise is a $4,000 renewable scholarship given to any Calvin student from one of the Pella high schools by members of that community.) The Scholarship Dinner, where donors of named and other scholarships meet the students whose lives they’re benefiting, is the marquee annual event of Calvin’s advancement division.
  • Calvin alumni and friends have already helped our students get off to a good start this fall by giving to the Calvin Annual Fund. Since August, more than 1,000 alumni have offered $300,000 of support to the fund. If you haven’t made your gift yet, there’s still time to make an impact this semester. Visit


Calvin athletes work toward both athletic and spiritual excellence.

  • Calvin has now won six MIAA titles (in women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer and men’s golf). This marks the first time in league history that a school has captured six MIAA titles in one sports season. Calvin’s previous high-water mark for championships in one sports season was five, in both 2007 and 2010.
  • The women’s golf team took fourth place in the final MIAA fall standings and qualified for the four-team MIAA spring tournament. Senior Elise Doezema and junior Carlia Canto were both named to the All-MIAA first team.
  • The Calvin women’s basketball team is ranked number one in the preseason poll in the Women’s Division III Newsletter. The same publication named senior Carissa Verkaik “Preseason Player of the Year.”
  • Every year beginning in August, student leaders of Calvin varsity teams spend a week at the Gainey Ranch in southwest Montana to focus on getting to know God and learning how to lead their teams in the coming months. From the Gainey experience flow many of Calvin’s spiritual training efforts for student athletes throughout the year. Calvin teams participate in prayer meetings, retreats, Bible studies and devotionals. They learn to develop spiritual community in their teams and to honor team success above individual accolades.

At the end of the inauguration ceremonies, the trustee meetings and all of the other activities of mid-October, I had some time to reflect on the future of Calvin College. I confess that my mind quickly wandered to my worries, and my worries can lead me to erroneous thinking sometimes. Instead of asking, “How can I master all of the challenges in my way?” I need to pray for faith like a mustard seed.

Our worries and temptations lead us to think we need big things such as power, control and money in order for us to have peace. The teachings of Jesus on three different occasions remind us that it is faith the size of a mustard seed that accomplishes the true and great purposes of God. Clearly, I still have a lot to learn.



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