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President's Message

Teaching That Lasts

In 1970, when I returned home to Michigan after military service in Vietnam, I entered Calvin College with strong focus and determination. I contemplated going to law school and felt called to matters related to international affairs. An older-than-average student, I was able to craft a unique, interdisciplinary major, emphasizing philosophy, English, speech, Russian, history, and political science. Working closely with my Calvin professors, I received what I still believe today is the finest Christian liberal arts education in the world.

While many important things happen to a young person during the college years, faculty-student interaction is at the center of the college experience. And it is gratifying to note that the description of my educational experience of the 1970s resonates with both alumni from generations past and "new millennium" Calvin students today. Calvin professors and their students form true educational partnerships, and these relationships launch careers that contribute to the Spirit's work of renewal in every corner of society.

Numerous occasions during the academic year highlight the faculty-student exchange and bring memories of relationships with Calvin professors to my mind. One such occasion comes in February, as the community pauses to announce the Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching, the highest honor Calvin bestows. This year, Peter De Jong, professor of social work, received this honor. His words perfectly express the partnership in learning I experienced as a student:

You have to listen [to students]…and sometimes you have to push them a little. You have to be willing to explore. But when you do listen and push and explore, you find that students have good ideas. It's a very empowering process for them and for me as a professor. It's a true collaboration.

When Homecoming arrives, and the Calvin Alumni Association honors a retired faculty member with its annual Faith and Learning Award, it is another reminder of the enduring faculty-student bond. I was in attendance this February as Ervina Boevé, professor emerita of communication arts and sciences, received this distinction. Her former students testified how she brought theater to a respected and important place in our faith community and encouraged hundreds of young thespians to reflect Christ in the arts.

And during Commencement season in May, when the Alumni Association names its Distinguished Alumni, I often hear of the profound influence of faculty on the lives of our graduates. This year's honorees, historian Robert Swierenga and astronomer Paul Vanden Bout, talked about how Calvin faculty members were role models—how the Christian scholarship at Calvin was caught as well as taught.

Swierenga recalled how history professor Charles Miller pulled him aside and encouraged him to consider becoming a historian—and then became a longtime mentor as Swierenga pursued his graduate education and academic career. Now an eminent historian and prolific author, Swierenga has not forgotten Miller's personal investment in him, and he strives to do the same with his own students.

Vanden Bout singled out professor Roger Faber, who at one time taught all of Calvin's physics courses and was a major influence on students with scientific interests. Faber's teaching set the stage for Vanden Bout's uncommon career in radio astronomy. Both Vanden Bout and Swierenga claimed that without the lasting impact of these fine professors, their careers would have looked much different.

Today's Calvin students echo that claim. This summer, in the engineering department, professors Paulo Ribeiro and Matt Heun mentored junior engineering students Sam Schoofs and Paul Sokomba. Funded by a grant from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the team investigated possibilities for new solar cell technology, specifically for potential use in micro satellites that will orbit Mars. It was a wonderful achievement for the professors and an amazing opportunity for these young researchers.

Another group of Calvin students is gaining valuable ministry experience under the guidance of Calvin faculty and staff, through the various components of the Lilly Vocation Project. In experience that will enhance their skill and love for ministry over a two-year period. The Jubilee Fellows will serve as interns in congregations around the country.

And in May, the Lilly Vocation Project also announced the selection of 12 worship apprentices for 2003–04. These students will be serving the Calvin community as worship leaders, musicians, dramatists, liturgists, artists, dancers, and technology coordinators. They will also be involved in the many worship and study programs of the college, receiving special training from the staff of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

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President Gaylen J. Byker
President Gaylen J. Byker

 

"Working closely with my Calvin professors, I received what I still believe today is the finest Christian liberal arts education in the world."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter De Jong stresses collaboration in teaching.
Peter De Jong, recipient of the Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching, stresses collaboration in teaching.
Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching