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Vision, Faith, Commitment: Calvin College Stories

Faculty Vision

Professor Dave Warners

Restoring Nature, One Plant at a Time

It was while he was in graduate school that biology Professor Dave Warners learned that some of the plants so familiar to him — from gardening alongside his mother and landscaping throughout college — were invasive species: Imported into a habitat, these marauders aggressively choked out native species.

Recent Honors

  • Mary Jane Dockery Award from the Land Conservancy of West Michigan
  • 2006 Michigan Campus Compact Faculty/Staff Community Service-Learning Award
  • 2006 Teacher of the Year award from Calvin’s senior class

Warners turned to conservation biology, and since coming to Calvin nine years ago, he has cultivated a wealth of projects, both on campus and off, that aim at restoration. He, his students gardening alongside him, has established rain gardens and native plant gardens featuring plants such as wild columbine, swamp milkweed and cardinal flower on campus and at area parks and schools. He has inventoried the plants at Calvin, at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, Mich., and elsewhere. He has eradicated non-native species such as wild buckthorn and purple loosestrife all over town.

“I really want to help people work to appreciate the beauty and integrity of this part of God’s creation,” Warners said of his work, “to inspire them to both preserve the natural beauty that’s already there and to try to bring it back. The students are so fun,” he added, “and they get so involved.”

His efforts have covered Warners with honors, not the least of which is the testimonial of a colleague: “I can think of no more forward-thinking effort than teaching and research that seeks to help us live more compatibly with the rest of creation,” said Calvin biology Professor Randy van Dragt. “That’s what Dave is doing.”

Kids walking

“I have always felt it difficult to try to describe the ‘role’ my faith plays in my work, as my work has always emerged from who I believe God has made me, the call He places on my life, and commitment to justice He demands of all of us. It is not a component of my research, it is its source.” —Denise Isom, education professor

Examining Identity Through Faith

The inspiration for her current research came to Calvin education Professor Denise Isom while she was watching a music video with her “fabulous nephew.” His macho reaction to the video surprised Isom because her nephew was raised by strong, successful women. “The external messages of pop culture were presently more authentic and more potent to him than the reality of his own life,” she said. “Why?”

Professor Denise IsomThat quandary led Isom into the study of racialized gender constructs. She studied African-American fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders from an after-school program in an urban metropolitan community, examining how they identified maleness, femaleness, masculinity, femininity, blackness and the intersection of all of those concepts. What she found were identities in tension: Young men who were more caring than they pretended to be; young women who were not always as confident as they appeared.

Underlying her work, Isom said, is a desire to help young people break down the external messages they receive, “so they can live into their created selves — who God created them to be.” She will focus her research next on the same age groups in three church youth groups. “I want to add the variable of religiosity,” she said. “How do they define themselves as children of faith, as Christians?”

“Her work is important because it helps us to understand the intersectionality of our many identities,” said Michelle Loyd-Paige, Calvin’s interim dean for multicultural affairs.

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