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Knowledge, Skills, Virtues: Calvin College Stories

Institutional Vision

Daniel Bays, Won Lee, Diane Obenchain and Larry Herzberg

Four years ago, the Asian studies program included a handful of students in an unofficial, self-designed major. Now 35 students are majoring in Asian studies, a program that includes courses in Asian languages, philosophy, history, religion and art. Among all Christian colleges and universities in North America, Calvin is the only one with an Asian studies program of its scope and size. Members of the Asian studies faculty include (from left): Daniel Bays, Won Lee, Diane Obenchain and Larry Herzberg.

Asian Studies: Looking East

In 2006, Calvin’s Asian studies program set two records for enrollment in Chinese language studies. Last year, approximately 300 students (seven percent of Calvin’s student body) were enrolled in Asian studies courses, including history, religion, philosophy and art. In the fall, nearly 170 of those students were studying Chinese or Japanese languages and 16 of them participated in Calvin’s semester-abroad program in Beijing.

Japanese Bible“The rapid rise in Chinese language enrollments parallels similar growth in Chinese language programs worldwide,” said Larry Herzberg, Calvin professor of Chinese and Japanese. “But Calvin is the only Christian college in North America to offer any kind of extensive program in Chinese or Japanese, so in this respect we are unique.”

Thanks in part to the rising student interest in Asian language and culture and Calvin’s nationally recognized Asian studies faculty scholars, 2006 was a banner year for the program in one other way: It secured a prestigious $500,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Calvin will receive the grant money provided the college raises an additional $1.5 million, which will endow the program in perpetuity.

“Our students’ sense of the importance of Asia in the 21st century is absolutely correct,” noted Daniel Bays, Calvin professor of history and Asian studies director. “When I was in college, studying Asian languages, politics and history was considered highly unusual. Now students travel in high school to Asian countries, and they’re ready to study the languages when they come here.”

Calvin Nursing Students

The Calvin nursing department partners with three local communities to promote the health of the residents and to provide community-based experiences for students.

Nursing: Healing Neighborhoods

As a nursing student, Alysha McFadden expected to learn how to take a patient’s blood pressure. She did not expect to learn how to deal with a homeless man who had stopped taking his many medications—something she learned while taking his blood pressure. “The problem wasn’t that the meds weren’t working,” McFadden recalled. “It was that he didn’t have food to eat when taking the meds.”

Health check-upThis was just one of many real-life scenarios McFadden experienced through the Calvin nursing program, which was re-envisioned in 2002 to have a strong community nursing focus.

“The new model was designed so that our nurses could deliver care in the community, in homes, in the clinic, and in acute care or hospital settings—because the reality is that most of us move between and among those places in terms of our health care needs,” said Mary Molewyk Doornbos, nursing department chair.

Through the Calvin program, nursing students work in one of three Grand Rapids neighborhoods—Creston-Belknap, Baxter-Madison and Burton Heights—for six-week stints in their junior and senior years. They assess neighborhood health care needs. They perform blood pressure and blood sugar screenings of neighborhood residents and screen children for blood lead content. They do senior health visits. They talk about nutrition and wellness and about diseases such as hypertension, breast cancer, asthma and diabetes in a variety of neighborhood settings. Most of all they educate residents about health care resources in the community.

McFadden, who graduated in May, said the program taught her a sensitive, holistic approach to nursing. “I think when you’re in a hospital setting, you don’t see a full picture of a person. You don’t see their family, and you don’t see the environment that they’re from,” she said. “It was helpful for me to see the complexities.”

Angel Guerrero, Trang Nguyen, Carolina Martinez and Jermale D. Eddie (from left)

Among the college’s efforts to enroll minority students is the new Ambassador program. Calvin staff members and students Angel Guerrero, Trang Nguyen, Carolina Martinez and Jermale D. Eddie (from left) are heading up this mentoring initiative.

Multicultural Students: Calling Calvin ‘Home’

In the fall of 2007, the Calvin community welcomed a record number of incoming African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American (AHANA) students. Among the most welcoming faces on campus were those of the Ambassador mentors, 10 junior and senior students who were on hand to meet the newcomers—and the returning AHANA sophomores—and eventually assist them in charting successful college careers.

RangeelaAHANA student retention is a challenge for many colleges and universities, and it is at the core of the Ambassador Mentorship program. “The expanded Ambassador program will build the community and sense of investment on the part of the institution that experts say are crucial for retaining students,” said Jacque Rhodes, Calvin assistant dean of multicultural student development.

The original Ambassador program targeted first-year AHANA students. A $10,000 grant from the DaimlerChrysler Minority Retention Award program will allow the college to address the “sophomore slump,” a time that researchers have pinpointed as pivotal in the college career. “Sophomore year is a time when for a number of reasons—academic, social, financial, vocational or just institutional fit—students tend to give up on college,” Rhodes said. “It is especially difficult for AHANA students because of the pressures they face from being a minority presence in a predominately white institution.”

Ambassador mentors will meet with students throughout the year, helping them to identify their academic, social and spiritual strengths and guiding them into the classes, extracurricular activities and leadership positions in which they can thrive at Calvin.

Said mentor Carolina Martinez ’09: “I believe that this new peer mentoring program is a great way to form relationships with other students and help them realize that, although college life may be difficult in many ways, it is still possible to make it through.”

Engineering students contruct a wind turbine on Calvin's campus.

“They can be rightly proud of this project because it didn’t exist before they created it.” —Matt Heun

Engineering: Capturing Wind Power

This spring, Calvin faculty and students gathered to raise a Skystream 3.7 wind turbine on the east side of Calvin’s campus. Intended as a demonstration project, the turbine is currently powering a house adjacent to the college’s 90-acre Ecosystem Preserve. The turbine will serve as an educational tool for campus visitors as well as a source of data for studying the efficacy of wind energy in this region.

Skystream 3.7 wind turbineThe wind turbine is also a source of inspiration, said Matt Heun, Calvin professor of engineering: “I think my students felt a great deal of pride to actually see the thing lifted and have it operate.”

The turbine is a symbolic answer to Heun’s question to his 2006 “Thermal Systems Design” class: “What would it take to make a significant impact on Calvin’s campus using wind power?”

“I like to ask those simple questions that take more than a semester to answer,” he said. Shortly after he asked that question, the engineering department landed a $6,000 grant from the state of Michigan Energy Office to build a demonstration turbine on Calvin’s campus. Aided by the wind energy interest group (a student group that researches renewable energies), the class took on all of the practical work—budget, location, external relations, equipment selection—of seeing the turbine raised at Calvin.

The students paused in their work on Feb. 21, 2007, to host Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who visited Calvin to hear about the wind turbine project. And many members of both the group and the class gave up a Saturday to help raise the turbine into place.

Said one of them, Jordan Beekhuis, who graduated in May: “It will be great if Calvin gets a reputation as a place that supports renewable energy.”

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