Living Out Solutions
Jocelyn Jones is leaving Calvin College as a different person than she was four years ago. "I don’t know that Calvin changed me so much,” said the 2008 graduate. "It’s more that somewhere along the line, Calvin helped me discover who I am.”
That discovery will likely lead Jones back home to Detroit, Mich., or a community like it, that is in need of renewal.
"There is no joint urban community where I come from,” she said. "I feel like now that I’ve lived out some solutions to problems, I can go back to a community like my own, bring back these ideas and see how we can create something new or different out of what is already there.”
To accomplish her goal, Jones plans to use her artistic talent, which she discovered through her work in theater in set design. She also hopes to draw on some of her other experiences: living in Project Neighborhood, an intentional residential student community within an urban neighborhood; volunteer work; and living on the Mosaic Floor, a residence hall floor where students live and learn around issues of culture and race.
"One of the biggest things I’ve learned is the value of forming a communal identity and how strong those ties are,” she said.
Jones’ dream is to help build a community-based art program for children and adults in an area that lacks identity. "I think you can pull together what’s there and help create the vision out of the things that are around you,” she said. "Whatever I do, I want to be faithful to what God has given me by creating something beautiful.”
Then Sings My Soul
The Gospel Choir began its life as a Calvin student organization sometime in the 1980s. Students sang; faculty and staff sang. "It was a come-as-you-are choir,” said music professor Charsie Sawyer, who took up the director’s baton for the group when she came to Calvin in 1996.
Sawyer arrived bearing a trunkload of experience in music from several genres. A classically trained vocalist, she has earned a master’s in vocal musical performance and a doctorate in classical opera, toured with an opera company and taught at several institutions.
Sawyer gave the choir classical rigor in singing gospel — the music she grew up hearing in church: "I want to train students for excellence in service to be able to play and sing skillfully,” she said. It is still, however, a come-as-you-are choir, drawing its 140 singers from a broad spectrum of backgrounds: "We have people who span from Russia to Zimbabwe,” Sawyer said, "from Asia to Latin America.”
And the choir goes everywhere — from the Crystal Cathedral in California to the slave castles in Ghana. "I wanted the choir to understand the roots of gospel music,” Sawyer said of the Ghana visit, "so I wanted them to see the suffering, the pain and to be on the continent of the forefathers of this genre of music.”
The experience of touring bonds the group, said Sawyer, and those bonds endure. In February, former Gospel Choir members from all over the nation gathered to celebrate the group’s 10th anniversary as an official choir. The choir also released a commemorative CD, Then Sings My Soul.
The music is another bond, Sawyer said: "Gospel music is not just for fun; gospel music is ministry.”
Practicing Deep Listening
Growing up as one of 11 children, Judith Vander Woude had plenty of opportunities to listen to the conversations around her.
These days, as a professor of speech pathology at Calvin, she often tells her students to practice deep listening in order to shake up their old assumptions and see the world in new ways.
"This field is not easy,” she said. "Working with a stroke patient can be a really hard thing. But I love it when students get it. As a teacher that’s still such a satisfying moment.”
Vander Woude’s colleagues say she’s brought many students to that moment over the years, a big reason why she was named the college’s 2008 recipient of Calvin’s Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching.
Under Vander Woude’s leadership, the college’s speech pathology and audiology program has grown from only a handful of students in the mid-1990s to some 70 majors a year.
Vander Woude said she still loves to teach. "You can talk about serious things, you can push students, but you can have fun, too.”
Behind the fun is a thoughtful approach to what it means to be a teacher.
"I want students to seek, as Christians,” she said, "to understand what it is like to have trouble communicating, to encounter odd responses from others, or even worse, to be ignored in everyday situations.”
Students recognize that encompassing vision for her craft. Said one former student: "What I will remember most from my time at Calvin with Professor Vander Woude was her caring nature and love for her students. And in all she did I was able to see her faith in action.”