Calvin College

CALVIN - Minds in the Making

Strengthening Liberal Arts Education by Embracing Place and Particularity

Case Study

Calvin Environmental Assessment Program (CEAP)


How do you construct your curriculum to enhance its embeddedness with your place, without adding extra demands on faculty?  How do you integrate research, expertise, and teaching into the life of the community in order to enhance learning and the development of virtues, allowing students and faculty to live more whole lives?

In higher education we work at challenging students to see issues in a framework that goes beyond the limitations of their parochial, or locally based experiences – college is meant to be a broadening experience.  This is easy because most faculty are themselves “rootless professors,” using the words of Eric Zencey (1996).  Professors are supposed to belong to the world of ideas rather than places.  An alternative is to see education as a deepening of local understanding.  When we deepen our understanding of the places where we live we gain a greater understanding of who we are, the intricacies of our place, and our responsibilities.  Then we may in turn have the skills to learn to appreciate and care for other places.  Perhaps broadening experiences include the route of understanding the “other” via a deepening of our understanding of who and where we are.  Historian Christopher Lasch (1991) claimed that allegiance to the “world” is ineffective because it stretches our capacity for loyalty too thin.  In reality, we love particular people and places.  Abstract ideals need to be made concrete through loving, understanding, and caring for particular people and places.

The Calvin Environmental Assessment Program (CEAP) at Calvin builds on this need to serve and show caretaking through the process of paying attention to that which is closest at hand.  CEAP involves faculty across the college, but mainly in the sciences, who each dedicate regular lab sessions or projects to collecting data that contribute to an overall assessment of the environment of the campus and surroundings areas. CEAP is informed by debates in philosophy of science over the particularity versus the universality of knowledge, exemplifying the science of local knowledge and the importance of the embeddedness of knowledge.  CEAP also reflects the educational philosophy of Nel Noddings.  CEAP models Noddings’ Care Theory pedagogy which calls for the embeddedness of the learning in caring relationships and real life settings.

CEAP involves more than 20 courses as well as 400 students across the college, but mainly in the sciences.  Faculty dedicate regular lab sessions or course projects to collecting data that contribute to an overall assessment of the environment of the campus and surroundings areas.  These studies are brought together in a once-a-semester event which involves a poster session and CEAP lecture.  In addition, faculty and some students meet for a workshop each summer to review and plan.  The Calvin Environmental Assessment Program serves the liberal arts through the encouragement of cross-disciplinary learning, the linking of larger questions, typical of the liberal arts (For example, what does it mean to live the “good life?”) with the operationalization of the answers to these types of questions, and the development of the virtue of stewardship through the development of habits of stewardship based on attentiveness to place.

CEAP has led to an increase in cross-disciplinary interaction, the creation of a point of engagement with the planning process, a growing connection between word and deed, and a sense of the wholeness of research, teaching, and personal commitments.  CEAP has provided a basis of getting faculty involved in community issues, based on their expertise, but within the time and subject matter constraints found within the sciences.  The most recent direction of CEAP has been to expand our sense of belonging and responsibility to the Plaster Creek Watershed.  Thus research and organizational efforts have moved up in scale, incorporating community partners in the effort.


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