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Minds in the Making: How did we get here?

Calvin is a place where writing and communication are highly valued and well performed. As a scholarly institution our writers are plenty and our readers even more numerous. However, when it comes to writing about ourselves—about Calvin—we perhaps are not the best people for the job. We know ourselves too well, make too many assumptions, and our modesty often gets in the way of real truth-telling to those for whom Calvin is unfamiliar.

As such, Calvin needs help communicating itself—not being told what to say but, rather, how to say what we've been doing for over 125 years, and what we'll continue to do. This is where Crane MetaMarketing comes in.

Click image to enlarge viewIn contracting with Crane, an Atlanta-based firm with a national clientele, Calvin sought a message that would reflect accurately, honestly, and effectively who Calvin is to an ever-broadening constituency. At first, Calvin simply sought new Admissions materials. However, Crane's extensive research and market analysis soon indicated that this was not enough. Crane encouraged Calvin to see that we are poised at the beginning of a new era—one in which students and parents are ready to hear the message of an education that embraces both intellect and faith without compromising either—that asserts a bolstering relationship between the two. In short, the message that has long characterized Calvin.

The marketplace, Crane asserted, is ready to embrace this tension. But, was Calvin ready to enter this marketplace with a focused, national message? If so, Calvin must commit to going beyond Admissions materials. Only with the broader message of the entire college behind it could Calvin reach this national audience and confidently pass through the doors opened by national discussions regarding the role of faith in higher education such as those playing out in the Atlantic Monthly, Commonweal, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Click image to enlarge viewCrane challenged Calvin to broaden its audience to two target groups of high-ability Christian students and families: those who don't know this institution well enough, and those who don't yet know Calvin at all. The first group might consist partially of inadequately informed—or misinformed—students within Calvin's traditional constituencies. While seeking to repair faulty perceptions, Calvin can also target a second group: academically achieving students who match the college's values and standards yet, may have dismissed Christian colleges as insufficiently challenging or open-minded.

Click image to enlarge viewBringing Calvin into this national arena was a task Crane was well-equipped to meet. In fact, several members of the Crane team had worked with Communicorp, the agency that produced the well-received "Your Place" campaign for the admissions office in the early 1990's—a campaign that also resulted in a more cohesive Calvin nameplate. Crane's 18-month research process brought them to campus several times, conducting interviews with key administrators, faculty, staff, and students. It also brought them deep into the literature that tells the story of Calvin College—from Convocation addresses to the new core curriculum document An Engagement with God's World. Many statistical reports—from Day 10 statistics to Christian Reformed student enrollment history—also informed their impressions of the Calvin student body both past and future.

"I am Calvin College"
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View the 1999 Calvin commercial in RealMedia

In November 2000, Crane produced a Review and Reflection Paper with the subtitle "Eight years later." In it, Crane chronicled the gems from interviews conducted, cited the many phrases that demonstrate "the uniquely faithful and scholarly institution" that is Calvin, and conveyed their unabashed enthusiasm for the things that make Calvin unique (not least of which is An Engagement with God's World, Calvin's bold new curriculum). In short, Crane listened to Calvin tell them who we were, and replied in phrases and language both new and resonant with the "Good Spot of Earth" that is Calvin College.

From this rigorous work with Crane comes Minds in the Making—a "simple way" to broaden Calvin's reach, to highlight the college's academic quality, and to suggest both the formative nature and the Reformed/reforming underpinnings of a Calvin education. Through it, Calvin tells its story well, is consistent in its messages, and articulates its uniqueness to those who don't know a place such as Calvin exists.