Inner Compass cultivates curiosity, hosts guests who jump on tables
A television series nationally broadcasted on PBS and boasting guests such as Shane Claiborne, Joel Salatin and Wally Lamb that is produced in a Christian college is only found at Calvin, according to Jazmyne Fuentes, the producer of “Inner Compass.”
“Inner Compass” (IC), though, isn’t only about obviously Christian topics. Fuentes describes it as a “holistic talk show [in which the] goal is to be a model of civil dialogue with people who have devoted their lives to an issue or a cause, so we don’t ask ahead of time whether these people are Christians. It’s about exploring the calling these people have.”
The show, known “Calvin Forum” until 2000, began in 1990 and was originally produced by students. Fuentes was hired as executive producer in 1998. Other IC employees include associate producer C.G. Clarke and its hosts, Shirley Hoogstra, vice president of student life, and Professor Karen Saupe of the English department.
The mission of IC, for Saupe, “is to encourage, cultivate and feed people’s natural curiosity about issues and how others think.”
Saupe remembered one of her college professors encouraging her to go to guest lectures, poetry readings and concerts. “He would say, ‘Otherwise, you just sit around eating Jell-o and watching ‘8 Is Enough.’’”
To stave off Jell-o cravings and ignorance, Saupe has been cultivating knowledge and curiosity with the help of IC. “I talk with interesting, lively people,” said Saupe. “I learn a lot.”
Senior Taylor Soderling also uses IC as an information source. Soderling has been close captioning episodes since last spring and has gotten ideas for his creative writing endeavors from IC guests and topics. He drew inspiration for villains based on the seven deadly sins from a recent episode with Professor Rebecca DeYoung of the philosophy department.
“All are interesting to a degree and involve revolution and reformation going on,” he said of the episodes. “They’re all applicable.”
Soderling is also looking forward to watching the episodes featuring guests of the January Series.
This year, Saupe or Hoogstra will be interviewing Jeremy Courtney, Jenny Yang, Richard Mouw, Peter Diamandis, Captain Scotty Smiley, Jeff Van Duzer, Mike Kim and Chap Clark. The episodes will air throughout spring semester.
Senior Delainna Novak, who works with Calvin Video Productions, agreed with Soderling. “[IC] takes stuff we’re learning in a liberal arts education and shows that it is applicable in the real world.”
Novak has worked with Fuentes to market IC and regularly works as a camaraperson to tape episodes. She is now looking for a post-Calvin job as a video editor. “Working with ‘Inner Compass’ [a nationally syndicated PBS show] bumps my resume up to the top,” she said.
However, she regrets having to leave IC, since she has enjoyed working with Fuentes and Clarke.
She also will miss taping with Steve Niedzielski, a video producer at Calvin. “[He] is infamous for saying hilarious things while taping,” she said.
According to Novak, during a shoot in October Niedzielski commented that a guest sounded like Optimus Prime, a “Transformers” character. “I had to bite my fist not to laugh,” she said.
The guest was Professor Elijah Anderson of Yale University, who was visiting for UnLearn Week, and the episode will air in January.
With the help of IC staff, Fuentes chooses IC guests carefully. “I always want the interviews to be unpredictable,” she said. “If I know what will be said, I’ll skip the interview because I feel the viewer will have the same feeling.”
Clifford Stoll, a “crazy, Einstein-looking guy,” was one of the more unpredictable guests, according to Fuentes. During his interview years ago, he hopped on tables and chairs during the interview, at one point quoting Shakespeare to Saupe, who hosted the interview.
Saupe and Fuentes blame Jake Bosmeijer, chief engineer in DeVos Communication Center, for what occurred. “He gave [Stoll] a wireless mic, a permission slip to do whatever he wanted to,” said Fuentes.
Bosmeijer said he knew Stoll would be mobile after seeing him speak at the January Series. “Clifford was a special case, and I think we all knew to expect the unexpected,” he said. “[It was] probably one of Karen’s favorite interviews.”
Saupe did note that Stoll was a memorable guest, but she named episodes with Claiborne, Pedro Noguera and Bill McKibben as among her favorites. Claiborne was at the top of her list of dream guests, but she has yet to interview Chris Thile, a mandolin player whose work she finds intriguing.
She also thinks talking with Paul Simon would be an exciting conversation and would like to interview more politicians. “[IC] would give them space to elaborate” on their ideas, she said.
Saupe is open to suggestions. “If anyone is aware of speakers coming to town, or topics [to address], we would love to hear from them,” she said.
Saupe encourages students to watch IC. “Just enjoy [an episode],” said Saupe. “There’s no test. School dampens the excitement for learning.”
Fuentes agrees with Saupe that students should have more involvement with IC. She commented, “’Inner Compass’ shows the media world a different face of Christianity than what they like to portray. Help us spread our impact by liking us on Facebook.”
Students can also attend any tapings in February and on by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the mailing list for notifications on when the next episode will be filmed.
Fuentes continued, “We’re proud of the fact that the college is full of messages to the students that they need to transform and redeem their chosen inch of planet and we see ‘Inner Compass’ as Calvin’s implementation of that mandate.
“There have been many PBS stations and viewers that have been absolutely delighted to see a show like ours because we’re so comfortable talking about God and spirituality, and comfortable with those who don’t share our views.”
To learn more about “Inner Compass,” visit the Facebook page or the website at calvin.edu/innercompass. Students can also email suggestions or sign up to receive IC alerts by emailing email@example.com.