John M. Perkins leadership program started for incoming freshmen

File photo.
File photo.

Twenty-nine freshmen are enrolled in the new John M. Perkins Leadership Fellows program.

For the next two years, these students will take classes together focused on the leadership style and practices of Dr. John Perkins, attend dinners with prominent leaders on Calvin’s campus and participate in a service learning spring break trip to Jackson, Miss. Each fellow also receives a $2,500 renewable scholarship.

Aaron Einfeld, director in the enrollment department, proposed the program as a means to take students beyond a vague definition of leadership. Program leaders chose to model the program after the leadership style of Perkins, a prominent civil rights leader and co-founder of the Christian Community Development Association. His work and ideas have long influenced Calvin College.

The planning team eventually involved Nate Bradford, co-assistant chaplain; Russ Bloem, vice president of enrollment; Jeff Bouman, service learning director; and Todd Cioffi, professor of congregational ministry studies. Cioffi now serves as the academic director for the new program.

The Perkins Fellows program is designed to empower students often overlooked by leadership initiatives: it specifically targets first-generation college students who have had formative experience in multicultural leadership. Bouman said that as Calvin becomes increasingly diverse, it needs leaders on all levels who are able to give proper attention to varying needs based on different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“This program is designed to address this need and to prepare students to step up into this kind of authentic, truth-telling leadership,” Bouman said of the leadership initiative.

The Perkins fellows see this program as an opportunity to grow in both leadership and in their understanding of diversity. Jaimee Wattenbarger expressed a “hope to share cultural diversity,” as well as a desire to grow within a diverse community and begin to better understand the perspectives of those from different backgrounds.

Melissa Rivera hopes to further her knowledge on racism issues that still exist within our society. She anticipates the program providing her a practical means to put this knowledge into action.

“This program stands for a lot … One way this is evident is how it shows us that one person, by standing up for a cause … can make a huge difference and change thousands of lives,” said Perkins fellow Enrika Sinkeviciute.

The program has started as planned, with the fellows taking both their first year seminar course (formerly Prelude) and Developing a Christian Mind (DCM) together during the first semester.