Ask anyone—your mom, your teachers, older siblings—and they'll tell you that college was the best time of their life. But this time, it's your life. So how can you handcraft your college experience so that it's just what you need to prepare for life in the real world?
Here you'll find some raw materials to get started. Start with the basics—like people, places, programs and passions—and overlay them with your own colors, your own textures, your own designs.
Each of the Calvin women profiled here chose five words to describe her Calvin experience. Step into their stories. . . and then begin to craft your own.
As you do, you'll create a Calvin experience that you never imagined, but one that—turns out—fits you best.
HOMETOWN: River Forest, Ill.
MAJOR: Early Childhood/Elementary Education and language arts (minor)
CAREER GOAL: Teach in inner-city Chicago
Elena is still figuring things out.
She views college as a time to learn more about who God has created her to be, and she's taking advantage of that opportunity.
"Calvin invites you to discover who you are as an individual through your classes, through sermons and through lectures," she says. "But it does the same through silly competitions, midnight Steak 'n Shake runs, too much caffeine and too little sleep."
Through it all, Elena sees John 10:10 in action, saying: "At Calvin, you will experience life, and life abundantly."
For Elena, this abundance has included participating in an interim play with the Calvin Theatre Company, and leading morning chapels and Sunday-night LOFT services through the Worship Apprentice program.
As someone who loves singing, Elena has also found a home in Calvin's Women's Chorale. She calls the group's recent trip to South Africa "the best trip that I've taken in my life."
"I went on a safari, I made friends with South African university students, I toured Nelson Mandela's prison cell and I sang on top of Table Mountain. I made new, strong friendships, I experienced the beauty of God's creation in a new way and I was able to see God's grace and love through a post-apartheid society."
After college, Elena will carry the lessons she's learned at Calvin into her work as a teacher—preferably in inner-city Chicago. She is confident she can face the challenges of the classroom because she's been challenged to dig deep into important issues at Calvin.
"Calvin respects you as a student, as a human and as a Christian. Calvin won't coddle you or treat you like a child. We wrestle with big ideas, and touchy topics, and faith and doubt."
For Elena, the wrestling is worth it. She can't wait to see what's next for her to discover.
HOMETOWN: Zeeland, Mich.
MAJOR: Business with a concentration in Human Resources
CAREER GOAL: Establish a not-for-profit organization
Corrin is always making connections.
Whether she's leading incoming students through orientation, playing intramural soccer or leading a weekly Bible study, Corrin realizes her impact and influence on those around her.
As an orientation leader, Corrin encourages new Calvin students. "I've learned how to work with different types of people, using my gift of being friendly to make freshmen feel comfortable at Calvin," she says.
But Corrin doesn't just serve as a mentor for one semester; she's formed lasting friendships with the students in her group. "Before the first day of orientation, I thought that I was going to be a huge blessing in the lives of my freshmen, but little did I know that I was going to be so much more blessed by the presence they have in my life."
Her favorite thing about Calvin? "I absolutely love that God is incorporated into every single aspect of Calvin," she shares. "It is so amazing to see how professors offer a faith perspective on subjects from business marketing to biology."
Corrin is pursuing a business major with a concentration in human resources. "I would love to start my own not-for-profit organization someday," she says. "I know that God is calling me to help hurting people, to show them the love of Christ and to be light into the darkness of our world."
But there's at least one connection Corrin can't make yet: She doesn't know the specifics of how that calling might lead her to start an organization from the ground up. "For now," she says, "I will wait patiently for God to open those doors if it is His will."
In the meantime, she's committed to serving the kingdom where she's at, encouraging the next generation to find their own callings in God's world.
HOMETOWN: Cypress, Calif.
MAJOR: Early Childhood Development
CAREER GOAL: Elementary school teacher
Yuri didn't know how to dance.
Her older sister was the dancer, serving as a choreographer for Dance Guild, Calvin's most popular student organization.
Still, when Yuri went to Calvin, she decided to give dance a try. Hip hop was familiar, so she started there.
By sophomore year, Yuri had gone way beyond hip hop. In Dance Guild's fall semester show, she performed in Irish and jazz dance groups. Yuri also took her new dance skills to Calvin's lip-synching dance competition, Airband, where her team took second place. They then competed in a global dance competition in Ohio, winning first place and a $500 prize.
This evolution from timid freshman to confident junior—known across campus for her dance skills—was about so much more than learning a few sweet moves.
"It helped me to deal with my shyness. Stepping out of my comfort zone and trying different kinds of dances even helped me think about new majors and consider different jobs around campus."
Torn between special education and social work in her first two years, she ultimately decided on early childhood education at the beginning of her junior year.
"The program has such a family feel to it. I came into the major new this year and even though everyone already knew each other, they welcomed me in and made me feel comfortable."
And when the stresses of academics become overwhelming, Yuri relies on dancing as a way to deal.
HOMETOWN: Holland, Mich.
MAJOR: Art Education
HOMETOWN: Oak Park, Ill.
MAJOR: Early Childhood Education
Melissa and Grace had no idea that lacing up their hiking shoes one September morning would bond them for life.
But that's the kind of friendship they've found as they've hiked, camped, kayaked and climbed together at Calvin.
"It's not your average girl that doesn't mind going without a shower," Grace says. "The wilderness takes away all the walls you can put up."
The two met during their first semester at Calvin when they geared up with 14 other female students to backpack the Manistee River Trail.
Splashing in the river and singing hymns together as they hiked helped Melissa, a transfer student, realize she had a home at Calvin.
"I found a really good community, especially in the women that I met," she says.
Since then, Melissa and Grace have backpacked, climbed and trekked all over the U.S. together. One of the best trips? A January interim class in Florida spent swimming with manatees and kayaking at night in bioluminescent waters.
"We were together for 20 days straight, and that's when we became really close," Grace remembers.
A 2013 interim course took them to the American Southwest, where they backpacked in the Grand Canyon, went rock climbing at Joshua Tree National Park and trained as wilderness first responders.
Melissa and Grace's advice to someone new to Calvin? "Don't be afraid to try something that you're uncomfortable with." You just might make the friend of your life.
Practice this knot to prepare for all the hiking and climbing opportunities at Calvin. Double this knot to be extra safe.
HOMETOWN: Georgetown, Guyana and Amelia Island, Fla.
MAJOR: Information Systems
CAREER GOAL: Work in information systems for a large financial firm
Naomi is all in.
She's a woman in the male-dominated field of computer science. She's dancing in Rangeela, Calvin's international student show. And the sign of ultimate commitment? This Florida and Guyana native is planning to jump into Calvin's freezing "Sem Pond" all four years of college to earn the coveted Golden Towel Award.
But she wasn't always this committed.
High school wasn't terribly challenging for Naomi. And her faith life? "I was just a body going to church every Sunday with my family."
On the academic side of things, one of Calvin's summer programs, Entrada, helped her get ready for college. Faith came alive to her through the encouragement of residence hall Barnabas leaders: "They taught me how to really pray."
She's dedicated to her information systems major, even though there are moments when it's challenging—or just plain funny.
"At the beginning of one class freshman year, the professor asked us what our favorite movie was. I said some romantic comedy and all the other students, who were guys, said Star Wars or things like that."
Naomi relies on encouragement from other females in her major to keep working toward her career. Her dream? To work in computing for a major financial institution like Goldman Sachs.
"I just want to be one of those people who puts on a suit every day and goes to a big office."
And using her resources at Calvin, Naomi has everything she needs to meet her goal.
Calvin computing students regularly earn top scores on a national ETS® major field test for computer science.
All computer science and information systems graduates (2011) had at least one internship.
HOMETOWN: Grand Rapids, Mich.
MAJOR: Spanish, Secondary Education and Studio Art (minor)
CAREER GOAL: Full-time Spanish teacher, part-time wedding photographer and cross-country coach
Alyssa is an expert at wardrobe changes.
From the classroom where she student teaches, to track practice and on to a photo shoot, she knows how to switch out her UGGs for heels or running shoes in no time at all.
Why the need for such quick changes? An incredibly busy life filled with opportunities for growth. As an All-American cross-country and track and field athlete, Alyssa has spent four years as a teammate, growing not only as an expert runner, but also as a sister in Christ.
"Being on the team puts me in close contact with other women interested in many of the same things. We talk about classes, running and faith. I'm so blessed to be part of a Christian team. It shapes collegiate athletics into more than just sports."
When she's not in the classroom or on the track, Alyssa is behind a camera. With a passion for photography, she assists Calvin alumna Jill DeVries, shooting portraits and wedding photos.
"Working with Jill has shown me that I can be a blessing to others through my work. Capturing memories for clients is incredible. I've realized that I can serve my Creator through what I'm doing with my camera."
How does she keep going from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day? Sure, it's hard to maintain good grades, a social life and several hobbies, but to Alyssa, it's all about perspective.
"In the end, I remember how blessed I am to be involved. I get to student teach. I'm blessed to be part of a team. I'm able to schedule shoots on a regular basis."
"I am blessed."
HOMETOWN: Chicago, Ill.
CAREER GOAL: Clinical psychologist for veterans
Dominique never needed to change her major.
That's because even in high school, she knew she wanted to become a clinical psychologist. It was really just a matter of finding an undergrad program in psychology that would prepare her well for grad school.
"I decided to come to Calvin because I thought it did a great job integrating faith with education. For someone like me who is going into a very secular field, it was important to have a Christian framework embedded in my classes."
A self-described "psychology geek," Dominique embraced opportunities early on in her college career: She found a psych-related work-study position, became a psychology department ambassador and eventually became a research assistant for a psych prof.
But almost as soon as she got involved in her major, Dominique began to see some of the "less glamorous" parts of her future profession. Finding a work-study job at a local shelter for domestic violence victims, she saw a lot of hopelessness and desperation.
"It was a scary and an excellent experience at the same time. Every once in a while, things would work out for a woman—she would leave the house, find a job and write us a thank-you letter."
Thankfully, psychology classes and profs like Scott Stehouwer have given Dominique great ways to deal with hard days at work.
"[Prof. Stehouwer] says the only way you can stay in this field is if you find a proper outlet. He does that through humor, and I think that's going to be my way, too. Being able to find joy in the little things and laugh at yourself."
Another important life/career lesson she's learned from her psych classes?
"I've learned that the key is showing grace to people and loving people, even if they aren't the most agreeable people to work with."
Careers from the American Psychological Association and psychcentral.com
HOMETOWN: Grand Rapids, Mich.
MAJOR: English and Strategic Communication
CAREER GOAL: Cultural anthropologist
It started in sixth grade.
Africa got into Sarah's mind and heart and just wouldn't leave.
"I don't know where the interest came from. It's just something I've always been drawn to," she says.
Fast forward nearly 10 years and Sarah finally made it to Kenya.
On the trip with 27 Calvin students, Sarah learned from leaders in Kenyan business, medicine, education and ministry. She also got a taste of African life by touring Nairobi, riding in an open-air van on a safari and spending three days in a Maasai village.
The hospitality of her new Kenyan friends left a lasting impression on Sarah. "I feel so at home there that I forget how much I stand out."
There was Charles, the taxi-driver-turned-pastor who served as an impromptu shoe repairman when necessity called. And there was Mama Anna, who shared Maasai culture and traditions with the students. "It was really hard to leave them."
Sarah loved the vibrant community, relaxed pace and warm welcome she received in Kenya. But she also found her heart wrenched during trips to the Kibera slums, where unspeakable poverty and the oppression of women are daily realities.
Professor Mark Fackler recognized the care Sarah had for the people of Kenya and challenged her to find ways to combine her love for Africa and its people with her love for language. As a result, Sarah plans to pursue a master's degree in cultural anthropology. She hopes to return to Africa to interview women there, collecting their stories for research and public policy decisions.
Before returning to the U.S., Sarah and her classmates underwent a Maasai naming ceremony. Her Maasai name means "one who congregates people." And that's just what she hopes her future research and writing will do.
HOMETOWN: Grand Rapids, Mich.
MAJOR: English, Secondary Education
CAREER GOAL: English teacher
Abby doesn't just sit down with nothing to do. Ever.
"People seem very dubious that I actually do sleep," the self-described type-A personality says with a laugh.
To start, she spends hours each week in the Chimes office as editor-in-chief of Calvin's weekly student newspaper. She also lends her organizational skills to English department social events like "Soup Mondays." She's a tutor at a local school and sings in Women's Chorale. This semester she's student teaching in a ninth-grade English class.
And—oh yeah—she does her homework, too.
Armed with her to-do list, Abby has embraced the opportunity for both personal and professional development at Calvin.
"College is a time for discovery, for trying something new. I get a lot of encouragement from faculty and staff in my work at Chimes, and also in the classroom—they really want you to do well, to understand what you're learning and to succeed."
In everything she does, Abby is learning practical skills that will suit her well in her future career as a teacher:
Abby admits it can be easy to get swallowed in the busy pace of college life.
"I feel like I have a very full life at Calvin. It's exciting, I learn a lot every day and I go through these experiences with great people."
YEAR OF GRADUATION: 2011
MAJOR AT CALVIN: Business
CAREER: Owner of Uptown Kitchen
The sweet potato quinoa burger from Marie Catrib's had Kelly at first bite.
Eating with friends at this popular Grand Rapids café was just the beginning of her passion for the growing food culture in the city. Soon she was swayed by the "Michigander" sandwich at Bartertown and the fresh beet salad at Trillium Haven, too.
And even though Kelly grew up in the Grand Rapids area, her first experiences really living in the city happened while she was at Calvin.That's when she and her roommates started frequenting local restaurants and coffee shops, and even riding their bikes on Saturdays to the Fulton Street Farmers Market.
Meanwhile, Kelly was thriving as a business major at Calvin. She loved her opportunities for hands-on learning and working one-on-one with professors.
"The professors just poured into me, and we had lots of opportunities to work with actual businesses. Having to present a marketing plan to an executive from Hudsonville Ice Cream is way different than doing problems in a textbook."
As an honors student, Kelly had to find a special topic to work on for her senior thesis. Talking to her profs and local retailer, Amy Ruis '93, she decided to pursue a project that combined her business savvy with her passion for local food.
Uptown Kitchen was born.
After winning seed money through three business plan competitions, Kelly decided to remain in Grand Rapids after graduation to make her project a reality.
Nearly two years later, Uptown Kitchen is a thriving business that rents commercial kitchen space to local businesses so that their products can be sold in stores and restaurants.
And even though she spends her days smelling and tasting everything from fresh-baked focaccia bread to Thai spring rolls to gourmet cupcakes, Kelly's number one treat is still the same:
"On a hard day, I still head to Marie Catrib's for my sweet potato quinoa burger."
(Vegan and gluten free)
1/2 C quinoa
1 C water
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 cans black beans
(drained and rinsed)
2 cups frozen corn
1 quart whole tomatoes, large (I use home-canned tomatoes, but two 15 oz. cans from the store will work, too!)
15 oz. vegetable broth
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp pepper, pinch sea salt
CREDENTIALS: PhD in literature from University of California, Irvine
HOBBIES: bookmaking, embroidery
AREAS OF EXPERTISE: modern British literature, faith and literature, graphic novels, critical theory
Once upon a time, Prof. Jennifer Williams couldn't imagine life without the California sun.
But then she got an offer even a sun-loving SoCal woman couldn't refuse: the opportunity to teach modern lit in Calvin's highly respected English department.
Eight years later she describes the unimagined journey that unfolded as nothing short of "fabulous."
Coming from a large university where she was a graduate assistant to 20th-century philosopher Jacques Derrida, she didn't realize how much fun it could be to intertwine your faith with your studies.
Take her study of vampire lit, for example. It all began when students in a class asked her opinion of the Twilightseries.
When she didn't have an answer, she started reading the novels and brainstorming ways to create a college-level conversation about them. "I wanted to be able to say something substantive about it, not just, 'Oh, those books look dumb.'" "
As she read Twilight and earlier vampire literature, she realized that the topic was full of possibility for deep discussion. This led to a special course in which students read vampire lit and discuss themes of eternal life, human depravity and redemption.
"Vampires are a very interesting way to think about what it means to be human and the human desire for immortality." For example, in early vampire literature, vampires are a symbol for humans who seek eternal life apart from Christ. The consequences for that choice are clearly shown in these stories. Yet in Twilight, Prof. Williams notes that characters like Edward and Bella don't experience the same negative consequences—instead, the state of being a vampire is glorified.
Doing this sort of scholarly work—and connecting it to things students care about—has made leaving behind sunny California worth it.
"I probably couldn't do this thought-work at any other college; Calvin values creativity and exploring every inch of God's creation."
Most tales with monsters (i.e. vampires, zombies) reflect things that a culture is anxious about. But vampire stories can also tell us something about what we long for, such as perfection or immortality.
With this in mind, use these questions to discover whether the vampires in the book you are reading represent fear or longing.