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May 29, 2002

Calvin Given $100,000 for Honors Program
 

The 33-year-old Honors Program at Calvin is getting a big boost thanks to the McGregor Fund, a Detroit-based private foundation.

McGregor Fund is giving Calvin $100,000 to develop targeted programming for sophomores in the Honors Program, a gift that professor Ken Bratt (left), director of the program, says will fill an important need.

"Our Honors Program is unusual in its size," says Bratt. "We serve between 500-600 students a year. Our goal is to challenge the many gifted students who enroll at Calvin and at the same time to fully integrate them into the life of the campus. We have designed outstanding programming for first-year students and we have excellent student-faculty research opportunities for juniors and seniors. But sophomores sometimes get caught in the transition. This grant will allow us to make much more productive use of that transitional year."

Bratt notes that Calvin's Honors Program is different from many schools that have smaller programs for a highly selective group of students who pursue a separate curriculum and, in effect, become a college within the college. Calvin instead has purposely chosen to make opportunities for honors work available to a relatively large number of students. But the new grant will allow the college to provide more intentional mentoring for a smaller group of sophomores within the larger Honors Program.

Each year Calvin's top 150 first-year students (as measured by ACT scores and first-semester GPA) will be invited to apply to become McGregor Scholars in their second year. A faculty committee then will select 40 such McGregor Scholars.

During their sophomore year those 40 students will participate in one-on-one mentoring with faculty and program leaders and will take part in at least two of four special events, including a weekend retreat in the fall, two intensive "Encounters With Great People" and a "City As Text" off-campus weekend in the spring.

All of the initiatives are patterned after existing Calvin efforts. For example, the "City As Text" weekend builds on Calvin's many off-campus interim and semester-long programs. It would cap the school year and see the Scholars and faculty members spend three days in a major city such as Detroit, Chicago or Toronto. There the city would become their lab for the weekend. Students would prepare for the experience with required readings and research. The "Encounters With Great People" are modeled after conversations students have with January Series guests and would have the Scholars study the life of an exemplary model of Christian excellence in service and then meet that person for dinner and an extended evening of conversation.. The weekend retreat is something currently being done by individual Calvin departments, including English and philosophy, and it would bring the Scholars to an off-campus setting for an extended and relaxed discussion of selected readings on a major contemporary issue.

Some of the $100,000 grant will be used to enhance the role of the Calvin faculty mentors. A small group of faculty will be designated McGregor Faculty Mentors and they will not only serve as a resource to students, but also to other faculty and to Bratt, the director of the Honors Program. The 15-20 faculty members who teach honors courses each year will also be invited to workshops that focus on improving their pedagogical methods in working with honors students.

The Calvin Honors Program was first introduced in 1969 and greatly expanded since 1993. The curriculum of Calvin's Honors Program includes special sections of 15-20 core courses, which are generally taken in the first two years at Calvin. In these honors courses students are encouraged to develop greater than average initiative and independent study skills, while working in greater than usual depth and closer collaboration with their professors and peers. At the junior and senior levels, honors work is generally done by contract or special arrangement in the student's major discipline.

To graduate with honors from Calvin College, students must complete at least six honors courses overall (at least two of these in their major), maintain a GPA of at least 3.3, and fulfill the other departmental requirements for honors in their major discipline; generally, this includes a senior-level research project, a senior honors thesis or a public presentation. A medallion is awarded to honors graduates at the Honors Convocation and their distinction is recorded in the Commencement Program, on their diploma and on their official transcript.

This is the second $100,000 grant Calvin College has received from the McGregor Fund. The first grant, awarded in 1999, has funded 30 faculty-student summer research projects in the humanities and social sciences, most of which have resulted in publications and presentations at scholarly conferences.

The McGregor Fund is a private foundation established in 1925 by gifts from Katherine and Tracy McGregor to "relieve the misfortunes and promote the well-being of mankind." The foundation awards grants to organizations in the following areas: human services, education, health care, arts and culture and public benefit. The area of principal interest of the foundation is the City of Detroit and Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. The McGregor Fund has granted over $130 million since its founding.

Education, and particularly private liberal arts education, was of special interest to the McGregors. In education, the Fund provides a special program of competitive grants for private liberal arts colleges and liberal arts colleges within private universities in Michigan and Ohio. The program permits authorization of up to five awards annually of $100,000 each to the selected institutions.

There are two primary objectives of the program: first, to recognize excellence in private liberal arts education; and second, to support projects or activities that will have a significant positive impact on the quality of the liberal arts education provided by the institution. In considering institutional excellence, the Fund reviews such measures as average ACT score of entering students, percentage of freshmen who graduate, student/faculty ratio, number of library volumes per student, financial aid as a percentage of budget, amount of endowment per student and percentage of alumni contributing to the college. The Fund then considers the proposed projects on the basis of which appear to have the greatest potential to promote the highest quality in liberal arts education.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-957-6475 (v)
616-957-7069 (f)
dehp@calvin.edu