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May 13, 2003

Serving Students

It isn’t only Erin Sytsma’s resume, laden with academic honors and volunteer work, which earned her a prestigious award from the Michigan Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (MACTE). “It’s this heart of service,” said Larry Louters, a Calvin chemistry professor and one of Sytsma’s mentors.

Sytsma was chosen as the first runner-up for the MACTE scholarship from a group of nearly 60 Michigan student teachers. Colleges from all over the state nominate their student teachers for the award. Sytsma received $500 and a commemorative plaque at a May 2 luncheon honoring the award winners.

“She’s one of those students who come around once in a while, who from the beginning wanted to do chem ed, but whose grade point and experience would let her do anything she wanted to,” Louters said. “She has the aptitude and academic ability to go to graduate school and to medical school, if that was her inclination, but she wanted to go into education. Which is wonderful. I encouraged her to do that.”

Sytsma, who is currently student teaching in her major at West Catholic High School, has spent years working and volunteering with children in a variety of contexts: She has tutored, taught vacation Bible school and Sunday school, coached high school students in Science Olympiads, served as a camp counselor, taught chemistry in inner city classrooms, and worked as an activities director at a camp for children for special needs.

One project that made her an ideal candidate for the MACTE award, said Louters, was a science curriculum Sytsma created for gifted and talented students at Calvin’s summer science camp. Paired with Mark Vogel, a Calvin alumnus currently teaching chemistry at Grand Rapids Christian, Sytsma both developed and taught the curriculum. The partners in science will teach the curriculum for a second year after their July 18 marriage — “right as soon as they get back from their honeymoon,” Louters said.

Sytsma traces her affinity for chemistry back to an 11th grade chemistry class, when she was a student at Grand Rapids Christian. Her affinity for children goes back even further. “I’ve always liked teaching and spending time with kids — all my life. I like it when the kids finally understand it … something they have seen finally makes sense to them,” she said.

She recounted a recent experiment as an example: “We took a vacuum and put a Peeps marshmallow bunny in it. If you decrease the pressure, you increase the volume. The Peep grows huge,” The kids had more than a scientific interest in the demonstration, she admitted: “They all wanted to eat it after that.”

“She wanted to work with people,” Louters said. “Chemistry is her field to deal with kids. And those are the people who make the best teachers. … A heart of service is a wonderful place to start.”

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
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