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Dec. 4, 2003

Weaving a Tapestry

APRIL 2004 UPDATE NOTE: Jermale Eddie (left) has been hired to run the new Tapestry program at Calvin College. Contact him at 526-7061 or

Calvin College is taking a collaborative approach to retaining minority students on its campus, aided by a three-year, $61,000 grant from the State of Michigan.

Tapestry - a new Calvin program funded by a grant from Michigan’s Select Student Support Services (4-S) Program - weaves together mentoring, goal-setting, academic assistance and leadership development from several college divisions to create a strong fabric of support for the college’s minority students.

The new program is tailored to the support and retention of both academically and economically disadvantaged students. Students will be invited to take part in Tapestry based on financial need, admissions standards and high-school GPA.

“Administration has continually identified this as a need of the college. Our strategic plan includes efforts toward attracting and retaining these students,” says Claudia Beversluis, Calvin’s dean for instruction, who will oversee the program in its infancy.

The goal of Tapestry is not only to keep students at Calvin, but to help them to thrive there - academically, socially, vocationally and in leadership.

Tapestry brings together several Calvin programs that are already successful at attracting and supporting minority students. The grant will also enable Calvin to hire a project coordinator, who will connect the Tapestry’s many threads.

There are five main elements to Tapestry: Entrada Early Start, the customized portfolio, the Nexus Mentorship Program, the Tapestry leadership seminars, and the Tapestry awards ceremony.

Entrada Early Start will allow Tapestry to begin its mentoring of minority students before they even attend college. The early start program is a new component of Calvin’s well-established Entrada Scholars Program, an intensive summer course for high-achieving ethnic minority high school students. Not only do a large number of Entrada alumni choose to study at Calvin, they are also much more likely to graduate than other ethnic minority students at Calvin, a fact that emerged during a scrutiny of graduation rates by the offices of admissions and pre-college programs.

The early start program will allow high school students, identified through Tapestry, who do not maintain the 3.0 GPA required for Entrada admission to participate in the program.

“Entrada is very rigorous,” says Rhae-Ann Booker, Calvin’s director of pre-college programs. It’s a 14-week semester course in three-and-a-half weeks.”

Booker believes the pilot program will demonstrate that students who bring lower than a 3.0 will be successful in that summer course, and it will positively affect them at Calvin.

Anissa Adkins, a 2000 Entrada graduate and now a Calvin junior double majoring in Spanish and social work, is the kind of student Calvin hopes to reach and retain with Entrada Early Start.

“In my experience Entrada is the only thing that made me interested in Calvin at all,” says Adkins, who is of Native American, African American and Caucasian descent. “It was nice that it wasn’t a simulated college experience-because I think those programs do exist-but you knew it was an actual college course you were taking part in.”

And, she said, Entrada supplies help along with the academic challenge.

“Even things we concentrated on beside the class - note taking and strategies and time management - were really helpful. I think they try to give you those habits that make you successful as a freshman.”

Adkins, who met her current roommate at Entrada, is such a fan of the program that she served as a resident advisor in last summer’s Entrada session.

The Tapestry program will work to keep its students, both those who come through Entrada Early Start and other qualified ethnic minority students, thoroughly engaged with all aspects of college life.

Tapestry students will compile customized portfolios, outlining their academic, vocational and leadership goals and plans. Through the Nexus Mentorship Program, (a onetime Calvin effort which will be revived and revised for Tapestry) they will be paired with upperclass students, faculty and staff members and other mentors. They will attend Tapestry seminars, sponsored by various college offices and organizations and geared to goal-setting, career strategies and leadership development. In their third year of participation, they will attend the Tapestry awards ceremony as a validation of their progress in the program and a transition to their graduation years.

Tapestry’s cross-divisional approach was necessary for building a strong minority presence on Calvin’s campus, says Shirley Hoogstra, Calvin’s Vice President for Student Life.

“No one person is in charge of all student needs,” she says.

When Barbara Omolade, Calvin’s newly-hired dean for multicultural affairs, arrives in February, the Tapestry Program and its project coordinator will operate under her supervision.

The 4-S grant is renewable for three years, during which time Calvin will work to institutionalize the Tapestry Program.

“Calvin has had a very long history of 4-S grants,” says Beversluis.

The state program, which aims to increase the graduation rate of academically and economically disadvantaged minority students currently enrolled in either a public or private four-year university, provides seed money to foster institutional change.

“It’s been terrific the way that the state’s interest in supporting the retention of minority students has dovetailed with Calvin’s strategic interests,” Beversluis says.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-526-6475 (v)
616-526-7069 (f)