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May 18, 2004

Urban Studies Minor

A new proposed minor in Urban Studies at Calvin College plays right into recent pushes to make Grand Rapids a "cool city" say Calvin professors who are part of the program.

According to Calvin professor of sociology Mark Mulder there is a renewed interest in cities not just from government leaders, but also in college students.

"A lot of Calvin students were born and raised in the suburbs," he says, "and there is a dissatisfaction with that lifestyle. They're wondering what the city has to offer."

In the last 10 years Calvin has seen a 250% increase in the number of students who are taking the types of courses that will make up the new minor. Interest on the part of students, Mulder says, is definitely there.

But, says Mulder, the new minor at Calvin, which needs to be ratified May 20-22 by the school's Board of Trustees, isn't necessarily intended to help students decide whether or not to live in downtown Grand Rapids.

"We're not hoping to cultivate consumers," he says, "but rather citizens. I think the idea of teaching students to be engaged citizens is of primary importance."

In that regard, Mulder says, Grand Rapids is the perfect place for an Urban Studies program.

"Grand Rapids is a pretty amazing place," says the Wisconsin native. "There are all of the faith-based social service agencies for one. And now there are a number of developers making an impact in the city too. There is an impressive array of rich resources here. We have great access to a really nice laboratory here in Grand Rapids."

The new minor - co-sponsored by Calvin's sociology and political science departments - will help students understand how everything from new urbanism to suburban sprawl impacts cities.

Mulder notes that a little over a century ago, only nine percent of the world's population resided in cities. Today that figure is closer to 50 percent.

"It's incumbent upon Christians to think intentionally about our responsibilities in light of that," he says. "The new minor will help students understand how the built environment of a city impacts how people relate to each other. And it will help students understand how they can make a difference in the life of a city - how to be part of a city and how to renew a city."

The new minor will have at its heart an urban sociology course which introduces students to the "purposes, problems and prospects of cities in the United States and in other parts of the world."

Says Mulder: "It teaches students basic concepts of urban ecology and urban political economy. It also looks at the interaction of social factors that produce change in cities and suburbs. As part of the new minor the course will be part of a coherent structure and will really help equip students to get the most out of the minor."

Mulder says too that an Urban Studies minor has very practical career applications. Students at schools with Urban Studies programs go on to use their knowledge in careers in business, community development, urban ministry, government, planning, public administration, education, health, economic development, housing, law and social services.

The new minor at Calvin will offer students three different tracks. One will focus on "urban social development, one on "the built environment" and one on "urban policy."

Mulder says students wishing to do graduate work would be advised to pursue the first track, students interested in architecture, planning or development would likely take the second track and students interested in governmental work, social service or nonprofits would do the third track.

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