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News & Stories: 2008-09

Comenius program fills gap for students, organizationsFebruary 6, 2009

John Amos ComeniusJohn Amos Comenius was a Czech teacher, scientist, writer and education reformer. One of the earliest champions of universal education, Comenius emphasized the unity of knowledge and the importance of education in all areas of life.

Michael Rodriguez is a Calvin senior architecture student who recently completed an internship with the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. “The U.S. Green Building Council doesn’t operate an office in Grand Rapids, so I worked remotely,” he said. “I learned a lot about self-motivation, efficient communication and integrity in the workplace.”

How is the life of this Calvin student joined to that of a seventeenth-century educator? Michael’s internship was made possible by Calvin’s Comenius Scholars program, a unique internship program named after the historic advocate of liberal arts education.

"A laboratory for the virtues

The Comenius Scholars program, supported by a $250,000 grant from the McGregor Fund, is designed to place Calvin's liberal arts majors in internships with non-profit organizations. The program partners with local non-profits to provide high-quality, paid internships in their organizations. Community partners provide 25–50 percent of the student’s stipend, and the Comenius Scholars program, through the McGregor grant, provides the remaining amount.

Students also receive course credit for their experiences and participate in a weekly seminar with other Comenius interns. “Art students need a studio, chemists need equipment, but we all need a lab for the virtues,” says Comenius Scholars director Kurt Schaefer. “(The partnering organizations) give us an opportunity to do that in a real setting.”

Addressing needs

student at internship at Eastwon Neighborhood AssociationFor many years students in pre-professional programs such as business, education and nursing have benefited from a wide range of experiential learning opportunities. But internship opportunities for traditional liberal arts students were limited—something the Comenius program is designed to correct, says Schaefer.

At the same time, Calvin’s career development office often receives internship requests from local non-profit organizations. These internships go largely unfilled because the non-profits can rarely afford to pay wages.

The Comenius Scholars program aimed to address both of these needs at once, by offering paid internships to traditional liberal arts majors at non-profit organizations in the community.

Character-building (and resume-building) experiences

Since the program's inception, Comenius Scholars have interned at more than 45 local community organizations. Comenius scholars have worked with refugees at Bethany Christian Services and provided tech support at Home Repair Services. They have acquired public relations skills at the Women’s Resource Center and explored research as a profession at the Media Research Institute. They have partnered with the Grand Rapids Symphony and Mission India.

Like many students who interned at smaller community organizations, senior Astrid Callegaro gained experience in many areas of the Women’s Resource Center. Callegaro, an international relations and French major, completed a research project on welfare, gained concrete skills in writing and editing and even helped plan fundraising events. “It was also a lesson in time-management strategies,” says Callegaro.

"The whole world is a school”

Ideally, the Comenius Scholars program is designed to benefit both the students who participate and the partnering organizations, says Schaefer. “We want students to refine their abilities to think critically, write clearly, organize effectively, form commitments to service and use their skills to benefit non-profit organizations.

"But we also want to highlight—for students and civic organizations—the value of a liberal arts education,” says Schaefer. In this last effort the program closely embodies the ideals of Comenius himself, who had no problem imagining the value and practice of the liberal arts extending beyond the classroom: “As the whole world is a school for the human race,” he wrote in 1633, “so every individual's lifetime is a school from the cradle to the grave.” As such, the program is designed to reflect the McGregor Fund's emphasis on excellence in private liberal arts education.

~by Ashleigh Draft, communications and marketing

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