A Wise Investment
Changes in the economics and business department pay big dividends
By Lynn Bolt Rosendale '85

A promising portfolio is the goal of all investors. It also happens to be the goal of the Calvin economics and business department, which has been working toward just the right balance of interests, intellect and experience to help prepare students for the challenges of business now and in the future.

Several recently hired professors, a curriculum revision and participation in an innovative interdisciplinary major are some of the department’s new elements that complement the established key components of several longtime faculty members, a liberal arts-based core and a mission to equip students to become transformational leaders who understand and embrace business as a Christian calling.

“There is a lot of opportunity for good in this broken world, and students see business as an area in need of reclamation.” — David Cook

Calvin has a 40-year history in the field of business education, which first became a study concentration in the economics department in 1967; a degree in business administration was first listed in the college catalog in 1968. Like a good investment that grows over time, the economics and business department has steadily increased in its extent of course offerings, number and diversity of faculty members, and quantity of student majors.

When the department’s longest tenured professor, George Monsma, was added to the faculty in 1969, he joined two other economists and three business professors. The department of economics and business now boasts 18 professors and nearly 600 majors, the largest number of majors in any department at Calvin.

The increase has occurred for many reasons, according to Monsma: “The growth of the college in general, the growth in the number of program options offered by the department, and the fact that especially during times of high unemployment we tend to get students who are worried about getting jobs, and they see a business major as direct preparation for work.”

In terms of the number of program options, 59 percent of the department are business majors and 5 percent are economics majors, 18 percent are accounting majors, 13 percent are in a joint business and communication arts and sciences major, and 5 percent are other group majors. (Another new interdisciplinary major, international development, will soon change these percentages.)

“Business touches the corner of everyone’s life,” he said. “Business has the opportunity to positively impact customers and to positively impact employees. A Christian can have a positive impact on marketing and on what or how you produce something.

“From a departmental standpoint, we have become a lot more proactive about articulating our mission to students,” he added. “There is a lot of opportunity for good in this broken world, and students see business as an area in need of reclamation.”

Erica LeepSuch was the case for Erica Leep ’05, who graduated with a business/communication arts and sciences major and now works as a customer reference specialist in RightNow Technologies’ marketing department in Bozeman, Mont.

“Like many college students, I struggled to understand how business and Christianity fit together,” she said. “Business seemed like a morally inferior calling in many regards — a necessary evil. For the first two years, I seriously questioned my major.”

Solid instruction by professors changed her mind, she said. “I came to realize that many Christian principles, such as stewardship, efficiency, ethics and risk-taking, among others, define successful businesses. I gained a mental framework for understanding how all the aspects of business, from the details of accounting to the culture of a company to the importance of a well-planned strategy, fit within a Christian worldview.”

Helping students such as Leep gain this perspective is exactly what drew professor Stacy Jackson to Calvin two years ago.

“I wanted to develop more faith integration into my teaching, and I was interested in helping Christian businesspeople and alumni do the same in their work,” said Jackson, who came to Calvin from Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin School of Business. “At Calvin I felt like I would be able to help transform things, not just teach the field that I’m in.”

“At Calvin I felt like I would be able to help transform things, not just teach the field that I’m in.” — Stacy Jackson

Jackson got into teaching after several diverse business experiences, including working for NASA; Ernst & Young, a major international accounting and consulting firm; and Hewitt Associates, a global human resources outsourcing and consulting firm.

He continues to consult major companies that are wrestling with questions like, “How do values that we hold make a difference in how we do business?” and “How do I take the values I have as a CEO and instill them in the leadership of my business?”

“I stay connected to the business world because I believe that if I know what’s going on in the business world, I can be a better teacher to my students,” he said.

Jackson challenges his students to think about the same question his clients are asking: How do advertising, management, finance and marketing change because we are Christians?

“Christian business professionals often are involved in their church, give graciously and may become very involved in serving nonprofits or missions. All of these things are wonderful, but they are not central to the high calling to business where we are summoned to action transforming business itself,” he said. “There is an opportunity at Calvin to influence that, to create a legacy going forward in which instilled values lead to transformational leadership that is novel.”

Alumnus Ken Tameling ’83, a general manager at Steelcase Inc., an international office furniture manufacturing company, believes that Calvin is on the right track for producing transformational leaders.

Since his graduation, the economics and business department has changed in three ways, said Tameling, who as a member of Calvin Business Partners provides helpful feedback to the economics and business department. “More of the professors have experience in the business world and can bring that experience into the classroom; there is a much greater focus on experiential learning and internships … and the curriculum has changed for the better: Students can go deeper into areas like finance, marketing and international business. …

“Transformational leaders need to be highly imaginative and creative,” he said. “Calvin needs to continue to do more to build into students not just the typical analytical-thinking approach, but also an intuitive, experimental, creative problem-solving approach.”

All of the changes Tameling outlined have been intentional, said professor Roland Hoksbergen, who joined the department in 1983.

“We wanted people who have experience in business, academic credentials and an intellectual orientation,” said Hoksbergen, “so for many years we followed the college requirements that a tenure-track candidate should have a doctoral degree. Unfortunately, that ruled out a lot of people with good experience, and many with good experience and good insight.

“Unlike history and philosophy students, people who study business tend to do it because they want to be a businessperson,” he continued. “The few who go into academia get snapped up — and at very high salaries. About five years ago we examined this reality and decided that to build the right program we were not going to give up on the importance of insight or intellect, nor on experience. We would love someone to have a Ph.D., but we decided that a relevant master’s degree and 15 years of business experience would also be acceptable as a tenurable degree combination.

Economics & Business Department professors, spring 2006

“This brought us people like Bob Medema, Bob Eames, Margaret Edgell and Aba Mpesha, who all play very important roles in the department,” he said.

Because of their experience, these professors and others in the department realize the importance of integrating skill development in their classes.

“There has been a very big change, a very positive change, almost transformational change, since I came here five years ago,” said Mpesha, a Tanzanian, who came to Calvin from Nairobi, Kenya, with more than 30 years of business, not-for-profit executive management and consulting experience. “In the Introduction to Business course, we use cases and the students work in groups; right from the word ‘go,’ students are making presentations.

“I think the way we are teaching and what we are covering is making a big difference,” he said. “Students make superb presentations, and they are very comfortable. I tell them, ‘Look, I would hire all of you.’”

Eames came to Calvin three years ago with almost 25 years of industry experience: “I wasn’t looking for a job in education. I was looking into working for a nonprofit when a friend asked me if I had ever considered teaching for a Christian college. I was looking for more direct ministry work.

"It’s important that I help students understand what it takes to be excellent marketers; it’s more important that I help students understand what it takes to be Christian marketers.” — Bob Eames

“After teaching one class here, the fit was so clear,” he continued. “If I wasn’t at Calvin, I wouldn’t be teaching. This is a place where the integration of faith and learning and business practice is primary. It’s important that I help students understand what it takes to be excellent marketers; it’s more important that I help students understand what it takes to be Christian marketers.”

Eames’ classes are profoundly experiential. “Students are given real business projects, working as consultants with local businesses. I tell the students they should consider me as their supervisor, not their professor,” he said. “They give me updates on their work and they ask for advice; my role is more of coaching and mentoring than traditional teaching.

“They’re also dependent upon a team; that’s what real life is like,” he said. “Some students really struggle with that. They’re used to reading 200 pages and taking a test. I’m helping them learn how to be more effective collaborators.”

Eames also heads up the department’s burgeoning internship program, which includes journals, class discussion and presentations — and more real-life scenarios.

Mike Wolf with professor Bob Eames“My internship class with professor Eames helped me to focus on my vocation and calling, and what it means for me to live and work as God has called me to,” said Calvin senior Mike Wolf (Traverse City, Mich.). “Through self-assessment, discussion and reflection, I was able to sort out my values and construct a ‘career road map,’ a tool that I will be able to reference in day-to-day work and the rest of my life.”

Leonard Van Drunen is another professor who brings a wealth of experience to his new position, spending 16 years in investment banking with J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch. Van Drunen, who has a Ph.D. in finance, came to Calvin this spring. He is looking forward to helping students see the basic fundamentals of finance as God’s design, he said.

While the changes on the economics side of the department have been less dramatic, professor John Tiemstra said that students are being challenged to think redemptively in that concentration, too.

“Economists love to think that if you give people the right incentives, they will always do the right thing,” he said. “That’s not always true; people still find ways to be dishonest. In our economic analysis, we factor in what we know about the nature of persons from God’s revelation and how that affects the analysis.”

Overall the consensus among the members is that the department is very strong, as strong as it has been in a very long time. “We have depth,” Hoksbergen said. “We’re on the cusp of something great, and we need to keep charging forward.”

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Accounting program measures success in more than one way

Calvin’s percentage of students who passed the 2004 certified public accountant (CPA) exam was among the top 10 colleges and universities nationally, compared to all other undergraduates taking the test.

On the 2004 exam, 80 percent of Calvin CPA candidates passed at least one part of the test, and 55 percent of its graduates passed at least two parts. In both these categories Calvin was first nationally.

Calvin also had 45 percent of its test takers pass at least three parts of the exam — second nationally — and 25 percent pass all four parts — 10th nationally. Among first-time test takers in 2004, Calvin’s percentage of students who passed was in the top 10 in three of the four categories.

Calvin professor of accounting Julie Voskuil said that while Calvin measures success by more than just test scores, the results are affirming.

“At Calvin, we believe that accountants and managers must be educated to produce sound, honest and relevant information as a basis for decision making and strategic planning,” she said. “But more than that, our goal is to equip students to live responsibly, making business decisions that further God’s kingdom. Our ultimate success is how well our students and graduates carry their faith into all aspects of their lives.”

Professor Ray Slager agreed, “We want to instill a sense of ethical behavior and of justice,” he said.

Accounting students at Calvin are encouraged to participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which offers tax preparation assistance to low-income taxpayers.

“Through this program students get the experience of preparing taxes, but are also realizing that there are people with kids out there struggling to get by on $10,000 a year,” Slager said. “It makes them think about what we can do to change that.”

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International development draws students

Professor Roland Hoksbergen is overwhelmed by the amount of interest already being shown in the new international development major at Calvin, but he knows that he shouldn’t be.

“This is such a natural extension of the college,” he said. “If our mission at Calvin is to train students to be transforming agents, nothing could be a better fit.”

Calvin offered its first course in international development in 1993; a minor was instituted in 1995. The new major, established 10 years later, was a natural outgrowth of having the right combination at Calvin — the necessary personnel and increased student interest.

Major classes are required in several disciplines, including economics and business, sociology, history and political science. A semester-long study in a developing country is also required. Professors teaching the courses all have experience and a strong interest in international development, including Hoksbergen, who spent five years in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Currently there are 80 students who have declared either a major or minor in the field.

“One of the most important things that God cares about is human need — hunger and poverty, wherever there is pain,” Hoksbergen said. “This major deals with addressing the pain of this world."