Walk into the DeVos Communication Center on any day during the school year and it is buzzing with activity. Students can be found in the media production facilities, in the theater, in speech pathology clinics, in classrooms or congregating in the lobby. The east side of campus has become a hub for students interested in political science and communication arts and sciences.
When built a decade ago the DeVos Communication Center and the Prince Conference Center added almost 120,000 square feet of space to campus, and with their location east of the East Beltline, and especially their proximity to that busy thoroughfare and its thousands of cars a day, the two new buildings changed the face of the Calvin campus. But they also changed what Calvin was able to offer to both its students and the west Michigan community.
It was, said Calvin vice president Henry DeVries, a momentous occasion in the history of Calvin College: “We (the planning committee) realized the significance of what we were doing, both from a physical presence, but certainly also from an academic viewpoint. What those buildings were going to add to the Calvin curriculum, what they were going to allow us to do educationally, was very important.
The DeVos Center “helped our department develop our programs,” said communications arts and sciences (CAS) co-chair Kathi Groenendyk. “Having a home was critical. Before DeVos was built, faculty had offices in Hekman Library, the Science Building and the Spoelhof Center. My first office was in Hekman on the fourth floor, and then I moved to the Science Building. When Fridays at Calvin tours would go past my office in the Science Building, the tour guide leader would quickly move people past my office; they didn’t seem to know how to explain a CAS professor over there.”
The speech pathology and audiology program will top 170 students in a combined bachelor’s and master’s program this fall, a number that CAS co-chair Randy Bytwerk said would have been impossible before 2002: “Any potential faculty member or accreditor would have laughed at the facilities we formerly had.”
This past summer master’s students worked with community members in a neuro clinic serving persons who have communication issues secondary to stroke or traumatic brain injury and a pediatric clinic for preschool and school-aged children with speech and language disorders.
More than 150 community members—children and adults— have benefited in the past year from clinics and diagnostic testing offered in conjunction with the speech pathology program.
“The building has been a major factor in the growth of our program,” said Judy VanderWoude, director of the speech pathology and audiology program. “We would not have been able to have a grad program without the space, and are now outgrowing the clinical and lab space we have.”
Brian Fuller, media production professor, has also seen tremendous growth in his program; in fact, a media production major didn’t exist until 2005.
“Calvin’s production facilities significantly outshine even those available to me as a graduate student at UNC–Greensboro, one of American Cinematographer’s top ten film schools,” said Fuller. “Our alumni continually report how much better equipped they were as students than they are as employees regionally and nationally recognized media production companies.”
The program now boasts 65 majors. “Of course the DeVos Communication Center attracts students to Calvin, but also important is that it attracts teaching talent,” he said. “Professionals who visit often jockey for successive invitations to offer guest lectures, interim classes and workshops. Thus we are able to offer our students mentoring with high-caliber media professionals beyond the reach of a school Calvin’s size.”
The Prince Conference Center, meanwhile, has become a popular meeting and lodging space for not just people connected to Calvin (including alumni, parents and college-related conference attendees), but also for the region’s many nonprofit and for-profit entities, including, said DeVries, most of west Michigan’s major corporations, from Comcast to Zondervan.
“They love the free parking,” DeVries said, “and they love the great food, but they also very much appreciate the natural setting of the Prince Center: the natural light in the meeting rooms, the proximity to the Bunker Center, the ponds and wildlife. It’s worked out really well.”
Indeed, when DeVries looks back 10 years at the beginnings of the DeVos and Prince centers, he is grateful.
“Both of the buildings,” he said simply, “are doing what we had hoped for, what we had designed for and what we had built for. We deliberated, we had a good process and it worked. We’re very blessed.”