The Pella Promise
September 4, 2009
According to Google Maps, it takes about seven hours and 55 minutes to travel from Pella, Iowa to 3201 Burton St. SE, Grand Rapids, Mich.—about seven hours too many for Aemelia Tripp, an incoming freshman this year at Calvin.
"They only let me stop for the bathroom once!” said Kathy Jaarsma Tripp of her daughter and husband, Tim Tripp.
The trio of Tripps came through the double doors of the Prince Conference Center on Tuesday evening a trifle road weary, but ready nonetheless to begin the Calvin orientation experience. Aemelia is the only member of her family to attend Calvin, having heard about the college from family friends in Pella a few years ago.
A flood of students from Pella
Aemelia isn’t the only member of Calvin’s incoming freshman class to come from Pella, however. In fact, there are nine incoming Calvin students altogether from Pella, a place with historic Dutch and Christian Reformed ties. Calvin’s shared ties with Pella notwithstanding, the Iowa community sent just one student to Calvin in 2008, and none in 2007.
"We used to get a lot of students back in the day from the Pella area, but more recently there’s been a stronger pull to other colleges,” said Lyndi Katje, a Calvin admissions counselor who does recruiting in Iowa.
The pull to other colleges has something to do with financial incentives provided to Iowa residents who go to an in-state college or university, said Dan VanKooten, a guidance counselor at Pella Christian High School and father of incoming freshman Bethany VanKooten.
The birth of a promise
Now, a similar financial incentive, The Pella Promise, is helping draw Aemelia Tripp and others who might have received assistance to attend an Iowa college or university to Calvin College instead.
The Pella Promise is a special financial aid award given to any student from Pella Christian High School or Pella Community High School who enrolls at Calvin. The award of $4,000 each year, renewable for up to four years, is given to all Pella students, regardless of financial need or academic criteria.
"The Pella Promise has really leveled the playing field for Calvin’s admissions department,” said VanKooten. "For the kids, the Pella Promise has really allowed them to fund a Calvin education.”
The scholarship was a factor when Aemelia Tripp chose Calvin over other colleges: “The deep integration of faith and learning here going hand in hand with the Pella Promise made a very compelling case to come to Calvin,” said Tim Tripp. “It really made a huge difference.”
A community effort
The Tripps aren’t even certain exactly who made the difference—other than the people they mix with every day on the streets of Pella. The scholarship fund is an ongoing community project, led with a gift from the Harry and Bernice Vermeer family, and added to by other community members who wanted to see more high school students from Pella choose a Calvin education.
"What excites me about the Pella Promise is that a community had a vision to come together and help students they don’t even know,” Tim Tripp added.
Calvin development officers Bob Terpstra and Randy Martinie worked with people in Pella to establish the scholarship fund. Martinie saw the effect it had on the community: "People were excited to hear about Calvin College again,” he said.
At home at Calvin
And Aemelia Tripp is excited about her new adventure at Calvin. A graduate of Pella Community High School, she didn’t have the influence of school friends (or parents!) talking about Calvin to push her to apply. A summer visit and Fridays at Calvin stay made all the difference. “I checked it out and liked it right away … I just felt at home here,” she said.
A business communications major and music minor, Aemelia is eager to sing in the Campus Choir, use the Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex and take the traditional Cold Knight plunge into the seminary pond this winter.
The eight other students from Pella receiving the $4,000 scholarship from their community are graduates of Pella Christian High School. VanKooten says the Pella Promise made all the difference for many of these students as well.
"If the Pella Promise were not in place, we would not have eight kids going to Calvin,” he said.
Pella Christian High School graduated 79 students in 2009. “So Calvin attendance is right at 10 percent of the class,” VanKooten said. “It’s phenomenal, and I think that’s the best adjective to use.”
VanKooten added that three of Pella Christian’s top five students in 2009 are attending Calvin.
Calvin’s director of admissions Dale Kuiper sees the Pella Promise paying many dividends in the years to come.
"Our hope is that the students who benefit from the Pella Promise will support their community after graduating—just as their community supported them during their time at Calvin.”
Inspiring other communities to give
Tim Tripp hopes to see other communities like Pella establish their own community “Promise” scholarships for students to attend Calvin:
"What really impresses me is the idea that other communities can catch the same spirit of generosity and make the same impact that Pella has.”~by Allison Graff, with additional reporting by Ashleigh Draft