Calling and Chemistry

A Graduating Senior’s Journey Includes Three National Awards and Discovering a New Destination

Claire Benedict ’23

When Claire Benedict ’23 of Ada, Michigan, was a student at Forest Hills Eastern High School engaged in the college search, it didn’t take long for Hope to make the top of the list.

“I wanted a really strong science program where I could do research starting as a freshman,” she said. “It was also important to me to grow in the Christian faith and study the liberal arts so that I could make good ethical and moral decisions in my career with that faith background.”

Hope has turned out to be a good choice for Benedict, who graduated this May with majors in chemistry (the college’s American Chemical Society-certified Bachelor of Science degree) and Spanish. Her experiences the past four years helped her find her calling, and she is completing her undergraduate career having earned three major national awards supporting her interest in research, including two of the most prestigious available to recent college graduates.

As a junior in the spring of 2022, she received a $7,500 scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation for mathematics, science and engineering students — out of only 417 presented nationwide — for the 2022–23 school year.

“I wanted a really strong science program where I could do research starting as a freshman. It was also important to me to grow in the Christian faith and study the liberal arts so that I could make good ethical and moral decisions in my career with that faith background.”

Claire Benedict ’23

This spring, she received both an award through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State to conduct research abroad for the coming year, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the latter of which provides financial support for graduate students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

It’s a significant achievement for a graduating college senior or recent graduate to receive either, let alone both. There aren’t statistics available for the number of Fulbrights this year, but the NSF has only awarded 2,552 of the research fellowships, with another 801 applicants receiving honorable mention. (Hope students and graduates, not incidentally, are consistently recognized through the programs. As noted in the sidebar below, Benedict is one of three from Hope to have received Fulbright recognition this year, and one of five to receive either a fellowship or honorable mention from the NSF.)

As it happens, recipients of both may only accept one of the two. Benedict has chosen the Fulbright, through which she will conduct research in Switzerland during 2023–24, and has the opportunity to apply again for an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship next year. She will begin graduate work at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2024.

Hope provided the opportunities that helped lead to the recognition that Benedict has received, but she made the most of them. She participated in collaborative research throughout her time at Hope, including part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer.

As a freshman, she worked with Dr. William Polik, who is the Edward and Elizabeth Hofma Professor of Chemistry, performing an in-depth analysis of laser and optical systems part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer that followed. Already in her first year, he noted, she stood out.

“Claire is very dependable, self-confident and self-motivated,” he said. “She communicates and interacts well with others. She sets high goals for herself, and works diligently to achieve them.”

“I am most impressed with Claire’s independence in the lab, her enthusiasm for learning new things, and her willingness to take on challenges,” Polik said.

From her sophomore year onward, Benedict worked primarily with Dr. Jeffrey Johnson, professor of chemistry, during both the school year and summer. The research focused on reaction development using carbon-carbon bond activation, where carbon bonds are broken to create new reaction pathways.

During the spring of 2022, she participated in off-campus study in Seville, Spain, during which she worked in the laboratory of Dr. Agustin Galindo, a member of the organic chemistry faculty at the University of Seville. She helped develop metal complexes derived from amino acids that have antibacterial properties.

In addition to collaborative research, Benedict’s activities at Hope included tutoring, serving as a teaching assistant, playing piano, participating in bilingual activities, and the college’s intercollegiate indoor and outdoor track and field teams.

Claire Benedict’s experiences at Hope the past four years helped her find her calling, and she is completing her undergraduate career having earned three major national awards supporting her interest in research. As a junior, she received a scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation for mathematics, science and engineering students. This spring, she received both an award through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State to conduct research abroad for the coming year, and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Interested in making a difference to others, Benedict had started out pre-med, complementing her chemistry major with Spanish so that she could more effectively serve a variety of communities. But, she enjoyed conducting research so much that she changed her focus, realizing at the same time that researchers — and the progress and benefits to humankind and the world that they make possible — make a difference, too.

“When I wanted to be a doctor, it was because I wanted to do something to positively impact people and that would be difficult and challenge me,” she said. “Once I started in research, I realized how challenging that was and how it aligned with my gifts, and that it was also a way that I could have a positive impact on people.”

Her career goal is to earn a Ph.D. in organic chemistry and conduct research in organometallic chemistry at a national laboratory. While in Switzerland, she will work with Dr. Martin Albrecht, who is a professor of inorganic chemistry at the University of Bern, optimizing and developing Iridium-based dehydrogenation catalysts.  When she enrolls in the Ph.D. program at the University of Chicago, which awarded her its Robert R. McCormick Fellowship, she will conduct research focused on fundamental organometallic mechanisms.

With her time at Hope concluding and her journey to follow about to begin, Benedict is asked what advice she would give to current high school students considering or about to start at Hope. The answer comes easily.

“I just hope that people would get involved with research just because it’s a great opportunity here,” she said.

“You don’t have to become a research chemist — there are all kinds of disciplines where you can do research,” Benedict said. “I was just at CURCA [the college’s Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity, held in April] and saw every kind of research discipline, which is really, really cool.”

Established in 1946, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program awards grants annually in all fields of study, and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.

The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program is the country’s oldest fellowship program that directly supports graduate students in various STEM fields, and was established as the first program in the NSF’s history. Since 1952, the NSF has funded more than 60,000 Graduate Research Fellowships out of more than 500,000 applicants. The awards provide a three-year annual stipend of $37,000, along with a $12,000 cost-of-education allowance for tuition and fees.

Hope students and recent alumni have consistently been among the Fulbright and NSF-GRF honorees. Since 2004, 42 have received Fulbrights, most for English teaching assistantships but some, like Benedict, for research, with several others named alternates or semi-finalists. In the same period, 41 have received NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, with another 40 receiving honorable mention.

This year, Jessica Korte ’19 also received an NSF fellowship, supporting her doctoral studies in biomedical engineering at the University of California, Davis, with honorable mention recognition for Sarah Grimes ’23, who will pursue a Ph.D. in forestry and natural resources at Purdue University; Erik Schoonover ’21; who is pursuing a Ph.D. in petrology at Pennsylvania State University, University Park; and Jacob VanderRoest ’21, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry, focused on ecological sustainability, at Colorado State University.

In this year’s Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Justine Watson ’22 was named an alternate for a master’s degree program in business in Italy; Molly Douma ’22 was recognized as a semi-finalist for a research grant in interdisciplinary studies in Peru; and Gabrielle Kosiba ’23 was recognized as a semi-finalist for an English teaching assistantship to South Korea.

Three Generations of Full Professors at Hope College

Dr. Chad Carlson ’03

On February 3, 2023, when Provost Gerald Griffin announced promotions approved by the Board of Trustees, one of the faculty members promoted to the rank of professor, Dr. Chad Carlson ’03 (kinesiology, since 2014), was the third generation in his family to achieve this distinction. His family’s legacy on the Hope College faculty spans 95 years.

Dr. Lamont Dirkse ’50

His grandfather, Dr. Lamont Dirkse ’50, had been promoted to professor of education in 1975. Dirkse joined the faculty in 1964 as assistant professor of education, after a career in public education; he was promoted to associate professor in 1968. He chaired the Department of Education from 1968 to 1975 and from 1987 to 1992; he also served as dean of students from 1983 to 1987. Lamont’s wife, Ruth De Graaf ’50 Dirkse, served on the staff of the Academic Support Center from 1986 to 1992.

Dr. Clarence T. De Graaf

Chad’s great-grandfather, Dr. Clarence T. De Graaf, had been promoted to professor of English in 1942, and held that title for the next 30 years, when he became professor emeritus. De Graaf had begun his teaching in 1928 at The College High School (known as the Holland Academy from 1855 to 1900, and as the Preparatory School from 1900 to 1928). At the time, he had an A.M. degree in English from the University of Michigan; he continued his graduate studies there for the next nine summers, until he earned an Ed.D. degree in English.

Carlson’s research is focused broadly on the socio-cultural aspects of sport. His areas of specialization and interest include the philosophy of sport, the history of sports and their role in cultural trends, and the connection between sports and Christianity.  During the 2021-22 academic year, he conducted research on the origins of the Hope-Calvin men’s basketball rivalry through a Visiting Research Fellowship from the college’s A.C. Van Raalte Institute.  The institute will sponsor a lecture by him about the rivalry on Thursday, Feb. 16, at 4 p.m. in the Fried-Hemenway Auditorium of the Martha Miller Center for Global Education. Admission is free.

Ethnobotany Provides Hands-On Lesson in Culture, History and Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Students in the ethnobotany class taught by Dr. Jennifer Blake-Mahmud received a hands-on lesson in culture and history during their exploration of traditional ecological knowledge earlier this semester.

Guest speaker Kelly Church of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (Gun Lake Tribe), whose family has practiced the art of black-ash basket weaving for generations, taught the students about indigenous land management, her family’s history in the area and the threats to ash trees from the emerald ash borer. In addition to having studied the tradition, which is known across the Great Lakes region and Northeast where black ash trees range, Church is a respected basket weaver herself — one of her pieces is even in the college’s Permanent Art Collection in the Kruizenga Art Museum.

Kelly Church teaches black-ash basket weaving at Hope College.

She explained how for thousands of years the Anishinaabe people have journeyed to swamps to locate and harvest the trees, painstakingly rendered them into narrow strips and crafted them into baskets. Along the way, she guided the students in making baskets of their own, an opportunity to feel the pliable material in their own hands and to experience shaping it weave by weave into baskets of their own.

Church noted that although archeological examples are scarce because of the biodegradable nature of the material, fragments from as long as 2,000 years ago have been found. Today, Church explained, the millennia-long practice is at risk of being lost, with the invasive emerald ash borer having decimated Michigan’s population of black ash trees, killing some 650 million of the estimated 803 million of the black ashes that were in the state.

“It’s affecting the trees that we have used for our black ash tradition since before this country was a country,” she said.

Hope College’s ethnobotany course focuses on traditional ecological knowledge for the first third of the semester. “This first unit is all about trying to understand a different approach to ecology and the land,” said Blake-Mahmud, an assistant professor of biology. Other botanical topics for the unit include inventories of plant species used by various Inuit tribes in Canada, traditional methods of using plants to deter herbivorous insects in Ethiopia, grain fermentation practices in Eastern Europe, and partnerships between scientists and Aboriginal peoples for conducting controlled burns in Australia. Readings include peer-reviewed scientific literature along with the New York Times bestselling book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants, a collection of essays by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

“I was really excited to learn about the intersection of plants and people,” junior biology major Ximena Figueroa-Enriquez said of her decision to enroll in the course. Reflecting on the day’s activity, she said, “It made me realize how difficult of an art form it is. It takes a lot of patience and intention.”

Junior biology major Ximena Figueroa-Enriquez weaves a basket out of black ash.

For the second third of the semester, the course explores forensic botany — how plants have been used as evidence in criminal cases, both historic and current. It will conclude with medicinal botany, examining the bioactivity of plants and their use by animals (both human and non-human) for medicinal purposes.

Church’s visit to the class was made possible through support provided by the college’s Provost’s Office. She will return to campus to deliver a public lecture on Thursday, March 30, at 7 p.m. in Winants Auditorium of Graves Hall, that will be co-sponsored by the Department of Biology; American and Ethnic Studies program; Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Department of History; Kruizenga Art Museum; and Women’s and Gender Studies program. The March 30 presentation is open to the community, and admission is free.

More information about the tradition of black ash basketry and Church and her work is on her website,

Hope Without Borders

Even at a college like Hope, which has a mission of preparing students for “lives of leadership and service in a global society” and which provides numerous opportunities for international and experiential learning, the Engineers Without Borders – USA Hope College Chapter (EWB-Hope) stands out as a stellar contribution to both of those elements — leadership and service — on the global stage.

Engineers Without Borders – USA is a nationwide organization that provides sustainable engineering solutions to meet basic needs in partnership with underserved communities. For the past 18 months, the EWB-Hope chapter has partnered with the community of Teodomiro, Ecuador, outside the city of El Carmen. The project kicked off during Covid travel restrictions, which made things difficult, but the team coordinated remotely via digital meetings to identify a need and develop a solution.

“Engineers Without Borders ​​wants to make sure that projects are sustainable and community-driven, so there’s a lot longer partnership than maybe some other projects would have through other organizations,” explained Adam Peckens, engineering lab director at Hope and advisor for the EWB-Hope chapter. Hope’s chapter engages about 15–20 students each year.

“We began to work with the community to design and construct a schoolyard enclosure,” said Carolyn Atkinson, president of EWB-Hope chapter and the international project lead for the Teodomiro partnership. Atkinson has been involved with EWB-Hope since her freshman year, and she’s enjoyed seeing the chapter grow throughout its work on international projects.

“The construction of the enclosure provides safety and security for the school and ensures a better learning environment for the children,” Atkinson said. Because the school is located in a seismic zone, the installed enclosure needed to be customized to the local terrain and designed to meet seismic loads. Students from Hope worked with college mentors, including Peckens, external mentors from the United States, and an NGO and engineers in Ecuador.

With travel restrictions lifted, a group of eight students from Hope traveled to Teodomiro in July 2022 to kick off the installation of the fence. In total, the barrier fence was approximately 300 meters long; about half of it was constructed of concrete and cinder block, and the other half, through more wooded areas, was built with chainlink fencing. 

“It was incredibly rewarding to see the construction of our design and the impact it made on the community,” Atkinson said. A local team in Teodomiro completed the installation after EWB-Hope returned to the United States.

“Traveling to Ecuador this past summer introduced me to a fascinating and beautiful part of the world,” said EWB-Hope’s Vice President Jenna Core. “I will always remember the hospitality that we were met with and the joy that the people in the community carried with them.”

Atkinson said that the chapter plans to travel to Teodomiro again in spring 2023 to assess other needs in the community and determine the future of their relationship. 

“I realize that the partnership between EWB-Hope and the Teodomiro community will last longer than I get to be a part of it, but I feel really fortunate to have worked on the foundations of our relationship,” Atkinson said. “My involvement with EWB has impacted both my personal and professional growth. I feel blessed to be a part of it.”

Advisor Adam Peckens agrees that being involved with Hope’s EWB chapter is rewarding: “It’s inspiring to see students at such a young age invest so much of their energy into these types of programs,” he said. 

Previous projects have included partnerships with the communities of Bondo, Kenya, and Nkuv, Cameroon, to provide accessible, clean water for their residents.

Project Engages Faculty and Staff in Helping Hope Be Its Best Self

“Reframing the Hope College Saga” seeks to invigorate discussion of Hope’s identity while demonstrating that topics like religion, race and human sexuality can be explored constructively.

The project is addressing how Hope can best live its institutional vocation in light of two key phrases in the college’s mission statement — “to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society” and “in the context of the historic Christian faith” — and the opportunities and challenges that the concepts present together. Supported by a $40,000 award from the Council of Independent Colleges/NetVUE, it seeks, as outlined in the grant proposal, “to build a renewed sense of institutional self-awareness and to prepare the college to live into its mission as it moves forward in the 21st century.”

“Reframing the Hope College Saga” is addressing how Hope can best live its institutional vocation in light of two key phrases in the college’s mission statement — “to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society” and “in the context of the historic Christian faith” — and the opportunities and challenges that the concepts present together.

“Reframing the Hope College Saga” is being guided by an eight-member editorial board co-led by Dr. Marla Lunderberg, associate professor of English, and Dr. Jack Mulder, professor of philosophy. It began with a three-day workshop this past June that enabled faculty and staff from across campus to consider Hope’s past, present and future within the framework of three general categories: “Ecumenism and the Christian Mission of the College,” “Diversity and Inclusion,” and “Accessibility and Justice.” As a next step, the editorial board is calling for proposals from faculty and staff interested in developing essays during the coming year that, based on their experience or expertise, consider the college in the context of the categories. The written pieces and additional discussion will be the focus of a conference in June 2023, in preparation for contributing the essays to an edited volume.

The initiative is building on the foundation provided by the 2005 book Can Hope Endure? A Historical Case Study in Christian Higher Education, co-authored by then-faculty members Dr. James C. Kennedy (history) and Dr. Caroline J. Simon (philosophy). Can Hope Endure? examined the complex interplay between the variety of faith traditions at Hope and the implications for the college’s identity, and the sometimes contentious result, particularly in the 1990s, as the campus community wrestled with social issues. Recalling Aristotle’s observation that “All excellent things are difficult,” the book considers that such differences can be viewed not as a weakness but a strength, since the conversations — if those who disagree can respect and value one another — are part of an important journey for an institution committed to ecumenism. The authors describe Hope’s unique blending of its Reformed heritage and conservative and progressive voices as a “Middle Way” and a “valuable variation on more standard models among denominational, evangelical and mainline Christian colleges”

Can Hope Endure? has essentially been required reading for those seeking to understand Hope’s character and the dynamics of disagreement at the college. At the same time, some two decades have transpired since the period it examined, which is where the new initiative comes in.

“[Can Hope Endure?] both suggests that a certain genius is at work in Hope’s mission and simultaneously lifts many veils in regard to persistent controversies with which Hope has struggled,” the grant proposal explains. “This book has been used with faculty orientation programs for many years, but if the vision is to endure, the stories of the struggles will benefit from being brought up to date.”

Like Can Hope Endure?, “Reframing the Hope College Saga” is using a historical framework and endeavoring to provide an unvarnished examination.

“I really respect the work, the story that was told about the college in Can Hope Endure?” Lunderberg said.

“I was impressed by the amount of institutional cooperation,” Mulder said. “At the same time, it was honest about where some of the difficulties were.”

“We’re looking for a multiplicity of perspectives that will hopefully enrich the diversity that we know is Hope College.  We want not only faculty, but staff and administration all to have a voice — stakeholders who have a passion to help Hope College become the best version of itself.”

Marla Lunderberg, Associate Professor of English

Correspondingly, the editorial team has emphasized engaging a range of voices, beginning with this past June’s workshop.

“We knew in advance that both the topics and the people that we invited to talk about the topics were not going to see things in the same way,” Mulder said. “It’s fair to say that to some degree we sought out representatives from enough folks that it wasn’t going to be a puff piece — or a rally or cheerleading for a certain angle. These are difficult questions, and we wanted to discuss them robustly.”

In the same way, participation in the workshop isn’t a prerequisite for faculty and staff interested in contributing essays.

“The campus is wonderfully diverse, and we see that diversity as its strength. We’d love to welcome contributors for the 2023 conference even if their schedule didn’t allow them to be at the 2022 workshop,” Lunderberg said.

“We’re looking for a multiplicity of perspectives that will hopefully enrich the diversity that we know is Hope College,” she said.  “We want not only faculty, but staff and administration all to have a voice — stakeholders who have a passion to help Hope College become the best version of itself.”

Ideally, the result and the process, for “Reframing the Hope College Saga” and for the college, will be something of a chorus: unique and distinctive individuals working together to create something transcendent.

“The business of Hope is one that requires a certain amount of collaboration, but when it’s going well it’s not necessarily a collaboration of going in the same direction,” Mulder said. “We have a shared vision, but don’t necessarily have a shared set of first-order convictions.”

“When [it works well], multiple voices are able to articulate their views in a way that’s respectful and untrammeled but also robust,” he said. “A word I’ve been using is ‘polyphony,’ as opposed to ‘cacophony’ or ‘monophony,’ that cares about the contours or context in which each voice has a contribution to make.”

Stewardship for the Greater Good

The Center for Leadership (CFL) at Hope College has completed multiple consulting projects with Koops Automation Systems, a company based in Holland, Michigan, that designs, builds, and integrates automation systems for the manufacturing sector.

But this academic year, rather than contract with CFL Consulting to do additional work with the company, Koops approached CFL Director Doug Ruch to propose a different model: Koops would make a donation to the CFL to sponsor consulting services and problem-solving expertise for two local nonprofit organizations.

“Beacon of Hope, One 17 International, and the Center for Leadership have been a part of our ecosystem for a number of years and are doing great work in our community,” said Paul Brinks, president and CEO of Koops. “Our role in the projects was to be a relationship-building catalyst that would enable all three organizations to grow and flourish.”

They were ideal projects for CFL, too: “The adage of our CFL Consulting program is outstanding value for clients, invaluable experience for students. These two projects are a great example of making that adage a reality,” Ruch said. “Two wonderful organizations benefited from their consulting team’s work, and both provided excellent experiences for our student consultants. We are deeply grateful to Koops for sponsoring these two projects.”

Three Hope students were assigned to each project team, along with an experienced practitioner coach. For Beacon of Hope, CFL worked to develop and recommend an optimal staffing plan to support the organization’s growth. Beacon of Hope is a Christ-centered counseling ministry that provides free counseling services to community members in five locations throughout West Michigan.

Hope student Danielle Spoelhof was assigned to the One 17 International team. “One 17 International is a growing local nonprofit organization that provides Christian education to students in Haiti and Cambodia,” she explained. “We were able to bring strong concluding recommendations to enhance One 17 International’s marketing strategy, donor cultivation, and financial growth.”

Spoelhof and her CFL team worked to develop a marketing and fundraising plan to support the nonprofit’s five-year growth strategy.

“We jumped at the opportunity to collaborate with the wonderful students of Hope College through participating in the CFL program,” said Curtis Stout, Executive Director. “Hope’s students added value to our mission by taking on work that isn’t always easy for a small non-profit to complete due to time constraints and staff capacity limitations. Hope’s students shared valuable insights by benchmarking other successful organizations and creating suggestions for how we can improve our reach in the community and grow our donor base.

“Doug Ruch, the CFL leader, was able to put together a diverse team with a variety of experiences and knowledge. Doug’s passion for both the students of Hope and the impact they can make for local nonprofits and businesses is contagious,” Stout said. “The students of Hope embodied the CFL’s core value of servant leadership by openly receiving feedback and working hard to develop solutions that will ultimately impact our students in Haiti and Cambodia!”

“I am so fortunate to have been a part of such a transformational project,” Spoelhof said. “It has the promise to be transformational not only for One 17 International, but also the Hope College Center for Leadership — and myself.”

Curtis Stout at One 17 International is similarly grateful for the work of CFL, and for the generosity of Koops for making it all possible: “It was a blessing to work with Doug and his motivated group of next-generation leaders! We are also extremely thankful to the Koops team,” Stout said. “Koops sets a high standard for generosity and vision as they model what it looks like to leverage their resources to impact people beyond their walls.”

Researching the Hands of Time

Inside a box waiting for her on a front porch, senior Autumn Balamucki was about to pick up history. 

She would eventually receive a newfound skill and appreciation, too.

In the summer of 2020, unexpectedly back early from an off-campus study semester in Peru due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Balamucki signed on as an intern with the Joint Archives of Holland to conduct research on the Holland-area veterans of the Spanish-American War. 

The box she retrieved outside of Hope archivist Geoffrey Reynolds’ home last spring contained copies of 28 years’ worth of the monthly minutes from the veterans’ two-hour-ish-long meetings. 

Autumn Balamucki ’21

“When I arrived, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Balamucki remembers. “Geoff just said, ‘I’ll leave photocopies of all of the original documents at my front door.’ This was in May, and we had to make a contactless transfer because of the pandemic. So, I go to pick them up, and I find a box filled to the brim with papers.”

Each one laden with handwriting. In inky cursive. 

Most 21st century college students avoid longhand, and the reading of it, with an intense aversion. In fact, they tend to evade it like looking away from the sun. 

Nevertheless, Balamucki was determined to read and transcribed massive amounts of early 20th century handwriting for weeks on end from scribes of the United Spanish War Veterans Camp #38. 

Twenty-eight years times 12 monthly meetings per year times 2.5 average pages per meeting. Do the math, and you get the magnitude of penmanship she pored over.

Trying to Read What was Written

Actually, it turned out that Balamucki liked it. It became an exercise not only in distinguishing Fs from Ps, but in discerning and admiring the service and struggle of men and their families from a lesser-known war. (The Spanish American War lasted 114 days, from April 21 to August 13, 1898; though it is mostly remembered for Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.) 

That the Holland veterans formed a camp, or club, and left behind decades of notes marking their determination to acquire pensions and parades and acceptance, showed a commitment to not be forgotten.

Original USWV #38 Camp minutes

“It took me a little while to see the very subtle differences from one person’s handwriting to another (over the length of the project),” said Balamucki who has double majors in global studies and history and a minor in Spanish. “But, figuring out that puzzle was really fun for me. That’s why I majored in history. I love putting pieces together and figuring out how they connect.”

The connections that Balamucki uncovered dealt with that 1915 to 1943 time period, for sure, but there was more than that. She found that the century-old experiences of those veterans had an effect on her empathy for them and her understanding of her present as well. 

“It so happened that my struggle to adapt with this unique period in our history (in a global pandemic) ended up bringing me closer to a group of people, in another time in history, whose experiences with global change and the necessity to adapt far surpassed mine,” Balamucki wrote in the Joint Archives Quarterly Newsletter last fall

“Their story begins 122 years ago, in 1898, on the verge of the Spanish-American War, as a group of soldiers whose lives would see a great amount of change and adaptability in the coming years,” she continued in her article. “These soldiers followed the veterans of the Civil War, and preceded the well-known soldiers of World War I. They saw times of war, times of peace, of economic depression and prosperity, of political unity and dissension, and throughout it all they adapted to the changing world around them that the first half of the 20th century brought.”

The Bigger Picture

Reynolds says Balamucki’s ability to see beyond a single snapshot in time to the bigger picture is a credit to her intellect and Hope education. Though the two could not work together in person last summer, Zoom meetings enabled “in-person” interactions when necessary and their separation did not hinder their work. In fact, Balamucki’s ability to dive into the documents, uninterrupted and without distraction, may have been a bonus from her kitchen table at her home in Traverse City, Michigan. It allowed her to not just read history but to feel it, too.

Geoff Reynolds

“Autumn recognized the many struggles of those men – financial struggles, sometimes lack of respect, the changing times — and connected it to the struggles she’s endured and the country has endured in the last year,” says Reynolds, the Mary Riepma Ross Director of the Joint Archives of Holland. 

“She was able to identify with them. Fred Johnson (associate professor of history at Hope) hopes his students do that all the time. But that’s a tough thing to do, especially for young people to jump back 100 years and identify with what people were going through. Yet I found that Autumn empathized with the people she was reading about and also questioned, ‘What does that mean to me today, why is this important to now?’”

When Balamucki finished her project three months later, her transcription resulted in 169 typewritten pages in single-spaced, 11-point New Times Roman font. While the tangible results of her work now show up on clean, easy-to-read sheets of paper, the intangible aftermath is the ability to recognize that history is always about people. 

This time that lesson was imparted thanks to the (perceived) dreaded yet beautiful reading of handwriting.

“I’m not gonna lie, I was so excited when I finished, but I was torn, too,” she says. “I was shocked at how close I felt to these people. . . I think the fact that what I was reading was personally handwritten hit me differently. I do think that I had a little bit more of a connection than if it had been typed out or explained to me. ”

Read more about all of Autumn Balamucki’s research in the Joint Archives Quarterly Fall Newsletter: The Trials of Transcriptions: A Look Into the United Spanish War Veterans of Holland, Michigan

Pandemic Research Includes Immigrant Churches’ Response

The COVID-19 pandemic has instigated a great number of questions, and resulted in numerous subsequent findings, for researchers across the country. Often that research is focused on something other than the novel coronavirus’ scientific impact. 

A recent study by Hope College Professor Dr. Rodrigo Serrão is one such example. Along with Dr. João Chaves of the Hispanic Theological Initiative, Serrão investigated the reactions and responses of three churches of the Brazilian diaspora in south and central Florida during the initial shutdowns induced by COVID-19. After viewing and listening to more than 50 online sermons, delivered in Portuguese and during the months of March, April and May, the two scholars found that “Brazilian immigrant churches in Florida reacted to the pandemic in civil, theological, and practical ways,” they wrote in “Immigrant Evangelicalism in the COVID-19 Crisis” for the International Journal of Latin American Religions.

Dr. Rodrigo Serrão

“Because we both are Brazilians, we thought that we should try to find what is the response for these 100 percent Brazilian-focused church (in America),” said Serrão, assistant professor of sociology who began teaching at Hope this fall. “We knew that there was a lot more going on behind the cameras, but we said, ‘let’s take what they are saying in front of the cameras and let’s use that to see what they are doing.’”

In their attentive viewing of hours and hours of Facebook and YouTube sermons, Serrão and Chaves found that the three Brazilian churches responded in three primary ways.

“You have a lot of overlaps in how evangelicals in the United States think and how Brazilian evangelicals think. They share a lot of the same theology.”

First, the immigrant churches’ pastors encouraged their membership to comply with the authorities’ guidelines. 

“Just to contextualize a little bit for you, in Florida, you had some (mainline) churches who were really angry about government restrictions,” Serrão observed.  “In fact, one pastor of a megachurch there was arrested for having in-person services during the shutdown. But immigrants don’t have that luxury. I’m not saying that they weren’t as angry as those other pastors, but they had to show to their membership that they would follow the law. They are already a stigmatized population with labels attached like ‘undocumented’ or ‘illegal.’ They didn’t want that (stigmatization) to continue by not following the rules.”

The second finding from the study deduced that the sermons delivered by the immigrant churches’ pastors often had apocalyptic undertones.

“This was expected, especially if you think in terms of how evangelicalism in Brazil is a continuation of American missionaries’ message,” Serrão explained.  “You have a lot of overlaps in how evangelicals in the United States think and how Brazilian evangelicals think. They share a lot of the same theology.”

Finally, the immigrant churches responded to the initial impact of the pandemic with practical acts of service and care by organizing food pantries and donations for members in need.

“It was clear that they knew they had to put their personal resources into action, and that they very much wanted to,” said Serrão. 

This research resulted in one of the first papers to be published about church response to the pandemic, Serrão added. Fast access to online video helped with speedy data collection as did his prior knowledge of the churches he researched. 

“Just because data was readily available, we still made sure that we were thorough and systematic on what we were looking for and not give up, even when the audio was difficult to hear sometimes,” he said. “Consistency and persistence got us what we needed.”

Serrão and Chaves are now in the process of translating their article into Portuguese for inclusion in an edited book in Brazil.

How Home Attachment Helps Mental Health in a Pandemic

There’s no place like home, author Frank Baum’s Dorothy said, but then again, she wasn’t confined to hers during a multi-month global pandemic.

Still, recent research by two Hope psychology scholars has confirmed that that famous line from The Wizard of Oz has bearing not only when you miss home, but also when that space is primarily where you must stay. 

Dr. Alyssa Cheadle

Dr. Alyssa Cheadle, assistant professor of psychology, and Dr. Benjamin Meagher, visiting scholar of psychology and assistant professor of psychology at Kenyon College, wrote in the Journal of Environmental Psychology  that “in the midst of increased mental health concerns and limited resources due to COVID-19, the home may buffer some individuals from depressive and anxiety-related symptoms by functioning as a source of refuge, security, and stability.”

To reach that finding, the two Hope scholars quickly went to work to research the relationship between home attachment and mental health when the pandemic began to keep people in their homes for long periods due to stay-at-home orders and business and educational closures last March. In their article “Distant to Others, But Close to Home,” Cheadle and Meagher noted that “although people by and large tend to show some degree of attachment to their home, such an emotional bond is not universal.”  

Dr. Benjamin Meagher

Creating opportunities for heightened mental health via home attachment could be just one small home improvement project away.

How then can we consider our homes as emotional safe havens during a pandemic and not just as places where we have to be?

“Something we would want people to try to do is be conscious of the way in which the home space they are in matters to their mental health,” says Cheadle. “I think a lot of people don’t necessarily reflect on it in a deliberative way. But changing the way we think about the spaces in our lives as potential resources – and not spaces that are just ‘there’ – can help us feel better.”

To reach that recommendation through research, Meagher, an environmental psychologist, and Cheadle, a health psychologist, enlisted 289 participants to take surveys in three waves (baseline, two weeks four weeks) via Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), a crowdsourcing website for businesses (and researchers) to hire remotely located “crowd-workers” to perform discrete, online tasks. Their respondents were located nationwide, ages 19 to 72, a little more than half male, and a majority Caucasian. “That make-up was just by virtue of who signed up for the study,” says Meagher.

Cheadle and Meagher then asked those participants to make judgments about their homes. This included indicating how strongly attached participants feel towards their home, as well as rating the emotional ambience of their home across four categories: restoration, kinship, stimulation and productivity. Each participant also completed a standardized questionnaires about depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms and perceptions of stress.

Using those survey tools to both assess participants’ home attachment and mental health, the two researchers came to an important conclusion about home attachment regarding kinship ambience in particular. What is kinship ambience? It is that feeling you get when you associate a certain person, or people, with a particular space.

If my home is able to meet that need (of kinship with others) over the course of this pandemic, then the space will become more and more important to me.”

“So, what we found over the course of the study is that how much a space made a person feel a sense of kinship with others became more and more important in terms of making that person feel attached to the space,” says Meagher.  “I think it makes sense to think about it this way: The longer I am in isolation, the more I miss other people. If my home is able to meet that need (of kinship with others) over the course of this pandemic, then the space will become more and more important to me.”

“During this time in particular, if home is not satisfying the need of togetherness and a feeling of connection with others, it’s not going to be a space that’s accomplishing that feeling of protecting you from all the anxiety that’s out there,” says Cheadle.  But especially with kinship ambience as a strong predictor of home attachment over time, she adds, this study shows that a pleasant attachment to one’s home during the pandemic is protective of stress, depression, and anxiety.

So, go ahead and add to or rearrange pictures of your family and friends in your home space. Maybe even get a new house plant or relocate your favorite comfy chair. Creating opportunities for heightened mental health via home attachment could be just one small home improvement project away.

Pandemic Inspires Art

It has been observed that, throughout history, pandemics have inspired creative minds — to write plays, to postulate new scientific theories, to create works of art.

Lisa Walcott

That last undertaking — to create works of art — naturally emanated from Lisa Walcott, assistant professor of art, during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020. Now, a sculptural installation by Walcott, located at The Centennial Inn of Holland, displays her inspiration from and reflection on the spread of the novel coronavirus and the isolation that it has caused.

“As a visual artist, I process and articulate through making. I wanted to allow myself the time to feel this moment and be in my space as I reflected on proximity, space between, and interdependence,” said Walcott. “The disrupted version of life in quarantine has been very difficult and also very beautiful as we slow down and understand what is essential. . . This work could not be made in another time and space and mean the same thing.”

Titled “Given Situation,” the installation features eight large, mechanized mobiles that mimic the motion of bugs swarming.  Walcott, who specializes in kinetic installations, developed it during the state-wide “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order that was into effect from late March to early June.

The venue was a location where Walcott could work when the college went to remote operations. She and her husband, Rob Walcott, have owned and operated the inn since the couple purchased it at the beginning of the year. Rob hopes that the inn can be developed into a place that supports art, culture and local dialogue.

“I have been thinking a lot about independence and interdependence, and I wanted to offer something to those around me — my neighbors and community,” said Walcott. “’Given Situation’ is for solitary viewing and follows guidelines for social distancing — no touching surfaces and masks worn inside.”

As Walcott explains in the artist’s statement that accompanies the installation, “‘Given Situation’ references the highly coordinated manner in which a colony can move.  The motion of each ‘fly’ is connected to those around them creating a visual manifestation of interdependence. Group coordination can be quite simple yet extremely effective toward solving complex problems (like an ant finding the shortest distance to food and others following that trail). At the same time, the presence of bugs can indicate deterioration and change. The ‘flies’ are coated in black wax melted from birthday candles which references celebration as well as the passing of time.”

She notes that the viewers become a part of the experience as they move through the piece.  “Perception is heightened as the web like ‘swarms’ seem to materialize and disappear,” she said.  “Visitors’ presence both activates and threatens to disrupt the installation.”

Located in the inn’s market building, “Given Situation” has open viewing hours on Saturdays and Sundays from 4-9pm or by appointment until June 26. The Centennial Inn is located at 8 E. 12th St.