Just Keep Moving … and Tracking

Raise your wrist if you received a wearable activity tracker (aka Fitbit, Apple Watch, or Garmin Vivosmart) for Christmas.

Raise your wrist if you own one already.

You are one of a growing number of Americans (more than 20%) who look for health-minded ways to quantify yourself. You know the steps you take, the heart rate you have, the minutes you stand, the hours you sleep, and the calories you burn.

For the most part, this is a very good thing. But it’s only good as long as you keep checking in.

According to Dr. Brian Rider, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of the department’s Health Dynamics program, most adults who own a wearable activity tracker are delighted and diligent with their device but only for a while. About one third of owners stop using their fitness tracker after six months, and more than half eventually abandon them altogether (wired.com).

“There is evidence to support that the initial push that we get from monitoring how active we are does help us to become more active,” explains Rider, whose research interest include the use of activity monitors to measure and promote physical activity. “It’s not super long lasting. There’s a bit of a plateau.”

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to start and maintain your fitness tracking, how then do you continue to find the motivation to strap on your activity tracker and move everyday, all year?

Rider says it’s best to couple your new-fangled exercise technology with old- fashioned pencil and paper.

Dr. Brian Rider

“Researchers have found that wearable fitness technology is effective, if (1) an activity goal, either in steps or calories burned, is articulated, and then (2) you actually have a place to write that down,” says Rider. “I think a lot of times people offload the responsibilities of daily tracking by saying, ‘Oh, the device tracks all that for me’ and they forget to even go and look at it. But research has shown if you actually write down what you get at the end of each day, it’s more a constant reminder whether you achieved your goal or not.”

“People get the idea that they’ve got to do 10,000 steps because they heard it on the news or at work,” Rider continues. “And if they’re not able to reach that goal, they became very discouraged and stop using the device.”

What is a good goal for you to set though? That depends, of course, on several factors like age, current activity level, and your overall health composition. Though the buzz around fitness trackers is the 10,000 step mark, for many people, that’s just not realistic, says Rider.

“People get the idea that they’ve got to do 10,000 steps because they heard it on the news or at work,” Rider continues. “And if they’re not able to reach that goal, they became very discouraged and stop using the device when really, 10,000 steps, which is roughly five miles per day, is not realistic to tell everyone.”

Instead, Rider explains, many people can add on extra steps in their day by just parking further away from the store or office, using the restroom on the next floor, or taking a walking break every hour for a couple minutes. “The daily little things add up,” he says. “And people were amazed how quickly they accrue extra steps by doing those little things.”

“Researchers have found that wearable fitness technology is effective, if (1) an activity goal, either in steps or calories burned, is articulated, and then (2) you actually have a place to write that down,” says Rider.

In a weight-loss intervention study that Rider conducted while in his doctoral program at the University of Tennessee, he and other researchers based participants’ step goals on how much they were currently active. First, they wore an activity tracker for one week to gage their average normal activity in steps.

“Then we asked them to take another 1,000 steps a day for a week, then another 1,000 the next week, and we capped them at 3,000 more steps so they added roughly a mile more than they were normally walking after a month in the study,” Rider explains. “That seemed to work pretty well for them and kept them going.”

Want to learn more about Rider’s research?  

Rider plans to discuss his research on wearable fitness trackers further at an upcoming presentation during Hope’s Winter Happening on Saturday, Jan. 20. He joins five other Hope faculty who will share their academic wisdom with the Hope community. Registration is open now.

 

Goodnight, Sweet Dreams, and a Fitbit ® for You Too

Two Hope psychology professors are hoping their recent research will help parents understand the importance and ways that children should be nestled all snug in their beds. Good sleep is as important as good nutrition in raising happy, healthy kids, but unfortunately, most children are not getting enough shut-eye to allow visions of sugar plums to dance in their heads.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

According to the National Sleep Foundation, 77% of preschoolers, who should get 11-12 hours of sleep daily, experience sleep-related disruptive behaviors at least a few nights a week.

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown and Dr. Andrew Gall, with assistance from 13 Hope students and participation from 73 Holland-area preschoolers and their parents, used novel methodology in a study this past fall to better understand how children’s good (or bad) sleep hygiene affects not only their health and welfare but learning and playing, too.

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown
Dr. Andrew Gall

Parental sleep journals and wearable exercise technology were their means to gather the study’s sleep data. As parents recorded their preschoolers sleep routines, light/sound exposures at night, and daily socioemotional interactions, a Fitbit ® — worn around the preschoolers’ ankles for 12 weeks — digitally recorded activity patterns during the day and night. Fitbits ® can capture detailed quantitative measurements besides steps and calories burned. They also record sleep onset and offset (including nap times), number of nighttime awakenings, and the amount of time spent awake during the night.

The devices were the perfect fit to help the professors, and eventually parents, understand how good sleep hygiene, and possible necessary interventions, can help preschoolers get the good sleep they need. Good sleep hygiene is defined as consistent bedtimes and morning rising times, and avoiding large meals, caffeine, and light sources (e.g., night lights, smart phones, iPads, computers) before bedtime.

“Honestly, it was just fun working with preschoolers. Since I’m a pretty tall guy, sometimes they got a little bit shy around me, but after one or two (memory) games, they opened up and would tell me all about going sledding with friends or having a friend over to play games.”

“Very few studies have examined sleep patterns in preschoolers in their home environments,” says Gall who specializes in the neuroscience of sleep.

“This project is very close to our hearts,” adds Trent-Brown who specializes in early childhood development. “We’ve both experienced the joys and challenges of parenting preschoolers … We want for other parents to have the opportunity to learn more about their children and themselves.”

Dr. Andrew Gall tests out a Fitbit on his daughter, Stella. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Gall)

Funded by a $32,500 grant from the Caplan Foundation for Early Childhood, the study also involved Hope students who visited two Holland preschools to test the participants on memory performance tasks. Storytelling and missing object recall were two such tasks administered by Bradley Dixon who joined the project early, conducting preparatory work last summer.

“It was an awesome experience as a sophomore to have an opportunity to work in the field,” said Dixon, who is from Kentwood, Michigan. “I’m hoping to eventually work with real patients some day, so this was really a great experience to be able to spend time with people. It helped me understand the difference between learning about psychology in a textbook and applying it in real life.

“Plus, honestly, it was just fun working with preschoolers. Since I’m a pretty tall guy, sometimes they got a little bit shy around me, but after one or two (memory) games, they opened up and would tell me all about going sledding with friends or having a friend over to play games. So that was fun too.”

The professors have plans to write children’s books too about getting good sleep. In doing so, their findings will reach those who are the ones meant to hear the lessons their research uncovered: parents and preschoolers themselves.

Trent-Brown and Gall, as well as their students, will look over the data in the spring semester and reach their conclusions. While scholarly publication of their findings is expected, the professors plan to write children’s books about getting good sleep in order to reach parents and preschoolers themselves.

“We want them to know that sleep matters,” says Trent-Brown. “The Centers for Disease Control calls sleep deprivation in the U.S. a ‘public health epidemic’ because Americans — from all walks of life and across all developmental lifespan periods — aren’t getting the sleep we require and we underestimate its importance and undermine its impact. To use a colloquial phrase, ‘Don’t sleep’ on sleep!”

New App by Hope Students Provides the Freedom to (Easily) Read

A new web-based, plug-in application created by two Hope students gives those with learning disabilities the means to read online articles at a level that best suits their reading comprehension. The app, called Articulus (meaning “article” in Latin), allows for greater reading understanding and success in school and life. Senior Amber Carnahan and sophomore Jori Gelbaugh, under the supervision of Hope professor, Dr. Michael Jipping, professor of computer science, developed the program during the summer of 2017. Though currently and primarily in use at Black River School in Holland, as a Chrome extension, Articulus is also available to anyone, free, in the Google Chrome Web store.

Senior Amber Carnahan (right) and sophomore Jori Gelbaugh (left) created the app, Articulus, under the supervision of Dr. Michael Jipping, professor of computer science.

And it all got started because of a conversation in a grocery store aisle.

“The more I thought it was a really cool thing for Hope students to do, and it could be very contributive for others, too.”

“I was in Meijer and I ran into a friend (who works with students with learning disabilities),” said Jipping. “And we were chatting and grocery shopping and he said, ‘You know what I would love. I have students who do research online and they always run into web pages that are above their reading level and it’s just so frustrating for them. What we need is a plug-in for Chrome that reduces the reading level of these web pages.’

“At first, I said, ‘Okay, thank you. That’s really hard.’ But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought it was a really cool thing for Hope students to do, and it could be very contributive for others, too.”

So Jipping made the project a priority for the Hope Software Institute (HSI). A software development arm of the Department of Computer Science, HSI gives experience to Hope students who are interested in pursuing careers in the software industry while delivering applications to real clients, usually a non-profit organization that could not afford a professional developer.

They wrote code in Java Script and designed the app in regard to its features, aesthetics, and usability.

Carnahan, a computer science and English double major, and Gelbaugh, a computer science and international studies double major, were hired by Jipping (yes, HSI pays its student workers!) to tackle the complex work of learning a new programming language to make the English language less complicated. Over the course of the nine-week project, they learned to write code in Java Script and determined how that code interfaced with Chrome and Chrome extensions. They also designed the app in regard to its features, aesthetics, and usability.

All of that, though, needed to precursor, a run-up to understanding how reading levels are measured and thus can be changed.

“As soon as we were hired for the summer, and before we started programming, we met with Professor Laura Pardo (of the Department of Education),” says Carnahan. “She gave us a number of reading metrics that showed us the areas in reading where people can get caught off guard. We settled on two…kind of. We worked with those for a while but in the end, we combined the two to develop our own metric… As an English major, I was excited to look at English language problems.”

Dr. Pardo also encouraged the two students to not just consider word and sentence complexity but also visual distractions that can be prevalent on web pages.

“So, we built into our app ways you can toggle images or just remove ads even before they load on the page,” adds Carnahan. “Those are some of the things we looked at as well as sentence length, synonyms options, and grammar.”
Besides working with closely with Dr. Jipping and Dr. Pardo, Carnahan and Gelbaugh also meet with their Black River clients every two weeks to discuss the app’s progress. From prototype to the (mostly) finished project, the feedback has been positive, says Jipping. And not only from Black River. The 2017 Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges (CCSC) Midwest was also impressed. At their recent 2017 conference, CCCS honored Carnahan, Gelbaugh, and Jipping with the best poster award.

“I think technology is incredibly powerful. It can be used to really build people up and improve their lives. Really, that was the best part of all of Articulus.”

Though there are some changes the group would still like to make to the app, for the most part, they are happy with what they created for both technical and humanitarian reasons. Both student developers are delighted they were able to create something that helps others in meaningful, educational ways. Their product tagline — The Freedom to (Easily) Reading ‘Em — sums up what they wanted Articulus to do best.

“This process showed me how we can meet up with people who have a problem and then make things better and in this case, it was with reading,” says Carnahan. “I hope that students can now feel better in class because they are not worrying about falling behind. They can be grasping the content without having to lose as much time.”

“For me, I have a brother who struggled with reading throughout his education,” adds Gelbaugh. “So this was a very personal project for me. I think technology is incredibly powerful. It can be used to really build people up and improve their lives. Really, that was the best part of all of Articulus.”

International Education is for Faculty Too

Like Hope students who traverse and learn internationally during the summer months, many Hope professors do the same. One such example is a focused and lively international faculty development workshop, co-directed by Dr. Joanne Stewart of Hope’s chemistry department, which brought together liberal arts science professors from around the world during the summer of 2017.

Participants in the GLAA Science Faculty Workshop at Deree-The American College of Greece

The Global Liberal Arts Alliance (GLAA) Science Teaching Workshop, established by Stewart and two other colleagues from the GLAA, was held in Athens, Greece, for four days in June with roughly half of the participants from American liberal arts colleges and half from international liberal arts schools in Hong Kong, Nigeria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Japan and Greece. Its main intention: bring together 26 international science and engineering faculty to build and engage a cross-cultural community to share ideas, resources, and enthusiasm about teaching and learning in the sciences.

A year in the making and funded by a grant from the GLAA, the first-time workshop was a success on several levels, says Stewart. Besides getting international liberal arts faculty together for bonding time, they also “talked shop.” Best practice discussions abounded for implementing primary scientific literature in the classroom; sharing assessment, pedagogy and action research techniques; co-developing new interdisciplinary curricula; and, troubleshooting particular difficulties that faculty encounter.

“It confirmed for me that Hope is well-positioned with respect to all the different ways science is being taught.”

Dr. Joanne Stewart, professor of chemistry

“Hope College desires the globalization of our students’ educations,” Stewart says, “but I believe it’s important also to build connections with international colleagues, especially those in the liberal arts. It was so good for me to engage with this kind of faculty development because of the broad range of teaching expertise I was exposed to. My international and American colleagues use techniques that range from traditional instruction to a more holistic approach. And it confirmed for me that Hope is well-positioned with respect to all the different ways science is being taught.”

Within a very detailed and active four-day agenda, participants were given some flexibility and downtime, too. Stewart remembers on the last day of the workshop, a group of professors finished a project ahead of schedule. For the remaining hour-and-a-half, they simply talked with each other about their challenges and joys of teaching science.

“And they took notes — like good science faculty — about all they discussed and gave them to us (the co-directors). They talked about what each of them do with student evaluations, how they grade, how they run labs without money. They bonded over science-teaching problems and solutions.”

“Seeing the commonality of issues across the GLAA community, across many disciplines gives me confidence that I can apply many of the tools I learned at the workshop into my own courses.”

Stewart has plans to offer the workshop again in a year or two. In the meantime, this initial community of science educators lives on virtually with their own collaborative website. They have also been Skype-ing into each other’s classrooms, another way science teaching is becoming more globalized. And they’ll put into use those best practices they learned for four days in Greece, proving good teaching and cross-cultural learning partner to bring new friends together anywhere in the world.

 

New book explains the origins of March Madness

Long before it became a national phenomenon linked to a $11 billion television contract, obsessive office wagering, and another meaning to the name ‘Cinderella,’ the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament — more commonly dubbed March Madness — got its humble beginnings in modestly populated Midwestern gymnasiums to little fanfare and hype.

Gradually big-name coaches and big-city venues, plus a big-time point-shaving scandal, enveloped the tournament, directing it toward the more prominent stage it would eventually play upon today. It’s this early roundball history, when college basketball was fresh-faced and growing, that Dr. Chad Carlson recounts in his new book titled Making March Madness: The Early Years of the NCAA, NIT and College Basketball Championships, 1922-1951.

The book, published by The University of Arkansas Press and part of their Sports and Society series, is Carlson’s first.

“No one had written about the origins of March Madness previously, the greatest sporting event in my mind.”

“No one had written about the origins of March Madness previously, the greatest sporting event in my mind,” explains Carlson about the book’s formation. “We have a number of sports historians who have studied football, a lot who study the Olympics or baseball, but there are relatively few that study basketball and fewer still that study college basketball. So, I felt it was an area in need of study that naturally fit for me.”

Dr. Chad Carlson, author of Making March Madness

Carlson — a former Hope basketball player and now men’s junior varsity coach — weaves first a regional tale, then national story, about a game that went from baby steps to giant leaps. College basketball in the early 20th century was not the nation-wide sensation it is today. “There were definitely pockets of colleges in the country playing basketball in the 20s,” says Carlson. “It was a very regional game with no national oversight.”

For a sport that uses little equipment, there was little coordinated governance of the standard size of the ball, net on a rim, or use of a backboard either. “Refereeing and rules were regionally enforced, too,” explains Carlson.

Despite the game’s varied nature, the first attempt at a college basketball national tournament occurred in 1922 (hence the book starts there), and was organized by the Indianapolis Junior Chamber of Commerce. Six teams from across the country were invited and the finals featured two squads familiar to the region: DePauw University vs Kalamazoo College.

From there, the establishment of a national college tournament went about as smoothly as a fast break against a full-court press. Lack of good, fast national transportation stunted its growth, as did college administrations that were not quite ready to go all-in on college sports just yet. Finally in 1937, the NAIA hosted a national tournament that was followed by the NIT in 1938 and then last to the game, the NCAA in 1939. Each tournament started with only six or eight teams selected to vie for the national title.

Carlson’s research led him to other fascinating insights on the growth of March Madness such as the intervention of legendary Kansas coach Fogg Allen to keep the tournament ball bouncing in 1940 after the NCAA lost money the year before; the introduction of Madison Square Garden as the host venue in 1943; the widespread participation of players in a point-shaving scandal in the late 40s; and, the responsive way the sport gave back to a greater cause during World War II years when proceeds from the national tournament went to the American Red Cross.

“Had I not absolutely loved the topic, this book may have never gotten written,” Carlson says, and he’s only somewhat joking. “There was so much to research and write, so many details.”

Making March Madness will be a history that sport historians, students, reporters, and college basketball fans will want to consult on a regular basis,” reviews Chris Elzey, co-editor of DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play. “It is a comprehensive, authoritative college basketball history … a great book.”

Making March Madness took Carlson four years to complete and involved multiple research trips to the archives at the Basketball Hall of Fame, Ohio State University, University of Kentucky, University of Kansas, and the NCAA. Carlson leaves off in 1953 before the advent of big-network coverage and UCLA and John Wooden’s rise. There’s been enough written about those histories, he says.

“Had I not absolutely loved the topic, this book may have never gotten written,” Carlson says, and he’s only somewhat joking. “There was so much to research and write, so many details. Plus I have a young family (he and his wife, Kathi, have two children, now ages 8 and 6). But it still was a blast to find things that no one had written about that I think are really important events in the history of college basketball.”

Making March Madness is 447 pages (“though about 100 of those pages are footnotes,” Carlson clarifies) and will be available at the Hope-Geneva Bookstore for purchase.

Hope Turns Purple to Help Find a Cure

They have never met but they are on the same team. Their uniforms are different but they don them with solidarity of purpose. And though they play different positions, they desire the same outcome. The soccer player and the scientist want to beat cancer.

Senior Allie Wittenbach, a forward on the Hope women’s soccer team, takes her fight against cancer to the field to help defeat the disease that claimed the life of her mother, Debbie. Senior Philip Versluis, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, battles cancer in a research lab in the expansive Van Andel Institute (VAI) in downtown Grand Rapids. Together, the two Hope students, along with hundreds of others, use their activism and skills to combat what has been aptly called “the worst scourge of humankind.”

Purple means funding. Purple stands for awareness. Purple gives hope.

And the color purple unites them. Is there a prettier color to represent a longed-for cure of this ugly disease? It signifies VAI’s grassroots fund-raising program, called Purple Community, connecting individuals, schools, teams and businesses to the resources needed to join the fight against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Purple means funding. Purple stands for awareness. Purple gives hope.

And in January, 2017, purple equaled $8,691.89. That was the amount raised by Hope athletes during a Purple Community Game on Hope’s campus. The funds are financing the stipend, and other expenses, for a Hope student to be a VAI summer intern, a unique way Hope athletics partners with Hope academics. Wittenbach is one such athlete. Versluis is this summer’s intern.

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Senior forward Allie Wittenbach

Whenever Allie Wittenbach puts on her soccer cleats — the ones with her mom’s initials, DJW, penned on the white Nike swoosh, and “Never Give Up” written on the sides — she remembers she is playing for something bigger than herself. Every practice. Every play. Every game. When the Purple Community Game rolls around, played in purple jerseys and paraphernalia to bring attention to and raise funds for cancer research at VAI, her sense of loss and hope is even more pronounced.

“There is definitely a different feeling in the air that day,” she says. “On Purple Game day, we are playing for those who are fighting and surviving cancer.” She pauses and her voice trails off a bit but does not tremble. “Or those who are no longer with us. They are, and were, the ones battling harder than we ever could on the field.”

Wittenbach became heavily involved in Purple Community Games long before she arrived at Hope. At her high school, Forest Hills Central, she became a whole-hearted Purple Community member after her mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. While there, she was instrumental in raising over $100,000 for VAI ‘s cancer-cure effort.

“There is definitely a different feeling in the air that day. On Purple Game day, we are playing for those who are fighting and surviving cancer.” She pauses and her voice trails off a bit but does not tremble.

Once at Hope, Wittenbach rallied forces again to raise even more money. Driven and intense, loving and loyal too, Wittenbach just wants to make a difference beyond the soccer pitch. It’s that plain and simple. Her commitment to cancer research is as purple as purple gets.

“This is a cause Allie is really passionate about but it is never all about her,” observes Head Women’s Soccer Coach Leigh Sears. “Last year, I left it to her to organize the event for our team and she had everyone involved. She is always so grateful for the opportunity to raise money and awareness for the cause.”

Allie and Debbie Wittenbach (Photo Courtesy of Allie Wittenbach)

Debbie Wittenbach ended her battle with cancer in November of 2015, Allie’s sophomore year. The woman who knew just about everyone by their first name in her hometown of Ada, Michigan, and who never missed one of her children’s sporting events (Stephen Wittenbach also played basketball for Hope), left a legacy of strength and compassion as well an indelible mark on her community and her daughter. Allie talks about her mom with evident pride tinged by profound loss. But it’s clear she’s not asking for sympathy. She talks about her mom with great joy as a way to keep her memory alive.

“Everybody knows somebody who has been affected by cancer. I’m not the only one who’s lost a loved one too young…. But I would not trade the 20 years I got with my mom for 100 years with anybody else,” Allie says. “You can quote me on that.”

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Philip Versluis commutes to VAI in downtown Grand Rapids from his hometown of nearby Walker, Michigan, long before the traffic gets thick. He takes the elevator to his fifth-floor lab and starts his day by checking the incubator he set up the night before, well after 6:00 p.m. Research is not a 9-to-5 job, he says. It’s dedicated to questions and experiments that have little consideration of a clock. And that is why the whip-smart Versluis likes it. No two days worked, or the results derived, are exactly alike. Even if those days and experiments try his patience and stamina.

Hope senior Philip Versluis conducts cancer research at VanAndel Institute. (Photo Courtesy of VAI)

“When you do research, most of the time you just fail,” he confides. “It’s rather remarkable how many times you can perform an experiment and see it get infected, or it doesn’t develop well. So then you redo it over with the hopes that it works next time. When it does, when you find that one bit of information that leads to another question that leads to another experiment, that is pretty cool. And the more you dig in, the cooler it gets.”

Dr. Scott Rothbart and Philip Versluis at Van Andel Institute (Photo Courtesy of VAI)

Versluis has been digging in for three summers now under the direction of Dr. Scott Rothbart, assistant professor in the Center for Epigenetics at VAI, who supervises five other lab assistants too. The two previous summers Versluis worked as an intern funded by the Meijer Foundation. As he continues on with cancer research this summer thanks to funding designated from the Hope Purple Community Game (“For which I am very appreciative,” he says), Versluis embraces the complexities of his work that specifically deals with the mechanisms of DNA control. Knowing more about genomic information inside various, specific cells — be they the peculiarities of brain, blood, liver or lung cells — gives researchers better knowledge about molecular drivers of cancer.

We expect a lot from human-made technology. So why is it then that we haven’t cured cancer?

And it’s the knowing that takes time and money. A lot of time and money. We’ve gotten men to the moon, constructed an information highway, talk on phones that move with us, and built monoliths of modern design. We expect a lot from human-made technology. So why is it then that we haven’t cured cancer? It turns out the human body is much more complicated than any one of those other things.

Philip Versluis and Dr. Scott Rothbart, and son, attend a Purple Community Game at Hope.

“Different cancers act differently,” says Rothbart. “And they affect different people differently. The types of approaches that would be effective for treating one type of cancer are ineffective for treating another type of cancer because they are driven by completely different mechanisms.”

In other words, curing cancer is like taking aim at a constantly morphing bull’s eye even though the target may look somewhat the same. But there is hope on the not-too-distant horizon because “for some cancers, the idea of a cure is within reach,” Rothbart adds. “For other types of cancer, the idea of converting these deadly diseases into chronic diseases that are abated with a pill once a day, like diabetics use insulin, may be a way to manage cancer. We may not be able to get rid of every single cancer cell but we may be able to hold the system down where you can live a long healthy life as long as you take your pill.”

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Having assurances like that from Rothbart keeps Wittenbach focused on Purple Community efforts at Hope and inspires Versluis to continue research after graduation from Hope, as he’ll soon apply to Ph.D. programs in molecular biology. The two Hope students may not know each other but they share the same commitment to be the change they want to see in the medical world. The soccer player needs the scientist and vice versa.

“You don’t have to be only in the lab to help this cause. We all play a part. That’s why these games matter.”

“I can’t be in the lab but Philip can and is and I respect him for that. We need him there,” says Wittenbach, a communication and business double major. “But you don’t have to be only in the lab to help this cause. We all play a part. That’s why these games matter.”

Giving Water for Life

Water is life. Our liquid reliance is embedded in 70% of our world’s geography and makes up 60% of our bodies, after all. Yet, nearly one billion people do not have access to safe water.

Boiled down: One in eight people worldwide cannot find clean, drinking water.

And that’s exactly why the Hope College Engineers Without Borders (EWB-Hope) chapter traveled to Kenya in May 2017. Only 57% of Kenya’s population has sustainable access to clean water sources, according to the World Health Organization. By comparison, the United States measures 99%.

For three weeks, in a rural area called Bondo just outside Migori in southwest Kenya, Adam Peckens, laboratory director for the engineering department, and seven Hope students, coordinated and engineered the installation of two wells and a rainwater catchment system. Their efforts — financed through EWB-Hope’s own fundraisers and a crowd-funding program initiated by the College Development Office — ultimately changed the lives of over 500 local residents whose previous access to clean water was an hour’s walk, each way. EWB-Hope went on a mission to give water for life.

EWB-Hope team, Bondo residents, and the new rainwater catchment system at the local church/school.

Their efforts ultimately changed the lives of over 500 local residents whose previous access to clean water was an hour’s walk, each way.

This was not EWB-Hope’s first trip to the Bondo area. The chapter — under the advisement of Dr. Courtney Peckens, assistant professor of engineering — has partnered with the community for three years and has made two previous excursions there — the first in 2015 to determine what water residents had access to (very minimal, very seasonal, and very contaminated); the second, in 2016, to attempt a well installation that unfortunately was not successful. This year, however, the team struck it water-rich. By the end of their stay, they watched their new Kenyan friends gratefully use hand pumps to access clean water close to home.

For all of the manual and mind hours it took to make living waters flow, none of the work hammered out by EWB-Hope in Africa or on campus prior to departure, was done for college credit. Instead the sheer satisfaction of knowing fellow human beings could now drink clean water was reward enough.

“It was a great learning experience where it’s not necessarily an equation you’re trying to solve for a grade like in an engineering class, but a real-life problem affecting real people.”

Michelle Ky with community member and chairperson, Becky, at closing meeting.

“It was a big success story for our students and the (EWB) chapter overall. They really pushed forward to get the work done,” says Peckens, an environmental engineer who worked on many different groundwater remediation projects around Michigan and the Midwest, before coming to Hope in 2014. “It was a great learning experience where it’s not necessarily an equation you’re trying to solve for a grade like in an engineering class, but a real-life problem affecting real people. It’s taking in all of the factors around that problem and trying to come up with the best solution. And that solution might not be perfect, but it works.”

To his point, Peckens recalls how designs changed once the team got on the ground in Kenya. Though the full drawing set and a mock build of the catchment system worked just fine in the engineering lab on campus, “when we got there, circumstances were different, of course,” he observes. “We lacked some of the same supplies or the right tools (we had back home), and multiple trips to the hardware store in Bondo meant we had to adapt the design in the field. It was a good hands-on experience for the students to see that not everything works out as you planned so how are you going to troubleshoot that.”

“It was a good hands-on experience for the students to see that not everything works out as you planned so how are you going to troubleshoot that.”

Another challenge was the language barrier. The Bondo residents speak Luo, a dialect of Nilotic languages. The Hope team did not have that language skill in their toolkit so dependence on their guide and interpreter, Paul O’lango, was heavy, especially at that Bondo hardware store.

Working on rainwater catchment system and tank spigot.

“Part of our project requirements was to locally source as many components as possible,” explains senior mechanical engineering major Rilee Bouwkamp from Holland, Michigan. “For the rainwater catchment system built at a local church, this meant finding a 10,000-liter water storage tank, saw, gutters, nails, hanger straps, the works. Most of the frustration came with trips to the hardware store in nearby Migori that would take almost an entire afternoon. Trying to explain what we needed was difficult even with a translator’s help and a sense of urgency in Kenyan culture is rare. Overall, our team learned to be patient and we began to understand that this aspect of the project was out of our control.”

“In the process Hope students discover they have so much impact not just mechanically but in local relationships.”

Dr. Courtney Peckens has been EWB-Hope’s faculty advisor since she returned to Hope to teach in 2013. (And yes, Courtney and Adam are a husband-wife team.) A Hope graduate of the class of 2006 who participated in EWB herself (she travelled to Cameroon to install bio-sand filters), Peckens knows full well how much the program changes lives… and not just those who now are able to get clean water. “This program is a good fit for us. It ‘s a way for Hope engineering students to use their God-given talents to help people,” she says, “and in the process they discover they have so much impact not just mechanically but in local relationships.”

“My favorite memory of the entire trip was interacting with the community members because they showed me how to appreciate the little things in life,” concurs sophomore mechanical engineering major Kaytlyn Ihara from South Lyon, Michigan. “Compared to what we have in the United States, they have very little. Even though they don’t have the luxuries that we Americans have, they always had a smile on their face. They always were thanking us, but I can never thank them all enough for all that they showed me. Now being back in the States, it has really taught me to take nothing for granted.”

Now that clean, safe, reliable, living water flows in Bondo maintaining relationships is as important as maintaining systems.

Well drilling at Bondo B location. Pictured Left to Right: Michelle Ky, Mathew Delaney, Mitchel Konkle, Kaytlyn Ihara, Brittney Weickel, Rilee Bouwkamp, Emma Donahoe.

EWB-Hope will continue to get updates from O’lango about once a week and then they’ll return to Kenya within the year, this time for a monitoring trip to check on the status of the wells and catchment system as well as the lives of their new friends. “We aren’t a group that comes in and installs an engineering system and then leaves without any future contact,” says Courtney. “We are in this for long-term solutions for people.”

Now clean, living water flows in Bondo. And so do beautiful, cross-cultural relationships. Both, it turns out, are necessities of life.