The Economics Lessons of Smart Justice Research

Economists are uniquely suited to study a variety of subjects where tradeoffs are unavoidable and consequences are complex. Two such areas of unique econometric study are related to the law and the criminal justice system. Within those subjects, curious economists like Dr. Sarah Estelle, associate professor of economics at Hope and the Ruch Faculty Fellow, are able to ask and find answers to causal, cost-benefit questions such as this:

Do harsher criminal sentences cause more or less crime?

Dr. Sarah Estelle, associate professor of economics and Ruch Faculty Fellow

A recent study completed by Estelle and former Hope colleague Dr. David Phillips, now of the University of Notre Dame, found harsher sentences do not always reduce recidivism. Their findings, published in the Journal of Public Economics, used a massive Michigan Department of Corrections data set on two  non-violent felonies committed by adults in the state — operating while intoxicated (OWI) and first-degree retail fraud. Since those two crimes are treated much the same in terms of the state’s sentencing guidelines, Estelle and Phillips wanted to measure the effect of offenders’ sentences on their future criminal activity.

After extensive study, they found harsher sentences reduce future felonies committed by shoplifters but not by drunk drivers.

“With the recent call for ‘smart justice,’ as opposed to the ‘tough on crime’ mantra of politicians of the 1990s, people are understanding that there are sometime tradeoffs between public safety and the public budget,” says Estelle, who is also the founding director of Hope’s Markets & Morality student organization. “Putting someone in prison in Michigan costs a hundred dollars a day. And that’s just the cost to the state. What about other costs to society such as the effect on a child’s development of an absent parent or the loss of income and stability for a family? We need to consider more than a state’s budget when assessing the costs of incarcerating people or, alternatively, not incarcerating them.”

“The ultimate question would be this: What would perfectly balance all of the consequences of a harsher versus more lenient sentence for society, for the offender, for the offender’s family, for the public budget? To really answer a question about the optimal sentence, we would have to capture all of the information that affects those various factors and put them together mathematically and then recommend an answer. Frankly, no one can answer that question, but a solid economic methodology can help us better understand the question.”

In the end, the two economists concluded “maximizing the public benefits of sentencing reform requires carefully identifying which offenses and offenders to target for reduced versus increased sentencing guidelines,” according to their paper, “Smart Sentencing Guidelines: The Effect of Marginal Policy Changes on Recidivism.”

Estelle includes her research smack dab in the middle of her Hope economics classes, too, so as to achieve two objectives: remind Hope students that their professors are active scholars and provide effective examples on course topics.

This research is consistent with Estelle’s interests in microeconomics applied to individual human behavior. In the past, she has looked at welfare policy and how that affects low-income women’s decisions to go to college. She’s also researched how women’s decisions to attend college affects their own children’s academic achievement and how parenting influences adolescent risky behavior.

“All of these things probably sound very sociological in nature, but they are actually smack dab in the middle of some really awesome economic research,” she says.

Estelle includes her research smack dab in the middle of her Hope economics classes, too, so as to achieve two objectives: remind Hope students their professors are active scholars, and provide effective examples on course topics.   She uses her recent recidivism research, for example, in her “Economics of the Public Sector” class which aims to build students’ understanding of the causes and consequences of government involvement through spending programs (such as education, health care, and Social Security) and taxation.

“Although the criminal justice role of government primarily belongs in courses on ‘law and economics,’ our research provides a great example of just how complex cost-benefit analysis is,” Estelle explains. “Students might think ‘well, where incarceration is concerned, there is the cost to the state’s budget and there are benefits to keeping the public safe.’ But that would be a really bad cost-benefit analysis. The question really is, if we want to figure out what the sentence should be, what categories of consequences do we need to consider under the headings of benefits and costs? I think this is something that students have some traction with as they can expand their thinking and step beyond those first two obvious kinds of consequences.”

“Finally at the end,” she concludes, “there is pride in the finished product and sense of satisfaction in being able to make a contribution.”

In the capstone class in the economics major, a senior research project, Estelle also applies wisdom learned from her recent research in another way. As Hope students undertake their own independent research projects, Estelle instructs through her personal research, stories of inquiry that are tinged with a good deal of tenacity. It took her and Phillips four years to complete their study so “I can talk to my students about what provides motivation at different points in the research process. There’s curiosity and excitement at the start and there’s some of that in the middle with a good dose of obligation and commitment to intellectual integrity, too.”

“Finally, at the end,” she concludes, “there is pride in the finished product and sense of satisfaction in being able to make a contribution.”

For the Love of Trees

Fall is the perfect season to celebrate the beauty of trees. Color-changing, wind-buffering, rainwater-absorbing, trees tend to take center stage at autumnal time. Hope College sophomore Katelyn DeWitt, however, appreciates their value all year round. And she doesn’t mind being called a tree hugger because of it.

Actually, that is exactly what DeWitt did for ten weeks during the summer of 2018. She embraced her work with trees while inventorying and measuring the trunk diameters of nearly half of the tree population (so far 3500+) found on public property in the City of Holland. In doing so, she dug into determining the environmental and monetary values of various species in the city’s urban canopy.

What she found is confirmation, and then some, of Joyce Kilmer’s famous “Trees” poem. There is indeed nothing lovelier than a tree when it comes to the myriad of environmental benefits it provides in addition to its aesthetic value. Drought and flood mitigation, climate stability through carbon sequestration, pollution filtration, noise reduction and wildlife habitation are all the ecological workings of a tree. Natural benefits aside, the so-far-surveyed trees in Holland are projected to provide more than $16,166 in environmental value annually, according to DeWitt’s preliminary calculations that do not factor in electricity offset yet.

DeWitt took on the collaboratively- funded project (by the City of Holland, Hope College Biology Department and the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute) simply because “I’ve always liked trees,” says the biology major, “and I think it’s important to know more about them to help the world we live in.” Directed in her efforts by Dr. Kathy Winnett-Murray and Dr. Greg Murray, professors of biology, and Michelle Gibbs, director of the HHCSI, DeWitt spent her days identifying and measuring the diameters of 3,663 trees at a consistent height of 1.37 meters, also known as diameter at breast height (dbh), the universal standard to measure trees in field studies.

“From that (dbh) you can infer a number of things about how much the tree is absorbing carbon, or how much it is offsetting energy costs,” says Winnett-Murray. All of those tree-benefit computations are calculated by iTree, a software program developed by the U.S. Forest Service, and used from coast to coast for forestry studies. DeWitt used iTree to determine the $16,166 in public tree value mentioned earlier.

Near Hope’s campus, DeWitt’s favorite tree is the American elm found in front of Dimnent Memorial Chapel on the right of way of College Avenue. From past studies of that tree, DeWitt estimates that it is approximately 190 years old. From her present study of the tree using the iTree program, she also estimates that the big, old American elm removes 43.3 ounces of pollution a year, helps avoid water runoff at a rate of 92.2 square feet a year, and sequesters 81.6 pounds of carbon a year.

And that’s just one tree. In all, DeWitt found 94 species of trees on Holland’s public property, the most common being the Norway maple, a non-native tree. The second most common is the native sugar maple.

And all of those trees, especially in an urban setting, are becoming more and more important as deforestation occurs in rural areas due to a rise in development. “We’re losing natural tree canopy out there in the world because of urbanization,” explains Winnett-Murray, “so that means that urban tree canopies are becoming increasingly more important for the ecosystem services that we would have been relying on other trees to perform out in forests. In the best of all possible worlds, we’d have both. What this means to me is, in the future, people will depend even more on trees in the city for the ecosystem services like carbon sequestration.”

Both Winnett-Murray and DeWitt hope to see the Holland tree study continue to its completion next summer. The professor realizes she’s found the perfect student-researcher for the project and the student appreciates the opportunity. “One of Katelyn’s characteristics that really fit this project well is that she is pretty relentless,” says Winnett-Murray. “If she came across tree she did not know already — and wow, did she know a lot of them before she started — she would not give up and just say it was an unknown. She had to find out what it was and she would not give up.”

Through it all, the future ecologist not-surprisingly says her knowledge of tree species increased as did her deep appreciation of trees’ places in every environment. “I didn’t realize how much benefit a tree can provide in actual monetary value before I started this project,” DeWitt says. “Now I also understand that a stand-alone tree in an urban forest can provide even more benefits to people than a tree in a (regular) forest does.”

Natural benefits aside, the so-far-surveyed trees in Holland are projected to provide more than $16,166 in environmental value annually, according to DeWitt’s preliminary calculations that does not factor in electricity offset yet.

Others in Holland now have the chance to learn from DeWitt’s work as well. A new Android phone app developed by Dr. Michael Jipping, professor of computer science, and two of his Hope Summer Software Institute students, helps users identify Holland trees as it accesses GPS coordinates along with the Holland tree database entered into the application. “Treesap, Bringing People to Trees” can be downloaded from Google Play, and it’s free. It’s used by “walking up to a tree on Holland public property and clicking the big red button on the interface, and it will identify the tree for you, or tell you the tree is not in the data base yet,” says Jipping. “As the database grows, more trees will be added.” Jipping also hopes to have an iPhone version of the app completed within a couple years.

As for Winnett-Murray, her goal for the app is to encourage and enable Hollanders, and visitors too, to know their trees better. “But I also hope it gets people moving around the city from place to place, helping them get outside to learn about why trees are valuable. We love the app.”

“This is the first software app I ever produced that I got a hug for,” smiles Jipping. “They are very excited because it works the way they want it to.”

Hugs for trees and software developers, in the Holland Tree Project, you can just feel the arboreal love.

To China with Hope

This past spring, for the first time in Hope’s history, not one but two May Term classes traveled to China. In “China’s Modern Growth,” students examined the nation’s economic policies and business development while touring four major cities as well as Hong Kong. In “China: Land, Wildlife and Culture,” students explored the ecosystems of China’s mountains, rivers and countryside.

Both May Term classes visited Tiananmen Square.

On the face of it, this could seem like a study-abroad city mouse and country mouse kind of story. In a way it is, but of course it would be. In Chinese cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Shenzhen — home to some of the world’s most famous businesses — Hope students saw firsthand what’s being done to affect the world’s second-largest economy. In the Chinese mountains of Tangjiahe Nature Preserve and lowlands of Minjiang River — home to some of the world’s most unique biodiversity — Hope students observed firsthand the likes of panda bears, takins, gingko tree forests and millennia-old irrigation systems unique to the world’s fourth-largest country.

Yet, for as divergent as these two courses’ locations were, their lessons did share one commonality: Each exposed Hope students to historical, cultural and political aspects of a country that is often at the forefront of U.S. and international conversations. Now those exchanges have stuck with them well beyond China’s borders.

That is the whole point of an international study experience: lessons learned make their way back home, get unpacked and then are used.

Andrew VandeBunte, right, and friends take on the city of Chengdu.

“Now that I am back at Hope, my time in China has stuck with me by expanding my international interests here on campus,” says senior Andrew VandeBunte, a business major from Byron Center, Michigan, who enrolled in “China’s Modern Growth.” “In China, we were able to interact with Chinese university students which was a unique way to hear their stories and experiences. This makes me want to build more international relationships on Hope’s campus.”

Clare Da Silva at The Great Wall of China.

Senior Clare Da Silva, a biology major from Danville, California, concurs, as she took note of cultural comparatives while on the “China: Land, Wildlife and Culture” May Term. Travel abroad heightens one’s awareness of a home-country’s normative ways of life. Da Silva noted American social conventions in sharp contrast with Chinese ones.

“Since my return to the United States, I have become more aware of cultural norms in American society that emphasize individualism and govern how we interact with one another,” she says. “In China, I maintained a greater respect for the collectivism that has characterized the growth and fellowship between members of society. By comparing and contrasting the two cultures, I have been able to reflect on different ways to combine the visions of each country to become a more informed human being with a deeper sense of responsibility to myself and others.”

Exploring Tangjiahe

Such words of introspection are music to the ears of Hope educators. In hearing them, they know that some of their course goals and objectives have been met, no matter the subject matter. To be able to teach those lessons in China was both a necessity and a privilege.

“China is big enough and important enough that it really can’t be ignored,” explains Dr. Stephen Smith, professor of economics and co-leader of the “China’s Modern Growth.” Smith, who grew up in Hong Kong and specializes in international economic development and growth, adds, “We felt in terms of the international footprint of the Department of Economics and Business, we just had to have something that invited students specifically to think about China.”

At the Kwai Tsing Container Port in Hong Kong

Dr. Tom Bultman, professor of biology and co-leader of “China: Land, Wildlife and Culture,” agrees from both a biological as well as a interdisciplinary standpoint. “China is huge player in the world in all sorts of areas,” he says, “so it’s really important for our students to get some exposure beyond what they read in the newspaper.”

For Dr. Jianhua Li, associate professor of biology and co-leader with Bultman of “China: Land, Wildlife and Culture,” teaching in China was a brief homecoming — just as Hong Kong was for Smith. Li grew up in Henan in central China, and he wished to show Hope students not only his rural homeland but its cultural and urban features too. Biological outings stood side-by-side on the itinerary with trips to The Great Wall, The Forbidden City and the Summer Palace.

The goal was to show as much of a spectrum of Chinese life as possible in a short period of time.

“We wanted (our students) to see China in a kind of totality because in the media we either see Shanghai with its big, modern buildings, or we see very remote or very poor areas. Like in the United States, it’s not just one thing or the other. It’s more like a continuum of different things.”

Taking in the Three Gorges Dam

Under Dr. Li’s tutelage, Da Silva got it, particularly from the biological vantage point. She was struck especially by China’s strong commitment to improve conservation efforts throughout the country, a realization she would have missed if not on Chinese soil. “Ecotourism has become essential to the preservation of scarce resources and has allowed for more opportunities to increase revenue in Chinese societies,” she explains. “Throughout this May Term, I was amazed by the fairly successful implementation of government policy to protect natural environments and the species that inhabit them.”

The experience of studying in China positively changed VandeBunte’s outlook not just on China but on life. Before his May Term, he had never traveled outside of the United States. Now he has an affinity not just for international travel but for the lessons that can come of it.

“I fell in love with the Chinese culture and pace of life during May Term,” VandeBunte says. “And I came home with an interest in learning more about other places of the world. I think this can only help as I grow older by expanding my knowledge and preparing me to interact with multiple cultures.”

Five Expert Areas From Hope College in September

“Five Expert Areas” is a new monthly feature that invites the media to tap into Hope’s broad range of faculty and staff expertise.

As active scholars and seasoned professionals, Hope employees are experts in their fields, offering research and experiences that are relevant to lives and communities across the globe. And they like to share! After all, our work here at Hope is all about passing on knowledge, feeding curiosity and inspiring further inquiry.

This month, the individuals mentioned below are ready to talk about these trending topics. If you are a reporter interested in connecting with any of our experts, please contact the individual to arrange an interview. Other questions can be directed to Greg Olgers, director of news media services, (olgers@hope.edu).

  1. World Hearing Aid Awareness Week (September 23-30)

Dr. David Myers, professor of psychology, is the author of top-selling psychology textbooks as well as five general interest books, one titled A Quiet World: Living with Hearing Loss. He also recently served a four-year term on the advisory council of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders at National Institutes of Health.

  1. National Read-a-Book Day (Sept. 6) / Banned Books Week (September 23-29)

Dr. Deborah VanDuinen, associate professor of education, specializes in English education, disciplinary literacy and adolescent literacy. Since 2014, she has directed The Big Read – Lakeshore, a program of the National Endowment of the Arts that seek to cultivate a culture of reading one book within a community.

  1. Trending: Fall sports season: Sports officiating challenges and shortage

Outside of the classroom, Dr. Jayson Dibble, associate professor of communication, and Dr. Scott VanderStoep, dean for the social sciences and professor of psychology, serve as high school sports officials. Dibble officiates football, VanderStoep basketball. Each have first-person accounts relevant to the demands, and dedication, needed to keep a playing field for athletes, coaches and fans.

  1. Trending: College essay-writing process

It’s both back-to-school time and find-a-college time for high school seniors. Kristin Diekevers, associate director of admissions, has some great advice to give to those in throws of their college search, especially about writing winsome application essays.

  1. Trending: Supreme Court Nomination Proceedings

Dr. David Ryden, the Peter C. and Emajean Cook Professor of Political Science, has written and spoken extensively about the U.S. Supreme Court, its political history and its composition. With the upcoming Senate confirmation hearings of Trump-nominee Brett Kavanaugh, Ryden approaches the matter from a centrist’s point of view.

A Summer For Advocacy into Action

Inside the humble offices of Lighthouse Immigration Advocates (LIA) on Holland’s northside, Julia Fulton ‘19 and Vania Macias ’19 have engaged in a summer’s worth of meaningful work that will have a lifetime worth of profound impact. And not just for their own sake either, but for the sake of dozens of others they just met. That’s the way it should be, they’re quick to point out. Working for LIA during the summer of 2018 was never about Fulton or Macias anyway. LIA is a non-profit organization with a mission to bring stability and low cost legal services to immigrant families in Ottawa county.

Julia Fulton, left, and Vania Macias, right, stand by a banner for their employer, Lighthouse Immigrant Advocates

For Fulton, from Colton, N.Y., and Macias, a Holland-native, their summer commitment has always been about advocating for those on the margins — those seeking answers and advice in a new country and community. At times, the work has not been easy. It has, though, always been fulfilling and necessary for both women who are driven by their innate desire to serve others while putting their Hope education into action.

Now, a panel discussion at Hope sponsored by the college’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Hope Church RCA and LIA has Fulton and Macias excited to see the issue they’ve been working on all summer brought into further light at Hope. “Advocacy: Action vs. Apathy,” will explore how families are being impacted by the nation’s immigration laws, policies and practices. It is the first event in a series of presentations planned for this fall about advocacy.

This is not new territory for Fulton or Macias. Fulton, a French and political science major, helped organize an award-winning DACA March at Hope last fall, and she worked for CAIR (Capitol Area Immigrant Rights) Coalition in Washington D.C. while on Hope’s Washington Honors Semester last spring. Macias, a sociology major with a criminal justice emphasis, has been involved in CASA, Hope’s Children’s After-School Achievement program, as well as with Spanish-speaking churches in her hometown. Every previous opportunity provided by Hope, or sought out and obtained on their own, naturally led Fulton and Macias to their work at LIA. “This place just fit my beliefs. It fits the kind of community involvement I wanted to do,” says Macias, who is the office administrator for LIA.

Fulton knows completely how she feels because she experienced that feeling before. “When I worked in D.C., I really just got completely absorbed in immigration law. It was a life-changing experience.” Fulton serves as LIA’s community coordinator. “Meeting with people face-to-face is always important because it keeps this from just being an issue. It’s people that we’re working with. It’s people and their stories and their families and their faults and their flaws and their everything. And it’s not an issue anymore. It’s people!”

“This place just fit my beliefs. It fit the kind of community involvement I wanted to do.” — Vania Macias

Besides feet-on-the-ground, hands-on experiences, Macias and Fulton connect their Hope education to their work with LIA. Macias points to her “Theoretical Perspectives in Sociology” class with Dr. Aaron Franzen as the course that best helped her understand the theories behind “otherness” and marginalization. It was so impactful that she created a research presentation detailing refugee displacement and alienation, along with methods that people employ to either renounce or encourage marginality practices. Macias was selected to present the resulting project, “Surviving in a World of Others,” at the North Central Sociological Association conference in Pittsburgh in April, 2018.

Fulton describes how “Race in America,” with Dr. Chuck Green, taught her the names and definitions for important concepts such as implicit bias and model minority myth. “That class gave me the terminology, and the research as well, to express what I already knew and was continuing to learn about discrimination and prejudice. It was invaluable.”

Now as they enter their senior years at Hope, the two civic-minded students want to see others in their campus community become more aware and involved in issues that concern them, too. While the panel discussion on advocacy is a start, they know immense growth comes from partnerships they’ve had at Hope and in Holland. Encouraging others to experience similar relationships can only enhance their Hope careers, they say. And then perhaps, it can help them give back too.

“Race in America gave me the terminology, and the research as well, to express what I already knew and was continuing to learn about discrimination and prejudice. It was invaluable.” — Julia Fulton

“Those people who’ve walked alongside me — people like Sarah Yore-VanOosterhout (LIA executive director), Vanessa Greene (director of Hope’s Center for Diversity and Inclusion and associate dean) and Ernesto Villarreal (Latin Americans United for Progress executive director)  — they’re the ones who have encouraged me and challenge me to fulfill my role as an advocate. Serving others at CAIR ad LIA has been so meaningful but, ultimately, the people I’m giving back to are the ones who have invested in me.”

“Advocacy: Action vs. Apathy” will be held at 2:00 pm in the Martha Miller Center’s Fried-Hemenway Auditorium. The public is invited to attend.

 

 

New Student-Teaching Approach Addresses New Education Realities

By every measure, the Hope College Department of Education is hitting it out of the park when it comes to preparing students to be teachers. Hope’s teacher education program is consistently ranked near the top in the state of Michigan, as well as in the nation, for quality and effectiveness.

Additionally, classes of Hope education graduates regularly experience exceptionally high placement rates. In 2017, that rate was perfect: 100 percent of Hope students with education certification earned a teaching position within three months of graduation.

Why then did two Hope professors decide to revamp Hope’s approach to student-teaching if all is already going so well?

Nancy Cook

The short answer: “It was just time for us to really take a critical look at what we were doing and why we were doing it,” says Nancy Cook, professor of education and director of student teaching.

The long answer: That critical look was brought about by the difficult reality of finding student-teacher placements. Because children’s standardized test results are scrutinized in professional teachers’ evaluations, teachers “often are reluctant to turn their classrooms over to a student-teacher for a long period of time,” Cook explains. Additionally, the education program’s desire to reassess its own good practices as well as the department’s upcoming re-accreditation process by the Council of Accreditation for Educator Preparation played a part in the decision, too.

Dr. Susan Brondyk

The confluence of those three factors had Cook and her colleague, Dr. Susan Brondyk, take a hard and creative look at the way student-teaching had always been done and lead it toward a new way. And that new way would involve a more thoroughly collaborative approach, with a new assessment and evaluation tool at its core, for all players involved the process —student-teacher, cooperating teacher and college supervisor.

“The typical student teaching model had been this gradual release where the classroom is turned over little by little to the student-teacher and the cooperating teacher leaves the classroom fully in that new teacher’s hands,” explains Brondyk, assistant professor of education. “Now though, the cooperating teacher and the student-teacher are co-teaching for the entire placement, and that can take on various forms like one teaches and the other assists, or parallel teaching, team teaching and station teaching.

“Then, the cooperating teacher and college supervisor are also co-mentoring the student-teacher more intentionally by conducting three-way conversations using STAT (Student Teacher Assessment Tool) which is really at the heart of this project.”

The new way would involve a more intentionally collaborative approach, with a new assessment and evaluation tool at its core, for all players involved the process — student-teacher, cooperating teacher, and college supervisor.

STAT is a modification of nationally-renowned Charlotte Danielson’s A Framework for Teaching which evaluates for competencies in four categories: planning, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities. Hope’s version assesses for competencies in seven abilities, each deemed historically and culturally important by Hope’s teacher education standards. A Hope student teacher is now assessed on 43 performance indicators found in STAT in the areas of Ethical Educator, Skilled Communicator, Engaged Professional, Curriculum Developer, Effective Instructor, Decision Maker, and Reflective Practitioner.

Venn diagram showing the intersection of student teacher, cooperating teacher and college supervisor. Venn diagram showing the integration of learning to teach with learning to mentor.

For developmental reasons, a Hope student-teacher is not seeing STAT for the first time when that capstone student-teaching experience occurs either. With TCAT (Teacher Candidate Assessment Tool), “our students are seeing a shortened form of STAT all the way through their classes and placements from freshman to senior years,” says Cook.

As for the cooperating teacher and college supervisor, they not only attend intensive workshops to prepare for the use of STAT and to the discuss methods of mentoring, they also receive monthly follow-up meetings and calls. This is in addition to check-ins by the two professors to see how things are going for the 70+ Hope student-teachers who are getting a taste of a “real world” educational setting. This process helps equip mentors to facilitate three-way conversations in ways that promote learning for their student teachers.

“None of these conversations in and of themselves (throughout the student-teaching process) are unique, but it’s the intentionality of the conversation, the frequency of those conversations, and most importantly, the content of those conversations that are unique to this new model.”

“None of these conversations in and of themselves (within the triad, throughout the student-teaching process) are unique, but it’s the intentionality of the conversations, the frequency of those conversations, and most importantly, the content of those conversations that are unique to this new model,” explains Cook. “All of this is meant to educate our student-teacher well and to also support cooperating teacher and college supervisor.”

Cook and Brondyk have presented this new student-teaching model at both national and statewide teacher education conferences. Their talk, “A Story of Transformation: How One Educator Preparation Program Reinvented Student Teaching,” has been given to standing-room only audiences with feedback that others hope to recreate some form of this new model on other campuses too.

Back in Holland, cooperating teachers are grateful for this new student-teaching model. “I love this model. It allows for more student contact and more in the way of formative assessment,” says Ann Exo-Thompson, an elementary special education teacher for Holland Public Schools. “We have seen such incredible growth in our students in such a short time. It allows us so much more time with our students and it’s paying off.”

Hope student-teachers feel the same way. Watch this video of Sara Frank as she explains the benefits of co-teaching math in a Hamilton public school classroom with cooperating teacher Val Capel.

Social Stories, Sensory Bags and Accessibility for HSRT

People with autism or other developmental differences can now experience Hope Summer Repertory Theatre in more welcoming, safe and comfortable ways thanks to new resources that make theater-going more sensory-friendly. A year in the making by HSRT Associate Managing Director Reagan Chesnut ’08,  the initiative clearly sends the message that live, immersive theatre is accessible for  all.

Reagan Chesnut, associate managing director of HSRT

“Accessibility for theatre has always been something that’s really important to me,” says Chesnut. “I have family members who have autism and sensory-related disabilities so I was trying to figure out how to pull them into this world that has dark lights and loud noises. Creative play is so important to the human spirit so being able to come see theatre is very important. For any and everyone.”

Chesnut researched to create tools that would help those with autism and developmental differences. She also consulted with Benjamin’s Hope, a Holland-based “live, work, play, worship” organization designed to address the multifaceted needs of adult individuals and families affected by autism and other intellectual and developmental differences. The result is the creation of a three-prong approach to theatre accessibility: Sensory bags, “Going to the Theatre” social stories, and performance guides for use before and most HSRT productions.

Supplied by accessory giant, Vera Bradley, the sensory bags are equipped with supplies that help patrons adapt to live theatre. Inside each soft, quilted, durable backpack are noise-dampening headphones, a squeeze stress ball, fidget tool, weighted lap pad, and buttons that say ‘please don’t talk to me’ so a person isn’t approached for audience participation if they don’t want to be. Ten bags are available to checkout at the DeWitt Theatre for every performance of “Dragon Pack Snack Attack,” “The Wiz,” “Godspell” and “The Odd Couple” at no cost.

“Social stories” is a term used to describe documents that improve the social skills of people with autism and developmental difference. They tell a “story” of appropriate social interaction by describing a situation with relevant social cues, other’s perspectives and a suggested appropriate response.

Written in the first person, HSRT’s “Going to the Theatre” social story walks patrons through the theatre experience from beginning to end — what door to use, where the ticket office is located, who helps you find your seat, what an intermission is, and how to exit. Though this tool was specifically created for patrons with autism and developmental differences, “we’re hoping that it has an impact on other patrons,” says Chesnut. “Some people maybe have never been in the theatre before, and it can be nerve racking. Basically, we want to bring down any barriers to theatre and we’re trying to do that with this kind of outreach.”

Finally, performance guides walk patrons through the particular sights and sounds of each play with a detailed, chronological summary of the action using icons for sensory triggers. They have been customized for each particular play and indicate when loud noises will occur, or when the house will go dark or suddenly bright, or when anticipated applause or audience participation should happen.

“The hope is that people go to our website if they want to have a little bit more time to look over the social stories or performance guides prior to the play,” explains Chesnut. “But they are also printed out and available inside the sensory bags so patrons can follow along.”

In recent years, the movement toward sensory-friendly productions in and of themselves has created another opportunity to provide live immersive theatre that is accessible to all. Chesnut thinks that may be a consideration for HSRT in the future but she has one hesitation. “The one thing that [those productions] do is they separate,” she says. “They say, ‘these are the performances for patrons with disabilities and then there’s the other regular performances.’ That dictates how a patron with a disability is going to experience the theatre instead of allowing them to take control of their own experience. The goal for all of our tools and materials is to put that control back into the hands of the patrons so they are able to decide how they experience the theatre.”

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Interested in going to HSRT, now in its 47th season? Check out ticket availability online.

Scouting Out ExploreHope

ExploreHope kicks off its 21st summer of instruction in the arts and sciences on June 11 with educational outreach programming to more than 1,000 local K-12 schoolchildren.

But ExploreHope’s mission is not confined to only June and July. Did you know ExploreHope offers active Saturday programming during the school year? Did you know ExploreHope provides opportunities for eager Boy and Girl Scouts to obtain merit badges and learn lifelong lessons? Being in the know, for all ages, all year-around — that’s what ExploreHope is all about.

Hope student Sammy Van Hoven, right, instructs scouts on the comparative vertebrate anatomy of a stingray.

A wide range of 50+ hands-on ExploreHope camps will be taught by 18 Hope students and led by Director Susan Ipri Brown for eight weeks this summer. But during the academic year, ExploreHope outreach includes Scout Days from October to June, also taught by Hope students. The programs are created in partnership with Girl Scouts of America and Boy Scouts of America so that participants can earn badges by “Thinking Like an Engineer” or serving on Earth Day or learning about environmental, nuclear or veterinary science.

“With our lab space and with our students, we have more ability to show these middle and high school students so much more than they would see if they were in another context.”

“The Scouts organizations give us an outline (for the requirements of earning a badge), but we say, ‘Well, we can do more with this outline because we’ve got the labs. Let’s get these scouts in our labs,’” says Ipri Brown, who also serves as an instructor of engineering. “That’s the wonderful part about doing outreach programs with the Hope students on campus. With our lab space and with our students, we have more ability to show these middle and high school students so much more than they would see if they were in another context. They could do all of it right here.”

Hope student Joe Joe Fifer, center, instructs scouts on the comparative vertebrate anatomy of a snake.

In April, Hope’s award-winning Club Animalia sponsored a Scout Merit Badge Day in veterinary medicine for 20 scouts (and some parents too). For four hours, 10 Hope pre-vet students delivered lessons about various parasites (showing their life cycles and clinical signs of the parasitic disease), urinalysis (showing the chemical breakdown of normal pet urine and signs of irregularity) and comparative vertebrate anatomy (showing the anatomical differences between dog, cat, goat, pig, turtle, snake and sting ray specimens). A trip to Hope’s Van Kley Animal Museum concluded the day. There the scouts explored, with Hope students’ help, the large collection of live animals, including small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish and birds.

For recent Hope graduate Joe Joe Fifer ‘18, a biology major who plans to enter vet school in a year, the high-work, high-energy day was rewarding. Though it took a good deal of logistical organization and creative instruction, the ability to give back and tout a discipline he loves was well worth it.

“I think that it is important to expose them to the profession early on to plant the seed, so that they can keep it in mind as they begin to think about their future.”

“I thought that it was important to have the kids come and learn about veterinary medicine because I am passionate about the profession, and I love to be able to share it with kids who may find it to be of interest for a potential career,” said Fifer. “I think that it is important to expose them to the profession early on to plant the seed, so that they can keep it in mind as they begin to think about their future, especially since there is a shortage of males in veterinary medicine.”

Hope students Asia Rubio, center, and Luke VanBlois, rear, show scouts various small animals in the Van Kley Animal Museum in Hope’s Schaap Science Center.

The near-peer situation of college students teaching teenagers and tweens has its distinct benefits for both populations. Besides Hope students experiencing real-world lessons in leadership, instruction and accountability, the scouts also receive encouragement and academic expertise from those who are really not that much older than they are.

“There are a lot of misconceptions about what certain careers are and for the scouts to hear, ‘Okay, this is what vets do’ from college students who also say ‘Keep taking your science classes,’ that means a lot more than me or mom or grandma saying the same thing. Here is this current college student saying, ‘You want to be a vet? You can do it! Look, I took these subject and not only survived but loved it.’ I think that means a lot.”

The Will and Memory: A Dance

Creative thinking and collaboration were the answers to an unfortunate overlap in scheduling between this year’s Dance 44 concert and the American College Dance Association’s (ACDA) East-Central regional conference. The conflicting circumstance caused senior dancers Emily Mejicano-Gormley and Nia Stringfellow to combine their previously-performed and stunning solo works, “Memory” by Mejicano-Gormley and “The Will” by Stringfellow, into a duet. The result is breathtaking and award-winning.

“The Will/Memory” by Emily Mejicano-Gormley and Nia Stringfellow (photo by Erik Alberg)

Relying on their imagination to meld individual pieces that deal with similar themes of pain and resolve, Mejicano-Gormley and Stringfellow put their works together and aptly named it, “The Will/Memory.” With some coaching and choreography help from Professors Matt Farmer and Linda Graham, the two practiced the new original for three months this spring. They debuted it at a place and time both were available to perform together — at the University of Illinois for the ACDA Central regional conference in mid-March, after Dance 44 was complete.

“Since Dance 44 was at the same time as our regional ACDA conference (Hope is a member of the East-Central region), we had to go outside of our region to enter works for adjudication by the ACDA,” explains Graham, the Dorothy Wiley DeLong Professor of Dance. “We had hoped to get both solos in the Central conference but when schools go outside their region, they have to see what is left over after in-region schools take their slots. Consequently, by the time registration opened for the Central region, all but one adjudication slot had been taken by in-region schools. So I literally filled out the form and sat there, at my computer, watching the clock, and the moment the outside registration opened, I hit ‘enter.’ I had to snag it fast.”

“Personally, I thought the solos would work incredibly well juxtaposed with some crafty fusion.”

With only one slot available and two worthy solos to offer, a decision had to be made. Mejicano-Gormley and Stringfellow were asked to work together. “Personally, I thought the solos would work incredibly well juxtaposed with some crafty fusion,” said Graham.

“The Will/Memory” by Emily Mejicano-Gormley and Nia Stringfellow (photo by Erik Alberg)

While “The Will/Memory” was created out of a scheduling necessity, Mejicano-Gormley and Stringfellow are the reasons the original work received prestigious accolades. “The Will/Memory” was chosen as one of 11 pieces (out of 44) to be performed during the ACDA Central region’s Gala Concert. Additionally, the piece received one more unexpected recognition when it was named an alternate for the national ACDA National College Dance Festival this June at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Each region selects two finalists and two alternates for the national festival.

What makes each unconventional step toward getting this deeply-moving dance to the regional, and maybe national, stage even more impressive is that Mejicano-Gormley and Stringfellow represented one of only two private liberal arts colleges at the conference. The other 25 schools present are all universities with professional choreographers.

“To have a dance piece created by two students placed on the same level as works of professional choreographers is both outstanding and an honor.”

“To have these students’ works accepted to both the Gala concert and as an alternate to the national performance at the Kennedy Center is a true testament to both the training in the dance department and the students’ artistic talent and hard work,” said Farmer, associate professor of dance and chair of the department. “To have a dance piece created by two students placed on the same level as works of professional choreographers is both outstanding and an honor.”

“The Will/Memory” by Emily Mejicano-Gormley and Nia Stringfellow (photo by Erik Alberg)

Farmer started working with the two stellar dancers last December to help develop smooth transitions from one solo to the other inside the duet. “I would make a suggestion and talk about my reasons why I suggested this entry point or that transition, but I’d always ask, ‘Are you okay with that?’ The work was their inspiration so it was important I ask. But Nia and MG were always up for everything.”

Mejicano-Gormley and Stringfellow each created their solos for last year’s student-choreographed dance concert. Their inspiration for each piece emanated from the experience of wrestling with personal hardships. Stringfellow’s “The Will” expresses tenacity in the face of oppression, while Mejicano-Gormely’s “Memory” unpacks the difficulties in both leaving and moving forward. Their ability to combine and express deeply sensitive themes for hundreds of people demonstrates dedication to their art.

“Each step of creating this work has been a graceful surprise.”

“I think we were ready to explore our own solo works within this piece more because we had each other,” explains Mejicano-Gormley, a biology major and dance minor. “Each step of creating this work has been a graceful surprise,” acknowledged Stringfellow, an exercise science major and dance minor.

Graham calls “The Will/Memory” “an artistic gestalt — a duet that conveyed a universal truth deeply and rightly through the unique and ordinary.” Three adjudicators said the dance “represents a negotiation, standing emblematic to their truths,” that it “worked at multiple layers, slicing and etching with heart-wrenching pain,” and “it makes space with dignity and empathy for the tensions of race.”

As they dance with and near each other for more than nine minutes, Mejicano-Gormley and Stringfellow never truly make full eye contact. The two dancers almost see each other, but a new twist or turn keeps each from discovering the other. At the conclusion, the dancers eyes meet and the moving emotion of “The Will/Memory” makes way for hope. This is part of Mejicano-Gormley and Stringfellow’s brilliance. In the end, the dancers and the dance reveal that the look of hope is a powerful thing.

Costume design by Emily Mejicano-Gormley and Nia Stringfellow. Music by Clyde Otis and Sara Bareillis. Lighting design by Erik Alberg.

Science, Sustainability and a Bahamian Town Dump

Ah, spring break in the Bahamas. Sun. Sand. Palm trees. Snorkeling in coral reefs. Exploring limestone formations. Visiting the town dump.

What? Wait. The town dump?

Yes, Deep Creek Town Dump to be precise.

For more than 20 years, Dr. Brian Bodenbender has had a penchant for teaching and researching coastal geology in the Bahamas, and the weather there has nothing to do with it. It’s all about the rocks, the sea and sustainability for Bodenbender, who has led more than 70 students to the Caribbean nation over the years.

On his most recent trip during Hope’s spring break in March, the geology and environmental sciences professor took seven more geology and biology students to, and through, a Bahamian island for a course called “Geology, Biology, and Sustainability on Eleuthera Island, The Bahamas.”

At the Deep Creek Town Dump. (photo by Hope student Sandy Brookhouse)

Along with showing off the geological and biological features of Eleuthera Island, Bodenbender also teaches about how sustainability efforts are, or are not, successful in a remote place where dependence upon natural resources is obvious every minute of every day. Eleuthera’s main industry is tourism, but many of its residents also rely on fishing and some agriculture, mostly mixed crops on small plots, for their living.

On an island that is long (approximately 100 miles) and thin (six miles at its widest part), all 8,000 Eleutherans depend on having 90 percent of their food imported which results in 100 percent of the waste remaining on the island. Thus the stop at the town dump. What Eleutherans do with that waste is one of Bodenbender’s lessons. He feels it’s worth teaching in a place that is both a tropical paradise for tourists and also a permanent residence for thousands.

Emily O’Connor on Eleuthera’s limestone coast (photo by Kristen Godwin)

“One of the aspects of being on an island is that it is expensive to ship stuff onto it and it doesn’t pay at all to ship stuff off,” explains Bodenbender. “So the ways that they handle household waste is to take it to the dump, which is maybe an acre or so with signs saying, ‘Please dump at the back.’ So whatever trash is taken there is thrown in a pile and then about once a week, they come by and light a match to it.”

Open-air incineration in paradise is an issue in and of itself, but the students also learn that the composition of Eleuthera’s bedrock creates another problem when it comes to burning trash. Since the island is mostly composed of limestone with little topsoil, the porous nature of the ground means that rainwater percolates through the dump’s ashen toxins right down into the groundwater and that toxic tea eventually reaches the ocean.

Dr. Brian Bodenbender, center in tan hat, gives coastal geology lessons on Eleuthera Island. (photo by Sandy Brookhouse)

“So it’s quite obvious that this is not a great way to handle waste,” says Bodenbender, “and it’s not sustainable in the least. It’s an eye-opener for students and I hope it gives them a new regard for regulations. In this case there is a regulation, but that regulation is ‘Move this stuff to the back of the dump.’ That’s not a regulation that is going to protect the potential drinking water or protect the reefs that are offshore that may have toxins washing out into them. So it’s just a really, really stark contrast between life on an island nation and life in the U.S.”

Junior geology major Jacob Stid agrees and actually sees a connection between what he now knows of waste disposal on Eleuthera and waste disposal in the U.S. It’s not a favorable connection, though, for his home country.

“Here in the U.S, we think that because of our size and power that we are exempt from these problems. We are not as different as we perceive.”

“Over the course of this trip I came to the realization that, in a way, we live on our own island here in the United States,” says Stid, whose hometown is Mason, Michigan. “Let me break that down. On Eleuthera, resources are limited and care must be taken in every use of every resource including the disposal. Without such care, not only would resources deplete but also what remained would lie in ruin and contamination. Here in the U.S, we think that because of our size and power that we are exempt from these problems. We are not as different as we perceive. Although the effects occur more slowly, our neglect for how we use and dispose of our resources may even put us below Eleuthera from a sustainability standpoint.”

Bodenbender says Eleuthera is not without good sustainability efforts. And, he does show his students their successes, such as the making of biodiesel fuel from used cooking oil retrieved from cruise ships, as well as producing excess wind and solar energy that goes right back to the Bahamian government’s power grid. Those sustainability priorities are potential money-savers for the tiny island; waste disposal is anything but.

GES/BIOL 341 — Geology, Biology, and Sustainability — class in the Bahamas (photo by Hope student Kristen Godwin)

Prior to departing for their intensive spring break lessons on Eleuthera, students meet once a week with Bodenbender for this semester-long course to learn how to identify certain invertebrates and geological features they’d encounter on the island while there for eight days. Besides their sustainability excursions, the class also took day hikes in the island’s tropical forests and along its rocky coast, and went snorkeling to investigate coral reef degradation and rebirth.

“They were going to be seeing so much that is new, I wanted to teach them about these things (at Hope) before we entered the environment,” he says. “And it’s an environment that can be pretty harsh — with sharp rocks, even sharp plants and bugs if you’re not on a groomed beach. And we are not laying on the beach.”

On the road to the Island School. (photo by Jenni Fuller)

Bodenbender headquartered his class at the Island School in Deep Creek — a private secondary school on the island that also is home to graduate-level research — for both living and teaching accommodations. After each exhausting day out learning on the island, class members would debrief at the school and write in journals. Now back at Hope, each student is turning their journal into a field guide of Eleuthera as well as writing a reflective paper on sustainability.

“It deepened my knowledge of the complex factors involved in ecosystems anywhere and how one can be better understood by looking at the other.”

The show-off-blue water and sky of Eleuthera. (photo by Kristen Godwin)

For senior biology major Kristin Godwin, this course was an opportunity of a lifetime, and it deepened her understanding of the interdisciplinary scientific nature of the Bahamas. While she believes she’ll forever remember the indescribable, show-off-blue water and sky on Eleuthera, and that small fish that swam under her for protection as she snorkeled reef to reef, Godwin was also impressed by the complexities and challenges of sustainability in the Bahamas and at home.

“For me, the most important thing I learned was the relationship between biology and geology and their necessary balance within sustainability efforts,” says Godwin. “I was the only biology major on the trip, so I learned a lot about geology. And as I learned, I began to see the relationship between the two. It deepened my knowledge of the complex factors involved in ecosystems anywhere and how one can be better understood by looking at the other.”