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.”

Working and Thriving in Washington, D.C.

Seated around a table in Union Station recently, four Hope students on the Washington, D.C. Honors Semester talked with “Stories of Hope” about their experiences living, working and thriving in the nation’s capital.

Junior Luke Stehney (a political science major from Royal Oak, Michigan) is a constituent affairs intern for Rep. Paul Mitchell’s (R-MI) office; Senior Angelique Hines (an English and political science double major from Chicago, Illinois) is an educational policy intern in Sen. Richard Durbin’s (D-IL) office; Junior Joe McCluskey (a political science major from Burton, Michigan) is on the development team at the Bipartisan Policy Center; and, Junior Tom Kouwe (an economics and math double major from Wheaton, Illinois) works in the dairy division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Left to right, Joe McClusky, Tom Kouwe, Angelique Hines, and Luke Stehney, in front of Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Here are their candid perspectives about their educational lessons learned and political lives lived in “the district.”

Stories of Hope (SOH): What is the one thing you want people back home to know about what it’s like to work in D.C. during a tumultuous political time in the country?

Luke: From the bleachers looking in on D.C., you think it’s all divided, that everybody’s always in turmoil or conflict. But when you’re here, it’s not like that. If you want to argue with someone, you can find it. But for the most part, people are trying to straighten everything out and work together. And that’s not often portrayed in the media. No one wants to read about people getting along. But really, people out here are trying to do good things. They’re good people, and they’re trying to make things work.

Angelique: I feel like everything looks bad when you’re watching it on the news, but when you’re here and you’re living it and you’re attending the hearings and briefings and you’re hearing the conversations that senators are having with each other — and it’s not always arguing about DACA, you realize that they’re actually just trying to do what they think is best. Everyone thinks that they’re doing what’s best. It’s just ‘best’ in their definition. But they’re sincere about it and hardworking, too.

SOH: What is one surprising thing you’ve encountered in your work as interns?

Joe: I would say something that was kind of shocking to me was just how much my office emphasizes my learning experience. They said, ‘We want you to go as many events as possible. If we give you a project, work on that project, but if there’s an event in the office that you want to go to, go do that.’ They’re really, really mindful of helping me learn. I don’t entirely know what I thought going into this, such as, am I going to sit at a desk and work all day? I mean there are days when that’s the case, but overall they’ve said, ‘Go learn.’

“I like that the government really draws on people with all kinds of talents.”

Tom: If you want to work in Washington, D.C. at a place other than the Capitol, you’ll find it because there are people here with all different kinds of areas of expertise. I mean, I think I knew that before, but I didn’t really think about it until I got here and saw people working for the government who don’t have the same talents as someone giving a speech in Congress. One of my supervisors helped to negotiate NAFTA so she was trained as a diplomat. And that’s kind of comforting because when I think about all the different functions the government performs, I don’t want it to be run completely by people who all have the same set of skills. I like that the government really draws on people with all kinds of talents.

SOH: Give us an overall review of the D.C. Honors Program. If someone is thinking of enrolling in the D.C. Honors semester , what advice do you give him or her?

Joe: Just do it! If you just see D.C. from the news, you could think, ‘Why would I do that? Why would I want to be there?’ But then you come here and you see purpose. And that purpose is public service.

“A great part about D.C. is that it is a true international city.”

Angelique: Even if you’re afraid, just try it. It may turn out to be the best experience of your life. Because if you don’t try, then you’ll always live with the regret of wondering, ‘I could have or I should have.’ Or you’ll see people on Snapchat having a good time and you’ll feel like you’re missing out.

Tom: It’s a good opportunity even if you’re not in the political sciences. As I said before, a lot of different skill sets can fit into D.C. You don’t have to be working in a representative’s office, or in a think tank, or whatever you would stereotypically think a D.C. job is. There’s a lot to do here regardless of where you’re coming from academically.

Luke: Studying abroad is a great thing, but a great part about D.C. is that it is a true international city. There are so many world cultures represented here. You hear several different languages on the Metro everyday. Plus, they say New York never sleeps but D.C. truly never sleeps, too. There’s a lot you can learn by living in the nation’s capital.

SOH: Last question. You are going to be inheriting the good and the bad of American politics in your futures. As you consider your career ahead, whether it’s here in D.C. or in some other part of the country, how are you going to roll up your sleeves and make a difference in American public life?

“I think it’s showing me that to have an impact, you don’t have to be an elected official or an appointed official.”

Tom: For most of my life, and even a little bit now, I have had a distasteful view of politics and I try not to be hyper-political all the time. That’s part of the reason I’m not a poli-sci major; it just has never really interested me. But I think what the D.C. program has taught me is having political views and having political opinions doesn’t have to be driven by a desire to have a political job. So I might not have a job when I graduate that is super political in nature but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be politically active in my own community or even just having discussions like these with other people. I think it’s showing me that to have an impact, you don’t have to be an elected official or an appointed official.

Luke: A big realization I’ve had is the concept of cooperation in government and politics. People want to make a difference but they can’t do it on their own. You can’t do it within your party. You can’t do it within your branch. You have to work across the aisle, across all of D.C. So in terms of cooperation, it takes all hands on deck and everybody going in the same direction, and that’s hard to achieve honestly. Not everybody wants to go in the same direction all the time. I’ve honestly learned here that politics isn’t negative; it’s not gloomy. It’s very positive. People want to help other people, and it gives you hope for the future because they want to sincerely make a difference. I hope to do that, too.

“I think being mindful of history is essential for the present and future because it reminds me that there’s always work that needs to be done.”

Joe: This past summer I read a lot about Robert F. Kennedy. Just reading about him and reading the speeches that he gave got me thinking, ‘Someone could give that speech today and you would never know it was written 50 years ago.’ So I think being mindful of history is essential for the present and future because it reminds me that there’s always work that needs to be done. And, like Luke said, there’s not one person that’s going to be able to do it alone. We may not even see the change we want in our lifetime but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work towards it because the next generation needs us. We tend to think of politics as operating in the here and now. So keeping politics in context is something I intend to do. It’s not easy but it’s necessary.

Angelique: I just think that public service is important. Go out and serve your country. That doesn’t mean you have to go and join the Army. Organizations like Teach for America, which I hope to do, or AmeriCorps, serve our country as much as politicians do. And public service is really important especially when it comes to children. Whether it’s big or small, help your country in some way.

“Whether it’s big or small, help your country in some way.”

From Spark to Fire: Mentoring Tomorrow’s Church Leaders

Pastor Jonathan Elgersma at the first Generation Spark training at Hope College

As the Rev. Jonathan Elgersma, senior pastor at Faith Reformed Church in Zeeland, Michigan, ambitiously scribbled note upon note in his jam-packed director’s manual, other pastors at his roundtable spouted idea after idea. The problem they were debating, and seeking to solve, concerns them deeply, so their discussions toward implementing a possible solution were focused and lively.

The problem? The steep decline in church attendance among the millennial generation and adults who no longer affiliate with a church. Recent research shows 70 percent of those raised in the church leave by the time they’re in their 20s, and one-third of those under 30 in the U.S. claim to have “no religion.”

The possible solution? Generation Spark, a newly-created program by Hope College’s Center for Leadership (CFL) funded through a $458,502 grant given by Lilly Endowment Inc. in 2017. The new program’s research-based action plan is to retain youth (ages 16-24) and adults (ages 45 and older) and fully integrate them into the life and leadership of the church in ways that are intergenerational, relational and entrepreneurial.

“This is a real need, and practical solutions are appreciated. Right now our people (at Faith Reformed) can’t clearly identify with another program but they can very clearly identify with the challenges we face,” said Elgersma. “They care. We all care about this generation.”

Representatives from five other area churches who feel the same way joined Elgersma for the first day-long Generation Spark training program on Hope’s campus. Other church leaders present were Beckwith Hills Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids; First Reformed Church of Holland; Hope Church of Holland; Parkside Bible Church of Holland; and VictoryPoint Ministries of Holland.

Hope students working with CFL — senior Allison DeVries, senior Kaelyn Tarsa, junior Monica Ruser and sophomore Matthew VanDyken — led the training along with consultant Kathy Stanek and Generation Spark program director Virgil Gulker, who is also servant-leader in residence with CFL and a lecturer in business and economics at Hope.

Virgil Gulker, Director of Generation Spark

“We’d thought we’d have to market (Generation Spark) but churches are coming to us,” says Virgil Gulker. “This kind of programming is needed in the church because its future depends on the younger generation.”

Generation Spark’s plan starts with this affirming reality: Not all youth are leaving the church. But many of those youth do feel under-utilized and misunderstood. “The younger generation has said, ‘Older people in the church don’t listen, I’m not needed, I don’t belong,’ so they don’t feel like stakeholders,” explains Gulker, who was also the founder of KidsHope USA. “We’ve got to stop thinking that only the older adults have the answers.”

“They’re not just sharing coffee, they’re sharing a purpose.”

Since youth want and need a platform to speak and be heard, Generation Spark’s strategy works this way: Younger church members are connected with older members in mentoring relationships, supported by prayer partners. Then, in one-on-one meetings over 12 weeks, they are given one unique aim: to identify, assess and recommend solutions for a real problem affecting the church and its community.

Allison DeVries presents at Generation Spark training.

“An adult and a youth come together to solve a problem they identify as being an issue, such as bullying within the youth’s middle school class,” explains DeVries, a business major, who was charged with the planning and implementation of training for the first Generation Spark churches. “The mentor-mentee work together to discuss a way to solve that problem. Then they are encouraged to go in front of their churches after the 12 weeks to explain the process they went through and also to appeal to the church for their involvement with the solution together.

“So throughout that entire process, the youth and the adult come together to problem-solve but their relationship has also grown by spending time together in a meaningful way.”

“They’re not just sharing coffee, they’re sharing a purpose,” Gulker adds.

DeVries felt the same sense of purpose, too, in her work for CFL on behalf of Generation Spark. Her desire to become involved was both personal and professional.

“I definitely have a passion for the church and for leadership within the church,” DeVries confides. “I can see myself working in a non-profit organization some day. So I loved researching different training methods with Kathy and Virgil because they are so experienced. But I brought the youth aspect to the table, and I felt like my opinion was valued a lot.”

Hope students directly involved in the planning and implementation of Generation Spark include, left to right, Allison DeVries, Matthew VanDyken, Monica Ruser, and Kaelyn Tarsa.

As do the other Hope students on the Generation Spark pilot team who manage every area of the program’s planning and implementation. Besides DeVries’ work on training methodologies:

  • Ruser, a communication major, is responsible for communication efforts to the Generation Spark constituencies. She is focused on powerful story-telling about relationship successes utilizing social media;
  • Tarsa, a business major, is point-person on the evaluation process and will work with the Frost Research Center on campus to develop a survey process as well as in-person focus groups; and,
  • VanDyken, also a business major, is working to hone the existing marketing materials for future church collaboration and participation.

“I loved researching different training methods with Kathy and Virgil because they are so experienced. But I brought the youth aspect to the table, and I felt like my opinion was valued a lot.”

More Hope students will join in the Generation Spark effort over the next couple years. The Lilly Endowment Inc. grant supports the program’s invention and fine-tuning over a three-year period. By the end of the pilot, CFL plans to develop a model that individual congregations can implement on their own.

“While some of the social issues that Generation Spark mentors and mentees tackle — like hunger in schools or underage drinking — may never go away, I hope we see them diminish because of Generation Spark’s impact,” says DeVries.

And as some social problems possibly diminish, youth in the church possibly increases. That is the hopeful intent of Generation Spark.

Birds Against Glass: An Avian Study

In the fall of 2014, biology Professor Dr. Kathy Winnett-Murray and five former Hope students had the unenviable task of seeking out and documenting bird carcasses found beneath the windows of six campus buildings.

While the quest to find deceased birds may seem morbid to some, the purpose of their investigation was anything but macabre for Winnett-Murray, whose research focuses on the responses of animals — most often birds — to environmental changes brought about by human alteration of habitats.

Winnett-Murray’s research team, which included Michael Barrows ’15, Nicholas Gibson ’17, Emily Kindervater ’15, Courtney Lohman ’16, and Alexandria Vandervest ’15, wanted to learn if certain buildings, and their locations, were more apt to be deadly to birds than others. They hope their study will eventually save birds when combined with the same research methods conducted simultaneously at other colleges. Together with 39 other research teams across North America, the peripheries of 281 various-sized buildings situated in varying urbanized settings were scrutinized using a standardized search protocol.

At Hope, students paired up daily for four weeks to search the perimeters of Durfee Hall, the Schaap Science Center, Bekkering Admissions House, Gilmore Hall, Oggel Cottage, and the Beardslee Library building on the campus of Western Theological Seminary. Each structure was chosen for its size and landscape variety.

The team’s research was published in the fall 2017 journal, Biological Conservation, and is included in the article, A Continent-Wide Analysis of How Urbanization Affects Bird-Window Collision Mortality in North America. The paper, which lists Hope as a study site and Winnett-Murray as co-author, documents bird-window collisions from Whitehorse, Canada, to Mexico City, Mexico — and 22 United States in between.

Each of the study’s participants, including Hope, is a member of the Ecological Research as Education Network (EREN), a collaborative consortium that “addresses questions that need a vast geographic range in order to provide answers that we (Hope) can’t provide on our own very easily,” says Winnett-Murray.

“I got involved with the project out of concern for a lot of ways that people have changed the environment that both benefit wildlife or harm wildlife,” she said. “We don’t really understand the subtleties very well at all.”

Dr. Kathy Winnett-Murray, professor of biology

Not surprisingly, the study confirmed that bigger buildings kill more birds. That’s  the direct effect of larger surface areas. But what surprised the study’s authors was a finding that could have only emerged by comparing multiple sites.

Over the course of their month-long research, the group found just 12 dead birds. That’s good news if you’re a bird, but it was sometimes monotonous for the research team. “We went a lot of days without finding anything so I was a little bit concerned that we weren’t going to be able to provide much information for the study. Turns out some sites found zero bird carcasses,” Winnett-Murray said.

“We were thorough,” Winnett-Murray remembers. “First, Greg Maybury (director of operations at Hope) provided us with each building’s footprint measurement. From there, we had to measure the window surface areas on each of the six buildings. That was a lot of work. You would be very surprised by all of the different window sizes on individual buildings. We photographed each outside building wall, determined how many windows of each size there were, and then we used image analysis on the digital photos to determine how much total glass was on the outside of each building.

“Finally, we walked, really slowly around each building, doubling over each other’s steps, and scoured under ivy, through plantings, in window grates,” she recalls.

The bird crew also worked closely with Hope’s physical plant staff in another way. “We informed their staff about our project to explicitly ask them NOT to remove any bird carcasses from around buildings while our study was in progress.”

Not surprisingly, the study confirmed bigger buildings kill more birds. That’s  the direct effect of larger surface areas. But what surprised the study’s authors was a finding that could have only emerged by comparing multiple sites: Birds were disproportionately dying from window collisions when large buildings were situated in a rural landscape, as opposed to urban ones.

“The buildings with lots of greenspace and landscaping around them, and fewer other buildings around, were absolutely deadly,” Winnett-Murray says.

“We’re inadvertently drawing birds into a dangerous place with a lot of glass that they’re going to smack into and die,” she contends.

One reason for this, she surmises, supports the beacon hypothesis: Birds are attracted to appealing areas where they can find food and rest. And sometimes those areas are right next to buildings’ windows. “We’re inadvertently drawing birds into a dangerous place with a lot of glass that they’re going to smack into and die,” she contends.

The irony is that the more wildlife-friendly the habitat next to a building, the more birds are potentially killed. So what can be changed to prevent this unintended consequence?

Winnett-Murray suggests new construction or renovated building projects can use LEED-certified windows that reflect light to reduce bird-window collisions. Landscape architects can put more distance between landscaping and building windows, and homeowners should not put bird feeders right next to windows.

“I think that most people are aware that once in a while birds smack into glass,” says Winnett-Murray. “But I think people are very unaware how some places are hurting birds more than others. I hope this paper — which has already gotten a lot of traction — helps get the word out to the public so we all can make a difference to help save birds.”

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.