A Major Addition

It all started with one course offering — Introduction to Neuroscience — in 2001. Then, due to that class’ popularity, more and various courses were presented, and a neuroscience minor was born in 2004. Now, after 19 years to “grow up,” a full-fledged neuroscience major will be offered at Hope College starting with the 2019-20 academic year. The growth of those neuroscience offerings, along with student interest, are due in no small part to the work of the program’s first parent, founding director Dr. Leah Chase, and now its adoptive and new leader, Dr. Gerald Griffin.

Dr. Gerald Griffin and Dr. Leah Chase

The way one neuroscience class resulted in an eventual major is not surprising, given Hope’s solid scientific reputation, yet adding a new major program was not initially the plan, Chase says.  The plan was to offer that one class to employ Chase’s teaching know-how (she’s an associate professor of both biology and chemistry) and research specialty (on neurotransmitter systems) while satisfying expressed interest that Hope students were voicing.

“It was a long journey, but there were important landmarks along the way.”

“To be perfectly honest, back then a major wasn’t even the goal,” says Chase. “The first goal was to offer the neuroscience class here with a supporting lab to go with it. We got the grant from NSF (National Science Foundation) to create that lab and from there we weren’t sure yet where it would go.”

Student interest remained strong, and with the 2015 faculty additions of Griffin, associate professor of biology and psychology, and Dr. Andrew Gall, assistant professor of psychology, a new major in neuroscience made every sense to add to the list of Hope’s 80-plus majors, minors and pre-professional programs.

“It was a long journey, but there were important landmarks along the way,” says Chase. “Getting Gerald and Andy to Hope was really important, so was having dedicated neuroscience lab space (in the Schaap Science Center) and getting a grant from HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) which included support for the development of the neuroscience minor. All of that made going from a minor to a major at this time seem like the perfect fit.”

Neuroscience — the study of the brain and nervous system to better understand human behavior — naturally blends the academic worlds of biology, chemistry and psychology. At Hope though, it’s more than that. Students who major in neuroscience also must select from a list of classes in engineering, computer science, physics, mathematics and philosophy for a total of 63 to 67 credits. With such a breadth of requirements across several disciplines, the neuroscience major leans heavily into Hope’s liberal arts tradition.

“We spent a long time thinking about how we would design this major,” says Chase, who has served on the governing board of Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience and currently serves as vice president of the Kenneth H. Campbell Foundation for Neurological Research. “All of us were sitting there looking at other programs, and we wanted to be sure two things happened with ours. One, it had to fit well with national norms for neuroscience study and, two, it had to have a very unique Hope-College stamp on it.”

Neuroscience naturally blends the academic worlds of biology, chemistry and psychology. At Hope though, it’s more than that.

Signs that the new neuroscience major has the Hope College mark written all over it will be seen as neuroscience students become active in programs such as Memory and Music — helping patients with dementia augment memories by playing music from earlier decades. Hope’s Brain Days and Brain Awareness Week teaches elementary students about neuroscience fundamentals through a science fair.  Taking classes like Philosophy of Science or Medical Ethics will provide a holistic preparation that produces ethically-rooted scientists. Exploring phantom limb pain with Dr. Katharine Polasek in Hope’s engineering department, or discovering the biomarkers of apathy in patients with Alzheimer’s disease with Dr. Emilie Dykstra Goris in Hope’s nursing department is yet another way neuroscience “will have the kind of interesting overlaps that only Hope can provide,” 

Of course, research opportunities — another Hope trademark — will begin as early as students’ Introduction to Neuroscience course and continue through advanced neuroscience core courses as well. In the neuroscience capstone course, senior students will write an original grant proposal, conduct an original research study, and write a complete journal-style research manuscript.

While more than 50 students are enrolled in neuroscience introduction classes each semester, about 30 are currently either neuroscience composite majors or minors. With the addition of an official major now, Griffin sees more growth on the horizon, and he’s ready for making his leadership priorities ones of community- and future-building.

“My first big focus will be to create a neuroscience community amongst our students now that we have a major,” says Griffin who, in January 2019, was named an Emerging Scholar by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education. “In the past, our students who were (neuroscience) minors had been majors in the biology or chemistry or psychology or other departments. Now they’ll be in this new major and we’ll work on that. . .  We’re also open to expanding opportunities There’s a whole burgeoning field of neuro-economics, for example, which is the neuroscience of decision-making. That could be a great opportunity. Basically, we’ll keep looking at ways to help our neuroscience students use their knowledge for a greater good.”

A Vital Partnership Becomes Vitalis

Purchasing a nursing textbook with required, additional materials can be costly at times. Realizing that students might be hard pressed to afford the extras that come with certain books and existing programs on the market, the Hope College nursing department decided to look for a cheaper way to provide a more basic but meaningful version of those educational necessities.

And they walked right across Hope’s Van Andel Plaza, located between the Schaap Science Center and VanderWerf Hall, to find their answer.

A new computer software program has been developed by two faculty members and four students of the Hope College computer science department, housed in VanderWerf, to allow the tracking and simulation of electronic medical records by students and faculty in the Hope College nursing department in lab experiences in Schaap. The digital platform, Vitalis, is the result. It simulates professional medical record-taking methods and aesthetics for Hope nursing students so that “real-world” experience can be realized at little cost.

In teaming up, the two departments created an educational experience that was mutually beneficial for students studying both majors.

Four of the five Vitalis student-creators at a poster presentation, left to right, Dane Linsky, Dennis Towns, Phil Caris, and Haoming Zhang

With prices for books and other expenses rising every year, Dr. Vicki Voskuil, assistant professor of nursing, and Trish Kragt, director of nursing laboratories, had been searching for some time for a way to mimic digital medical records for their lab courses in a cost-effective way.

Dr. Vicki Voskuil, associate professor of nursing

“We recognized the need within the last two or three years that while they [the students] have been doing narrative documentation in our classes, they really needed the computer piece to be able to electronically record [for the agencies],” Voskuil says.

The software development project was advertised to computer science students as one of the summer opportunities available in the computer science department’s Hope Software Institute. HSI provides rich, real-world software development experience to students interested in pursuing a career in industry as software developers. Three Hope students — senior Phil Caris, senior Dennis Towns and junior Jori Gelbaugh — were selected in the summer of 2018 to work alongside Dr. Ryan McFall and Dr. Michael Jipping, both professors of computer science at Hope.

The computer science students on the project recognized the privilege they had working with the faculty and used it as a growing, developing, and learning experience.

“It was my first time creating software that wasn’t in the classroom setting and interfacing with clients (the nursing department) gauging out what they want with those first initial steps of planning where you learn how the process usually starts,” Towns said.

Dr. Ryan McFall, professor of computer science

Not only was Vitalis a learning curve for students but also for the faculty leading the project. “Honestly, the technology we chose I didn’t really know either, and I took it as an opportunity to learn that as well,” says McFall.

The computer science students on the project recognized the privilege they had working with the faculty and used it as a growing, developing, and learning experience. “It helped a lot to see [Dr. McFall] who we all look up to, who is very clearly a lot smarter than us, struggling sometimes. [We realized] he doesn’t always know everything and that knocked us down a peg, too,” Caris said.

Sophomore nursing student Johanna Emmanuel takes vital on a clinical mannequin and records them using Vitalis.

The heft and complexity of it all meant Vitalis got created, tested, and recreated often. Every two weeks, those working on the project would meet with Voskuil and Kragt and others in the nursing department to hear critiques, suggestions as well as approvals. In these meetings, both departments had trouble communicating about the content required on both ends because of the jargon used on either side of the project. In the end, the two groups were able to bridge their communication gap by finding ways to share terminology.

Summer 2018 has come and gone, but the project is a continuous work in progress. In fall 2018, the project was handed off to a group of capstone students. Caris and Towns were able to continue on with additional teammates, senior Haoming Zhang and senior Dane Linsky. In spring of 2019, the project is still evolving and improving.

“One of the reasons we like these projects is because it’s what most people who are developing software have to do once they get out of college,” said McFall.

It’s been applicable for every job I’ve been called in to interview for, Phil Caris said.

Overall, the students and faculty from both departments agreed that developing Vitalis was a positive and beneficial experience. It’s been applicable for every job I’ve been called in to interview for, Caris said. These programs truly do create an experience for the student, preparing them for their “real world” opportunities.

“It was good to experience the workflow of a regular software development process,” said Zhang.

From the nursing department’s perspective, programming with the computer science department is only the beginning of a resourceful partnership. With medical records almost strictly digitized, the need for college nursing software has become vital.

Vitalis could become something that gets used in more than just our school,” Voskuil said. “It is pretty unique.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Education is for Faculty Too

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Joanne Stewart, professor of chemistry

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

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

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

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

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


Hope Turns Purple to Help Find a Cure

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

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

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

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

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


Senior forward Allie Wittenbach

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allie and Debbie Wittenbach (Photo Courtesy of Allie Wittenbach)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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