The Economics Lessons of Smart Justice Research

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

Do harsher criminal sentences cause more or less crime?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

A Summer For Advocacy into Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

New Student-Teaching Approach Addresses New Education Realities

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

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

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

Nancy Cook

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

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

Dr. Susan Brondyk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Just Keep Moving … and Tracking

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

Raise your wrist if you own one already.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Brian Rider

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to learn more about Rider’s research?  

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

 

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

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

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

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

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

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown
Dr. Andrew Gall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New book explains the origins of March Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Chad Carlson, author of Making March Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mother of All Holidays

President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it a national holiday in 1914, and it didn’t take long thereafter for Hallmark Cards to make it a national celebration. Today, Mother’s Day is the third-leading retail holiday in the country, according to the National Retail Federation. Consumers will spend close to $24 billion on flowers, cards, jewelry and other bric-a-brac to celebrate motherhood this May.

For one Hope College professor though, acknowledgment of the sacrificial nature and special identity of mothers goes far beyond matriarchal tchotchkes and trinkets. Influenced by her own spirited maternal role models, and after becoming a mother herself, Dr. Deb Swanson, professor of sociology, delved into how women define good mothering practices in their roles as either stay-at-home or working moms. What she found was not completely unexpected. Her work has shed more light on the complicated nature of motherhood in 21st century America where 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force,75 percent of whom are employed full-time outside the home,according to recent U.S. Department of Labor stats.

Swanson’s work also confirms this: Motherhood is not for wimps.

Swanson’s research sheds more light on the complicated nature of motherhood in 21st-century America where 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent employed full-time, according to recent U.S. Department of Labor stats.

Inspired by strong women in her family — one great-grandmother who was the rare female high school graduate in the early 1900s in Iowa, another great-grandma who was the first woman to secure her own bank account in Corning, Iowa, and her own mother who was discriminated against while applying for a nursing job because she was pregnant in the 1960s — Swanson became even more fascinated about the changing identities and roles of working mothers when she became a working mom herself.

Dr. Deb Swanson, professor of sociology

“I approached motherhood like a good academic. At the time I thought, ‘Now my identity has changed, things are weird, I’ve got to figure out what to do,’” remembers Swanson. “So, I went and got some books. But I couldn’t find the book to understand how things had changed in my life due to these kids, so I decided to do research, which is the second thing academics do. If you can’t find the book, you go do the research.”

Along with colleague Dr. Dede Johnston from Hope’s Department of Communication, Swanson interviewed 100 women in the Holland area about their definitions on being a good mom, where they found support, and how children changed their identity. The women who participated in the study were employed full-time outside the home, worked part-time outside the home, or were stay-at-home moms.

After collecting all their qualitative data, this is what Swanson and Johnston found:

  • Stay-at-home moms felt a strong moral imperative to stay at home, were sure about what they did and why they did it, but they were lonely. They missed adult interaction.
  • Full-time working mothers, on the other hand, always questioned what they were doing. They constantly juggled their various identities between work and home. “Yet what they were sure about was that when they were home, they were with their kids,” says Swanson. “Their house could be a mess, supper might not be on the table but they seemed to say, ‘when I’m at work, I’m at work and when I’m home, I’m with my kids.’ And they actually spent at least as much time one-on-one with their kids as the stay-home moms who were busy with their domestic work. But what (the working moms) felt was a lot of guilt.”
  • As for the part-time working moms, you’d think they’d have the best of both worlds — work away AND stay at home. But not so much. “Part-time working moms felt like they were doing the best thing for their kids and for themselves but their marriages suffered because their partners expected them to do all the work at home,” explains Swanson. “Their spouses wanted the benefits of a stay-at-home mom but the finances of a part-time worker.”

“In the end, each situation has pitfalls and each has advantages. So, whatever choice women make, let’s support them so they can do what they feel is right for them and their families. Save your judgment, use your compassion.”

While clear roles and expectations, along with loneliness, existed for mothers in the first two groups, assumptive and nebulous expectations clouded mothers’ identities and joy in the third.

What did these outcomes tell Swanson then? What is the take-away here?

“Too often I heard how women — no matter their choice — felt compared and judged. Too often our culture is set up to pit women against each other when we really should be supporting whatever choice women make,” she concludes. “In the end, each situation has pitfalls and each has advantages. So, whatever choice women make, let’s support them so they can do what they feel is right for them and their families. Save your judgment, use your compassion.”

That may be the best Mother’s Day gift for all.

Seven Things to Keep in Mind About Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee

Dr. David Ryden holds his book, The Supreme Court and the Electoral Process

Dr. David Ryden, professor of political science and chair of the department, is an oft-sought-after national expert on the Supreme Court and the presidency. His scholarship on the topic has been cited on CNN, in The Christian Science Monitor, U.S. News and World Report, and The New York Times. He is also the author of The Supreme Court and the Electoral College.

On the heels of President Trump’s announcement of his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, Ryden, a centrist political scientist, offers seven points to consider:

  1. Supreme Court Justices are Neither Republican or Democrat.

“I bridle when people say a judge is a Democrat or a Republican. It’s not that simple. Their differences are rooted in deep, intellectual ways of reading and interpreting the Constitution….Yet, I know we can’t help but think of them as extensions of the two parties. The national perception is that these men and women are partisans in robes. I would ask people to put that thinking aside. Yes, the court is polarized but not in a partisan sense. The court is polarized in an ideological sense — liberally or conservatively. These are serious legal thinkers on both sides. I’m convinced they do not think in partisan (party) terms.”

  1. Politicizing a Supreme Court pick is inevitable.

 “There has always been a politicizing of what the justices do and how they act, ie, they are not partisans but they end up making decision that have political ends. All contemporary justices, liberals and conservatives alike, tend to be activists in pursing their own objectives. Right and left, they are selective in the extent to which they look to the Constitution or ground their decisions in the Constitution. Judges on both sides of the ideological spectrum tend to be extra constitutional in what they do. And since that is the case, politicizing the selection process is understandable. If what the justices do is political then the selection process should be political, too.”

  1. This is not a transformative appointment to the Supreme Court.

“But the next one could be. This appointment will maintain the status quo that was in place before Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. If Trump gets another opening during his first term, he will likely be able to establish a solid conservative majority, one that isn’t reliant upon the sentiments and vagaries of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s thinking. Of course I am speculating. It’s dependent upon another opening occurring during Trump’s term, one involving the death or departure of one of the liberal bloc or Kennedy. And here’s where good old-fashioned luck comes in. How many additional choices will Trump get, if any? Will it be the good luck of FDR, Ike or Reagan, or the characteristic bad luck of poor Jimmy Carter, a one termer who got no picks? We don’t know, of course. But if you look at the ages of the current justices, it is clear the odds are in Trump’s favor.”

  1. Remember that the Supreme Court is anti-majoritarian in nature.

“This means they are elitist and anti-democratic, as divorced from public sentiment as anything imaginable. This is good up to a point, allowing them to protect and uphold civil liberties and rights in the face of an unfriendly political climate. But the only point where ‘we the people’ have any input into the make-up of the court is when we elect a president and Senate and even then, the public involvement is indirect at best. The justices are unelected, life-tenured (the average length of a tenure is 26.5 years), and once on the court, there really is no accountability in terms of their decision-making. So Supreme Court justices truly are insulated.”

  1. What might be a Democratic response to the nominee?

“Democrats could try to simply vigorously oppose Trump’s pick on the nominee’s merits. They could try to pick off a few moderate Republicans to vote their way. The problem is that there really aren’t many moderate Republicans left in the Senate. Moreover, it’s hard to see Republicans breaking rank on something this important.

“Or, Democrats could filibuster, but what will be Republican response to that? To eliminate it altogether, which would be a troubling development. Filibusters, when not abused, force the majority to make some concessions to the minority party. Once it is eliminated, then we’re reduced to raw majoritarian politics with no regard for the minority. I would hate to see it eliminated. So I hope the Democrats resist the urge to filibuster. It would politicize the Court even more. A filibuster by the Democrats would trigger the nuclear option by the Republicans; they might simply change Senate rules by majority vote to do away with the filibuster altogether. Then there’s nothing to stop, or even moderate, a Trump nominee the next time.”

  1. The Potential Impact of a Conservative Court in the Time of Trump

“The irony of this pick is that Trump might choose a judge who might add to a conservative majority that is in fact more inclined to rein in Trump in his use of executive power. A Trump court is potentially the greatest protection against a Trump presidency, because historically, judges who are most skeptical of executive authority tend to be more conservative, and are more likely to enforce restraints and limits on the executive power.”

  1. Populist or pedigree? This Supreme Court pick answers the question.

“Will Trump continue to burnish himself as anti-elitist/populist by picking someone for the court who could be viewed the same way? Will he go with a non-Harvard, non-Yale candidate? Then Thomas Hardiman, who drove a cab to put himself through school, would be Trump’s choice to maintain his populist approach. If he goes with Gorsuch, then he’s opting for impeccable credentials . . . Columbia, Harvard law school, Oxford. In short, pedigree over populism. We’ll see. ”