Science, Sustainability and a Bahamian Town Dump

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

What? Wait. The town dump?

Yes, Deep Creek Town Dump to be precise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working and Thriving in Washington, D.C.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Spark to Fire: Mentoring Tomorrow’s Church Leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virgil Gulker, Director of Generation Spark

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

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

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

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

Allison DeVries presents at Generation Spark training.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds Against Glass: An Avian Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Kathy Winnett-Murray, professor of biology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Keep Moving … and Tracking

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

Raise your wrist if you own one already.

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

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

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

“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

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

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

Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown
Dr. Andrew Gall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Education is for Faculty Too

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Joanne Stewart, professor of chemistry

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

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

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

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

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


New book explains the origins of March Madness

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Chad Carlson, author of Making March Madness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Turns Purple to Help Find a Cure

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

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

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

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

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


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.”