The Time in the In-Between: Thriving in Transition to Hope

The time between high school graduation and college enrollment is fraught with excitement and anticipation for almost every incoming freshman. It’s also a time filled with more questions and some anxiety, too. “How do I know the exact classes I should be taking?” “What will my college professors expect of me?” “Who will be my friends?” “Where do I get my ID photo taken again?”

Each question is valid and not uncommon nor unexpected to be asked during that time in the “in-between;” those 12 weeks from May 1 (enrollment deposit day) to the end of August (new-student-orientation weekend). And it is exactly for that time period that Hope College has been developing new summer initiatives, dovetailed with its already established fall first-year programming, to help incoming students transition to college.

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Dr. Chad Carlson, assistant professor of kinesiology, conducts new student advising.

Since the summer of 2014, Hope has instituted – under the direction of both Dr. Ryan White, director of advising, and Chris Bohle, associate director of student development – two programs that provide greater communication and support to soon-to-be Hope freshmen. New Student Advising Days are half-day summer campus events that are open to all freshman and prepare students for their academic transition to college by facilitating class registration and introducing students to academic advisors, other staff, and programs. The Summer Bridge Program is an invitation-only, living-and-learning experience that supports those who would benefit for earlier exposure to college life. Students stay a week on campus in mid-August, take a one-credit college writing course, experience cultural aspects of campus life, have meetings with peer and faculty mentors, and engage key institutional personnel and offices.

Each experience helps incoming students become more academically and culturally prepared for their first day at Hope.

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From left to right, Dr. Marla Lunderberg, Dr. Ryan White, senior Alexis-Simone Rivers, Chris Bohle, and junior Diana Cortes

Each experience helps incoming students become more academically and culturally prepared for their first day at Hope.

Bohle and White, along with Dr. Marla Lunderberg, associate professor of English and director of Hope’s FOCUS program, and Alexis-Simone Rivers, student-director of First Year Transitions, were recently selected, after being vetted through a competitive, blind-review application process, to present about these Hope programs at the 35th annual National Conference on the First Year Experience at the University of South Carolina. While they are quick to explain that both of these initiatives are not novel to higher education, the way that they’ve been constructed at Hope is.

“We use current Hope students to build and support these programs,” says White. “That’s what makes us unique. We did not use a top-down approach with administrators only planning out each program and saying, ‘this is how it is going to be.’ We wanted peer-leaders. We wanted our current students walking alongside incoming freshmen. That is really the Hope way. Our students are good leaders so we let them lead.”

‘We listen to the concerns of the students and identify how we can best help them or direct them to different resources on campus,” adds Rivers, a senior international studies major. “We’re not only a director or leader to these students, but many times we often become an unofficial mentor once the school year begins. That personal mentoring connection with the students is how I believe student directors make the biggest difference…. Also, our roles as student directors are very influential in the fact that incoming students are able to see how we were once in their position and now we are leaders on campus.”

“College is one of those things every incoming freshman has not experienced yet so they don’t know what to expect,” says Bohle. “A lot of times new students don’t know what to ask. With our summer initiatives and other first-year experiences, we want to answer some of their unspoken questions and help to normalize an understanding of expectations. “

Peer-advisors, alongside First-Year Seminar faculty, talk incoming freshman through several aspects of class selection and general education, as well as major requirements during three New Student Advising Days in June. The Hope students relay classroom experiences that were beneficial for them and could be for new students, too. “The big thing about new student advising is we find incoming freshmen are leaving less anxious about registration and feeling more connected to campus, and our students are a big reason for that,” says White.

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Hope freshman Andrea Garcia, a participant in the 2015 Summer Bridge program

For the Summer Bridge, Bohle says Hope students who work with the program are primary points of contact between those enrolled – 20 the first summer and 30 this summer – and the teaching faculty. “With Summer Bridge, our current students function as RAs (resident assistants) in Cook Hall and TAs (teaching assistants) in class; they give extended tours of Hope and Holland; they serve as peer mentors and work side by side with new students on a service project; they debrief the new students each night to hear what they are learning or concerned about and bring it back to us,” says Bohle. “Hope students are there, walking through the experience with Summer Bridge students in a way that we (faculty and staff) cannot.”

Each summer initiative is a forward-looking, Hope-strength-based experience that leads into bigger things to come, namely, Hope’s four-day freshman orientation. Orientation is held just prior to the first day of fall classes. Additional year-long academic and cultural support is to come on campus, especially from First Year Seminar faculty and in programs such as Phelps Scholars, Day 1, and Time to Serve. But in the time in the in-between, incoming students are already having meaningful experiences preparing them to be full-fledged college students in the fall.

“College is one of those things every incoming freshman has not experienced yet so they don’t know what to expect,” says Bohle. “A lot of times new students don’t know what to ask. With our summer initiatives and other first-year experiences, we want to answer some of their unspoken questions and help to normalize an understanding of expectations. Across the board, we feel we’re doing that. These summer programs really have been positive things.”

Laugh Just for the Health of It

It sounds like something Benjamin Franklin would have said, though it already had biblical roots (see Proverbs 17:22). Patch Adams meted it out in large dosages. Comedian Cocoa Brown claims it saved her life.

Now, some research has indeed proven that “laughter is the best medicine.”

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Dr. Jayson Dibble recently presented “Humor: Why Bother?” at Hope College as part of the fifth annual LaughFest

So said Dr. Jayson Dibble, an associate professor of communication at Hope, who gave LaughFest an academic shot in the arm on campus this week when he was given a mic to not so much be funny – though it turns out he’s a pretty punny guy – as to teach about why being funny matters.

It was Dibble’s third year teach-performing for the annually organized event, now in its fifth year, mostly staged in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and stocked with nationally recognizable stand-up and improv artists for 10 days. The event was created to honor the late Gilda Radner as well as to benefit Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, a place where free emotional healthcare is provided to those fighting and smiling through any kind of cancer. LaughFest brings together diverse audiences every March “to honor laughter as an essential part of emotional health and well-being.”

That’s a motto and mission Dibble prescribes to, as well. Besides making us socially, intellectually, and emotionally well, “humor directly changes our physiology,” he says.

Laughter has been proven to relieve muscle tension, help release larger quantities of endorphins – the happy hormone – and it can even mitigate physical pain, according to one study. “But there’s a caveat. Its pain reducing effects occur after your exposure to humor,” said Dibble. “You’re not going to feel great as soon as you fire up Netflix (in order to laugh). You’re going to have to wait a little while.”

“We don’t have to train ourselves to laugh,” says Dibble. “We were all already born with funny bones. We just have to choose to use it.”

Another study Dibble cited showed that humor can lower one’s blood pressure… but only if you’re a woman. “If you’re a guy, not so much. From this correlational study where men and women self-identified themselves with having a good sense of humor, men who thought they were funny guys usually had a Type A personality and higher blood pressure. The women in the study had lower blood pressure levels.”

Really? Why? If laughter is universal, knowing no cultural bounds, shouldn’t it have universally positive effects regardless of gender? Perhaps, but what these researchers posit from this study is that there are gender differences in the ways women and men use their humor and thus there are differences in the ways it affects their blood pressure and stress. “Men, on average, tend to have more aggressive, sarcastic, or “bathroom” humor. Women, on average, use their humor to be more inclusive and accepting,” says Dibble who also teaches about and conducts comparative humor studies between Americans and Brits during a May Term called Humor, Communication,and Culture in Liverpool, England.

As for children, a study shows anxiety levels were lowered for those about to undergo extensive medical procedures when clowns showed up with their parents and doctors in the ER. Without a clown to clown around with, children’s anxiety levels went up.

“Though clowns can creep some people out, like me,” says Dibble, “for most of these kids, clowns made a difference in their health.”

Universal, free, contagious, and widely available, humor and its resulting laughter provide a myriad of positive effects in people and in all animals really. Even healthy chimps love to horse around, and, well, horses do, too.

“We don’t have to train ourselves to laugh,” says Dibble. “We were all already born with funny bones. We just have to choose to use them.”

So, go ahead. Laugh just for the health of it.

Hope Numbers in the News

Recently, a Holland Sentinel new story featured the phenomenal work and large sums of external funds secured by Hope faculty for undergraduate research.  And the numbers, and people, are impressive.

“Hope’s Research Footprint: $9.9 in Use for Faculty, Undergrad Studies” highlights Dr. Courtney Peckens and her research project on sound quality in the new Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts while also making note of these facts:

  • In the past decade, Hope College faculty have garnered 405 research grants totaling $32.77 million.
  • On average, Hope faculty research and scholarships draw in $2 million in external funding annually.
  • For the 2015-16 fiscal year that ends June 30, Hope’s faculty have secured $1.5 million out of the $5 million in external research grants that they’ve requested — and are on track to hit the $2 million mark again.
  • Grants come from between 30 and 50 sources that range in all sizes from $5,000 to half a million dollars.

 

In this story, Karen Nordell Pearson, associate dean of research and scholarship at Hope, summarily noted this about the strength of Hope’s research agendas:

“All of our 244 full-time faculty are involved in work as scholars, artists and teachers. Their scholarly work varies from what might be considered traditional ‘research’ such as laboratory discoveries to publishing books and articles on wide ranges of topics to creative works that artists, musicians and writers produce… Faculty are amazingly adept in figuring out how undergraduates can contribute even in those circumstances. I give them so much credit for figuring out how to integrate undergrads.”

Hopeful Health for Kids in Holland

The statistical warning signs about obesity and overweight rates for American children have been scaring health providers and educators for three decades now, but little has improved in recent years. Since the mid-1980s when tracking of body mass index (BMI) numbers began, obesity rates have doubled for children and quadrupled for teens. If those stats aren’t sobering enough, here’s one more:

More than one-third of children or adolescents are either overweight or obese in this country and those children are more likely to remain overweight or obese as adults, putting them at higher risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, asthma, and some cancers.

Three Hope professors, though, are doing their part to help reverse the girth of our nation.

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Dr. Kyle Morrison, assistant professor of kinesiology and director of Foundations of Fitness, inside a dedicated space in the Dow Center where even the wall color was selected to motivate children to exercise.

“Foundations of Fitness,” a multidisciplinary program that provides Holland area families with age-appropriate structured exercise and lifestyle education, is a Hope College-based childhood wellness endeavor led by Dr. Kyle Morrison, assistant professor of kinesiology, with the assistance of Dr. Steven Smith and Dr. Mark Northuis, both professors of kinesiology. The program started in the fall of 2014 to help reduce childhood obesity and overweight percentages locally and has been funded with about $250,000 in grants from Herman Miller Cares over its two-year lifetime.

Working with 20 different families on average over 10-week periods each semester and summer, Morrison and his colleagues use exercise and education toward instilling the benefits of a healthier lifestyle upon those involved. Children ages 5 to 12 (plus their siblings) are referred by physicians and school nurses. First assessed before enrollment, they then engage in 90 minutes of varied physical activity and motor skill development once each week. Meanwhile, their parents hear lessons from Morrison and other college experts about nutrition, sleep, screen-time, stress, and motivational and behavioral habits.  Right alongside the program’s three professors, whose research specialty is pediatric wellness, are at least six to eight Hope pre-health-science students who assist with activities and become positive, active role models, salubriously living into young children’s  lives.

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Hope students Jorgie Watson (in orange) and Michelle Hance (in light blue) exercise alongside the children in Foundations of Fitness.

“In many ways, we are going back to basics for the kids and their families,” Morrison says of the program’s methodology. “We want to improve kids’ confidence in fundamental motor skills, and we want parents to know more about diet and healthy lifestyle habits. But more importantly, we want to expose them all to a love of lifelong activity.”

In the process, Morrison hopes of a wholesome paradigm shift, too. “When kids in the program are asked ‘why do you think you are here?’ we hope to move them away from the ‘to get skinny’ answer toward the ‘to get healthy’ answer. This is not about numbers – weight or BMI or obesity rates; this is about overall health.”

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Recent Hope graduate Michael Hankinson, right, who returns to the program as a volunteer, works on “planking” with a young participant.

Curing the obesity epidemic is a complicated issue. It is not simply about getting kids and their parents to exercise more and eat less. It is also about a fixing a reliance on fast and processed food at home and in restaurants; about cutting back on television and other screen-based time; about a myriad of socio-economic factors that can hinder a healthy life; about an individual’s chemical make-up and genetics; about sitting down to eat a meal together instead of on-the-run; and, it’s even about childhood stress which also leads to weight gain. While kids who are obese or overweight have systemic health concerns, they are at risk for social discrimination and low self-esteem, too.

“We have a no bullying clause in Foundations of Fitness,” says Morrison. “This program is meant to be a safe place for kids to feel and to get healthy. And one other thing we teach them is that it’s okay to fail. They learn that they are supported when they succeed and even if they don’t. That is important for them to experience and to remember, especially after they leave this program.”

“We want to improve kids’ confidence in fundamental motor skills, and we want parents to know more about diet and healthy lifestyle habits. But more importantly, we want to expose them all to a love of lifelong activity.”

A dedicated room in the college’s Dow Center – painted teal-green-aqua that research has shown to be one of the three most motivational colors in the human-eye color palette – includes unique exer-gaming equipment such as a multi-player dance game and an Xbox system that requires the user to pedal a bike to keep the video game powered. More traditional equipment is there too, such as age-appropriate elliptical machines.

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Group warmup for Foundations of Fitness participants at the Dow Center.

But kids being kids, full-court games are what they like most, such as Pac-Man tag, a game played along the lines on a Dow court, or, freeze tag with a twist: skipping, hopping, or galloping to tag and if caught, the kids must complete five sit-ups or push-ups before they are released back into the game.

“It has been an awesome opportunity to get to know different children and their families in our community,” says senior Jorgie Watson, an exercise science major who has been involved with the program since it started. “I love to see the improvement within the children, not only in their appearance but in their confidence and physical fitness. Many of them can’t run around the Dow track more than two laps (when they first start), but at the end, they run-walking 10 laps which is really awesome to see.”

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Hope student Caitlyn Campbell, measuring cups in hand, discusses serving size with a Foundation of Fitness participant.

“Several of these families are receiving advice on healthy living that they would have never gotten the chance to learn otherwise,” explains junior Caitlyn Campbell, an exercise science major who plans to do graduate work in nutrition. “On top of that, the kids get an active social outlet where they feel comfortable and safe enough to exercise and learn new sports with their peers. Seeing the kids become progressively more confident with themselves is what kept me coming back to work with the program for each term. The quantitative health data we have collected further demonstrates the positive changes this program is making. But, our proudest health outcome is their increased quality of life.”

To encourage a child’s continued fitness once his or her participation in the program has ended, a four-month Dow Center membership is given to a family who attends at least eight of the 10 Foundations of Fitness sessions.  Coming back to the Dow provides more activity options for the family to enjoy, like swimming, basketball, running, racquetball, and various exercise equipment. And Hope student mentors continue working with their mentees one-on-one during their Dow membership phase.

“The quantitative health data we have collected further demonstrates the positive changes this program is making. But, our proudest health outcome is their increased quality of life.”

Morrison’s vision would be to establish an even more comprehensive center for childhood enrichment to impact even more fully the wellness of the Holland area (so far close to 100 have participated in Foundations) because “we have an obligation to our community and we want to be supportive of each other. But that is a dream that is much further down the road.”

For now then, Foundations of Fitness is making a holistic, healthy difference right where it is, one young life at a time.

 

Humans of Syria and Japan

This year’s Critical Issues Symposium – opening today on Hope’s campus – addresses “Engaging the Middle East.” Professor Megumi Hirayama of Meiji Gakuin University (MGU) in Tokyo has been doing just that for more than decade.

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Professor Megumi Hirayama of Meiji Gakuin University, Hope’s sister school in Tokyo, Japan, discussed her Syrian experience and her “Stop the Killing in Syria” campaign recently on campus.

Hirayama, a visiting professor at Hope since last fall who specializes in public health and taught a comparative social development class, is a global citizen in her own right. Her passport has been stamped by over 50 countries; she has studied 16 different languages and speaks three fluently; her early career included stints as a health education officer for both the United Nations and World Health Organization in the Caribbean and Africa. She also started six non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to medically aid developing countries.

The Middle East has been Hirayama’s focus since 2005, having visited Syria 12 times, taking MGU students with her on six occasions before the civil war started in 2010. There, they researched on-going water contamination issues while engaging in home stays, making new Syrian friends in the process.

Hirayama wants Americans to know this: We are not the only ones worried about the Middle East. Other world citizens are, too.

She has always wanted her students to know and see and feel a reality of Syria that takes them beyond what the media shows, beyond conflict and crisis, to remember kind farmers and laborers who just want peace.

“I wish the war will end soon, and Syrians will smile as they did before,” said MGU graduate Yutaro Takemori, who studied water-borne diseases under Hirayama’s direction in Syria in 2009. “We should not forget this country and its kind people,” added Mayuko Hagari, another MGU graduate who traveled to Syria with Hirayama.

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Professor Megumi Hirayama with children in Utaya, Syria. Photo courtesy of Megumi Hirayama (2009)

A sorrowful but hopeful nod comes from Hirayama when she hears those words. Her dedicated message of international care clearly struck heart cords and brainwaves. She has always wanted her students to know and see and feel a reality of Syria that takes them beyond what the media shows, beyond conflict and crisis to remember kind farmers and laborers who just want peace. Her current “Stop the Killing in Syria” campaign will continue in that vein when she takes it to the G7 Summit in Ise-shima, Japan, this June.

“This is not a true civil war (in Syria),” opines Hirayama. “It is an international war. So many foreigners are involved and private companies and their weapons are coming in from outside Syria to fight there. I never thought this war would last such a long time.”

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Phlox blooming in an olive grove near a suburb of Aleppo, Syria, near the Turkey border. Photo courtesy of Rohei Saito (March 2009)

With photos of Syrian people and sights spread out in front of her recently, Hirayama looks at their stories and remembers more of her own: her former research assistant who she did not hear from for months but later found was living in Sweden after using all his money and nearly dying to escape the country; her affection for Syrian friends and acquaintances whose whereabouts are now unknown.

Sorrow and hope. That’s what those pictures display to Hirayama. And us, too. Sorrow remembering the way Syria once was. Hope for the way it can be again.

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Young peace-sign girl in the Yarmouk (Syria) Palestinian Refugee Camp. Photo courtesy of Hirotoshi Muraki (January 2009)

CFL and SHI: Partners in Ideas, Innovation and Leadership

A unique and collaborative partnership between Spectrum Health Innovations (SHI) in Grand Rapids and Hope College’s Center for Faithful Leadership (CFL) is providing opportunities for both parties to glean the benefits that any good partnership seeks to achieve: combining ideas and labor toward reaching desired outcomes. For professionals at SHI, the objective is to create technically-feasible and market-desirable health care products that meet the needs of patients and clinicians alike. For students at Hope, the goals are leadership development and experiential learning. It’s proving to be a win-win association.

“A liberal arts education is a journey that exposes students to different ways of thinking, to different possibilities in education and life.”

CFL students and mentors and SHI ideators and project managers have been working together since 2014 to create better health-care services in interdisciplinary ways. It is this convergence of teaching, learning, innovation, and scholarship that makes CFL and SHI perfect partners. SHI provides the ideas and technical input; CFL students provide the labor and processes to idea validation. To date, more than 70 students with majors in accounting, communication, management, philosophy, engineering, religion and computer science have tackled 10 challenges. The most recent include a schedule software project, a neonatal ETT (Endo-Tracheal Tube) holder project, and a device to load a wheelchair into the trunk of car. Each melds multiple perspectives and breaks down disciplinary boundaries—a demolishing of silos, if you will, that results in these partners doing work on one big idea farm.

A Hope professor’s effort to save his students money has led to a national award. Dr. Steve VanderVeen, professor of management and director of the Center for Faithful Leadership, is one of only eight professors nationwide recognized through the Faculty Recognition Textbook Scholarship Contest coordinated by the Used Textbook Association. He was honored for reducing students’ book-buying costs by choosing to use an earlier edition of a textbook that he feels continues to be just as relevant in the material it presents - pg 17
Dr. Steven VanderVeen, director of Hope’s Center for Faithful Leadership and professor of management

“A liberal arts education is a journey that exposes students to different ways of thinking, to different possibilities in education and life,” says Dr. Steven VanderVeen, director of CFL and professor of management. “Our partnership with SHI is about just that. It gives students from several different majors experiences to discern and develop their gifts and calling on their timelines. They get to learn this in college, not after they graduate. This is what drives CFL.”

The scheduling software project is headed up by Ben Schipper, a communication major and 2015 December Hope grad. Schipper and 12 others—professionals from SHI, CFL mentor Jim Cnossen, along with economics and computer science students—are working to eliminate the time demands associated with manually scheduling patients for numerous specialist appointments for in-patient rehabilitation. Department managers are currently spending hours using an old-school spreadsheet methodology to schedule patients’ therapies, but the new software will automatically generate a patient’s schedule instead. The goal of its creation is to save valuable staff time, time that could be spent otherwise caring for Spectrum Health patients.  Numerous months, meetings, and program iterations later, with assistance from Dr. Ryan McFall of Hope’s computer science department, Schipper and his team are close to auditioning a finished product within the next several weeks.

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Ben Schipper (standing) leads a Report-Out meeting at SHI

Meanwhile, the neonatal ETT holder team, with assistance from Dr. Roger Veldman of Hope’s engineering department, hopes to debut a prototype by the end of this semester while the wheelchair-loading device team just got started on customer discovery research.

“Hope students have great dedication to their projects,” says Lori  Henry, a project manager at Spectrum Health Innovations. “They are motivated to have an impact to create real-life solutions. The highlight of the semester for me is hearing them present their findings at the report-out (a culminating presentation). I see their passion and it makes me excited about what we do.”

Hope is one of four colleges and universities in the region that partner with SHI. Each semester, VanderVeen meets with SHI leaders to determine if CFL will renew or exit the partnership. To each partners’ delight, the computer science and engineering departments have become directly involved with SHI, too.

“In the end, these collaborations are all about patients and people.”

“Regardless of the project,” says Scott Daigger, manager at SHI, “we focus on a couple goals. We want to work together with our college teams to find viable solutions to the ideas we have. That is foremost for us. We also want to help solve bigger problems that could benefit health care as a whole.”

“We’re educating students so they know what their gifts are,” says VanderVeen of CFL goals. “How do you know if you are good at something? You get involved and find out. It is the discernment of gifts and calling, alongside leadership integrity, that this partnership is all about.”

While many projects fail to move from idea to finished solution—supporting the statistic that less than 10% of all new notions actually see a validated end—the CFL-SHI partnership provides a 100% great experience rate for all parties involved.

Concludes Lori Henry, “In the end, these collaborations are all about patients and people.”

Flint Water Crisis in the Round

This past Monday night in Maas Auditorium, 13 bottles of water sat on a long table, each provided for one of the 13 people preparing to speak on an interdisciplinary panel about the Flint water crisis. One container of water, though, was not being consumed, nor would it be. Displayed at the center of the dais, a mason jar filled with water from Flint, Michigan, looking as benign and similar as the water in the other 13 bottles, was about to be examined from political, sociological, psychological, historical, scientific, artistic, ethical, and personal perspectives. Though the water in the jar appeared clear, the water crisis and its fallout and solution can seem anything but that.

Though the water in the jar appeared clear, the water crisis and its fallout and solution can seem anything but that.

IMG_2537Organized and implemented by Dr. Julie Kipp’s women’s and gender studies keystone class, the event gave an opportunity for a large audience to consider what has happened in Flint as well as providing a challenge for all to get involved and do something appropriate within their discipline or interest. The panel, made up of one student, 11 professors, and one president, discussed the very tragic, sometimes complex, and always upsetting issues revolving around the high levels of lead in Flint water and those who drank that water for over a year. Delivering their expertise from their various points of view within a five-minute time limit each, the panel continued to cast light upon light upon light onto a problem that has fallen out of the nation’s glare… for the time being anyway. This communal time of reflection also gave hope for understanding next steps in Flint.

“When you think about what a liberal arts college does best, it is learning how to think systemically and critically about complex things where the problems simply can’t be understood through a single lens. It requires us to think in the round.”

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Katlyn Koegel, far left, speaks as part of the 13-member Flint Water Crisis panel.

Speaking from personal experience, sophomore Katlyn Koegel, a Flint native, shared several stories about people she knows from home who are struggling and afraid—a small, thirsty boy who asked for bottled water from her last summer, a woman who may lose her business due negative media attention that has driven customers away, and a pastor who paid a $900 bill for water he was not even using. “What has been most heartbreaking for me is this dichotomy between breaking news and broken structures,” said Koegel. “A lot of facts and individual stories have gone down a chasm between the two.”

Historically speaking, Dr. Fred Johnson, declared that Flint has its proud roots in Native American origins and the founding of a General Motors plant there in 1908. “And many of you may know, it was the site of the 1936-37 GM sit-down strike which basically brought the UAW (United Auto Workers) to prominence, making it a major instrument in the labor movement.” Now, the city’s heritage is  being viewed only through a microscope created by this recent history.

“All politics are local.”

Politically speaking, Dr. Annie Dandavati, reminded the audience that “it’s important for all of us to be educated voters. Even though we sometimes feel that our voices are falling on deaf ears, it’s important to know about issues no matter where they originate—in the state capitol, nationally or globally. All politics are local.”

Sociologically speaking, Dr. Aaron Franken and Dr. Debra Swanson showed that race and socio-economic status are key to making sense of what is happening in Flint. “When looking at kids in Flint, here’s some points that are important and highlight social processes for health: One, if socio-economic status is linked to health, and two, decreased educational attainment is a key link to lower socio-economic status, and three, lead poisoning manifests itself in behavioral changes and in cognitive ability changes and thus a link to decreased educational attainment, and, four, sizable portions of residents (in Flint) don’t leave the area – so residential non-migration – then we’re going to have a potential geographic health issue with a very long memory in Flint,” said Franzen.

“This is a demographic of poor, black moms with kids who get no political attention.”

In 2013, the median household income in Flint was about half of that than in the rest of the state. The state median income is $43,000; in Flint it is about $23,000. Approximately 22% have a household income of less than $10,000 a year. Forty-one percent of those living in Flint are below the poverty line, 56% of the population is black, and 75% of the households are single-parent homes. “This is a demographic of poor, black moms with kids who get no political attention,” says Swanson. And yet those women have organized protests at the state capitol in Lansing as well as a movement with Lead Safe America Foundation, bringing attention to the crisis on Twitter with over three million tweets in two hours on February 4, using the hashtag, #StandWithFlint.

Psychologically speaking, Dr. Carrie Bredow offered one good news/bad news scenario: “We know that certain things can ameliorate some of the effects of lead poisoning (such as behavioral and cognitive disorders) though it’s not reversible. But based on the research, through things like good nutrition, having high-quality early childhood education and intervention, and consistent medical care, the level of its effects can be influenced. But these are the same things that children in Flint don’t have access to. So this is something that needs to be poured into in terms of how we stop this from affecting people in Flint inter-generationally.”

Scientifically speaking, Dr. Joanne Stewart and Dr. Graham Peaslee explained how lead got into the Flint water supply in the first place. “When they switched from (using) Lake Huron water to Flint River water (to save the city money), they had no corrosion plan in place (to keep the pipes from leeching lead into the water). That was one of the real shocking things that happened,” said Stewart. “It depends on which house you’re in (when looking at lead levels),” added Peaslee. “Some people have PVC pipes and no lead, others have lead and more lead in their pipes. It depends house to house what the effect was.”

“It’s comforting to suppose only terrifically terrible or malicious people can be responsible for these things but often it is only ordinary, everyday vice that leads to great evil.”

Morally speaking, Dr. Heidi Giannini enlightened with this: “One thing I think the Flint water crisis illustrates and what our response to it should bear in mind is that it is very hard to be good. However, that is no excuse for failing. The crisis in Flint illustrates at least one way it is hard to be good: we form bad habits (like laziness or self-interest) because most of the time they seem like they are not that big of a deal. When we foster these ordinary, run-of-the-mill bad habits, we foster the opportunity for great evil. We like to think that there is extraordinary vice underlying the horrible moral wrongs of what happened in Flint. It’s comforting to suppose only terrifically terrible or malicious people can be responsible for these things but often it is only ordinary, everyday vice that leads to great evil.”

Dr. Charles Green addressed environmental racism, citing evidence that shows more middle-class black families live in polluted areas than poor white families do. “Let me be clear: race is a real factor here… Black kids are three times more likely than white kids to have asthma (due to living in areas with poor air quality) and four times more likely to die from it. The environmental problems that we have addressed in this country over the last 30-40 years have largely benefitting the white population, and the environmental problems we have not addressed have largely impacted people of color.”

“We have to listen. We have to let our neighbors (in Flint) know that we’re here, not to own or claim the crisis as our own but rather to try to understand it.”

From an artistic standpoint, Rob Kenagy and Dr. Katherine Sullivan revealed how art and activism is giving people a news lens through which to view Flint. “The slam poetry coming out of Flint is hot…It’s important to remember that that art is made by real people,” said Kenagy, “and it’s just not something you can click past. There is a real voice behind it. We as readers have a responsibility (to hear it and see it), especially those of us from privileged spaces. We have to actually accept the trauma and invite it into our lives. We have to listen. We have to let our neighbors (in Flint) know that we’re here, not to own or claim the crisis as our own but rather to try to understand it.” Poetry and art is yet another way to do just that.

Finally, President John Knapp summed up the event this way: “Big problems don’t lend themselves to simple, small solutions. What I’ve really appreciated about this evening as I’ve listened to my colleagues here is that we’ve not only examined this problem from the perspective of art, philosophy, poetry, but also sociology, history, and political science. We’ve talked about biological and medical concerns; we’ve talked about psychological matters and even got into chemistry. Every one of those is important, and more, to really understand the nature of the problem. And what I’ve described is what we are about in the liberal arts at Hope. When you think about what a liberal arts college does best, it is learning how to think systemically and critically about complex things where the problems simply can’t be understood through a single lens. It requires us to think in the round.”

Breaks Away: Dede Johnston

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope
Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering both restoration and adventure, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

Spanish-speakers say “feliz.” The Japanese say 幸福, pronounced “kofuku.” In English, “happy” is the word. The delivery may change from language to language, but it is universally agreed upon that happiness means one thing: feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. So, it would seem, happy elucidation remains the same no matter where one lives – whether in Argentina, Honduras, Japan, or the United States, right? Well, maybe not. That’s what Dr. Dede Johnston, professor of communication, is finding out.

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Dr. Dede Johnston, professor of communication, happy at Hope and in the world

Happiness is a choice, psychologists say, but the ways we choose to be happy and how we express that joy can vary from the grandiose to the sublime across cultures. Taking a portion of her yearlong sabbatical to study happy emotions found in thousands of pictorial images of people in six countries, Johnston is quick to relay that what may seem simple to define is actually complex. Happiness does not have one common expression, though we usually think a simple smile will do. Instead, it is individually and culturally discovered and defined. For one person, happiness is simply a sunny day, but for another, it is a high-paying job indicative of a successful career. The individualized nature of the happiness definition, then, makes for a myriad of meanings that are multiplied again by the number of cultures expressing it, setting off a compare-and-contrast exercise of multi-national magnitude. So far, Johnston’s initial findings have been happily enthralling.

“In America, we’re either happy or unhappy. There seems to be little in-between. We also tend to experience happiness as a state of high arousal, or excitement for example,” explains Johnston. “In Japan, happiness is expressed in quieter terms. The Japanese seem to focus on things that Americans take for granted. They are happy for their noodles at lunch; they are happy for their legs. In addition, the Japanese report being simultaneously happy and unhappy, a kind of melancholy or nostalgia. Japanese people are more complex in their metaphoric constructions of happiness, and American people are more complex in their nuanced range and expression of feelings associated with happiness.”

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The pursuit of global ‘happyness’ definitions happens in a dedicated research space in the Martha Miller Center.

For this massive, qualitative, cross-cultural happiness research project, Johnston joined forces with Dr. Rika Hanamitsu, a linguistics professor from Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, whom Johnston had worked with for two years while Hanamitsu took her sabbatical leave at Hope. Johnston enlisted research participants while visiting Uruguay, Argentina and Chile on her peripatetic sabbatical. Hope senior, Jean Luc Miralda, a native of Honduras, secured participants there, and Hanamitsu signed up Japanese contributors. The two professors asked those involved to take photos of themselves, five times during a single day, when they experienced happiness. The photo-takers then had to write a prompted narrative response about each of those moments in time. Looking at images of 2,600 different people from four age groups (college-aged to elderly) means Johnston, Hanamitu, and their three Hope research student-assistants have been doing a tremendous amount of story translation and coding of thousands of images. It also means this wide-reaching work is uncovering an exciting, glad array of ways to be happy. And in April, those Hope student-assistants and their professor hope to present the group’s preliminary findings at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research in Asheville, North Carolina.

Not one to allow one topic or continent to confine her sabbatical to-do list for too long, Johnston also took a trip Berlin to develop an interdisciplinary – literature, communication and political science – conjoined course with colleagues in Slovakia and Lebanon; traveled to South Africa to develop a study-tour on “Narratives of Peace and Conflict in Post-Apartheid South Africa;” and, she also co-authored and published an article about another cross-cultural research project, again with Hanamitsu. This time Johnston looked at global exposure and global perceptions of 1,360 college-aged students in China, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and the U.S. Their work can be read in the Journal of Intercultural Communication.

“I felt it was a year of good productivity for me,” Johnston concludes. “I learned more Spanish, met wonderful people during home stays. Sabbatical to me means creativity, a chance to move ideas — and sometimes I have too many — toward accomplishments.”

Living out of a backpack for a year, researching about global communication issues, even cleaning up her Martha Miller Center office while on sabbatical: that makes Dede Johnston very happy.

Dr. Deirdre Johnston is a professor in the Department of Communication at Hope College.

Breaks Away: Jonathan Peterson

sabbatical (n): a break from customary work to acquire new skills or knowledge, traditionally occurring every seventh year

Breaks Away: Sabbatical Stories of Hope
Each academic year, a number of Hope faculty take sabbatical leaves away from the college, submersing themselves for extended periods of time into their favored fields of inquiry. If viewed from above and all together, those fields would look like a calico landscape, so varied and colorful is the topography of their collective research, writing, and creative pursuits. Offering both restoration and adventure, sabbaticals are a bit like information and imagination transfusions. These breaks away from normal classroom and committee work give Hope academicians a boost to reinforce and revitalize their teaching and scholarship.

Whether in the field at the Michigan-based AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies (AIES), or in a lab at the prestigious Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), or in the classroom of a Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) interdisciplinary program, Dr. Jonathan Peterson spent much of his year-long sabbatical in 2014-15 fully convinced of this:

Things in life are interesting and important to the degree that they relate to other things because, basically, most things in life—ideas and people—are connected, if not immediately then eventually. This credo makes sense to him back at Hope, too. The interdependence of subjects and people on each other is a fundamental aspect of a Christian, liberal arts education, after all.

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Dr. Jonathan Peterson in his Schaap Science Center lab located on the campus of Hope College.

Peterson, the Lavern and Betty DePree VanKley Professor of the Geology and Environmental Science, and a firm believer that all life-matters are interrelated, likes it that way.

“Taken all together, my entire sabbatical was rejuvenating as a Christian and a scholar because those two things are not separate, just as most things in life are not separate. Most everything goes together in practice and not just theory,” says Peterson. “I was called to be a Christian scholar in two different places (AIES and ORNL) last year, and I’m called to be both here at Hope.”

“Taken all together, my entire sabbatical was rejuvenating as a Christian and a scholar because those two things are not separate, just as most things in life are not separate. Most everything goes together in practice and not just theory.”

Two AuSable teaching experiences during the summers of 2014 and 2015 bookended Peterson’s full-year sabbatical leave, with his time at Oak Ridge in the middle. Located in Mancelona, Michigan, and supported by a consortium of Christian colleges, AIES is both field-based and faith-based as teachers and students investigate matters of environmental consequence with a Christian perspective. “Students and staff at AuSable are passionate about Christian environmentalism,” Peterson says.  “It is a place that connects science and faith with themes of stewardship and conservationism in caring for God’s world.”

At ORNL, Peterson’s break-away shifted to intense research.  Though he was the resident director of the GLCA Oak Ridge Science Semester in the fall, he conducted his own research for the full academic year, too, using cutting edge technology at a world-class facility while collaborating with world-class scientists. ORNL, first established in the early 1940s as part of the U.S. government’s Manhattan Project, is the Department of Energy’s largest facility conducting research to find “transformative solutions to compelling problems in energy and security.” Research productivity is critical there as individual ORNL scientists—well over 3,000 in more than 100 disciplines—published their findings six to eight times each year.

Peterson’s research analyzes how antibiotics breakdown in the presence of titanium oxide nano-particles. In and of itself, this could seem like a subject highly obscure and literally minute. Yet, it is the interrelated effects of these nano-particles and drug contaminants in our environment that may have implications for human health and medicine. Very small amounts of antibiotics are present in natural waters, Peterson points out, originating in part from the livestock industry and sewage treatment plants.

“And titanium oxide nano-particles are also present and are very reactive and very small. They are used in all kinds of products— sunscreens, cosmetics, paints, adhesives, tire treads, even powdered sugar donuts. That is how they enter the environment,” explains Peterson. “I want to know how the nano-particles break down the drugs or transport them in the water.”

Because here is his research’s interconnected bottom-line toward the greater good:  The fate of these antibiotics in the environment is a key piece of information toward understanding the spread of antibiotic resistance in human and veterinary medicine.

So far, results from the research show that titanium oxide nano-particles interact with drugs in a variety of different ways. Some antibiotics undergo significant degradation while other break into fragments. Some of those fragments are transported by the nano-particles, and other are destroyed. “These results are significant,” says Peterson. “The next step is to determine the rate, or time, it takes for the interactions to occur.”

“Being at a place like Oak Ridge helped me be flexible and morph quickly as a teacher and a scientist,” continues Peterson, whose manuscript on this research was published recently in Science of the Total Environment. “Sabbaticals are good lessons to not become too entrenched. There are pressing matters that need results. I was privilege to be given the time and space to look into them.”

One related to the other, the other related to the one—this is how our world and its people work, from the smallest scientific particle to the largest Christian principle. That’s something Dr. Peterson has always related to.

Dr. Jonathan Peterson is the Lavern and Betty DePree VanKley Professor of the Geology and Environmental Science in Geological and Environmental Sciences Department at Hope College.

Hope 2016: A Watch List

A new year is a perfect time for list-making. Many of us do it. A resolution list for self-improvement. A goals list for work. A bucket list for travel. Basically, these are all ways to look forward to 365 days worth of new opportunities and growth.

At Hope, we have many things to look forward to in 2016, the sesquicentennial year of our existence. While our resolution list will always be our mission—“to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society through academic and co-curricular programs of recognized excellence in the liberal arts and in the context of the historic Christian faith”—we have a highlight list, too. Some list items, like effectively teaching and researching and advising and mentoring, are quieter and less showy than other items that grab big headlines (even on this blog!). But when each item gets its conclusive checkmark, we know the resolve toward our mission has been enhanced.

New Year’s lists are ways to look forward to 365 days worth of new opportunities and growth. Our resolution list can be permanently found in our mission statement.

Here, then, are four things on our watch list worth checking out for our mission’s sake in 2016—the quiet, the loud and the resolute.

  1. CIS x 2

Since its inception in 1980, Hope’s Critical Issues Symposium (CIS)—an event to stimulate serious thinking about current issues and to provide a forum in which the students, faculty and the Holland community may all engage in discussion with experts—has traditionally been held annually during the fall semester. In 2016, though, CIS guest speakers will take to their lecterns during both the spring and fall semesters, a first in CIS history. Last fall’s CIS was moved to this spring semester due to a scheduling conflict with David Brooks, the New York Times columnist and best-selling author who spoke on campus in September, 2015, as part of the Presidential Colloquium. Now CIS gets an added spring spotlight as it focuses on “Engaging the Middle East:  Understanding Contemporary Changes” on Wednesday and Thursday, February 24 and 25.  In light of the recent Syrian refugee crisis, the Iran nuclear deal, and the rise of ISIS, this is a subject that could not be more timely.

In the fall CIS will look at economic inequality in America on Tuesday and Wednesday, September 27 and 28. The income gap keeps growing in the U.S., minimum wage is a hot-button issue as are the survival of unions, and our largest socioeconomic class, the middle class, is struggling. This CIS will delve into all of those subjects and more by asking ‘Why?’ ‘What are the implications on our economy other sociocultural markers?’, and ‘How should Christians, poor and rich, respond?’

  1. Musical Showcase Comes Home
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Musical Showcase, held at DeVos Hall in the past, will come home to Hope in 2016

The 28th Annual Musical Showcase—a fast-paced, musical spectacular during which audience members hear everything from opera to jazz —will take the stage at Hope for the first time since its creation in 1989. Traditionally performed at DeVos Hall in Grand Rapids on one night, Musical Showcase comes home to debut the large, 800-seat concert hall on two nights in the newly opened Jack H. Miller Center for the Musical Arts. “We felt we should christen this new space with a performance by our students,” said Julia Randel, associate professor of music and chairperson of the music department. “Musical Showcase involves every student in our department. It is a celebration of all we do, so that makes it the perfect event to open this new concert hall… Every note will be crystal clear. The sound in there is just gorgeous.”

Musical Showcase will take the stage Friday and Saturday, February 5 and 6 at 7:30 pm. Tickets to the Hope community go on sale the week of January 18 while the general public sale start January 25.

  1. Bultman Center Gets Bolted Down
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The Bultman Student Center begins its shape with footings and foundation.

Nykerk Hall was razed and the site cleared since last fall. Now, the center-of-campus earth is ready for the growth of the new Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center. With site surveying and prep complete, construction on this newest Hope building has begun in earnest as soil was recently moved for the elevator pits and the pouring of its foundation and footings. Exterior walls for the three-story, $22.5 million center named for Hope’s 11th president and his wife will start to rise this May. The center should be enclosed by late fall, 2016. Once the building is complete in late spring, 2017, the Bultman Center will provide much needed, dedicated space for student organizations, offices for Counseling and Psychological Services, group meeting rooms, a large multi-purpose room, a small chapel, a theatre, a fireplace room (especially attractive during Michigan winters), and the latest in food and coffee service.

  1. 150 Going on 151

The 2015-16 academic year continues to mark the sesquicentennial of Hope’s founding in 1866 when its charter was granted by the state of Michigan. That first commencement saw eight students graduate. This May, the 151st commencement will see the most graduates ever walk across the stage to receive their diploma folders from President John Knapp. The largest freshman cohort ever to arrive on campus four years ago will depart as the largest senior class, too. Approximately 650 seniors will graduate this May having completed their degree requirements in one of Hope’s 100 majors. Since it takes 126 credit hours to earn a Hope degree (and many Hope senior often earn more than that), this means the class of 2016 has successfully completed more than 81,900 credit hours or, at an average of 3.25 credit hours per course offered, have taken more than 25,000 classes in four (sometimes five) years.

From the breadth and depth of general education requirements to the specificity of major courses, from the first graduating class to the next and beyond, in new buildings and old, our 2016 watch list is really about what we do best: a Hope education delivered, learned, and applied. Check.