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.

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.”

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.

Give the Gift of Reading (Hope Authors) This Christmas

Santa Carrying Shopping Bags --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Christmas is less than a week away. How’s your shopping going?   If you are like one of the 24 million people in America who wait to start gift purchasing until Christmas Eve, not so good, right? Or, maybe you just need one or two ideas and items to finish your list.

Either way, Stories of Hope is here to help.

A multitude of Hope professors are also authors of several bestselling, general interest books. On topics that range from faith to sports, these books are testament to the writing talent of Hope scholars who desire to share their passion and expertise beyond the classroom in published, public form. And though the list below is certainly not exhaustive of all of the books by Hope faculty, it does offer a little of something for everyone.

Whether you are finishing up, or just starting with that Christmas shopping strategy of getting your loved ones something they want, something they need, something they wear, or something they READ, we have the READ portion covered here for you.  All books are available at college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore.  The Hope-Geneva Bookstore is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., and can be called at 800-946-4673, or 616-395-7833.  Email them, too, at

Faith and Religion

What Does It Mean to be Catholic? by Jack Mulder, Associate Professor of Philosophy

UnknownWriting in the first-person and a conversational tone, Mulder provides an overview of several core tenets of the Catholic Church. He was motivated by his own faith journey.  Mulder was raised a Protestant, and converted to Catholicism 11 years ago, shortly before joining the Hope faculty in 2004. He seeks to provide answers to the sorts of questions that he had along the way. “This book is really for three groups, namely, new Catholics who want to know more about their faith; non-Catholics who want to understand Catholic distinctives better; and lifelong Catholics who would like to be reacquainted with what they believe,” he said.

A Friendly Letter to Skeptics and Atheists by David Myers, Professor of Psychology

Unknown-1In this book, Myers responds to the “new atheist” argument that all religion is dangerous and false, by suggesting how faith can be—and often is—reasonable, science-affirming, healthy, hopeful and humane. Myers writes as both a social scientist and a person of faith. While acknowledging ways religion has fueled the worst in human behavior, he notes that religion more often leads adherents to engage with the world as forces for good.

Is Your Lord Large Enough? How C.S. Lewis Expands Our View of God by Peter Schakel, the Peter and Emajean Cook Professor of English

Unknown-2In “Prince Caspian” by C.S. Lewis, Aslan, the great Lion and Christ figure, says to the young girl Lucy, “Every year you grow you will find me bigger.” Schakel’s book uses that sentence as the starting point for an examination of how Lewis’s writings provide help for readers seeking growth in their Christian lives through an expanding, deepening understanding of God.

Social Issues

Beyond Homelessness by Steven Bouma-Prediger, Associate Dean of Teaching and Learning

Unknown-3Co-authored with Brian J. Walsh, this book explores the forms and implications of dislocation in contemporary North American culture and considers Christian faith as a path toward healing and faithful homemaking. Not only explores the problem of homelessness as an economic and sociological condition, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh also examines two other types of homelessness: what they call ecological homelessness and postmodern homelessness.

How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about it) by John Knapp, President and Professor of Religion and Management

Unknown-5Why do so many Christians struggle to relate their faith to their daily work? Is it the church’s fault? President Knapp argues that the church’s unclear teachings about vocation, money, and business have long contributed to Christians’ uncertainty about how to live out their beliefs in the workplace. Based on Knapp’s business experience and extensive research, this book brings fresh perspectives to this troubling problem.

Memoirs and Biographies

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and Mennonite Meets Mr. Right by Rhoda Janzen Burton, Associate Professor of English
Unknown-6Themes of family, faith and love, delivered with a good dose of humor, propel major life events in these two memoirs by Burton. The first in storyline and publication date, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, topped on the New York Times bestseller’s list for several weeks in 2010. Though never seeing herself as a nonfiction writer prior to writing both books (she is also a published poet), Burton tackles her own spiritual discoveries and life changes in ways that are “not just beautiful and intelligent but also painfully—even wincingly—funny,” said Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, of the first book. Kate Braestrup, the author of Unknown-7Here if You Need Me said Burton’s second memoir, Mennonite Meets Mr. Right, “made me laugh out loud, often enough to make my beloved children inquire as to whether I was losing my mind.”

Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life by Natalie Dykstra, Associate Professor of English

Unknown-8Although the marriage and death of prominent, 19th-century Bostonian Marian “Clover” Adams were well documented, it was the story that hadn’t been told that most fascinated Dykstra. In telling it, she had a crucial ally: Clover Adams herself, whose letters and artistic eye, as expressed in her portrait and landscape photography, provide a new and compelling view of her life. Adams, whose husband was the descendant of two U.S. presidents, lived an 1800s-life of privilege among the city’s political and social elite. By the standards of the day, she seemed to have it all, and yet in 1885, at age 42, she succumbed to depression and took her own life by drinking a poisonous chemical she used to develop her photographs. Clover Adams was named a “Must Read” book of 2013 in the 13th Annual Massachusetts Book Awards.

Children’s Fiction

The Secret of the Lonely Grave by Albert Bell, Professor of History

Unknown-9Set in southern Kentucky, this novella centers on two 11-year-old friends, Steve and Kendra, when they notice that someone has taken an interest in the long-neglected grave of a young girl who died in the 1860s. Their investigation leads them not only to discover her story, but to lessons on the Civil War, slavery and the Underground Railroad.

Adult Fiction

Bell is also the author of an on-going series of mystery novels set in ancient Rome that track the fictional adventures of real-life protagonist Pliny the Younger. Five books comprise the series thus far:  All Roads Lead to Murder, The Blood of Caesar, The Corpus Conundrum, Death in the Ashes, and The Eyes of Aurora. These books have earned high marks from critics with the second, The Blood of Caesar being named one of the 5 Best Mysteries of 2008 by “Library Journal.”


Night Sessions by David Cho, Associate Professor of English

This chapbook is based primarily on Cho’s own life as a Chicago-born and -raised child of Korean parents, who immigrated to America in 1971. Whether writing of his parents, other relatives, his multi-ethnic friends, or other members of community or congregation, Cho seeks to honor and elucidate the past, even as it clashes with the present to form an American hybrid: the poet himself. Along the way, he revisits moments of childhood confusion and wonder, of assimilation and tradition, of memory and loss.

Since Everything is All I’ve Got by David (D.R.) James, Adjunct Associate Professor of English

The first full-length poetry collection reflects a life journey from loss to joy, with an emphasis on finding wonder in the moment whatever the stage. Featured poetic work across a decade, James grouped the collection’s 60 poems into three parts that show, he notes, “an upward trend from a fairly bleak outlook on life due to existential realities to a new appreciation for life and the now—which is why the title Since Everything Is All I’ve Got.


Mere Believers: How Eight Faithful Lives Changes the Course of History by Marc Baer, Professor of History

9781625642059A specialist in modern British history, Baer focuses on eight men and women who lived in Great Britain between the beginning of the 18th century and the middle of the 20th century, and the difference that they—and their Christian faith—made to the world. The title is derived from a phrase coined by C.S. Lewis, reflecting that while those whose lives Baer explores represent a variety of traditions within Christianity, they are part of a larger community of faith. The group is also diverse in terms of background and experience, ranging from Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, who in the 18th century used her wealth to support the Methodist movement that was outcast during her times; to Olaudah Equiano, a former slave from Nigeria who purchased his own freedom and advocated abolition in the 18th century; to 18th-century politician William Wilberforce, who shifted his priorities from career ambition to abolition; to Dorothy L. Sayers, the 20th-century, mystery novelist who also wrote extensively about the importance of finding one’s calling.

Hope Beyond Border by Stephen Hemenway, Professor of English

150112dhopebeyondbordersHemenway, a long-time faculty member who has had a profound effect on international education at Hope himself, chronicles the extraordinary life of Dr. Paul Fried, a legendary Hope College faculty member whose impact on the college continues decades after his retirement. Fried, who died in July 2006 at age 87, was an émigré whose family was killed by the Nazis.  After initially coming to West Michigan to attend Hope, he served with the U.S. Army in the European Theatre during World War II and was subsequently a translator during the Nuremberg war crimes trials.  He returned to Holland to teach history at Hope from 1953 to 1984, and is widely recognized as the principal architect of the college’s international education program. Hemenway was a long-time colleague and friend of Fried, and since 1976 has directed the college’s Vienna Summer School, which Fried had founded in 1956 and directed for the two decades in between.

Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City by Robert Swierenga, A.C. Van Raalte Research Professor

Unknown-10This comprehensive three-book set details the entire sweep of the Holland’s history since 1847, when the initial band of Dutch settlers founded the community.  With more than 2,600 pages with nearly 900 photographs, the three volumes received a State History Award, the highest recognition presented by the Historical Society of Michigan. Swierenga spent more than 10 years conducting research for and writing the history. The index alone, some 200 pages long, required several months to create.


Volleyball: Steps to Success by Becky Schmidt, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology

Unknown-11This players and coaches’ how-to book covers serving, passing, setting, attacking and blocking, as well as tactics for playing various offensive and defensive schemes at all positions. Dozens of drills featuring a self-scoring component allow players to chart progress and accelerate improvement. Informed by a Schmidt’s coaching career that has included more than 300 wins since 2004 and a NCAA Division III national championship, Volleyball: Steps to Success was written by Schmidt with club and high school volleyball players and their coaches or instructors in mind.

Serve, Volley, Set, Read

With her 2015 volleyball season recently concluded, Becky Schmidt,  Hope’s head coach and assistant professor of kinesiology, undoubtedly used a page or two out of her own book in coaching the national championship-defending Flying Dutch to another NCAA appearance (their eighth in a row) and a 24-7 overall record.

And not just her own playbook but her own textbook, too.

Head coach Becky Schmidt ’99 guides the team during the championship game against Emory (Georgia) in 2014.
Head coach Becky Schmidt guides her team during the championship game against Emory (Georgia) in 2014.

Schmidt is the author of the newly released, Volleyball: Steps to Success, a 216-page instructional publication published by Human Kinetics that provides guidance on serving, passing, setting, attacking, and blocking as well as tactics for playing various offensive and defensive schemes at all positions. The book features dozens of drills, illustrated by photos of Hope College students on the DeVos Fieldhouse court, as well as a self-scoring component that allows players to chart progress and accelerate improvement.

Courtesy of Human Kinetics
Courtesy of Human Kinetics

A project two years in the making, Schmidt wrote the book with club and high school volleyball players and their coaches in mind. She also wanted college students and instructors in volleyball activity classes to benefit from her book.

Schmidt vastly relates to each audience member to whom she writes, having stood in their same coaching, teaching, and playing shoes. As a former NCAA Division III All-American at Hope herself, and now, a professor of volleyball activity classes, a club coach of girls ages 12 to 18, an international coach of two U.S. teams to Italy and Australia, and, a 2014 national championship coach with over 350 wins in 15 years of head coaching at the Division III level, Schmidt knows from whence she writes.

“I wanted to break each step of the game down into fundamental pieces and I also wanted to make sure I communicated the importance of each of those pieces—and how they fit into the greater game,” Schmidt says of her writing process.  “When teaching volleyball class, for example, we learn and talk about fundamental skills first, but we still play a lot of volleyball games in class.  This book shows the lessons and importance of fundamental skills and techniques, alongside tactics, in context with the bigger game.”

“Leading her team to the NCAA Division III National Championship is testament to Coach Becky Schmidt’s acute knowledge of volleyball and approach to coaching,” endorses Sam Shweisky, head men’s volleyball coach at Princeton University. “In Volleyball: Steps to Success, she provides a game plan for improving skill level, mastering the fundamentals, and achieving success.  This book will make any volleyball player or coach better.”

Schmidt  is a 1999 graduate of Hope with a major in kinesiology. She subsequently completed a Master of Science degree in sports behavior and performance at Miami (OH) University 2003.

You can purchase Volleyball: Steps to Success at the college’s Hope-Geneva Bookstore. The Hope-Geneva Bookstore is located on the ground level of the DeWitt Center, 141 E. 12th St., Call 800.946.4673 or email