Calvin College (Visited 11/22/19)
Calvin is intensely and intentionally Christian in all they do. Two people called this one of the Christian “academic powerhouses” (compared specifically to Wheaton in Illinois, the other in the Midwest; Gordon and Messiah would also be similar type schools on the East Coast). Their 3 tenets are Think Deeply, Act Justly, Live Wholeheartedly; faith informs all they do. They’re affiliated with, and their beliefs stem from, the CRV church, “but at the end of the day, we want to open arms to people.” Their pastor is the first woman in the world to be ordained by the CRC.
What impressed me most was people’s willingness to help. They’re overwhelmingly friendly and go out of their way. Calvin organizes a great visit program, Fridays at Calvin, but part of the program involves choice – which panel, which class, or which tour to take. Sometimes this necessitates finding our way to places on our own. At several points during the day, students stopped to ask if we knew where we were going and offered directions or walked with us.
I was visiting with another counselor, so we did a bit of “Divide and Conquer.” I attended the parent panel (she went to the student one). At the panel, someone asked about faith-specific rules: “It’s an option. You’re not required to go to chapels which is special because the people there want to be there.” (The Friday chapel we attended right before the panel was a Song-Fest, typical for a Friday – and it’s usually standing room only). All students are required to take 2 religion classes. Faculty members sign a faith statement (students do not) and must be active in a local church. Every year, they have to create a statement of how it will be tied into their class. One student said, “I think it helps tie in aspects of life and faith to each other.” The professor added: “the point of Calvin is that everything is informed by your faith. We regularly talk about things. In my engineering classes, I’m doing a series where we talk about Christian virtues of honesty and humility. Those take intentional practice and are vital to being good engineers.”
This is a Liberal Arts college. One professor said, “We get to explore creation in all its facets. You’ll take classes in subjects you aren’t so familiar with. It’s a chance to cultivate curiosity. Faculty feed that. They love to teach and they love their faith. They’re happy to talk about what it means to be a Christian in X field.” Another professor on the panel said, “You have a chance to shape your professors with the questions you ask. We want you to think deeply, Act Justly, Live Wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal and justice in the world. We want you to know how your story matters to God. We’ll walk with you in the process, but that’s the goal during your time here. Ask questions about what you’re passionate about and do hard work in a personal learning environment.”
We asked the students on the panel how their faith has grown or been challenged?
- “I went to a Christian school k-12. I took a Christian theology class this term going through basic Reform views – that class taught me more about my faith than in 12 years of Christian school. I look at things differently and see why people believe it. I never thought the class would do anything like that. We’re challenged to see how things fit together.”
- “I’ve been getting involved in a local church. It helped me make my faith my own. It’s been cool to uproot and replant myself across the country and be intentional about that. Also time management – making devotions a priority hasn’t always been consistent.”
There are 50+ denominations represented among the 3700 students. Students come from 65 countries, and 17% self-identify as domestic students of color. One of the reps said that Calvin is unique in that the community as a whole doesn’t identify strongly politically. They’re about 50/50 among faculty AND students. “The world is full of people who don’t agree with you. The faculty facilitate ways to learn to have respectful dialogue. We challenge your beliefs and your faith.”
Calvin is deliberate in how they want students to Live Wholeheartedly: “We want you to be plugged in whether that’s through art, chapel, or other interests. During freshman orientation, students participate in StreetFest, a half day of service. They’re partnered with community groups to learn and get connected to the community. Campus is located about halfway between the airport and downtown (about 10 minutes to either); they can ride the city buses for 50 cents. The Beltline is a little hard to walk because there aren’t sidewalks, but doable. There are 2 malls and lots of stores within walking distance. Anyone can have a car on campus.
They help students find ways in which students can figure out the answer to, “How do your gifts and talents benefit the world?” “Caring for God’s creation is part of justice.” Sustainability is a big deal here. Through the Clean Water Institute, they’re working to clean up one of Michigan’s most polluted watersheds. The Food Recovery Network helps to eliminate waste and feed the hungry. They reclaim 1,000 pounds of unused food every month to take care of hungry people in the community. The Calvin Prison Initiative cares for those who are on the fringes. They’re taking courses into a local prison.
All freshmen and sophomores live on campus unless they’re living at home with parents. There are on-campus apartments for upperclassmen; finding an off-campus rental can be hard, but a lot of people rent from relatives or someone they know. 98% of first-year students live on campus. Dorms are all suite-style, and they intentionally try to place a pair of freshman with a pair of sophomores. “Living there is one of my favorite things about Calvin. Events like Dorm Worship on Wednesdays are great. We have events through the weekends. We had a karaoke night a couple weeks ago.” Students say that the campus tradition “bind alumni whether they graduated this year or 20 years ago.” One of the favorites is Chaos Night which is a dorm vs. dorm competition. Students dress up in theme costumes. There’s always 1 dorm that mysteriously wins. “We don’t know if they’re practicing in the middle of the night.”
Calvin offers all the usual opportunities such as research and internships (at least 85% of students will do at least 1). Faculty push students to the front of research projects. “They’ve already proven themselves in their fields, so if they can lift students up, they will. Students are often the lead researchers.” The college sponsors an award-winning Lecture Series in January with world-renowned experts; these are also open to the community.
I asked the panelists what their favorite class to take/teach had been?
- Interpersonal Communications: it built one-on-one relationships. It’s applicable to all aspects of life and the professor is engaging.
- My Kinesiology class. It was the first in the major. I discovered learning about muscles and how the body moves. It’s been really fun.
- “Tough question – it’s like choosing a favorite kid! If I had to choose, I’d say teaching Vibration Analysis to Seniors. There are lots of examples I can use, but it’s a sweet spot where the math and the other engineering classes come together and a ton of opportunities where students can say “OOOH, that’s why we learned that!”
A few academic programs worth noting include:
- Their World Languages program is one of the best I’ve seen at a college this size, including many less commonly taught languages such as Dutch, Korean, and Greek. They also offer Netherlandic Studies.
- Strong STEM including several engineering concentrations, Biotechnology, Astronomy, 3 Neuroscience tracks (bio, chem, and psych), and Scientific Computation & Modeling.
- They’re near the Miracle Mile comprised of several hospitals.
- Pre-med students can apply for the Early Assurance Program in conjunction with MSU; there’s also 1 spot open at UMich that guarantees an interview. This is one of very few Full Tuition scholarships. They’ll be considered after filling out the Sponsored Scholarships form (only available after admission) and must go through an intensive interview process at Calvin and Michigan.
Calvin offers a summer program called Entrada, open to high schoolers having just finished junior or senior years. They take one class in a month; if they earn a B- or better, they earn a $4,000 scholarship/year to Calvin and earn college credit (which can be transferred).