February 11, 2020 | Matt Kucinski

A college student in nursing scrubs hugs a local resident who is receiving a certificate.
Students and faculty celebrate with graduates of Women Supporting Women—a program designed to meet the expressed mental health needs in three Grand Rapids neighborhoods.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching announced its list of colleges and universities that are receiving the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement in 2020. Calvin University is one of 359 campuses across the country to receive this important designation.  

To receive the classification, each institution voluntarily submits an application that provides compelling evidence of community engagement through meaningful collaboration with local, regional, national, and global communities.

Mission driven

“We do community engagement because it is essential for the fulfillment of our mission to equip students to think deeply, to act justly, and to live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world,” said Gail Heffner, director of community engagement for Calvin University. “Community engagement is a rich opportunity to learn with the community, through the community, and from the community, not merely in the community.”

This commitment is shared with students from the onset of their Calvin career. All first-year students participate in StreetFest, a one-day service-learning opportunity in the city of Grand Rapids, on their first full-day at Calvin. And residence hall community partnerships help cultivate first-year students’ understanding of the value of learning with and from organizations in Grand Rapids who are already doing important work.

University-wide commitment

And community engagement isn’t just reserved for students, it’s modeled as an institutional core value.

“Community engagement is embedded in our institution’s core identity, strategic direction, and practices,” wrote Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin University, in his letter that was included as part of the institution’s application to the Carnegie Foundation.

Some of the longstanding ways Calvin has partnered with local communities is through the community nursing curriculum, Plaster Creek Stewards, and Project Neighborhood. The Umm El-Jimal project in Jordan is an example of one of Calvin’s longstanding global partnerships.

Seeking renewal together

A few of the more recent initiatives Calvin has engaged in are the Calvin Prison Initiative—a partnership with the Michigan Department of Corrections and Calvin Theological Seminary, H.E.A.L.T.H. Camp—a partnership with local residents and neighborhoods in Grand Rapids, and the interfaith program—a partnership with local places of worship and the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at GVSU. Ongoing research projects through the universities’ McGregor Fellows Program and its Paul B. Henry Institute’s Civitas Lab are also ways the university engages with complex issues in surrounding neighborhoods and around the world.

“Community engagement occurs throughout the life of the university in many ways,” said Andrew Haggerty, associate director of the service-learning center at Calvin University. “Faculty engage the community through both their teaching and scholarship, staff engage through mentoring students and coordinating programs, and students engage through their participation, leadership, and creation of student organizations, service-learning programs, and research opportunities that partner with our communities, locally and globally. And all of this work is done for mutual benefit and development.”

And Heffner and Haggerty say this commitment will only broaden and deepen as the university leans further into Vision 2030, which states that “Calvin University will be a trusted partner for learning across religious and cultural differences” and will “[seek] understanding and [promote] the welfare of the city and the healing of the world.”

Recent stories