June 06, 2013 | Laurie Lemmen

History professor Bruce Berglund is the new director of Calvin's Honors Program.

In 1993, the year classics professor Ken Bratt took on the job of mentoring the Honors Program at Calvin, two students graduated with honors. This year, as Bratt retires, 51 students graduated with honors, 176 seniors were on the Dean’s List every semester they’ve been at Calvin, and faculty from a whole range of disciplines assisted students in 330 honors projects.

Putting students at the center

Calvin’s Honors Program is significantly different from most higher education honors programs, which feature a small cohort of liberal arts students taking the same few classes. Rather than follow that kind of highly prescribed, highly selective model, Calvin’s program is student-centered, allowing honors students to delve deeper into subjects that interest them. Calvin offers a wide variety of honors courses—from the humanities to the sciences—and students select six that spark their interest the most. “The honor is not the point,” Bratt said in a 2006 article. “The point is deepening your work in the discipline and strengthening your relationships with professors and peers.”

As English professor and former Honors Program associate director Jennifer Holberg explained, “The way Ken designed Calvin’s Honors Program ensures that the program is about deepening student learning rather than hoop jumping. The Honors Program is not meant to be more work, but deeper learning. If you have strong academic gifts, we want to invest in your academic achievement. We want you to join professors as colleagues, not just passive receivers.”

Honors projects provide students with the opportunity to research alongside a faculty member. Project topics in the past year included asteroid collisions, late Cretaceous Paleoecology and international adoptions.

Other unique innovations in the program include an honors living-learning community, taking up one floor of van Reken Hall; clustered core honors classes (for which students take two paired core courses simultaneously, such as psychology and biology of the brain); the Honors Fellows Program (a scholarship through Calvin’s admissions department); an honors semester in Oxford; and a city-wide honors conference for students.

“Ken has given so much to the institution, but he does so very quietly,” said Holberg. “He steps up all the time, taking on tough projects and unglamorous assignments for the betterment of the college.” She furthered, “It may sound cliché, but he has a true servant’s heart.”

Passing the torch

History professor Bruce Berglund will be taking the reins of the Honors Program, and he plans no major program revisions. While attending a National Collegiate Honors Council conference with Bratt, Berglund explained, “Other honors program directors kept approaching me to say they had come to Calvin to see what Ken had done when structuring their programs. I would attend a conference session, and every suggestion the speaker made we had already implemented at Calvin. I concluded that ours is a model program.”

Berglund said that given the size of the program, students have asked for help in building a tighter-knit community. This past academic year, the program added more social activities, including a movie night at Celebration Cinema and a trivia and chocolate fondue event. And, he plans to continue to implement more ways of bringing students together.

With experience teaching a clustered core honors course, Berglund is well acquainted with the quality of Calvin’s honors students. “It was through teaching the core course ‘History of the West and the World’ alongside Henry Luttikhuizen’s art history class that I became excited about the innovative work the Honors Program is doing. I enjoyed seeing mini-communities formed among first-year students taking these two core classes side-by-side.”

Berglund and Luttikhuizen enrich their classes by venturing to Chicago for a day. “Watching students run around the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute excitedly pointing out the elements of Greek capitals and snapping photos with a sculpture of King Tut is priceless,” Berglund said. “These students demonstrate a deep love of learning.”

Creating opportunities

Berglund has been Calvin’s Fulbright faculty adviser for nearly a decade, and he sees that role as a good fit with the Honors Program. A two-time winner of Fulbright awards himself, Berglund established a committee of faculty to review and hone student Fulbright proposals, helping students create competitive applications. Last year, three Calvin students were awarded Fulbrights. Many of Calvin’s Fulbright applicants have come from the honors student population.

“Through the Honors Program,” said Berglund, “students who are passionate about learning get the opportunity to envision the opportunities that exist for them through higher education. It is great fun to work with these students and help them to reach their full academic potential.”

Ken Bratt

Bruce Berglund

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