October 24, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

“I’ve grown up being outdoors, would go on monthlong camping trips visiting many of the national parks in the United States, and back home I volunteered at animal rescues.”

Entering her senior year at Charlevoix High School, Ellen Dhaseleer knew what she was passionate about: environmental health and conservation. “I’ve been steeped in the outdoors, not really a decision, that’s what I knew I wanted to do.”

Finding her place

What Dhaseleer needed to find out is where was the best place for her to be equipped to pursue that dream. After visiting multiple schools across the state of Michigan, she found her place.

“The main things that drew me to Calvin were the professors and a lot of people outside of Calvin that said lots of good things about Calvin,” said Dhaseleer. “I wanted to be like these people and be surrounded by them.”

Of equal importance to her was making connections and finding community. Being a member of the inaugural Sustainability Fellows cohort was a natural on ramp for her.

Connections and opportunities

“I think this cohort is a way to form a community and go into Calvin with a community, with people who are like-minded in sustainability, and you form connections with that,” said Dhaseleer.

Tom Hartzell is the director of the Sustainability Fellows cohort. He says that the cohort’s goal is two-fold: to help students connect into a learning community as they enter a new place, and then to receive focused academic and vocational development in doing sustainability work that will allow the students to have a bigger impact in the sustainability work that is happening on campus.

“I started thinking of it as the parable of the yeast,” said Hartzell, “and how these members of the cohort will be like the yeast to sustainability efforts at Calvin and add this capacity and allow for even greater work to happen because of the specialized training and experiences that these students will be having.”

As part of the cohort, students take some of their core classes together, are connected with other sustainability groups on campus, plan an annual sustainability conference, and will take a spring break trip to see how sustainability is done in many different scales and models.

“All these pieces added together will help students become real drivers of sustainability change,” said Hartzell.

Valuing diverse perspectives

For Dhaseleer, she’s already seeing the benefits of being part of this cohort. “I think it’s really valuable to be surrounded by people who are passionate and motivated about the same things as you are and there’s so many good ideas that can be thrown around.”

While she appreciates the group being like-minded, she also values the diversity of perspectives represented.

“Everyone comes at sustainability for different reasons or has different perspectives and that’s valuable,” said Dhaseleer. “This cohort brings all those together and merges them and builds something off of that.”

Deepening a long-held commitment

While this is the inaugural year of this cohort, Hartzell is excited about its possibilities given the university’s long-held commitment to caring for creation.

“Calvin’s part of this legacy of really intentional creation care or Christian-motivated sustainability,” said Hartzell. “In the late 70s, a group was convened through Calvin’s Center for Christian Scholarship and the outcome was a book called Earthkeeping, which is one of the first texts arguing for Christian stewardship of the Earth.”

Over the past 40-plus years, Calvin has deepened this commitment in myriad ways.

“Having this cohort at Calvin is yet another way that we are continuing to build on that really good foundation, continuing to expand our commitment to caring for creation,” said Hartzell.

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