August 22, 2008 | Lynn Rosendale

The newly finished van Reken Hall is dedicated to creating living-learning communities.

van Reken Hall from Calvin College on Vimeo.

The residential part of college life is essential to the whole college experience, according to Shirley Hoogstra, vice president for student life. It’s also the main reason for increased demand for on-campus living opportunities.

It used to be a luxury for Grand Rapids students to live on campus and a necessity for out-of-town students,” said Hoogstra, “but ever since the mid-’80s, most students have wanted to be part of the residential nature of the learning experience.”

Over capacity

For the last several years, residence halls and other on-campus living options have filled to beyond capacity, which prompted the need for additional housing on campus.

Completed this fall was the new wing of Kalsbeek-Huizenga, named van Reken Hall, after the van Reken family, who were primary donors to the project. True to Calvin’s unique tradition of naming residence halls after heroes of the Christian Reformed Church, the hall’s name reflects the heart and work of the entire van Reken family, which has a legacy of involvement with mission work.

Scholarship founders

Stanley and Harriet van Reken are the founders of the Christian Missionary Scholarship Foundation, which annually grants college scholarships to as many as 100 children of missionary families.

The Lord blessed me and enabled me to earn far more money than I needed,” said Stanley van Reken. Missionary kids are special and can use [their education] to change the world we live in, so I started the Christian Missionary Scholarship Foundation.”

Lacking finances

The van Rekens recognized the need for financial assistance when family members returned from staffing a missionary hospital in Liberia with no way of financing the education of their two college-bound daughters.

Over the years the van Rekens became increasingly vested in mission work because of so many family members involved in this witness.

Legacy of missions

Van Reken’s brother Everett and his wife, Rozena, served as missionaries in China, succeeding Lee and Mathilda Huizenga, for whom one of the other wings of the residence hall is named.

Stanley’s brother Don also served as missionary for several years as did Harriet’s sister Louise Holler. The van Reken missionary legacy continues with several other nieces and nephews as well.

Specialty wings

The new housing wing provides an opportunity for a unique living-learning experience. Students who choose to live here take a step of engagement in their own learning by focusing more intentionally on an area of interest while living on campus.

The areas of interest established for 2008-2009 are creation care, which provides the opportunity for students to learn about and promote environmental responsibility and Christian stewardship; honors studies, a place for highly motivated students to build friendships with peers and strive for deeper learning; and grassroots, a place where students live and learn together around issues of culture and race.

Forming communities

With the purpose of the new space defined as learning-living environments, Calvin designed the addition around fresh thinking about how groups form communities.

We’re testing out our ideas in this building,” Hoogstra said. “The main characteristic is that every floor is equipped with a welcoming, central gathering space, which, we hope, will facilitate a feeling of community. We’ve also made the floors shorter, so it’s more feasible to know others and be known on your floor.

“What we are really working towards in the whole college-living experience is for students to invest and engage wherever they are,” she continued. “That is a true living-learning experience.”

See pictures of the new dorm wing and read more about its three dedicated community floors.

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