June 16, 2021 | Shelly DeJong

Photo of Calvin student Alex Raycroft

All it took was one wrong turn to completely change the course of Alex Raycroft’s life.

“One day, I took a wrong turn off the Beltline and ended up on Calvin’s campus. That’s how I found Calvin,” said Raycroft. “I read the sign, ‘My Heart I Offer to You Lord, Promptly and Sincerely,’ and knew that this is where I wanted to be next.”

Raycroft, a recent Calvin graduate, was working at a nearby summer camp when she stumbled on Calvin’s campus. Having attended Indiana University for a year, she was eager to find a smaller school where she could have relationships with her professors and conversations in classes. Raycroft transferred to Calvin halfway through her sophomore year. For a core requirement, she took an intro to philosophy course, and quickly realized that she had found her fit.

“I realized I was thinking about my philosophy course in all of my other classes,” said Raycroft with a laugh. “I had to switch my major to philosophy. It just pulled me in. I loved it.”

Raycroft double majored in philosophy and political science with a minor in social work. This fall, she will begin a fully-funded doctoral program in philosophy at Georgetown University—with the additional support of a Lilly Fellowship.

The Lilly Graduate Fellows Program is part of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts that supports outstanding students who want to explore the connections among Christianity, higher education, and the vocation of the teacher-scholar as they pursue graduate degrees in humanities and the arts.

Raycroft was selected to be one of the ten Lilly Graduate Fellows out of a pool of 60 nominated applicants. The Fellows will meet for three days in person at an Inaugural Conference in Holland, Michigan, with their mentors, professors Martha Eads of Eastern Mennonite University and Charles Strauss of Mount St. Mary’s University. The Fellows will then embark on a long-distance colloquium, engage in one-on-one mentoring relationships, and participate in three additional conferences.

“Receiving the Lilly Fellowship is a valuable affirmation of Alex’s gifts and abilities. Getting into top-rated PhD programs with full funding, and then getting the Lilly Fellowship besides has to be a great confidence-boost, and a well-deserved honor,” said philosophy professor Rebecca DeYoung. “She has accomplished a lot already and has a very promising future. I like to picture the whole world applauding her right now!”

Philosophy Department Makes Big Impact

Raycroft will be pursuing her PhD in hopes of becoming a philosophy professor herself.

“The Calvin philosophy professors have had such a huge impact on my life, my faith, and me as a person and a student. I would love to be that for other students someday,” said Raycroft.

“As faculty, we’ve walked with Alex for years, both in the classroom and advising meetings, to help her think about her passions, her goals, and visions for her future,” said philosophy professor Kevin Timpe, “One of the best parts of teaching at Calvin is having the opportunity to work closely with our students in this way and then to see them go forth from here and flourish, as we’re sure that Alex will do.”

From her very first philosophy course, Raycroft felt the impact of Calvin’s philosophy department in her life—both because of its mission and the people involved.

“The heart of Calvin’s philosophy department is to have every student think about the way that they are living life. That’s what it has done for me and that’s why I want to keep teaching it. It is such a valuable tool for the way that people live, for the way that they talk to people they disagree with, the way that they eat, the way they engage with their faith. It’s so important and so significant,” said Raycroft. “This department has shaped me as a person. I have character that I didn’t have before coming to Calvin.”

“Alex is a joyful, humble, and grateful person—much beloved by her professors and fellow students,” said DeYoung. “I know she will be an amazing teacher someday.”

The Importance of Faith Dialogue

Raycroft found her faith strengthening in part because of the community she found within the department, as well. After spending time in church communities where big questions were not always welcome, she discovered a community that was asking similar questions and doing serious scholarship.

“It was such a great place to be in dialogue, to really stretch the way that I thought,” said Raycroft. “Honestly, if I didn’t have the department as a place to be wrestling with God and with these questions, I don’t know where my faith would be.”

As she looks towards her future, she is thankful to be entering into the Lilly Fellowship community to continue those discussions. 

“I’m so excited to have the Lilly Fellowship as a similar thing where people are seriously considering how their faith will influence their scholarship, and what it means to be a teacher who is seriously committed to their Christian faith. It’s really exciting to have a similar community in that.”

When asked if she had any further thoughts to share, Raycroft quickly added, “I am so grateful for my professors and the philosophy department. I could not stop being grateful ever.”

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