January 23, 2013 | Matt Kucinski

Student-run conference offers opportunities for students interested in international development.

In 2009, Elizabeth Ross, then a senior international development major, attended the Faith and International Development Conference (FIDC). With graduation just a few months away, Ross was unsure of what she would do with her degree.

After talking to a representative from Educational Concerns For Hunger Organization (ECHO), a non-profit organization whose vision is ‘Honoring God through Sustainable Hunger Solutions,’ Ross saw things more clearly.

“I said, ‘AHA,’ that’s what I want to do with my degree. I want to go into agricultural development,” she said.

Today, Ross is working for World Hunger Relief in Waco, Texas.

“If I hadn’t gone to that conference and I hadn’t seen ECHO’s presentation, I’m not sure if I would have made those connections so quickly,” she said.

Putting it all together

This year, FIDC organizers expect to welcome 300 students from across the United States and Canada to Calvin’s campus for the eighth installment of the student-run conference.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Derek Buursma, a senior international development studies and education double major. “It’s really a full-time job,” added Lauren Walker, a senior psychology major with minors in international development studies and Spanish.

As co-organizers of this year's event, both Buursma and Walker are devoting countless hours toward finishing up details for the conference. They are also relying on help from a number of student volunteers. Buursma says the fact that Calvin students are able to host a conference of this size and breadth is something the entire Calvin student body can rally behind.

"When you attend the conference you are thankful for all the different parts, but you don't know how it all comes together," said Buursma. "Being in this position, makes one appreciate it."

Buursma and Walker chose “From here to Shalom: Participating in God’s Plan for Universal Flourishing,” as the theme for this year’s conference.

“It’s an acceptance of where we are as a community of believers and development workers,” said Walker, “but it’s also about finding our place in the Kingdom of God and what he’d have for us to do.”

The two chose a lineup of inspirational plenary speakers, who will provide economic, social justice and public health perspectives on international development. Each of the 25 sponsoring organizations will also hold breakout sessions and have display tables where attendees can learn more about each organization and about future career opportunities.

Roland Hoksbergen, a professor of international development studies at Calvin, is a major supporter of the event, annually serving as an advisor to the student organizers. This past fall, while teaching in Ghana, he fondly remembers talking with Buursma and Walker through skype, answering questions, lending advice.

Red light, green light

But, he wasn’t always sold on the idea of Calvin students taking on this conference. He said that when students seven years ago came to him with the idea of putting on a conference of this magnitude, he had significant doubts.

“I told them, ‘This is a huge undertaking, and I don’t think you really understand how much of a commitment this is,’” recalled Hoksbergen.

But, now seven years later, Hoksbergen is impressed with how students are able to pull this off.

“What has really been joyful for me is to watch them rise to the level of professionalism and mature behavior that goes along with managing something of this size and character and doing it with a sense of purpose and mission,” said Hoksbergen.

Making adjustments

Organizers are making worship a bigger component of this year’s conference and they have asked organizations to think of ways to demonstrate the work they are doing rather than just talking about it. Participating organizations will be doing more role playing, mock meetings and will be offering a time for attendees to write letters to Congress. And this year, Buursma and Walker have organized a panel of recent college grads to talk about their journey thus far in international development. One of those panelists is Elizabeth Ross.

“Part of what we learn in development is that you have to have a strong knowledge of what you are doing and do things without hurting other people,” said Ross. “By expanding your knowledge through information from those organizations that are doing successful development work, you are equipping yourself to do good international development.”

“It’s an incredible journey. You have to start somewhere and this is a great place to start,” said Ross.

The Faith and International Development Conference runs Thursday, January 31, through Saturday, February 2. The cost for students is $50 and includes all meals and lodging on-campus ($20 for Calvin students with a meal plan). For more information, visit http://www.calvin.edu/academic/ids/conference

Elizabeth Ross

Lauren Walker

Derek Buursma

Derek, Roland, Lauren planning

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