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5 ways to make the most of your Calvin English degree

It can be overwhelming to know which opportunities to take when you’re an ambitious English major. As an English secondary education grad, Alex Johnson believes that the best place to start is a conversation with your professor.


  •   Author: Michal Rubingh
  •   Published: October 2, 2019
  •   Author: Michal Rubingh
  •   Published: October 2, 2019

Alex Johnson is now a teacher at River City Scholars Charter Academy. Learn what steps she took to utilize all that Calvin had to offer her—and how you can take those steps, too.

1. Sit down with your professors. 

I started to get to know professors in the English department through formal meetings (in classes and office hours) and informal meetings (in department social hours and drop-by visits). 

My professors were invested in my academic growth—but they also poured into me as a whole person.

They pushed me to interview Jeff Zentner, an author who spoke at the Festival of Faith & Writing. They encouraged me to go on two different January interims—Florence, Italy, to study Dante’s Divine Comedy and Massachusetts to study pivotal New England-based writers like Emily Dickinson and Henry Thoreau. They came alongside me when I suffered a deep personal loss, and they celebrated when new opportunities came my way.

2. Find an on-campus job. 

A conversation with a professor also connected me with Calvin’s writing center, the Rhetoric Center. As a consultant at the Rhetoric Center, I learned how to guide students towards more effective writing. My job even gave me the idea for my honors thesis on how Calvin first-year students view writing as they transition from high school to college.

3. Use your voice. 

I had always been hesitant to share my writing because I wasn’t sure if I had anything to say. That all changed when I went on the “New England Saints” interim trip and started to find my voice.

On the trip, I was surrounded by fellow writers, ranging from the authors we were studying to my classmates to Professors Gary Schmidt and Don Hettinga. Each showed their passion for writing in different ways. I began to see writing as something that all people could do, not just people who wanted to dedicate their lives to writing, and decided to give it a shot.

After sharing some short essays, I was encouraged by my community. One of my professors invited me to be a guest writer for her on an online journal called The Twelve. And I built the confidence to submit to Dialogue, Calvin’s literary magazine. Now I write regularly for the post calvin, an alumni blog. I’m able to show my students that writing is a form of expression for everyone, not just the author or the poet.

4. Implement your learning.  

I did my student teaching at Grand Rapids Christian Middle School, where I put into practice the theory I had learned in my education and English classes. I learned how to think on my feet and be a responsible teacher, and I gained wise teaching mentors who continue to generously guide me and refine my ideas. That placement prepared me for the work I’m about to do as a teacher at River City Scholars Charter Academy.

5. Recognize the community around you.

What I’m really thankful for is how the English department invested in me as a student. My professors knew me, and my classes taught me to think critically. Now that I’m exiting college, I’m confident that I’ll be able to handle whatever the world throws at me due to the supportive community, sense of purpose, and practical skills I gained at Calvin.

  •   Author: Michal Rubingh
  •   Published: October 2, 2019

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