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Christian Practices in Team Science

Successful Community, Successful Team

Photo from Rachael Baker

It’s simple: faith changes people in the way that they act, think, and live. This is important even (and maybe especially) for Christians in the thick of scholarly pursuits such as science. The conversation surrounding faith and science doesn’t have to be divisive. In fact, Calvin University biochemistry professor Rachael Baker has found that faith is a tool that can make a better scientist.

After attending Calvin as an undergraduate studying science, Professor Baker recalled having good conversations with her professors about the relationship of faith and science but still feeling unprepared for the secular environment that she encountered at graduate school. When she came back to Calvin to teach, she focused on how to prepare students to be faithful scientists.

One place where this is particularly important is in Team Science. Team science is an effort to learn, teach, and research in an interdisciplinary and collaborative way in order to solve complex and pressing societal problems. “Scientists aren’t always trained to work together, but they need to be,” said Baker. Christian practices that flow from living and worshipping in a community together can be used in team science to promote productivity and flourishing, which is joyfully clear from the Practices for Success in Team Science summer course. This project was supported by the Calvin Center for Christian Scholarship, the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning, and the de Vries Institute for Global Faculty Development.

Along with professors Amy Wilstermann and Julie Yonker, Professor Baker developed the eight-week curriculum to guide students through applying Christian practices to collaborative research. The students need their research mentor to approve their participation, and the mentors themselves prepare through a faculty workshop.

The first week develops an understanding of Team Science. The next seven weeks explore faith practices: Commitment, Hospitality and Silence, Study and Humility, Stewardship and Rest, Sharing Life and Self Reflection, Reflection and Gratitude and, finally, Rule of Life. These practices benefit scientists’ ability to function as a team and work to build a thriving community. “A successful community increases the likelihood of having a successful team,” said Professor Baker.

Although the increased productivity and improved research over the lab course is promising, “it’s exciting but contained,” according to Baker. The summer program was for STEM students with faculty research mentors, but this approach holds great promise for greater application in the classroom. Building a good community and motivating students are “transformative in the classroom.” Students gain tangible experience of Christian practices and teachers participate in and guide a flourishing and productive community – exhibiting just how much faith changes the way we act, think and live.


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