When Cheryl Feenstra was in sixth grade, she discovered the then-popular Cherry Ames book series by Helen Wells about a mystery-solving student nurse. This launched her into a deep passion for the vocation of nursing. “I fell in love with whatever it was that [Cherry Ames] did,” Feenstra recalled. “She did all these different kinds of nursing, and I decided when I was 12 that I was going to be a nurse.”
Thus, Feenstra earned her bachelor’s in nursing from the University of Michigan in 1972, her master’s at Wayne State University in 1979, and her PhD in family ecology at Michigan State University in 1996. She worked as a staff nurse at Ottawa County Health Department, L.W. Blake Memorial Hospital and Butterworth Hospital, but she has spent most of her career teaching at St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing, Grand Valley State University, Mercy College of Detroit, University of Michigan and Calvin.
Feenstra began her teaching at Calvin in 1989 in the joint nursing program with Hope College, which split in 2002. She has served as a chairperson for the nursing department from 2000-2004 and 2010-2016. In addition to being a faculty member, instructor and chairperson in the nursing field, she has engaged in many research opportunities pertaining to menstrual changes, postpartum emotional support, parenting with young mothers and others.
With her many positions and experiences in nursing, Feenstra said her pursuits derive from two main passions: mother-baby nursing, and global health.
With mother-baby nursing, she is particularly interested in the pregnancy and delivery process, how to care for babies, and parent-infant communication, as she believes “newborn babies are the best things on earth.”
As for her global health passion, she has taught the Global Health course at Calvin and has taken more than 75 students to the Philippines, Dominican Republic, India and Ethiopia on interim trips. She also spent a semester abroad in Hungary with 19 students as the director there. “I love watching students’ eyes get really big as their worldview changes,” she said, in regards to teaching students abroad.
Feenstra’s favorite part of being an educator has been “watching [students] learn, helping them learn [and] watching the connections happen in their brains.” It was rewarding for her to watch students catch an idea or hear something new, and ponder it for a while.
Regarding her retirement, she already knows she will miss Calvin greatly. “[When] you get up every morning and you go to the same place for 27 years, you might miss it!” she laughed. However, Feenstra looks forward to joining a choir and book club, continuing her hobbies of gardening, sewing and walking, and spending time with her three daughters and seven grandchildren.