Roland Hoksbergen’s first go-round as a student at Calvin College didn’t follow the linear path that most students take today. After two years piecing together an interdisciplinary anthropology major, he took time off . He took a van up the west coast for a year, then went to Guatemala for a year with an earthquake relief team. “I saw the world. I saw poverty, and I wondered about it. I wondered what we could do about it,” Hoksbergen said. It was in Guatemala that he discovered his passion for economic development — and he met the woman who would become his wife.
He returned to Calvin to finish his degree, continuing on to the University of Notre Dame to earn a PhD in economics with a specific focus in international development.
In 1983, Hoksbergen joined Calvin’s economics department. Never one to settle, he took a leave from Calvin to move to Costa Rica from ’86 to ’89, part of his role as founding director of the Latin American Studies Program of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.
His travel through Central America in the 80s invigorated Hoksbergen’s passion for economic and developmental justice. When he returned to Calvin, he joined and developed several off-campus programs — an interim to Central America, a spring break in Nicaragua and semesters in Honduras and Ghana. On campus, he was a founding professor of the International Development Studies (IDS) program.
Hoksbergen is author of two books: When Helping Heals (2017), in collaboration with fellow IDS professor Tracy Kuperus, is a response to a wave of books about development work that provided few messages of hope. His most recent solo title is Serving God Globally: Finding Your Place in International Development (2012), a handbook on the field of development and practical ways for young people to get involved.
In 2006, a group of students came to Hoksbergen with the vision of a conference about faith-based development work. Hoksbergen initially had reservations about the project’s viability, but agreed to be their faculty mentor. The project turned into the annual Faith and International Development Conference (FIDC), which has doubled in size over 10 years.
Projects like the FIDC will be the hardest part of leaving Calvin, said Hoksbergen. These and the everyday opportunities to engage in deep, meaningful conversations are what he values about his role as a professor. “The highlight of teaching in a college is just the interaction with students who care and who are interested,” Hoksbergen said. “If you can work with students like that — people like that — and you can talk about things that matter, you know it’s a great job.”
Students appreciate Professor Hoksbergen’s courses for his big heart, his willingness to discuss complex issues and his wisdom in the field of development. Be it in Honduras or Grand Rapids, students speak fondly of Hoksbergen, who is something of a household name in the Christian development community. His students know him as someone available to talk about virtually anything, and a willing conversation partner for students practicing Spanish or French.
His favorite courses to teach are the senior seminars in international development studies and in economics, because they provide a robust opportunity to hear from students and engage all the four years of work they’ve put in at Calvin with their faith.
While his extensive time in Central America allowed him to become fluent in Spanish, he’s turned to learning French in recent years. He’s had various student tutors over the years and has taken courses in Calvin’s French department to improve his skills — skills that come in handy during fishing trips to northern Ontario and Quebec.
After retirement, there will be more trips to Canada and to Central America for Hoksbergen. He looks forward to spending time with his two local children and two grandchildren, as well as his wife’s family in Guatemala while working on projects with the Association for a More Just Society in Honduras. For his time in Grand Rapids, he’ll fill his days battling the tough earth of his garden, lurking on the water for early morning fish, and expanding on the work initiated in When Helping Heals.