The Calvin Global Campus is charting new territory for the university. Calvin has long aimed to become a more diverse, international community. This initiative is intended to offer Calvin’s unique approach to life and learning to broad new audiences.
Kevin den Dulk has been in this spot before.
Not this exact spot, of course—as associate provost of the recently established Calvin Global Campus (CGC), he is charting new territory both personally and for the university. But the shape of the challenges and opportunities here has a familiar feel.
When den Dulk came to Calvin in 2011 as Spoelhof Teacher-Scholar-in-Residence, the political science department where he taught was struggling to thrive in the face of tight constraints on budgets, time, and people. There were plenty of good ideas worth exploring—but which ones would bear the most fruit, and where were the resources to carry them out? Many people in that situation might give up on all but the safest ideas; but den Dulk, who had been quickly recruited to chair the department, was energized by the resource constraints.
“I started to realize that where I became most energized was when there were ideas and thoughtful people—and modest resources,” den Dulk says with a smile. I’m talking to him in his new office in the Spoelhof University Center on campus, where he’s spent the last few weeks starting to shape a vision for the fledgling CGC. As it turns out, his creativity-under-pressure approach worked: Calvin’s political science department is flourishing; faculty and staff in the department were ready to double-down on what they had always done well and to explore new directions. “In some ways my work as chair was simply to help connect the dots—the people and ideas— that were already there,” says den Dulk. The Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics, where den Dulk has served as executive director since 2012, is now a prominent forum; its biennial symposium hosts leading thinkers from all areas of public life.
“I love figuring out how to get things done in the context of limited resources,” he says. “And I’m always on the lookout for new challenges.” Calvin provost Cheryl Brandsen attributes to den Dulk a “positive restlessness to get things done.” den Dulk jokes that he has trouble narrowing his focus; a look at his CV reveals a person who thrives on scholarship that draws from many different disciplines. Spend a few minutes listening to him talk excitedly about new opportunities for the CGC, and you’ll find his enthusiasm for the initiative contagious.
“I draw the most energy from three things: thoughtful people, good ideas, and limited resources,” he says with a smile. “And that’s exactly what the CGC is all about: bringing those three things together.”
What is the Calvin Global Campus?
The CGC is a new office charged with one big mission: to extend Calvin’s mission to new populations.
It’s driven by the conviction that Calvin’s approach to scholarship and public life has something to offer to people outside the existing community. “The Global Campus is about meeting new people with Calvin’s mission,” den Dulk explains. “We’re not doing this to make money. We’re not doing it just because we can. We’re reaching out to new audiences because we believe that Calvin’s approach to life and learning is something unique and valuable.”
What does that look like in practice? “Well,” den Dulk laughs, “that’s what I’m thinking about.” But to get a sense for den Dulk’s vision, consider the first major CGC initiative: a massive expansion of Calvin’s online learning opportunities.
The Calvin education goes online
In the next five years, Calvin will launch nine new online graduate degree programs.
Calvin has offered limited undergraduate courses online in the past, but this is something different. “It’s a massive difference in scale than anything we’ve done before,” den Dulk says.
The first of these programs, an online master’s in education program, will launch in fall 2020, with eight more programs following shortly after.
“I draw the most energy from three things: thoughtful people, good ideas, and limited resources. And that’s exactly what the Calvin Global Campus is all about: bringing those three things together.” Kevin Den Dulk
Calvin has long aimed to become a more diverse, international community, den Dulk says. But the burden has often been on international students to come to Calvin’s physical space, something that’s particularly challenging for many people today. “Particularly since the 1990s, Calvin programs like Entrada and international outreach efforts have really transformed the campus,” den Dulk explains. “The CGC pushes that even further. We’re expanding the reach of our mission to places we simply couldn’t go in the past.
“Imagine providing theological education in sub-Saharan Africa, helping Christian educators in Indonesia. Now, if people can’t come to us physically, we can go to them virtually.”
If Calvin lacked the resources and capacity for full-fledged online programs in the past, how will they be realized now?
The answer lies in both Calvin’s own people and in a partnership with Wiley Education Services, an organization with much experience managing online education for colleges and universities. Wiley brings experience in the logistics and marketing of online education; Calvin provides the education and key people with insight into how online education fits with Calvin’s mission.
While the first online graduate program won’t launch until later this year, students can get their first taste of the new online education system during Calvin’s summer term. More than 20 of the courses offered during summer term are online.
New audiences, new opportunities
Online education is the first CGC initiative out the door, and it’s a big one. But the Global Campus is about more than that. While online programs are necessary to extend Calvin’s reach, they’re not unique to Calvin. den Dulk’s real work lies in identifying specific audiences who would be especially well served by a Calvin education and then crafting programs online, offline, and hybrid—that are accessible to them.
“When we think about online education, we think about education across the globe. But there are many unreached audiences much more locally,” den Dulk explains. “For example, what would it look like to engage working adults right here in west Michigan? Think about somebody working at a local business or nonprofit. They’re very busy, but they know they’d benefit from gaining skills—maybe something like data analytics or design—so they can do their work more effectively and imaginatively.” Calvin could bundle together a set of workshops and courses specifically to meet those people where they are.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. den Dulk’s work with the Calvin Prison Initiative opened his eyes to possibility in that space as well. “We already work extensively with prisoners in Michigan correctional institutions. But what would it mean to expand our work to include correctional officers and prison staff, too? Like everyone else, they’re looking for ways to learn new skills and be better at their jobs.”
Den Dulk’s eyes light up as he talks. “Think about what it could mean to teach courses on restorative justice or intercultural communication or trauma-focused social work to that community,” he muses. “It could be transformative.”
“The global campus is about identifying the places where Calvin's approach can make the biggest difference.”
Once you start imagining new niche audiences, such as Michigan correctional officers, it’s hard to stop. For example, what about a program crafted to reach church or nonprofit administrators? High school students with a knack for world languages? Programs for those groups wouldn’t necessarily always be online, but online technology will go a long way toward improving access to them.
It all comes back to that familiar challenge— many opportunities, limited resources. For den Dulk, that means focusing on programs that expand on what Calvin is already doing— like widening the scope of the Calvin Prison Initiative or growing graduate programs out of already solid undergraduate programs— rather than inventing new programs. It means carefully studying trends to identify the audiences that aren’t being well served by existing programs and finding populations that are being overlooked entirely.
“Calvin has so much to offer,” den Dulk says. “The CGC is about identifying the places where Calvin’s approach can make the biggest difference and then reaching out to those people and places with programs that have been carefully crafted with their needs in mind.”