Claire Vande Polder ’85 took a career possibilities test in her final year at Calvin, and it told her she should look for a job with adventure.
And it was absolutely right. As a nonfiction television producer, Vande Polder has explored the world, from the waters of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to inside the pyramids in Egypt and to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. For her latest project, she embarked on a quest of a different sort—to understand happy marriages.
Her Calvin experience was formative to who she became. “Calvin was where lightbulbs started to turn on,” said Vande Polder. She majored in English and discovered a lifelong passion for journalism and storytelling.
“Working on Chimes changed the trajectory of my life. I found people with similar interests. It gave me experience and a sense of community I hadn’t had before,” she said.
After a master’s in literature at King’s College, University of London, Vande Polder and a friend from Calvin moved to Washington, D.C. She found an administrative job at National Geographic Television and worked her way into producing, directing, and writing.
“The work was hard. I missed holidays and important events because I was on the road. But I loved what I was doing. I was constantly learning, and that was the great motivator,” she said.
After 12 years with National Geographic Television, she worked for the Discovery Networks and is now an independent writer, executive producer, and development executive working with clients like Smithsonian Channel, Investigation Discovery, and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios.
Most recently, Vande Polder’s natural curiosity led to writing about another kind of adventure: marriage. In her new book, Making Marriage Happy: Hard-Won Wisdom from Real Couples, she interviewed 26 happy couples who had been married for a collective 1,000 years. “The book offers a collection of wisdom, advice, stories, and confessions from happy couples, told in their own words,” she said.
“I know from my own marriage that every relationship is unique. I wanted to discover what happily married couples do in day-to-day life, and what these couples had in common.” The book goes in depth on how couples fight, handle money, have conversations, navigate hard times, and more.
“There are a lot of funny stories in the book, and some are poignant and heartbreaking—just like marriage,” she said. “I learned a lot, but it’s most gratifying to hear from readers who’ve learned something from the book, too.”
Meanwhile, Vande Polder continues her work in television and is currently finishing a three-hour series called “Age of Humans” for Smithsonian Channel. The series focuses on the environmental impact humanity has had on earth, sea, and sky. She’s also in development on both a reality/competition series and a true crime series, and she’s consulting and writing for a podcast as well.
“In my work, it’s good to keep a lot of irons in the fire,” she said. “No project is ever a sure thing, so you learn to multitask, pivot if an idea doesn’t fly, and then move on. Once you learn that rejection is a natural part of the process, the variety is definitely part of the fun.”