Calvin grads renewing our city

5 Calvin grads were honored by The Grand Rapids Business Journal's "40 Under 40" list this year.

If you live in Michigan, you know that Grand Rapids is the place to be these days. Almost every part of Calvin’s home city is growing—the arts, business and health care. Calvin graduates are at the very center of this renewal, working to make Grand Rapids and West Michigan an amazing place for people of all backgrounds to live.

Every year, the Grand Rapids Business Journal honors those who are renewing the West Michigan community in its 40 Under 40 in Grand Rapids list. This year, five Calvin graduates are represented on the list, and we asked them how their experience at Calvin prepared them for active engagement in West Michigan. 


Sarah Rinsema-Sybenga ’98

Major: English

What she’s up to: Sarah works at Community enCompass as the executive director. EnCompass focuses on restoration and community development in Muskegon neighborhoods.

“Calvin nurtured a desire in me to fully engage whatever place I found myself. To engage the sticks and bricks, people and systems that make up my lived environment. Whether that was in a rural Japan or in bustling cities in Southeast Asia or in the misfit town of Muskegon. At Calvin, I found a place to explore how my curiosity with the world could mesh with a lifelong calling to be part of its change.” 

Mike Goorhouse ’08

Major: Education

What he’s up to: Mike is the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area. He’s engaged in numerous local philanthropy efforts and is on the board of directors for many local nonprofit organizations.

“My time at Calvin exposed me to the kind of people who inspired me to give back and be the best person I could possibly be. They pushed me and challenged me to go further, dream bigger and work harder. Calvin wasn’t just a place where I learned academic head knowledge, it was a place where I learned how to build relationships, how to care about others and how to lead to create a better future for us all. I’ve watched so many amazing people invest in West Michigan to make it a great place for me that I wanted to continue their legacy and make sure the community stays a great place.”

Luis Avila ’05

Major: Business

What he’s up to: Luis is a lawyer at Varnum Attorneys at Law. He focuses on labor employment and immigration law. He also serves on the board of directors for numerous local organizations.

“More than anything, Calvin taught me discipline. I worked all through college. Accordingly, I had to be disciplined in order to study, have a social life, and work 20–30 hours a week. Calvin was challenging academically, so I knew I needed to work hard to ensure good grades. I made many wonderful friends while at Calvin. So, I regularly made time to develop those relationships. Finally, I knew I could not pay for school without a paycheck, so I gave my job the importance it deserved. Today, my life is remarkably similar. I wear many different hats and have to regularly juggle commitments. The traits and discipline I learned at Calvin are critical to my engagement in my community.”

Shawn Pacanowski ’98

Major: Pre-law, business and political science

What he’s up to: As an investment consultant at CapTrust, Shawn assists families and businesses in making the best financial decisions for their future. He also sits on several boards for organizations focusing on both business and education.

“The notion to be of service to others, to engage, was instilled in us early on as Calvin students. After graduation, discovering ways to engage our community felt like the natural next step to take. West Michigan is a large enough of a community to have meaningful influence, yet small enough to feel like you are personally connected to the community. West Michigan also has a great cultural heritage that I respect.”

Tami VandenBerg ’97

Major: English

What she’s up to: Tami is the executive director at the WellHouse, which seeks to provide permanent, low-cost housing for the homeless of Grand Rapids. She also runs two local businesses with her brother.

“The best gift I received at Calvin was the ability to think critically and write well. I received a Bachelor of Arts in English and did an enormous amount of reading and writing while I was at Calvin. Learning about people, how they behave, why they behave the way they do, in different places and times is fascinating to me. Understanding people is a big part of being a successful business owner and community activist. Expressing yourself well in print is also extremely valuable. I enjoyed the excellent professors at Calvin and the ability to study history, Spanish and to travel and study abroad.”

VERGE: winter 2014

First-Year Experience