Setting the Pace
Walking- and running-themed First Year Seminar and Senior Seminar courses take a literal approach in reflecting on making life‘s journey.
Quite by coincidence — or happy accident — two seminars offered as part of Hope College’s Interdisciplinary Studies Program happen to mirror the Hope experience.
Students walk onto campus their first year eager but apprehensive, ready to learn and become a part of something bigger but knowing they are works in progress. Years later they race from Commencement, diplomas waving overhead, prepared to benefit humankind and show the world all they have gained.
So it seems somehow logical there should be a First Year Seminar (FYS) at Hope titled “Vote With Your Feet: Walking as a Way of Life,” and a Senior Seminar named “Run for Your Life,” both challenging students to venture outside and pound the pavement in search of deeper internal truths.
The former is led by Dr. Michael Misovich, associate professor of engineering. The latter is run (so to speak) by Dr. Vicki Voskuil, associate professor of nursing. They created their 20-student seminars independently, each developing their own curriculum. And while their topics are far removed from their fields of expertise, both say it is invigorating to leave their academia for one course to share a personal pursuit with students.
Voskuil, for example, has been teaching nursing at Hope since 2004 and became interested in conducting her first Senior Seminar, but wasn’t sure what its topic would be.
“There was a Senior Seminar workshop in 2017 led by Jonathan Hagood [the late associate dean and Senior Seminar program director],” Voskuil recalls. “My original plan was to teach a course called ‘Do No Harm’ on ethics for pre-med and nursing students that had been taught by another professor, but the workshop message came through loud and clear that you should teach something you’re passionate about.”
That meant running. “I know running has taught me a lot of life lessons, but I wondered if I could teach a course on it,” Voskuil says. “I started looking at books and said, ‘I think I can make this work.’ Jonathan was super supportive. He said, ‘It looks like you’re in the literature review phase. I think you should just go for it.’”
Voskuil has been teaching “Run For Your Life” since the spring of 2018.
First Year Seminar students are introduced to college-level ways of active learning and the value of a liberal arts education, while Senior Seminar classes explore what students have learned within the framework of their beliefs, life goals and historic Christian faith.
Similarly, Misovich, a chemical engineer and member of the Hope faculty since 2002, is an avid walker when not in his lab. (The “Vote” in his course’s title refers to lifestyle choices, not politics.) He says he has Aimee, his wife of more than 35 years, to thank. “She was from a small town (Lapeer, Michigan) where you walked everywhere,” he relates. “Over time I adapted to that more and more. It grew on me.
“Around town I try to walk as much as possible. Students inevitably ask, ‘Do you walk because it saves you money?’ Yes, in that I don’t have to keep putting gas in my car. ‘Do you walk because it’s good exercise?’ Yes. But walking sometimes can just clear your head, help you think. So many things about it can improve your life in little ways. So I feel very holistically about walking.”
The seminars, considered essential elements of a Hope College education, are holistic as well. FYS students are introduced to college-level ways of active learning and the value of a liberal arts education, while Senior Seminar classes explore what students have learned within the framework of their beliefs, life goals and historic Christian faith. To that end, Voskuil made a fundamental change in her coursework this year.
“The class reads one book together,” she says. “I’ve gotten sort of mixed reactions on the book I’ve been using, so I felt I needed to make a change. Even though they write their own ‘life view’ papers and we talk about running in terms of spirituality and peace, I thought there wasn’t a strong enough tie to Christianity.
“One of my first book ideas was The Road to Character by David Brooks. I heard him when he came to campus [in 2015] and I’d read the book. It isn’t really about running, but it ties in because it’s the ‘road’ to character, you run on a road, and where are you going? I think it ties in more to Christianity. Brooks talks a lot about sin and our culture has gotten away from that. We’ve had really good conversations about it, and about suffering.”
Experiencing the suffering of the long-distance runner is not a prerequisite for the seminar, which attracts athletes and non-athletes alike. “It always fills up quickly and students are very enthusiastic about enrolling in it, which is always a good sign,” notes Dr. Matt DeJongh, Senior Seminar director and chair of the Department of Computer Science. Still, “Run for Your Life” logically attracts seniors like Jacob Kelley from Rockford, Michigan, a member of Hope’s cross country team.
“Obviously, running has been a big part of my life for a long time,” Kelley says, “so I thought it would be a cool lens for me to write my ‘life view’ paper through. I have really come to appreciate how good of an allegory and metaphor running can be for many different parts of your life, particularly your spiritual life.”
Likewise, former track athlete Johanna “JoJo” Emmanuel of Wheaton, Illinois, a nursing student who has taken Voskuil’s classes before, discovered a new dimension for her running through the seminar. “We read one author who talked about just enjoying the journey as you’re running, and I thought that was a really good point,” she says. “Yes, it’s hard, but make sure you’re also having fun at the same time.”
Like everything else in life, COVID-19 has necessitated major adaptations in the seminars. Misovich says his students currently don’t even meet in a classroom. Nonetheless, freshman Kayla Wolma of Hudsonville, Michigan, has found that the course has reordered her thinking.
“I’ve always had a passion for hiking, but this class has completely changed my perspective on walking,” she says. “To be able to go on walks to clear my busy mind has truly been a blessing for my college experience so far. It forces me to slow down and truly feel like my greatest self.”
Echoes Emily Dieffenbach, a freshman from Grand Rapids Forest Hills, “Walking for an hour twice a week has allowed me to breathe and take in nature, and de-stress in the middle of the day, which I have learned is essential in order to succeed in the classroom.”
Given the coronavirus constraints, that pleases Misovich greatly. “I told my FYS students at the beginning, ‘I’m not going to lie to you and say this is exactly like the Hope experience we could give you in normal times,’” he says. “It’s the Hope experience in the time of COVID. But I hope you come to feel this is still a better experience than you would have gotten anywhere else.”