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Grand Valley State University

Brooks College of

Interdisciplinary Studies

Message from the Dean
In my last “notes from the Dean,” I shared how just preparing for an upcoming trip to Ghana  transformed my thinking through the dilemmas I faced in choosing culturally and contextually appropriate books for previously trafficked children who would visit the Challenging Heights Library in Winneba, Ghana. I have now returned from Ghana, transformed further through the experience of witnessing, through my privileged Western eyes, the challenges of everyday life for the people who live in a developing country, even one as relatively prosperous and progressive as Ghana.
After landing at the airport in the capital city of Accra, we traveled the coastal road to the university town of Cape Coast where we would visit our GVSU partners at the University of Cape Coast (UCC) for the next several days. The traffic was stop-and-go pretty much along the entire route, allowing ample time to absorb the visual cacophony of people, goats, chickens, and dogs. Simple makeshift stalls lined the road, packed with sofas, shoes, and other goods for sale. Streams of straight-backed women and eager teenagers balanced on their heads incredibly tall baskets stacked with bottled water, fresh bread, or colorful produce, each hoping to make a sale to the people stuck in traffic. Row after row of tiny, open-air dwellings vanished into the low distant hills, nighttime refuges for the merchants of the road. Everyone was trying to sell something, but rarely did I witness an actual sale. I imagined what it must be like, milling around on the road, day after day in the hazy, dusty heat of the very, very arid Ghanaian dry season, hoping to sell enough to make a living.
At the University of Cape Coast we experienced the hospitality and graciousness for which Ghana is famous. (According to an internet source, Forbes ranks Ghana as the friendliest nation in Africa and the 11th friendliest nation in the world.)  At my request, my travel companions and I spent one morning visiting with the Dean of Agriculture and touring the University of Cape Coast’s larger version of GVSU’s Sustainable Agriculture Project. The UCC Agriculture Dean and staff seemed surprised and delighted by our unusual interest in their teaching and research farm. I imagined them thinking, but being too polite to ask, why a dean of interdisciplinary studies from America would be interested in their simple teaching and research farm. Over the past three and a half years I have often asked myself, and have been asked, a similar question in the context of difficult deliberations about financial support for our Sustainable Agriculture Project.
Ever since arriving at GVSU in Fall 2012, I have believed that the area of sustainable food systems is an ideal venue for interdisciplinary curricular and co-curricular learning where the arts, humanities, social and policy sciences, life and natural sciences, and the professions can come together in preparing GVSU students to be leaders in their communities and around the world. In the areas of food studies and sustainable food systems, the shared needs of humanity across divisions of race, nationality, religion, gender and sexual identity, socio-economic status, and different abilities come into sharp focus. These shared needs include our basic biological need for food, our equally important social and psychological need for meaning and relationships, and the practical need for cooperation among individuals, communities, and sectors of society in order to address complex problems. Around the topic of food, students learn systems thinking, for the effective production and just distribution of healthy food requires, at a minimum, education, water, energy, modes of preservation, transportation, and money. Through hands-on learning at the GVSU and the UCC sustainable agriculture sites, students learn how to use the simple and meager resources at hand to turn a small, dry, barren plot of land into a garden that can help feed a family, provide a source of income, or bring hope and purpose to an urban community in Grand Rapids, Detroit, Cape Coast, or Winneba.
I come back from Ghana transformed with knowledge of Grand Valley’s and the University of Cape Coast’s shared mission and values and our shared belief in the educational value of place-based, project-based learning. I come back with an enhanced appreciation that “fixing” the problems of poverty, public health, and good nutrition are never easy because they are the products of multiple, interacting systems. I return to GVSU with a renewed commitment to foster cooperation and collaboration across our own campus, between the university and our surrounding communities, and with our global partners around the world. Only through understanding, cooperation and collaboration can we genuinely prepare our students to be local and global leaders in their communities and professions.
Professional Development Opportunities

Coming up are opportunities for faculty and staff across Brooks College to gain more knowledge and strategies on two issues of importance to our work with students and each other.  Both panels are meant to be discussion-oriented, so please send to

Krystal Vanden Bosch by March 1 any questions or real-life scenarios you would like panelists to address, and she will relay that information to them.
Students in Crisis, Panel Discussion
Friday, March 4, from 1:30-3:00 p.m. in 2270 Kirkhof

Panelists William O’Donnell (Police Department), Aaron Haight (Dean of Students Office), and Eric Klingensmith (Counseling Center), will speak on how to respond when working with a student in crisis. This panel will be tailored to the questions and concerns of our faculty and staff. There will be time for questions and answers. 
Gender/Sexuality Inclusiveness, Panel Discussion
Friday, March 18, from 9:30-10:30 a.m. in 2270 Kirkhof

Panelists Jessica Jennrich (Women’s Center), Theresa Rowland (Title IX), and Marla Wick (LGBT Resource Center), will speak on ways to ensure inclusiveness in regards to gender and sexuality. This panel will cover various topics, such as: Title IX, sexual harassment, hostile work environments, transgender issues, and mandatory reporting. There will also be time for questions and answers. 
Please RSVP for these sessions by emailing
Both of these panel discussions have been approved for PSS non-technical development credit.

Public Lecture & Lunch Co-Sponsored by Brooks College, CLAS, the Provost's Office, Pew FTLC, and CSCE!

Faculty, staff, and students are invited to attend a public lecture by Amanda Cox titled "Data Visualization at The New York Times," which will describe Cox's work at the newspaper in crafting graphical information on current national and global issues. The lecture will be held on Monday, March 21, 3-4 p.m. (with reception to follow) in the Grand River Room, Kirkhof.
Amanda Cox is a graphics editor for The New York Times. She received her M.S. in statistics from the University of Washington in 2005 and after graduation, moved to New York to begin working for the New York Times. Any members of the Grand Valley State community who are interested in gender, culture, migration, class, environmental phenomena, digital studies, new media, graphic design, or quantitative data, would likely enjoy this event as these are all topics Cox has worked on.
Click here for examples of Amanda Cox’s interactive graphic reporting at the Times. And click here for a flyer about the event that you can share with your students or post on your office door.
Faculty and staff are also invited to attend a lunch with Cox, also on March 21, at noon in the Multipurpose Room in the Mary Idema Pew Library & Learning Commons.
Please RSVP at Sprout for lunch (this event is listed under "Teaching & Learning").

Faculty, Staff, Student, and Alumni Successes

Abby Borst, a Liberal Studies graduate and Peace Corps alum, is pursuing a graduate degree at the University of Tennesee, through the Peace Corps' national Paul Coverdell Fellowship. Borst is the first student in UT's College of Social work to pursue a graduate degree through this fellowship. Borst sees her social work education as a way to combine her passion for working with diverse groups of people and her interest in sustainability, policy, and health.
Wendy A. Burns-Ardolino, department chair and associate professor of Liberal Studies, was interviewed by Cynthia Bemis Abrams on the Advanced TV Herstory podcast about her new book, TV Female Foursomes and Their Fans. The book launch, reading, and signing took place on February 18.
Kurt Ellenberger, professor of Music in the Frederick Meijer Honors College, wrote an article, “Hero: Thoughts on the Music and Career of David Bowie,” published in the Huffington Post.
Gamal Gasim, associate professor of Middle East Studies and Political Science, wrote an article, “Sudan’s 60 Years of Bitter Harvest,” published in the Huffington Post and was the co-author of an article, “The Political, Social, and Religious Attitudes of Muslim Americans,” published in the Journal of Islamic Perspective and Culture.
Grace Johnson, a student among the first leadership cohort accelerated degree program, will graduate in April with a job that capitalizes on her leadership skills and passion for neighborhood revitalization. Johnson’s job as economic development specialist for Neighborhood Ventures is a result of the community internship requirement through the Liberal Studies Leadership Program
Patrick Johnson, director of the Writing Center, will give a presentation about comics and his successful Kickstarter campaign to publish a collected web comic series as a book at Dixie State University in Utah. 
John Kilbourne, professor of Movement Science in the Frederik Meijer Honors College, wrote an article, “The Good Jobs Strategy”, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and was interviewed by the  South Haven Tribune for a story on his development and research on Activity Permissible Classrooms.
Sarah King, associate professor of Liberal Studies and Religious Studies Coordinator, was accepted into the 2016-17 Colloquy for Mid-Career Faculty at Colleges and Universities at the Wabasch Centre for Teaching and Learning in Religious Studies and Theology.The colloquy, for mid-career faculty, focuses on community engagement.
Mark Schaub, Chief International Officer for the Padnos International Center, was interviewed by WOOD Radio for a story about Grand Valley hiring a part-time campus recruiter for the Peace Corps. 
Brent Smith, assistant professor of Liberal Studies and Religious Studies, wrote an article, “Beyond the Concepts of the Secular and the Religious,” published in the Journal of Cultural and Religious Studies.
Veta Tucker, associate professor of English and African/African American Studies, co-edited the book A Fluid Frontier: Slavery, Resistance, and the Underground Railroad in the Detroit River Borderland.