A WEB OF BRIDGES


When Jim Heath '78 addresses the next Kalamazoo College Guilds Summit (Saturday, September 27; and you're all invited!) he will weave together history (his major at "K"), athletics (he coached here), education (he taught here, too), and business (he earned an MBA from Notre Dame and for some 20 years has directed marketing for Stryker Corporation's medical device division). The topic of his talk: teamwork.

Wait a minute! Teamwork? There is no Teamwork Guild. There's Sustainability, Health, Business, and Justice & Peace. Teamwork, says Guilds director Joan Hawxhurst, is the theme of the fall summit because it's a gift vital to addressing 21st-century issues and a skill that all Guilds help develop.

"This I believe," says Hawxhurst, "we are capable of building bridges across vast divides." Teamwork is one kind of bridge.

The Guilds Initiative has entered its second year of a three-year grant from the McGregor Fund. And the first year was a dandy. Some 270 students, alumni, and friends are officially enrolled members of one or more of the Guilds. Even more exciting is the anticipation--of alumni in particular--for Year Two.

"So many are eager and awaiting to discover and define their roles in this year's program," says Hawxhurst. "The energy is remarkable and comes from everyone's enthusiasm for the program's goals."

Those are four: integration and innovation, professional preparation and networking--a warp and weft of a distinctively liberal arts fabric.

Integration--"Guilds are gatherings, some real and some virtual, that integrate people across the planet with interesting ideas about a topic that engages them," says Hawxhurst. "The individuals learn from each other and gain strength as a community to address the issue they care about."

Innovation--Guilds encourage the having of new ideas. Maybe, at first glance, they are startling ideas! But real change, according to economist Milton Friedman, requires ideas lying around that, though once deemed impossible, suddenly seem inevitable.

Professional Preparation--Students often write to Hawxhurst about the professional development benefits they reap from their Guilds involvement. "They tell how what they learned or accomplished in the Guilds helped them land a job, nail an interview, or build skills vital for work or graduate school," says Hawxhurst.

Networking--"The networks are incredible," she adds, "student to student, alumni to student, and alumni to alumni." One example: Jacob Corvidae '92 in Detroit, Sarna Salzman '96 in Traverse City, and Rob Connor '07 in Germany--all members of the Sustainability Guild, and all sharing ideas relative to their environmental educational work. In other words, more bridges--across generations and distances.

Looking ahead five years, Hawxhurst has three goals for the Guilds. The first is to make them indigenous to the Kalamazoo College culture, connected to courses and disciplinary departments, organizations, and programs like the Center for Career Development and the Center for International Programs.

"If ever Guilds could root and grow, it would be in an environment founded on the liberal arts," says Hawxhurst. "Every day Kalamazoo College asks students to look at a question from different perspectives. Every year we ask them to immerse themselves in fields other than their majors. And every four years we invite them to spend a considerable time living and learning in a country or culture other than their own. We do this because we know it's vital for growth and development.

"In a similar way the Guilds Initiative is founded on the idea of bringing people together around issues that cut across disciplines, generations, cultures and countries so that a chemist on the west coast, a history major working as a policy analyst in Washington, a fine arts student on campus, and an English major alum who writes for a popular science magazine wrestle together with questions related to something important to them. It's so liberal arts-ish! So 'K'! And the 21st century demands Guilds-like attention to the matters that matter."

Five-year goal number two is the program's own sustainability. The clock ticks on the McGregor grant. "In five years I envision the program fully funded with thousands of members. We must work together to make that happen."

Goal three--now and always--is adding value to
"If ever Guilds could root and grow, it would be in an environment founded on the liberal arts."
the Kalamazoo College liberal arts learning experience. "Guilds are a great meeting place of outstanding ideas, even (or especially) when "outstanding" isn't evident because the idea's before its time," says Hawxhurst. Some ideas bear immediate fruit--white papers, action networks, organizational and leadership skills, and opportunities to learn how to act on the job or in important meetings. And the impossible ideas bide their time, ready to serve when a crisis (or human understanding) sharpens.

Ultimately, the bridge image fails to fully capture the promise of the Guilds. "There's a Harry Potter scene where staircases crisscross an enormous room in the castle, but they continually move and shift," says Hawxhurst. "It's an apt metaphor for both the challenges of the 21st century and the Guilds Initiative, which is meant to address them.

"Guilds are bridges, and they're alive and moving. Like a web of bridges they stretch to multiple places at once: between departments on campus, between students, between alumni, between a fine liberal arts undergraduate education and the life that follows."

And, there's an exciting new bridge: from Guild to Guild. According to Hawxhurst, some of the most important and fascinating questions arise from the intersection of Guilds, from the overlap, for example, of business and sustainability, of health and justice.

"Right now members of at least two Guilds are grappling with the question: What does environmental justice mean?" says Hawxhurst.

With so many nuances and possibilities, the Guilds Initiative is the next great innovation in liberal arts learning, and Kalamazoo College, not surprisingly (as it did with international education) has taken the lead. Guilds gather people with ideas about the matters that matter to individuals and to humankind: meaningful work and graduate education; preserving the planet while providing new jobs; honing interviewing and networking skills; and working for justice and peace for all.

Kalamazoo College's mission is to prepare students to understand, to live well, and to lead. Those are the mission statement's verbs.

A life well-lived is a liberal arts life--one fluent in multiple disciplines and "Guilded" in Kalamazoo College's new sense of that word. Such fluency is demanded by the 21st century if one, and all, are to live well.

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