K Honors 10 Faculty Members as Endowed Chairs

Kalamazoo College has appointed 10 faculty members as endowed chairs, recognizing their achievements as professors. Endowed chairs are positions funded through the annual earnings from an endowed gift or gifts to the College. The honor reflects the value donors attribute to the excellent teaching and mentorship that occurs at K and how much donors want to see that excellence continue.

The honorees are:

  • Francisco Villegas, the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership junior chair;
  • Leihua Weng, the most senior faculty member in Chinese;
  • Cyndy Garcia-Weyandt, an endowed chair in critical ethnic studies;
  • Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada, the Marlene Crandall Francis Endowed Chair in the Humanities;
  • Kathryn Sederberg, the Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Endowed Chair;
  • Regina Stevens-Truss, the Dorothy H. Heyl Senior Endowed Chair in Chemistry;
  • Blakely Tresca, the Harriet G. Varney Endowed Chair in Natural Science;
  • Amy Elman, the William Weber Endowed Chair in Social Science;
  • Autumn Hostetter, the Kurt D. Kaufman Endowed Chair; and
  • Richard Koenig, the Genevieve U. Gilmore Endowed Chair in Art.
Francisco Villegas among endowed chairs

Francisco Villegas

Villegas, an assistant professor of sociology at K, was a sociology lecturer at the University of Toronto Scarborough from 2014 to 2016 before arriving in Kalamazoo.

Villegas specializes in the topics of immigration, race, citizenship, deportability and illegalization. He has a doctorate in sociology in education from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, a master’s degree in Mexican American studies from San Jose University, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology and social behavior from the University of California Irvine.

Kalamazoo County launched a community ID program in 2018, allowing residents to obtain it, including those otherwise unable to get a state ID, with Villegas serving as the ID advisory board chair. At this point over 3,000 residents have obtained one. Kalamazoo College students, through a partnership with the Center for Civic Engagement participate in a work-study program supporting the program and learning about policy implementation

Leihua Weng among endowed chairs

Leihua Weng

Weng, an assistant professor of Chinese language and literature, has taught at K beginning Chinese and advanced Chinese, as well as different content courses in English, such as women in China, urban China and Chinese films. 

Weng’s research interest includes (trans-)nationalism and globalization in literature and films, traditions and modernity, and postmodern literary theories. She received her Ph.D. in comparative literature at the University of South Carolina, a Master of Arts at Peking University, and a Bachelor of Arts at Zhejiang University. She taught at Sarah Lawrence College and Pacific Lutheran University before she came to K. 

Cyndy Garcia-Weyandt among endowed chairs

Cyndy Garcia-Weyandt

García-Weyandt, an assistant professor of critical ethnic studies, has taught courses at K in environmental studies such as Body, Land and Labor; and Plant Communication Kinship, as well as courses in critical ethnic studies such as Argument with the Given, a writing seminar exploring dreams, storytelling, poetry, art activism, memoir, and personal narratives as sources of knowledge and social change. She is coordinator and co-founder of Proyecto Taniuki (“Our Language Project”), a community-based project in Zitakua, Mexico.

In the Taniuki, she collaborates with urban indigenous communities in language revitalization efforts. Her research areas include indigenous knowledge systems, land pedagogy, urban indigenous peoples of Mexico, indigenous art and performances, and ontology.  García-Weyandt’s ancestral homeland is in San Juan Sayultepec Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, México. She is a poeta, an immigrant, a first-generation college student, and former community college transfer student. She has a Ph.D. and master’s degree in culture and performance, and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology, all from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Alyssa-Maldonado-Estrada

Alyssa Maldonado-Estrada

Maldonado-Estrada, an assistant professor of religion, is the author of Lifeblood of the Parish: Men and Catholic Devotion in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, an ethnography about masculinity and men’s devotional lives in a gentrified neighborhood in New York City. She teaches classes at K on religion and masculinity, urban religion, Catholics in the Americas and the religions of Latin America.

Outside K, Maldonado-Estrada is a co-chair of the Men and Masculinities Unit at the American Academy of Religion and is an editor of Material Religion: The Journal of Art, Objects, and Belief. She also was chosen for the 2020-2022 cohort of Young Scholars in American Religion at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis’ Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture.

Earlier this year, Sacred Writes—a network of religion scholars committed to helping a broad global audience understand the significance of their work—selected Maldonado-Estrada to be one of 24 scholars from around the world receiving a Public Scholarship on Religion for 2021. Maldonado-Estrada received her doctorate in religion from Princeton University and her bachelor’s degree in sociology and religion from Vassar College.

cMUMMA Academic Rigor GERMAN Sederberg (prof) 2018 lo 7186.JPG

Kathryn Sederberg

Sederberg, a co-chair in the Department of German Studies, will be honored in a virtual ceremony November 20 by the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) as one of five national recipients of the Goethe‐Institut/AATG Certificate of Merit. The honor recognizes her achievements in furthering the teaching of German in the U.S. through creative activities, innovative curriculum, successful course design and significant contributions to the profession.

Sederberg teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced German as well as Contemporary German Culture and the senior seminars on varying topics. She holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

Regina-Stevens-Truss-teaching

Regina Stevens-Truss

Stevens-Truss, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has taught at Kalamazoo College since 2000. She teaches Chemical Reactivity, Biochemistry, Medicinal Chemistry and Infection: Global Health and Social Justice.

Research in her lab focuses testing a variety of compounds (peptides and small molecules) for antimicrobial activity. She is also the current director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence grant awarded to the College’s science division in 2018.

Stevens-Truss earned a bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry from the University of Toledo. She held two fellowships at the University of Michigan between 1993 and 1999, one of which was a lectureship in medicinal chemistry.

Blakely-Tresca

Blakely Tresca

Tresca, an assistant professor of chemistry, has been at K since 2018. He’s a supermolecular chemist with additional research interests in organic chemistry. He co-leads the College’s annual Kalamazoo American Chemical Society networking event, allowing students to discuss chemistry careers with industry professionals.

Tresca holds a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. He was a postdoctoral researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in the Molecular Foundry.

Amy Elman

Amy-Elman

Elman, a professor of political science, has taught a variety of courses within the political science, women’s studies and Jewish studies departments. During her tenure at K, she has also been a visiting professor at Haifa University in Israel, Harvard University, SUNY Potsdam, Middlebury College, Uppsala University in Sweden and New York University.

Elman has received two Fulbright grants, a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a grant from the Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Hebrew University. She has written three books: The European Union, Antisemitism and the Politics of Denial (2014); Sexual Equality in an Integrated Europe (2007); and Sexual Subordination and State Intervention: Comparing Sweden and the United States (1996). She also edited Sexual Politics and the European Union: The New Feminist Challenge (1996). She has a bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from New York University.

Autumn-Hostetter

Autumn Hostetter

Hostetter, a professor of psychology, has expertise in cognitive psychology—specifically, the psychology of language and spatial cognition. She has taught classes at K including Cognition, Experimental Research Methods, the Psychology of Language and Mind, and the first year seminar Harry Potter Goes to College.

She maintains an active research lab on campus exploring how we use our bodies to help us think and communicate. She provides many opportunities for Kalamazoo College students to participate in research, both as participants and as research assistants. Some recent publications have appeared in journals such as the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, Psychological Research, the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Teaching of Psychology, and the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. Many of her publications feature Kalamazoo College students and alumni as co-authors. Hostetter earned a bachelor’s degree from Berry College and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Richard Koenig among endowed chairs

Richard Koenig

Koenig began teaching art and photography courses such as Digital Photography, Analog Photography, Alternative Photographic Processes and several seminars at K in 1998.

His fine art work, Photographic Prevarications, was shown in six one-person exhibits in as many years (from 2007 to 2012). Koenig’s long-term documentary project Contemporary Views Along the First Transcontinental Railroad spawned four articles (between 2014 and 2019). In 2020, Koenig collaborated with four others on a multi-media exhibit, Hoosier Lifelines: Environmental and Social Change Along the Monon, 1847-2020, which was shown this year at the Grunwald Gallery of Art at Indiana University and the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana.

Koenig received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Pratt Institute and his Master of Fine Arts from Indiana University.

Language Programs Receive $500,000 Grant

French Among the Language Programs Taught at Kalamazoo College
Assistant Professor of French Aurelie Chatton is shown teaching a class. Language programs
at K will receive a $500,000 boost from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is awarding Kalamazoo College a $500,000 grant through the American Rescue Plan to help offset financial losses incurred as a result of the pandemic.

In total, the NEH is giving $87.8 million to 300 cultural and educational institutions, 90 of which are colleges and universities.

“The American Rescue Plan recognizes that the cultural and educational sectors are essential components of the United States economy and civic life, vital to the health and resilience of American communities,” NEH Acting Chairman Adam Wolfson said. “These new grants will provide a lifeline to the country’s colleges and universities, museums, libraries, archives, historical sites and societies, save thousands of jobs in the humanities placed at risk by the pandemic, and help bring economic recovery to cultural and educational institutions and those they serve.”

At K specifically, the grant will help fortify the College’s language programs. Enrollment in language courses has waned over the past year, in part because the pandemic affected study abroad opportunities. The money will support the hiring and retention of foreign language faculty and staff; sustain student interest in language programs; revitalize programs in Arabic, Hebrew and ancient Greek; provide faculty better opportunities for research; and bolster study abroad to ensure it remains affordable as it restarts this term.

Associate Provost Katie MacLean, who is an associate professor of Spanish, said the honor of receiving the grant underscores K’s reputation for the humanities and study abroad programs.

“Study abroad is among the most popular answers students provide when they’re asked, ‘Why did you choose K?’” MacLean said. She and Jessica Fowle—K’s director of grants, fellowships and research—submitted the grant proposal on the institution’s behalf while providing proof the emergency short-term funds would combat pandemic-related issues and add value rather than apply a temporary fix.

“As a liberal arts college, the vitality of the humanities is important to our institutional identity and languages have a symbiotic relationship with study abroad,” MacLean said. “To me, this is a lot of money for humanities programs, which shows how much of an honor this is. That’s exciting for us.”

German Studies Co-Chair Earns National Teaching Honor

German Studies Co-Chair Kathryn Sederberg Teaches at a Blackboard
German Studies Co-Chair Kathryn Sederberg will be honored in a
virtual ceremony November 20 by the American Association
of Teachers of German (AATG).

Kathryn Sederberg, the Lucinda Hinsdale Stone Assistant Professor of German and a co-chair of the German Studies Department at Kalamazoo College, will be honored in a virtual ceremony November 20 by the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG).

Sederberg will receive the Goethe‐Institut/AATG Certificate of Merit for her achievements in furthering the teaching of German in the U.S. through creative activities, innovative curriculum, successful course design and significant contributions to the profession. Recipients each year are nominated by their peers.

“This is a great honor and I am glad to be recognized for my work,” she said. “I am grateful to the amazing community of German students here whose energy and enthusiasm motivate me as an educator. Teaching at K has enabled me to be creative, take risks, and try new things, like the ‘Babylon Berlin’ course designed around the hit TV series, or a unit on the forest with a field trip to the arboretum. It’s in part because of the culture at K that I have been able to experiment in my classes and develop interdisciplinary material with connections to gender studies, environmental studies or Jewish Studies. I really enjoy teaching in a small program where I can work with students from 101 to the advanced seminars, see their growth and even stay in touch with them as alumni.”

Sederberg teaches beginning, intermediate and advanced German as well as Contemporary German Culture and the senior seminars on varying topics. She holds a bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and is one of five educators between high schools and colleges from around the country to earn the honor this year.

“With their dedication to excellence in German language instruction, these award recipients promote the transatlantic friendship between the U.S. and German‐speaking countries and foster the much-needed intercultural awareness so their students lead successful lives in a globalized world,” AATG President Doug Philipp said.

Environmental Internships Fill in for Study Abroad

Environmental Internships
Natalie Barber ’22 was among the 20 juniors who missed out on study abroad this fall because of the pandemic. Instead, she worked in one of the environmental internships made available at the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. In that position, she researched fresh water mussels like these.

Without study abroad available this year, Kalamazoo College faculty and staff got creative and developed a series of internships for 20 juniors who otherwise would’ve spent a term overseas, giving them experience through campus partners such as the Center for International Programs, Center for Career and Professional Development and the Center for Civic Engagement.

An additional group of students, whose interests could be connected with environmental opportunities, worked with the Center for Environmental Stewardship and Director Sara Stockwood.

“I think it’s been a valuable experience for everyone, even if they didn’t go on study abroad,” Stockwood said of the students who worked for organizations such as the Kalamazoo Watershed Council, the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association and Sarett Nature Center.

Michigan Lakes and Streams Association
The Michigan Lakes and Streams Association was one of three local organizations that helped four Kalamazoo College students earn environmental internships this fall.

“The students I’ve talked to said they’ve wanted to get an internship before, they just weren’t sure how to make it fit in their academic plan,” she said. “But when this class came up it fit well and it matched their class schedule. It was a challenge for them to figure out how to work virtually, and some of them felt a little lost at first, yet they gained the skills they needed to figure it out. I think that will help them in their classes and future jobs, especially if they have virtual components.”

Amanda Dow, a biology major, worked with Melissa DeSimone, the executive director of the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association (MLSA), which is a statewide nonprofit that unites individuals; lake, stream and watershed associations; organizations; and corporations that share an interest the preserving inland lakes and streams for generations to come. Her work experience included writing newsletter articles highlighting the organization’s virtual convention this year, contributing to its printed articles, and reformatting and updating several brochures.

“I have a background in writing so this was a good chance for me to practice in different mediums,” Dow said. “I wrote a review of the convention sessions along with a biography of myself for the newsletter. They also come out with a newspaper and the biggest chunk of my internship went to updating and reformatting their brochures. It helped a lot that when I first got there I could choose what I wanted to do.”

Environmental Internships at Asylum Lake
Asylum Lake served as a socially-distanced meeting point for Amanda Dow ’22 and Melissa DeSimone, the executive director of the Michigan Lakes and Streams Association, as Dow served in a virtual internship.

Andrew Wright, a German and biology major, said he felt a little directionless with where he wanted to apply his majors professionally after graduation, until he interned with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. The organization aims to protect, preserve and promote the Kalamazoo River and its tributaries for current area residents and future generations.

“Through developing a new interactive digital dashboard with the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council members, my work will help users see the different types of chemical contaminants in the Kalamazoo area and how they affect the types of fish here,” Wright said. “Following the motto of the Watershed, we want to make that information as accessible as possible so people can learn how their communities’ ecosystems have been impacted. The Kalamazoo River has unfortunately suffered its fair share of PCB runoff from paper mills and oil spills, and we want to create ways for people to be knowledgeable and be mindful of how we affect our surrounding environments.”

Natalie Barber, a biology major and psychology minor, joined Wright in working for the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council. She researched fresh water mussels, which filter small organic particles such as bacteria and algae out of lakes and streams, naturally purifying them. Part of that environmental research involved interviewing Daelyn Woolnough, a Central Michigan University biology faculty member and freshwater mussels expert, leading to website content and social media posts for the watershed council.

Asylum Lake
Asylum Lake in Kalamazoo served as a socially-distanced meeting point for Amanda Dow ’22 and her internship supervisor this fall.

With K’s academic schedule, it was important to Barber that she could undertake the internship as a part of her term and she hopes more students at the College will have the same opportunity.

“It’s important we know the effects of global warming and climate change and how they threaten mussels,” Barber said. “We especially have those threats in Kalamazoo because we had the paper mills that put all the PCBs in the water, plus we had the 2010 oil spill. Just knowing about those bigger issues, and also the lesser-known issues like invasive species, which is a big deal to freshwater mussels. Things the general public might not realize are such a big deal like moving boats from lake to lake without cleaning them, that’s important information we should share so we can protect the organisms within our areas. I felt like I was doing something positive toward my career goals. I think these internships should be offered every term because I thought mine was that useful.”

To conclude the class and their environmental internships, each student provided a final visual presentation with screenshots and pictures from their projects. Stockwood said students each had about three minutes to present what they did, what they learned and why it matters.

“They took it very seriously and it was fun because the students didn’t fully know what everybody else was doing,” she said. “They found a lot of similarities in their experiences over time with being lost in the beginning, independently working and having some ownership by the second half of their projects. I hope something like this will continue. It’s important to recognize that it’s not study abroad, but I think the experience was valuable, and I think the students feel it was valuable, too.”

Pandemic Strikes with Students Far from Home

Pandemic in China
Daniel Mota-Villegas ’21 (in the hooded sweatshirt) visited the Forbidden City during his study abroad experience in China. Mota-Villegas returned to Kalamazoo earlier than he expected to amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Others in the picture include Nick Gorman, Max Caplan, Ryanna Chouman, K student Denise Jackson, Ronnie Rodriquez, K student Sage Ringsmuth and K student Kaylee Henderson.

When Kalamazoo College students began their international immersion experiences this academic year, the Center for International Programs (CIP) didn’t expect a global pandemic to change anyone’s plans. Regardless, a once-in-a-century historical challenge emerged.

“This is my first worldwide phenomenon,” said CIP Executive Director Margaret Wiedenhoeft in discussing COVID-19, an illness that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. “Most of what we’ve worked with in the past has been country or region specific. This is the first time we had multiple programs shut down at once.”

As the seriousness of the pandemic took shape, K was lucky. No students were sickened abroad and no immersion itineraries were cut unreasonably short as they were halted. On K’s campus, international students affected by travel bans were provided residence hall rooms, even as the College took steps to empty campus and implement social-distancing guidelines.

Still, students who visited countries such as China, Germany and Spain, and international students who remained in Kalamazoo, have stories to tell. And if you’ve wondered how the pandemic has affected them in their travels, keep reading.

Maya Hernandez in China
Maya Hernandez ’21 was among four Kalamazoo College students in Beijing when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Days of Uncertainty in Beijing

Maya Hernandez ’21 and Daniel Mota-Villegas ’21 were among four K students studying at Capital Normal University in Beijing, China, this winter. Before coronavirus emerged, “Honestly it was amazing,” said Hernandez, an East Asian studies major. “Everything was super affordable. It was fun to go out and explore the capital.”

In late January, their sixth month of a planned nine-month immersion, that began to change as word developed of coronavirus, and its presence in Wuhan.

“I figured it was like the flu,” Hernandez said. “But within the span of a week and a half, concern increased.”

Although Wuhan is more than 700 miles from Beijing, professors in the capital were warning students not to visit enclosed and crowded public spaces, traffic was dying down, and fewer children were playing outside. Masks were commonly seen from the start because of pollution in the city, yet they were becoming more prevalent. Hotels and beaches even began to close, forcing Mota-Villegas and Hernandez to cancel plans to visit another city.

“After that there were check points around the school,” said Mota-Villegas, a political science major studying U.S.-China relations and how they affect Taiwan. “They closed the school’s gates and there were security guards around. We couldn’t leave campus without direct permission.”

Fear emerged without reliable, consistent communication through tools such as the Internet, which is problematic in China, and with a 12-hour time difference from Kalamazoo hindering communication with the College. Should they go home and risk not returning? Should they make logistical preparations such as closing their bank accounts? Should they stay and risk not being able to leave with travel restrictions developing around the world?

Meanwhile, in Kalamazoo, the CIP was monitoring the U.S. Department of State guidelines, which had yet to focus on Bejing. Partner organizations in China—which had not yet cancelled programs in other parts of the country—sent updates, and CIP was gathering additional information from other U.S. institutions that had students in China. The situation was fast-moving and fluid. Finally, Capital Normal cancelled its global programs for the next term on Jan. 31, leading to a phone call to students from the CIP. It was a call telling the K students that CIP was bringing them home.

“Once we heard we were going home, that was the best feeling in the world,” Mota-Villegas said. “We needed that phone call. It made me realize again that K would take care of us. We felt supported again and we celebrated.”

Downtown Erlangen Germany During Pandemic
Jennalise Ellis ’21 was studying abroad in Erlangen, Germany, when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Similar Tales of Two Cities in Europe

Although news was spreading of the coronavirus in Europe, two K students who were there until March said they initially weren’t worried about it, and they were surprised to come home.

In Badajoz, Spain, Nick Stein ’21 was studying at the Extremadura University in January. Several of his K peers were leaving after attending their program for its scheduled six months. Stein, though, was planning to stay an additional term.

“I first heard about coronavirus as everyone else was leaving,” he said. “Life was pretty normal until maybe March 10.”

Stein had been attending classes and teaching English when he made a trip to an art festival in Madrid. It was about that time when people started cancelling trips and there was talk of Extremadura University calling off its term.

Then, the president of Spain said the country would close borders and restrict travel.

“The CIP was good about saying, ‘You can stay or you can come home,’” Stein said. “They were always good about letting me make the decision. But when the president said there would be action, I knew that was my time to leave. In three hours, I had found a flight. I got on a train to Madrid and slept at the airport on my way home.”

Coming back so suddenly was the only thing he would change about his experience.

“It was surreal in a certain sense,” Stein said. “It’s difficult to come back when you’re speaking a different language for a while. It felt like living in a dream for two months. I was teaching English to families and making relationships when I suddenly had to return. It was a surprise.”

A similar story developed in Erlangen, Germany, for Jennalise Ellis ’21.

Ellis is a chemistry and German double major at K. When she attended Friedrich-Alexander University in Germany, she took mostly German-language courses, but blended her majors by taking a didactic chemistry course and working as an assistant in an organic chemistry lab. She was planning on staying three more months when President Trump planned a travel ban from Europe into the U.S., and countries neighboring Germany began closing their borders.

“I was shocked when I found out that I was actually going to have to move back to the U.S., because I was hopeful that the severity of the pandemic would subside by the start of the summer semester in mid-April,” she said. “I was also sad that I had to say goodbye to people and the city I got to know so well. The hardest part was that I didn’t have time to mentally prepare to leave Erlangen.”

It was an experience that has left her longing to go back some day.

“I definitely want to return,” Ellis said. “I am considering going to graduate school in Germany.”

An International Student Stays

When K students received the notification about distance learning this term, Xiu Cai ’20, an international student from China, was concerned. In addition to feeling frustrated with missing the spring events of her senior year, she worried that the travel restrictions, combined with the residence halls closing, would leave her homeless. Fortunately, the CIP was there to help.

“We received some emails that said people from China and certain places in Europe would not have to leave because of the travel bans,” Cai said. “When I talked with CIP, they emphasized those emails guaranteed me a place. They were supportive and helpful. I’ve appreciated everything they do.”

Since, Cai has attended distance learning courses from her residence hall, eaten meals at the Hicks Student Center, appreciated Mail Center services and exercised by walking through campus. She also is grateful for her professors who gave support, Dining Services who provided her with meals, and the Student Health Center, which provided masks when she need them.

“I feel like being here now is a special experience, for me at least,” she said. “Not everyone would have a chance to experience the same thing in their lives. I’m grateful to the school for allowing me to stay here.”

Still at hand, however, is the issue of getting home after graduation. Cai has tried five times to schedule flights home for June after the Conferral of Degrees ceremony, and all five flights have been cancelled. As of now, she’s uncertain when she will go home and see her family.

“I video chat with family almost every day,” Cai said. When coronavirus emerged, “I was spending all my time worrying about my family. Now, they’re worried about me.”

Regardless, Cai said this experience, if anything, is only encouraging her to travel more.

“The coronavirus, to me, is random,” she said. “You never know what will happen in the next second in life. If you have the chance, go wherever you want.”

Moving forward

Moving forward, students who want to study abroad may need to consider what the “new normal” may be as the pandemic runs its course.

“I would think about what my expectations for travel might be and how we meet our new reality,” Wiedenhoeft said. “I know many of our students who go to Europe, for example, love to travel. What would it mean if you’re in Spain and can’t go to France? That means you can still get to know different regions of Spain very well. You can go to art museums. You can find something that is interesting to you, and be flexible enough to achieve it.”

Wiedenhoeft also is encouraging optimism that student immersion opportunities will stay an important part of the K-Plan.

“There are certain regions of the world that will recover first,” she said. “We need to do what we can to maximize opportunities in those regions. The relationships we have with our partners will be very important in those plans. I think our relationships will be stronger because we’ve been in frequent contact.”

In addition, “We want to encourage folks not to be disheartened,” she said. “We genuinely believe we will engage with the world again and that they will engage with us. It will take time, but it will not be like this forever.”

Faculty, Staff Prepare for Distance Learning

Distance Learning
Math Professor Rick Barth is preparing for a spring term of distance learning through his home work station.

A social media meme circulating of the late children’s TV star Mr. Rogers is reminding people to “look for the helpers” in a crisis. When that crisis is COVID-19, which has forced Kalamazoo College to switch from in-person to distance learning this spring, those helpers for students are K faculty and staff.

Distance learning, defined as cooperative educational experiences between people physically separated, is uncharted territory at most liberal arts institutions. That includes K, which prides itself on face-to-face interactions between students and faculty, and personalized experiences. Yet while students adjust, optimistic and dedicated faculty are ensuring that learning opportunities will proceed smoothly when the term starts in April.

Regardless of a student’s need—whether it’s technology access, academic requirements, concern over tutoring and office hours, or something unexpected—faculty want students to know their professors are eager to provide support and direction, and ensure a breadth of educational experiences true to the liberal arts.

Jeff Bartz, K’s Kurt D. Kaufman Professor of Chemistry, said he and his colleagues are communicating regularly with tools such as Slack, an instant messaging app, while reaching out to students through email and social media. One recent tweet that included a picture of chemistry faculty dressed as Alice in Wonderland characters for a costume contest said: “Hey, Kalamazoo College chemists. This group may be a bunch of characters, but we’ll help you get through this.”

Bartz is designing a physical chemistry course in two-week modules that will address topics such as climate change, the hole in the ozone layer, and energy and fuel efficiency.

“The hard part for a chemist is that laboratory work is a big part of what we do,” Bartz said. “We’ve considered doing laboratories here and pushing out the data to students. We might set up students for experiments where they already have the material at home, or send them the material they need through the mail. I think my colleagues are doing a really good job figuring out those things.

Assistant Professor Kathryn Sederberg said the creativity ongoing in the Chemistry Department is also common in the German Department. She regularly teaches courses from first-year seminars and beginning German to intermediate German and contemporary German culture.

“We’re thinking, for example, that students might pair up and have video chats in German using the apps they already use to communicate with distant family and friends,” Sederberg said. “We will also rely on the platforms we have been using for years as a complement to classroom work, like discussion boards.”

Sederberg also is drawing inspiration from faculty at other colleges and universities.

“We are reading and sharing articles about best practices for quickly transforming courses into online formats,” Sederberg said. “Distance learning won’t replace the face-to-face instruction we do so well at K, and part of what makes our program so strong is the work students do with each other on campus. However, this pandemic is an unprecedented global crisis, and we will get through it together. And we will really celebrate when we’re back together on campus in Kalamazoo!”

The move to distance learning in many courses will benefit from pedagogical innovations a number of K instructors have been moving toward in recent years, such as those of Math Professor Rick Barth.

“My spring course is a statistics course that has, over the last decade, been redeveloped with lots of digital content and remote learning, sometimes referred to as a flipped classroom,” Barth said.

However, as the Assistant Provost for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, Barth is aware students are concerned about whether they will receive the same peer tutoring that they would in person. But Math Department Student Advisor Maddie Ward and Math-Physics Center (MPC) Peer Instructor Ben Behrens will continue serving other students.

“All the consultants know how many people depend on the MPC for help in their classes, and we will do whatever we can to help everyone with online learning,” Behrens said.

“Our big task is to imagine how we’ll each pivot to bring our accumulated experience to help students learn without face-to-face classes for a time,” Barth said. “In my view, this may well be the singular defining challenge of our careers as teachers. During this time, I’m glad to be at K with wonderful and supportive faculty colleagues. It brings me great optimism to imagine this special group of scholars and teachers bringing our best to this challenging new task.”

Students and faculty will also be supported by Information Services staff such as Education Technology Specialist Josh Moon. Moon helps faculty integrate tools such as Microsoft Teams, a virtual space for chats, audio calls and video calls, and Moodle, an online classroom environment, into learning plans.

“I have a strong hunch that weeks three through five [of the term] will be much easier for everyone than maybe the first two” in the term, Moon said. “However, students will probably find that this helps them develop communication skills that will benefit them in their careers.”

All three professors said the key for students will be maintaining individual communication through tools such as email, and being patient with each other and faculty and staff this term.

“This is a spring of gracious living,” Bartz said. “But it could be an opportunity for us as faculty to connect with students even better than when they’re so busy with all the things they’re normally doing on campus. It’s going to require more time on my end than normal, but it’s because I care a lot about the education of my students.”