Grant to Foster Inclusive Science, Math Programs

Kalamazoo College has been awarded a $1 million, five-year grant to participate in a nationwide quest to find ways to better serve students from demographic groups that are underrepresented in science and mathematics. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced that K will be one of 33 colleges chosen for the Inclusive Excellence initiative. Efforts under the initiative will focus on closing what biology professor Jim Langeland ’86, who will lead the program, calls the “persistence gap.”

Two Students in Science lab for Inclusive Science and Math story
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has announced that Kalamazoo College will be one of 33 colleges chosen for the Inclusive Excellence initiative.

K is attracting talented students from a variety of backgrounds who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education, including students of color, first-generation college students and students from low-income families. Those students enroll in roughly proportionate numbers in introductory science and math courses. In the long run, however, they are more likely than students from more privileged circumstances not to continue in those fields, said Langeland,  Upjohn Professor of Life Sciences.

“We would like our senior major classes in the science field to look like our incoming classes in terms of demographics,” he said.

Associate Provost Laura Lowe Furge, Roger F. and Harriet G. Varney Professor of Chemistry, said K will use the HHMI grant to take a three-fold approach:

  • Developing culturally competent faculty and staff who are better able to connect with the varied backgrounds and value systems of students.
  • Revising introductory science and math curriculum to integrate career guidance, emphasize shared concepts among disciplines and enhance academic support centers.
  • Revising hiring, tenure and promotion policies to reward cultural competency and inclusive practices.

Langeland said the first approach of the initiative will be addressed by expanding the College’s existing training in recognizing systemic and often unconscious racism and bias.

“We’ve been diversifying our student body and the idea is that there are institutional barriers to access and we’re trying to eliminate those,” he said.

The second part of the initiative will seek to provide students taking entry-level science and math courses with clearer entry points to those disciplines and guidance to potential careers, he said.

“One of the things we have identified is that we think there are a lot of aspects of our curriculum that are hidden—things that we assume students know and can navigate without being explicit about them,” he said.

Some students come to K steeped in that knowledge, gained from family members or teachers at high-achieving schools, Langeland said; others need a “roadmap” to follow because the route is unfamiliar.

Bringing accomplished alumni into classrooms is another way to help students understand the possibilities for careers in science and math, he said.

In the third approach, the Kalamazoo College Provost’s Office will work with faculty on ways to reward professors for developing skills that help ensure diversity and student success, Langeland said.

Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez said the HHMI grant recognizes K’s existing commitment to inclusiveness and will build momentum for efforts to achieve that goal.

“Talent comes in many forms, and our mission is to recognize and nurture it in the most effective ways,” he said. “We are proud to have the most diverse student body ever at Kalamazoo College, and we firmly believe that with the help of our dedicated faculty and staff, we can ensure that our liberal arts curriculum and our historic strength in sciences and mathematics will provide access to those professions for all students.”

SAGA Foundation Grant Expands Kalamazoo College Programs

SAGA Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to cultivating leadership, has awarded a $1.1 million grant to Kalamazoo College to support the College’s mission to develop enlightened leaders.

The grant, honoring foundation creator Bill Laughlin, will have a far-reaching impact on Kalamazoo College’s campus and in the greater Kalamazoo area by:

SAGA Foundation founder Bill Laughlin with his dog
Bill Laughlin had a deep connection with Kalamazoo College that began in 1951 through Saga Corporation, a food and restaurant company he co-founded. He lived on campus with his dogs in Welles Hall for a short time.
  • Providing SAGA Foundation scholarships for the College’s juniors and seniors
  • Supporting a Bill Laughlin Endowed Internship program, giving stipends to K students working with nonprofit organizations
  • Establishing a Bill Laughlin Leadership Award presented annually to two students who best demonstrate leadership, an entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to community
  • Enhancing the College’s men’s and women’s golf teams
  • Initiating Laughlin Links, an outreach program introducing golf, and teaching valuable life skills, to youth in the Kalamazoo community

“This grant will offer amazing opportunities for Kalamazoo College students to develop their leadership skills on campus and beyond,” Kalamazoo College President Jorge G. Gonzalez said. “It supports K’s approach to the liberal arts by emphasizing experiential education within our local community as well as nationally. We are excited and honored by SAGA Foundation’s trust and confidence.”

The deep connection between Laughlin and K began in 1951 through Saga Corporation, a food and restaurant company he co-founded that supplied the College with food service. Laughlin headed the food service program and became a popular figure at K, briefly living with his dogs in the basement of Welles Hall. He occasionally taught economics and coached the golf team, which won five MIAA conference championships under his guidance in the late 1950s and early 60s.

As Laughlin’s business grew, he served on the boards of more than 45 nonprofit, political and business organizations, including the College’s Board of Trustees from 1963-1980. SAGA Foundation was established to continue his charitable efforts and promote his values. SAGA Foundation President David Bartoshuk said Laughlin was a visionary who believed global problems require bold actions through collaboration, teamwork and open communication.

“Entrusted with continuing Bill’s legacy, SAGA Foundation is honored to partner with the College and provide a multifaceted grant that supports underserved youth and promotes entrepreneurship and leadership,” Bartoshuk said. “We are especially inspired by the creative ways the supported programs incentivize students to bring their passion to the community and make a lasting impact on the world.”

Kalamazoo College, founded in 1833, is a nationally recognized residential liberal arts college located in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The creator of the K-Plan, Kalamazoo College provides an individualized education that integrates rigorous academics with life-changing experiential learning opportunities.

First-Year Student Gets Grant for Chicago Anti-Violence Project

Every year since 2008, Kalamazoo College students have won grants from the Davis Projects for Peace program to carry out efforts to address the root causes of conflict. Still, this year’s winner stands out for her anti-violence project. Aisat (pronounced I-ee-sha) Oladokun’s grant marks the first time that a first-year student at K has received the award.

Anti-Violence Project Grant Winner Aisat Oladokun
Aisat Oladokun will get $10,000 from Davis Projects for Peace for her anti-violence project, “Thoughts for Peace,” this summer in her hometown of Chicago.

She will get $10,000 for her project, “Thoughts for Peace,” this summer in her hometown of Chicago. Her aim is to educate 30 youths, ages 9-15, about resilience during a summer camp in the Chicago neighborhoods most affected by violence.

She will partner with One Solution, a multinational social action group that works in Chicago, Israel and Sweden to end violence. In Chicago, the group says its goal is to provide “an educational intervention to raise the mental immune system of Chicago by catalyzing new thinking.”

Despite her youth, Oladokun, who attended the Perspectives Leadership Academy, a college prep charter school in Chicago, has long been involved in global issues and exchanges. She has been the recipient of scholarships and invitations for travel to Panama, Singapore, Australia and Japan for programs that included a robotics competition and the Yale Global Scholars.

Headquartered at Middlebury College in Vermont, The Davis Projects for Peace is an initiative for undergraduates at participating Davis United World College Scholars Program partner schools, including K, that says it aims to “design grassroots projects … which promote peace and address the root causes of conflict among parties.” It was created in 2007 with funding from Kathryn W. Davis, a scholar, author, world traveler and philanthropist who endowed the grants as a way of celebrating her 100th birthday. Davis, who died at age 106 in 2013, was the mother of Shelby M.C. Davis, whose family funds the Davis Scholars Program.

Other Kalamazoo College student initiatives funded through the program have included “Nets for Prevention and Peace,” which in 2007 distributed anti-malaria mosquito nets in Myanmar where internal displacement of people along the Thai border had sparked violence; “Umeed Ki Kiran” a literacy promotion project in Pakistan in 2014; “Humans Beyond Boxes,” a 2015 effort to help former prisoners in Kalamazoo shed the stigma of incarceration; and “Back to the Source: A Hip-Hop Inspired Agricultural Revolution” that in 2017 borrowed the community orientation of hip-hop music pioneers to establish a sustainable farm for young people in Uganda and market their produce.

Grant Will Boost Student Research Experience

Kalamazoo College’s efforts to get science majors experience in student research, one of the most important factors in providing them an exceptional start in their post-college careers, just got a big boost.

Student research
A $247,500 grant from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation will boost the availability of summer student research experiences for K biology, chemistry and physics majors.

The Sherman Fairchild Foundation will provide $247,500 to fund stipends of $4,000 apiece for students in biology, chemistry and physics to conduct research in summer. The three-year grant will also provide up to $1,500 apiece for students to attend scientific conferences to present their findings and to offset the cost of supplies, said Associate Professor of Physics Arthur Cole, who will serve as director of the project.

The student research beneficiaries, 15 each summer, will include both rising seniors working on their Senior Individualized Projects (SIPs) and younger students, allowing them to get early exposure to life in the lab before deciding whether to pursue science as a career, Cole said. He worked with Assistant Professor of Biology Santiago Salinas, Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dwight Williams and Anne Dueweke, director of grants, fellowships and research, to conceptualize and develop the grant proposal.

“It gives students an earlier chance to seek out research experiences,” Cole said. “A lot of times you think you want to go into the sciences and you don’t know what research is like until you get to try it.”

He said the grant also will make it possible for those who support themselves while attending the College to concentrate on student research, rather than having to seek summer jobs, and could open doors for members of groups who are underrepresented in the sciences.

Salinas said summer research as an undergraduate played a major role in his own decision to become a scientist and professor.

“It’s more than what’s in the textbook,” he said. “They start to see the bigger picture. And they get to try things. It’s how they learn. And it’s fun.”

For those who do decide to pursue scientific careers, Williams said, the opportunity to get early research experience can give them a “leg up” on getting further grants and research opportunities.

“It’s a great way for us to get more students involved in research, particularly with an emphasis on first- and second-year students, instead of waiting until they’re seniors working on their SIPs” he said.

Though most of the research that the grant funds will involve students working with professors on the College’s campus, it will also provide support for up to three K students a year to participate in research at other institutions, Cole said.

College Awarded $800,000 Grant to Strengthen Experiential Learning

Continuing a record of generous support for Kalamazoo College, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded $800,000 to fund a project aimed at updating and strengthening the College’s experiential learning program, a cornerstone of the K-Plan.

Experiential Learning
Putting experiential learning into action, second-year student Madison Butler addresses the Kalamazoo County Commission about a report her class assembled on the county’s local identification card initiative. An $800,000 grant will help the College explore ways to weave such opportunities more tightly into the Kalamazoo College experience.

The grant is the largest yet to K from the foundation, one of the nation’s prime philanthropic supporters of liberal arts education. It brings to more than $4 million the total in grants the New York-based foundation has given the College since the mid-1970s.

The grant recognizes the value of K’s unique approach to liberal arts education, as embodied in the K-Plan: rigorous academics, study abroad, individual scholarship and, of course, experiential education — which provides students opportunities for hands-on, immersive learning in real-life situations.

The four-year award will cover the cost of bringing together students, faculty and staff in various settings and through a variety of means to explore and experiment with:

  • reducing barriers to participation in experiential learning;
  • strengthening faculty engagement with experiential learning; and
  • evolving the K-Plan and expanding its utility and educational impact.

Assistant Professor of English Marin Heinritz ’99, a former chair of the College’s Experiential Education Committee, along with a steering committee for the project, will work with a “design thinking” consultant to facilitate a collaboration between faculty, staff and students around these goals.

Heinritz recalled that as the College altered the K-Plan in the late 1990s, her graduating class was the last to have the second-year spring quarter dedicated to off-campus career development activities such as internships followed by summer classes before the junior year abroad. That revision of the College’s schedule along with factors both economic and societal, she said, may have contributed to decreased participation in some experiential learning programs among K students.

She said the design thinking process focuses on the needs and expectations of those being served—in this case, students—and is intended to inspire innovative strategies for making experiential learning a more organic part of the curriculum.

“The idea is to help elicit thinking from us so we can begin to problem-solve,” Heinritz said. “We’ve gotten this amazing grant so we have these great resources and time to see how it’s going to evolve. There are all kinds of possibilities.”

She said one proposal might be to devise classes that take advantage of K’s long winter break by using part of it for a capstone experience directly related to the material covered in the classroom.

“So for example, I teach a food and travel writing sophomore seminar, and it would be really fun to take the students somewhere connected with that and give them lots of writing and reflection assignments,” she said. “That would change the way I teach that class fundamentally to give them a direct experience.”

College Provost Mickey McDonald also pointed to existing models, such as a project led by Anthropology and Sociology Assistant Professor Francisco Villegas that involved students in Kalamazoo County’s initiative to establish a local ID card for those unable to obtain other forms of government identification. He said that through the process led by Heinritz, students, faculty and staff will seek to make the connections between experiential learning and other parts of the K-Plan “much more explicit for our students.”

“I think there’s a really different landscape now than there was even 10 years ago, before the Great Recession, and so students and their families are thinking about how to hit the ground running as soon as they graduate,” McDonald said. Amid concerns about finishing a degree in the minimum possible time, they can see experiential learning as a luxury or disconnected from their long-term goals.

“One of the ideal outcomes would be that almost no student would see any kind of barrier to experiential learning,” McDonald said. “If we think this kind of education is the best way to prepare them to be great citizens of the world, then we need to take as many of these barriers away as possible.”

McDonald said the focus on such issues, while certain to be greatly enhanced by the grant, is not new, and that students could begin benefiting from the innovative programs it produces as early as the 2018-19 academic year – in line with the launch of the College’s new strategic plan this spring.

“The commitment to the K-Plan, to experiential education, is going to be a central priority of the strategic plan,” he said. “I think this grant and the work that we’ve been doing are going to resonate very well with it.”

Mellon Foundation Grant Supports K Presidential Initiatives

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Kalamazoo College a three-year, $100,000 grant to support presidential initiatives including its institutional strategic planning process.

Mellon Foundation Grant Supports K in Five
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Kalamazoo College a three-year, $100,000 grant to support presidential initiatives including the College’s strategic planning process.

Kalamazoo College, under President Jorge G. Gonzalez, has begun a strategic planning process that will address some of the greatest challenges and opportunities facing the institution. Referred to as K in Five, the process is coordinated by a planning committee appointed in March 2017. The committee includes faculty members, students, alumni, administrators and staff. The committee has begun gathering input through a number of on-campus forums as well as electronic surveys.

The committee, supported by The Clarion Group, will synthesize these results with an objective of producing a strategic plan to be vetted by a number of stakeholders before being offered to the College’s Board of Trustees for approval in March 2018.

Previous Mellon grants to Kalamazoo College have supported curricular initiatives such as the Shared Passages seminar program and the development of a critical ethnic studies major.

“The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is an invaluable strategic partner to liberal arts colleges such as K,” Gonzalez said. “Their support and guidance enables us to better engage across our institution in responding to issues including the macroeconomic forces impacting liberal arts colleges, fostering greater diversity and collaboration within our faculty ranks, and supporting effective teaching and scholarly communication.”

Avon Helps K Promote Healthy Dating Relationships

World map shows sites of schools and organizations that have received Green Dot training
Sites of schools and organizations that have received Green Dot training

The Avon Foundation for Women has awarded Kalamazoo College a $5,000 grant to promote healthy sexual relationships on campus.  The grant will allow K to begin training in the Green Dot Campaign.

The Green Dot Campaign is a new way to help prevent sexual assault. The program is designed to teach bystanders and peers how to help intervene in an unsafe situation.

Deb Rose, one of K’s counseling psychologists, applied for the grant last summer. She will be attending a training course  this summer, where she will learn how to use the Green Dot strategy and how to teach it to groups and student organizations on campus.

Dean Sarah Westfall said, “National data suggests that on college campuses sexual assault is widely under reported. I think it is true at K as well. No one wants that. The Green Dot Campaign looks at what tools are already available. It makes a lot of sense.”

Dean Westfall hopes to keep the campaign going year round with informative training sessions for everyone, not just student organizations. “The more people who know the program, the better for everyone,” said Westfall.

K Students Will Benefit from Chemistry Grant Renewal

Professor of Chemistry Laura Furge has received a renewal of her National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to support continued research in the area of drug-drug interactions. She will conduct this research with undergraduate science students at Kalamazoo College. Adverse drug-drug interactions are common among individuals who take multiple drugs (both over the counter and prescribed), particularly among older persons and among individuals whose bodies express variants of drug metabolizing (drug processing) enzymes. The research in the Furge lab will benefit human health by adding to the understanding of how certain classes of drugs may interact in individuals and cause drug-drug induced unfavorable medical events. Furge currently has five research students working in her lab and has mentored two dozen in her lab and many more in her classes over the past 13 years at K. Funding from the NIH will help ensure continued research opportunities for future generations of scientists. The grant will provide $225,000 over three years.


Mellon Grant to K

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has approved a four-year $500,000 grant to Kalamazoo College to support faculty development and curricular enhancements within the College’s Shared Passages Seminars, a program that helps students focus on critical thinking and writing skills, delve deeply into cultural issues, integrate their K experiences, and prepare for life after graduation.

Shared Passages Seminars are a unifying arc through K’s more open liberal arts curriculum introduced in 2009, and serve as both preparation for and integration of all of the K-Plan components: depth and breadth in the liberal arts; learning through experience; intercultural and international engagement, especially through study abroad; and independent scholarship, culminating in the Senior Individualized Project.

Seminars are required in each year except the junior year at K when more than 80 percent of students complete a study abroad or study away experience lasting an average of six months.

“This grant will afford faculty the opportunity to individually and collectively explore innovative and effective pedagogies, and develop new and revised course offerings in the seminar program,” said Kalamazoo College Provost Mickey McDonald.