New cohort aims to strengthen Calvin’s core commitment to sustainability


Plaster Creek Stewards

Calvin is introducing the Sustainability Fellows in Fall 2023.

Calvin is set to introduce a new cohort, called Sustainability Fellows, that will give students an opportunity to dive deeper into environmental-related issues.  

The new cohort, meant for students beginning in the fall of 2023, will form a social place connecting students to resources to help them broaden their understanding of the current state of the biological issues that plague today’s world. 

What we’re looking for is an opportunity to … bring a lot of different sustainability-focused [projects] into one coherent student experience that you could start from day one.

— Julia VanderMolen

According to Julia VanderMolen, director of Calvin Cohorts and special assistant to the provost, the introduction of Sustainability Fellows was largely due to Calvin’s core commitment to creating a more sustainable environment.     

“What we’re looking for is an opportunity to … bring a lot of different sustainability-focused [projects] into one coherent student experience that you could start from day one,” said VanderMolen.

Tom Hartzell, director of the Sustainability Fellows program, told Chimes that one of the major inspirations for creating the cohort was to give students a way “to engage with sustainability … [academically] … and also work on meaningful projects.” According to Hartzell, the cohort will help students “connect faith with sustainability,” and also “see the different ways that they can bring sustainability into different working contexts.”

“We really want to equip them to be able to go into a place – a workplace or a community – to be able to look around and see what needs to be done and have the skills to be able to create change in that place,” Hartzell said. 

The new cohort will also act as a way for other members of the Calvin community who are passionate about sustainability to connect. 

Cohorts can increase students’ sense of belonging and attract new students. (Noah Buscher on Unsplash)

VanderMolen believes that cohorts like the Sustainability Fellows can give students “a very solid sense of belonging early on from … the first class together” as  “they’re building these relationships around … common passions.” 

According to Hartzell, the new cohort is also planning to introduce an annual conference focused on sustainability called the “Sustainability Summit.” The summit could connect schools, people and organizations from different parts of the Midwest that are passionate about sustainability to share ideas. 

The cohort will also connect students to current sustainability organizations at Calvin University, such as the Clean Water Institute and Plaster Creek Stewards and other internships and workshops. 

The creation of cohorts like the Sustainability Fellows also helps Calvin attract new students. Students who are interested in cohorts and have gone through the whole process of applying to enter a cohort are more likely to accept their application and eventually come to Calvin, according to VanderMolen.

Although the details are not yet concrete, VanderMolen said the goal is to create a course “focused on project-based learning and partnering with organizations and companies in sustainability projects.” 

According to VanderMolen, such partnerships would usually tie in with Calvin, organizations or people in Calvin’s local community, for example “trying to figure out what [to] do with all our food waste to be more sustainable,” said VanderMolen. Through integrating various disciplinary approaches from disciplines like philosophy, political science or environmental studies, students in the Sustainability Fellows will work on various projects aimed to improve the environmental conditions of Calvin, and the world at large.