New community-focused cohort to launch in fall


Photo courtesy

Community connection is at the heart of this new cohort.

Calvin will welcome the inaugural class of the Common Good Coalition (CGC), a learning community anchored in exploring and promoting the common good next fall. Cohorts are a part of Calvin’s admissions strategy and provide students with opportunities to pursue interests outside their majors.

The CGC will join Calvin’s existing roster of cohorts, offering a shared learning experience for students interested in community engagement and flourishing.

What are cohorts, and why have them?

Calvin’s existing cohorts, according to Julia VanderMolen, director of Calvin Cohorts and special assistant to the provost, are “communities of belonging … They’re ways that students can explore something that they’re passionate about, but not necessarily majoring in.” 

Cohort building is an intentional enrollment strategy. Potential students who are accepted to a cohort are more likely to attend Calvin than others who are not in a cohort, according to VanderMolen.

“[Cohorts] allow students to find something that they’re passionate about and see that Calvin has a community for them,” VanderMolen told Chimes. “Maybe [potential students] wouldn’t have considered Calvin solely on the basis of their major, but because they could pair their major with this opportunity, then it becomes a really attractive offer.” 

Recently, Calvin has invested in cohorts with especial vigor. Along with the CGC, another brand new cohort ––  Sustainability Fellows –– will launch in fall 2023. And in the following year, Calvin University plans to launch two additional cohorts: Health Ambassadors and Digital Life. By fall 2024, Calvin will have seven cohorts in total.

Provost Noah Toly played a significant role in driving the development of new cohorts, according to Micah Watson, professor of political science. “When Provost Toly came to Calvin, he had come from Wheaton, and Wheaton had been pretty proactive in creating cohort possibilities for students,” Watson said.

“I think [Toly] knew that [cohorts] are valuable for students and valuable for the university,” VanderMolen said. “He’s been a really big supporter.” 

Designing the CGC

Accordingly, about a year ago, a group of faculty and staff members were invited to brainstorm and design “unique” new cohorts, Watson told Chimes.

Watson worked with Andrew Haggerty, former director of the Service Learning Center, to brainstorm ideas for a cohort focused on civics and community development. “We met several times to talk about what that cohort might look like and what would be attractive for students,” Watson said. 

The new cohort, eventually dubbed the Common Good Coalition, aligned clearly with sociology professor Mark Mulder’s research interests. He was appointed to lead the CGC last August. Watson, alongside political science Professor Tracy Kuperus and statistics Professor Stacy De Ruiter, will serve the cohort in an advisory capacity.

In February, Mulder and other faculty and staff members will interview potential cohort members. There are between 20 and 24 open spots, VanderMolen told Chimes, but there are already 38 applicants.

In the meantime, Mulder is working to shape the CGC’s curriculum. Students in the cohort will take four dedicated classes together, spread out over their first two years of college. These classes will count for core credit. “I’m imagining a social and behavioral sciences class,” Mulder said, “and a humanities class –– those types of things.”

Mulder also envisions ad hoc cohort gatherings, which could range from shared meals to weekend trips. Since community development is a cornerstone of the cohort, students will spend plenty of time in Grand Rapids too. Mulder plans to engage Calvin’s alumni network to create opportunities for community engagement for the cohort students.

“We have a tremendous network of Calvin alums who actually run a lot of the social service agencies and community development organizations [in Grand Rapids],” said Mulder. “There are a lot of opportunities for us to tap into those alumni networks –– for the Common Good students to see how Calvin alums are already deeply committed to enhancing the common good.” 

Finally, students in the CGC are guaranteed an off-campus experience. While nothing is set in stone, Mulder is currently considering a civil rights tour of the South or an exploration of sustainable urban development in Florida. 

While the CGC itself may be new, Mulder said, its principles are not. “It’s a packaging of things we’ve been doing for a long time.” 

“We’re trying to highlight [that] this is a value of ours. We believe in seeking the good of the city. We believe in fostering communities of justice and belonging,” said VanderMolen. “We do this in a variety of areas, and we want to make it really easy for students to step into that in their very first semester.”