Student Post: How a Pre-dental Student found Environmental Studies

Freshman year I thought college was just like any other school experience; all I had to do was take the classes that would get me to the point of applying to dental school. I never anticipated falling in love with a field, which seemed to have nothing to do with dentistry.

It all started with my Honors freshman sequence, Food For Thought. I signed up for the class because it seemed like fun! Who wouldn’t want to talk about food for an entire school year? I quickly found out it was much more than just talking about food. I learned the different ways food is grown and processed and how these details have massive impacts on our planet. Not only did I learn all the ways that we impact our planet, I learned how the planet also impacts us.

I learned the benefits, physically and mentally, of being outdoors, as well as the health benefits of eating certain food groups and avoiding others. We learned all of this through a variety of teaching techniques, ranging from readings to classroom discussions to watching documentaries.

My favorite part was getting to apply our learning out at the Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP). At the SAP there is no passive learning. Unlike other classes where you might be able take notes all class without actually knowing what you are taking notes on, at the SAP you learn something and apply it right away. You can develop your interpersonal and problem-solving skills by working with the interns, farm manager Youssef and classmates on projects there.

It is safe to say that after Food For Thought my eyes were opened to an entirely different way of viewing the world, and there was no turning back. I found a passion for the environment and for sustainable food production that drove me to pick up a minor in Environmental Studies and also work towards a Certificate in Sustainable Food Systems.

Now, three years after Food For Thought, I have had countless classes out at the Sustainable Agriculture Project and it has not only helped me grow as a student but has also taught me a few things about myself. Beyond discovering my passion for taking care of our planet and knowing where our food comes from, I also learned the importance of disconnecting.

As a biomedical sciences student, my mind is always on the move and it is easy to get stressed out with to do lists running through my head all day long. However, when I went out to the farm it forced me to set aside my phone, computer and to do lists and just let go. Whether I was digging up the soil to prepare a garden, or out weeding, or harvesting, being out at the farm was meditative to me. It taught me that no matter how busy life may become it’s important to take time for you and connect with nature a little bit.

You may be wondering how this ever connected back to dentistry. Well, it turns out that the food we eat can greatly impact our health, I know, shocking. I hope, as a dentist or orthodontist someday, that I will be able to share my experience with my patients and spread the importance of knowing where our food comes from. So, come graduation I will not only be graduating with a degree in Biomedical Sciences, and a minor in Environmental Studies, but also with a completely different view of the world and I think that is exactly what college is all about.



Alyssa Schutzenhofer is a senior here at Grand Valley. She is a Biomedical Sciences major, Pre-dental student and an Environmental Studies minor. In her free time she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and gardening.


Faculty Post: Pursuing Passions

One reason I love working at GVSU is that we faculty are free to follow our intellectual passions. I came out of my English graduate program with a special interest in political rhetoric, and my first significant publication was a rhetorical analysis of arguments for and against the 1991 US invasion of Iraq. Some years later, my most important journal publication argued for a particular method of placing first-year students into the appropriate composition course. Now I’m publishing a book on 1890s women bicycle racers. At many universities around the country, such variety would be frowned upon—and would likely jeopardize my ability to get tenure. Not so at GVSU. Here, we honor free inquiry and see value in chasing intellectual passions, wherever they lead.

Pic 1

My interest in 1890s women’s bicycle racing started with a postcard my wife saw in Big O’s café in downtown Grand Rapids. Tillie, the Terrible Swede. The fastest bicyclist of her sex. These words excited Sue’s intellectual passions, and after quite a bit of research she ended up publishing a children’s picture book about Tillie.

To celebrate, Sue and I rode our bikes to Chicago, Tillie’s hometown, stopping along the Picture 2way to give presentations at schools that normally couldn’t afford author visits. In Chicago we met Alice Roepke—Tillie’s great-niece—who owned four volumes of Tillie’s scrapbooks, along with dozens of other documents and images, stowed away in a cabin in Minnesota. Always a sucker for memorabilia, I knew I had to see those scrapbooks. And when I did, I knew I had to write a book.

My research confirmed that women’s bicycle racing in the 1890s had been one of the most popular sports in America—yet I could find almost nothing about it in recently published sources. It was as if the women never existed.

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That was 2013. Three years later, I had a full manuscript and a book proposal. Here’s the pitch I used when sending the manuscript to publishers:

“Spurred by the emergence of the ‘safety’ bicycle and the ensuing cultural craze, women’s professional bicycle racing thrived in America from 1895 to 1902. Unlike the trudging round-the-clock marathons the men (and their spectators) endured, women’s six-day races were tightly scheduled, fast-paced, and highly competitive, and the best racers of the era—Tillie Anderson, Lizzie Glaw, Dottie Farnsworth, and others—became household names. They were America’s first great women athletes. Despite concerted efforts by the League of American Wheelmen to marginalize the sport and by reporters and other critics to belittle and objectify the women, these athletes forced turn-of-the-century America to rethink strongly held convictions about female frailty and competitive spirit. Alas, because of one highly publicized but poorly managed New York City race in January 1896, the sport was dismissed early on by eastern critics. Nevertheless, over the next six years it drew large and enthusiastic crowds across the rest of the country, from Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Chicago to Minneapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, and New Orleans—and many smaller towns and cities in between. The negative eastern bias unfortunately prevailed, and the sport has been almost entirely ignored in sports history, women’s history, and even bicycling history. This book is the first to give these pioneering athletes the place they deserve in those histories.”

Women on the Move: The Forgotten Era in Women’s Bicycle Racing will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in October. If you’re interested in learning more, come to Cook-DeWitt on Wednesday, February 7, at 6:00 p.m., when I’ll be reading from the book and sharing some of Alice’s wonderful images.



Roger Gilles is Professor of Writing and currently serving as interim director of the Frederik Meijer Honors College. After growing up mainly in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Professor Gilles earned a BA in creative and professional writing from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and an MFA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition from the University of Arizona in Tucson. He joined the Grand Valley faculty in 1992.

Faculty Post: Balancing Work, Rest and Personal Research

What is a sabbatical? One can trace its lineage to the Hebrew word, shevat, which refers to a scheduled period of rest. The anglicized term “sabbath” in European and American cultures can be traced back to the Judeo-Christian influences on academic culture. Today, while the term has become more “secularized” in Academia, its function remains.

In Academia, “rest” does not mean stopping work entirely but having freedom to direct one’s focus elsewhere.

During a typical semester, much of a professor’s time is spread across a number of different areas: serving on committees, teaching classes and independent studies, and conducting and publishing research. And with the pace that cultural expectations for teaching change, effectiveness in the classroom many times requires keeping up on quickly changing trends in pedagogies and technologies.

In many cases, because a professor’s personal research is self-regulated, it tends to take a back seat to other things with more immediate concerns or deadlines. In my situation, for example, research for my own scholarly activity tends to decrease as I focus on preparing for committees, classes, and other university activities.

Though the summer offers time to catch up, it is sometimes nice to have a longer period to finish a large project, such as a book. Sabbaticals provide professors that opportunity.

During my sabbatical, for instance, I was able to spend time as a visiting research fellow at Yale University and conduct research in Italy for a book that is now in print with Routledge.

Taking some time away from my normal obligations permitted me a greater amount of time to finish my research and edit the manuscript before submitting it to the publisher. And that was good for a project that required additional research beyond what I had done before.

An even greater benefit to my sabbatical is that I am able to bring the fruits of my research into my classrooms to enhance my teaching for the benefit of my students.


Cataldo1Jeremiah Cataldo is Associate Professor of History in the Frederik Meijer Honors College. He earned his Ph.D. from Drew University, a Master in Philosophy from Drew University, a Master in Ministry from Bethel College, and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Bethel College. He is the author of numerous books and journal articles, including his two most recent: Biblical Terror (Bloomsbury, 2017) and A Social-Political History of Monotheism (Routledge, 2018). Of late, his research has been on two related areas: how social and political desires shape monotheistic traditions, and how dominant interpretive traditions of monotheistic texts preserve cultural prejudices. A strong supporter of cultivating well-roundedness in mind and body, he enjoys woodworking, multi-day backpacking, running ultramarathons (he has completed 100 mile and 50 mile distances), training in Taekwondo as a third degree black belt, and has recently started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He teaches Alliance and Conflict, Terror of Monotheism, and Textual Tease. 

Student Post: Designing the Future of Honors

This semester, the Design Thinking junior seminar was tasked with the challenge of making Grand Valley’s Honors College more distinctive. On the first day of class, we were split into three teams of six or seven students. Our professor, Professor Chamberlain, did this by looking at students’ majors, attempting to create teams of diverse thought.

To foster a productive environment, each team created a team charter which outlined the expectations of individual team members and the team as a whole. Next, we completed a design brief. Through this, our team’s problem statement was established. Each team chose an area of focus that they felt was extremely important.

For example, team Uncharted chose to focus on marketing aspects of the Honors College and creating a brand. Team PSI focused on the curriculum and improvements that can be made in order to make it accessible and applicable to all majors at Grand Valley. Our team, the Creativity Crew, wanted to shine a light on the lack of diversity in the Honors College.

At our first meeting, our team realized that we were a group of diverse students, which is hard to find in the Honors College. Not only were we racially diverse, but we were interested in and involved in numerous academic areas and student organizations.

The design thinking process, which emphasizes empathy with the end user, began with primary research. In total, we interviewed twenty-four of our stakeholders, people we felt were invested in our challenge.

Additionally, we completed secondary research, in the form of fifteen research bibliographies. Through our research, we discovered our top five need statements. In turn, these led us to our top five prototypes, our top two innovations, and finally, our decision to focus on the implementation of a service learning trip with a target of creating dialogue with a focus on diversity. We presented our final prototype at our innovation symposium, with the goal of receiving support from our stakeholders.

Speaking for our entire class, this semester was full of ups and downs. While challenging at times, we gained confidence in our ideas and our ability to implement these ideas. This course changed the Creativity Crew’s perspective on what a team is, but also redefined what it means to be a member of a team. Now, we are learning to embrace the unknown because it is full of potential possibilities waiting to be understood and innovated with.

(The Creativity Crew, from left to right: Taylor, Pierce, Lynn, Marisa, Alexis, and Darius.)

Lynn Doherty is an International Relations major, with minors in Business and Spanish.

Marisa Kahnt is a Liberal Studies with an emphasis in Leadership, minors in Human Rights and Psychology.

Student Post: Honorable Transfer

Winter is fast approaching, and with it, memories of the time when I first arrived at Grand Valley State University. For most freshmen, the winter 2016 semester would be their second semester, but I’ve always liked to differentiate myself from others. This would be my first semester at any university. It is common to feel slightly anxious on such an occasion, and I was no different; I was in a foreign country, with no prior experience within higher education. I did not know what to expect in terms of the classes I would be taking (I thought 17 credit hours seemed like a reasonable course load), and I would be living with someone whom I had never met. Also, the grocery line at Meijer was atrocious.

Thankfully, things went well. I could not have asked for a better roommate, and I somehow managed to emerge relatively unscathed from my classes. Some aspects of American culture were still confusing to me (it’s an ongoing process), but I was no longer concerned about whether I belonged at Grand Valley.

A great deal of the credit for the alleviation of my fears goes to the faculty, who were willing to go beyond what was expected of them in order to ensure that their students thrived. I was first made aware of the Honors College by one of these faculty members, namely Professor Coeli Fitzpatrick. I had taken MES 201 with Professor Fitzpatrick, a class I thoroughly enjoyed, and recommend to anyone wishing to learn more about an oft-misunderstood region. Her office is located in the Honors College, and due to the absence of any comparable institutions in Norway, I lacked a frame of reference with which to understand the significance of an Honors College. Once I realized what membership in the Frederick Meijer Honors College entailed, it was clear that this was something worth inquiring about.

I sent in a few questions, and was pleasantly surprised by the response; the then-Director of the Honors College, Dr. Jeffrey Chamberlain, wrote back. He answered my questions with the utmost consideration, and was instrumental in my decision to submit an application. I was informed that I was an internal transfer student; that is to say, a student who is already attending GVSU. Due to this, my first-semester grades were emphasized more than my (lacklustre) high school grades. Dr. Chamberlain has since become the Dean of the Hicks Honors College at the University of North Florida, but I was astonished that someone of his stature would involve himself in my application process.

I was admitted into the Honors College for the fall semester of 2016, and entered into the year-long Foundational Interdisciplinary Sequences. There were a great deal of fascinating courses to choose from, but I eventually opted for The Middle East Beyond the Headlines (taught by the aforementioned Professor Fitzpatrick and Professor Majd Al-Mallah). Additionally, I enrolled in various classes which were exclusive to members of the Honors College; one of the many benefits associated with membership.

As a result of becoming a part of the Honors College, I was able to establish and nurture relationships with faculty which have sustained my academic aspirations thus far. I consider a number of these professors as my mentors—whether they feel similarly is debatable. Without the guidance of these individuals I would not have the opportunities which I possess today. My advice to students, Honors and non-Honors alike is to not neglect the greatest resource any university has to offer: its faculty and staff.


Jorgen Reberg is currently a sophomore at Grand Valley State University. And although Jorgen’s major is Psychology, his main interests lie with his minors; Middle East Studies and Human Rights. Having spent most of his life in Norway, he arrived in the United States in 2014. Since then, he has been involved in the long and arduous journey to acquire a Green Card. Jorgen is currently an RA in South Apartments, and has yet to be ousted by his residents.

Student Post: All Ears on the Small Screen

As Honors students with lots of interests and pursuits, sometimes it’s difficult for us to set aside time for hobbies. Maybe it’s just me, but free time seems more and more like a fantasy world I’d love to visit! My class schedule isn’t crazy this semester. I’m taking ten credits here at GVSU, but I’m also working twenty-five hours a week as a professional hairstylist, and trying to be a good dad and husband. After I plop my book bag down at home, I’m often heading to the kitchen to cook dinner for my family. It’s a full schedule, but in my free time I focus on the hobbies I enjoy, one of which is songwriting. This year I’m working on a very special songwriting project – I’ve been hired to write, perform, and record the original music for a new show on PBS!

How did this happen? How did I just start writing the little ditties that will end up becoming the background music and the theme song for a TV show? I guess I’m still pinching myself.

Even though I grew up watching PBS as a kid in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I never dreamed I’d be making the music for one of those shows. It’s not that I don’t have experience. I’ve been playing in bands and writing original music for over twenty years. I began writing songs when I was fifteen – a bratty punk kid playing sloppy guitar while my little brother sang improvised lyrics in our tree house. A few years later, as a young college dropout, I started several bands in Grand Rapids, eventually booking gigs at places like Meijer Gardens, the Pyramid Scheme, and Founders Brewery. For the most part, though, I found it impossible to make money as a musician, and a few years ago I started putting my energy toward finishing my college degree instead of chasing music.

And that’s what I’ve done – I’ve focused on studying, catching the bus on time to make it to class, and keeping my GPA up. I have to admit, though, I was happily surprised when J Schwanke, a client of mine at the salon, pitched his idea to me while I was cutting his hair. He needed a boatload of original music for his new lifestyle TV show about flowers, and he wanted to know if I could write it for him. I jumped at the chance.

J is a flower expert, and has been fascinated by flowers his whole life. A fourth-generation florist, he’s fond of saying, “I was born at a flower show!” (And he actually was.) He travels nationally and internationally, working with florists, flower farmers, and floral product companies to promote a happier world filled with flowers. I’m just the guy who cuts his hair. But for a few hours every week this semester, I’ll be in the basement in my sweatpants, perfecting guitar riffs and rolling piano chords, trying to make background music that’s so happy and light, you won’t even notice it.

Keep an ear out next spring when you’re flipping through channels. “J Schwanke’s Life In Bloom” premieres on PBS across Michigan in May 2018. And if you’re a flower lover, contact your local station (WGVU!) and ask them to carry it. If the flowers don’t make you smile, the music will.



Ben Scott-Brandt is a songwriter and professional hairstylist in Grand Rapids. He’s also a Liberal Studies major, an Honors student, and an amateur mycology geek. Listen online at He is pictured (left) with J Schwanke, the creator of  “J Schwanke’s Life in Bloom.”

6 Things to Remember During the Last 6 Weeks

As we wind into the final weeks of the semester, tension grows as students become more stressed. Class projects that were assigned in the first week of classes are finally due, as well as papers, speeches and of course, final exams. As we wrap up the semester, take advantage of these 6 things in your last 6 weeks.

  1. Stress around finals becomes inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it should go unnoticed. Remember that the University Counseling Center is always available, even if you just want to go and talk out everything that you need to do. Students get 10 free sessions a year, so take advantage of them. Their website even has self-help tools that give tips and tricks to combat stress and help you relax.


  1. Assigned a speech and extremely nervous about it? Don’t worry, the Speech Lab specializes in speech delivery and is one of 16 communication centers with a nationally certified training program. A tip that many people don’t know is the speech lab goes beyond class assignments, but will also help with wedding toasts, sales pitches or award presentations!


  1. Although everyone is avoiding thinking it, this time of year is when the dreaded group presentations begin. The Knowledge Market specializes in presentations, helping to select topics, organize information efficiently and practice delivery.


  1. On top of helping with presentations, the Knowledge Market also specializes in research. Their research consultants work to gather peer-reviewed and scholarly articles, while helping to focus the topic and set you up for an awesome paper! Pair them with the writing consultants from the Writing Center, who brainstorm ideas, organize content and integrate research, and you’re sure to get an A. For your convenience, you can even work with a writing consultant from your own bed thanks to their online consultations.


  1. Although pushing final exams out of mind seems ideal, they’re right around the corner. Test taking skills are important to brush up on, and the Student Academic Success Center is here to help. They offer tutoring, academic coaching, academic skills resources and academic strategies. Need a quiet place to study or a room to study with others? Reserve a room at the library early to guarantee a whiteboard to study with.


  1. Although it can be extremely easy to forget to have fun, though getting out and about can be amazing for self-care. Starting on November 24, Rosa Parks Circle opens for ice skating at only $3.00 per adult, including skate rentals. While you’re downtown, check out the Grand Rapids Griffins, single tickets can be as low as $19, though many student orgs sell them at a discounted rate on campus. Grand Valley also has an event on Monday, December 4 with French Music for the Holiday season that you don’t want to miss.

Although there are only 6 weeks left until the end of fall semester, take advantage of campus resources and downtown Grand Rapids before heading home!