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Kuyper Scholars Program to debut

By Sally Jongsma

Since she came to Dordt College four years ago, Dr. Mary Dengler has noticed a small but steady number of students who always want to dig a little deeper, to read and learn more than is required in their courses.

"They kind of hang around after class asking follow-up questions, sharing something they've read or thought about," she says.

For these students the new Kuyper Scholars Program (KSP) may be just the thing, says Dengler, who along with Dr. Arnold Sikkema will coordinate the new honors program when it begins in fall 2005.

"The program is for students who are keen about academics," says Sikkema. Dengler describes the kinds of students she envisions in the program: those who are curious, who read beyond what they must, who are interested in research, and who enjoy discussing ideas.

Dengler, who teaches in the English department, believes that giving such students an opportunity to study and work with like-minded students will inspire and challenge them to more scholarly work.

"Students and alums have been asking for an honors program for some time," says Sikkema, who teaches physics. He is particularly enthusiastic about the opportunities the program offers for more interdisciplinary study.

"This is a program that is unique to Dordt College, built upon our view of the student and our vision for education," he says. He and Dengler believe the program can better prepare academically gifted students to be leaders in the Christian community and the world. In so doing they believe KSP will better meet the needs of academically gifted students at Dordt College.

The scholars' program offers a variety of options to students who wish to participate. Those who complete the program will earn a KSP minor of eighteen credits. First-year students in the program will begin by taking KSP 151, Rhetoric and Christian Scholarship, a course that fulfills the general education requirement for English 101 and Communication 110. Students will do rhetoric projects and research on issues related to Christian scholarship.

Throughout their college career KSP students will have the opportunity to earn credits through "scholar contracts." These contracts, which add greater theoretical and interdisciplinary depth to course work, are arranged with individual professors and add one to three credits to those already received for a course. Students will do research, writing, presentation, or performance in addition to regular or modified course work.

In a physics class, for example, a student could contract to learn more about the physics of music as part of the course. The professor would help set up supplemental activities that would build on the knowledge of oscillations and waves discussed early in the course.

Individual and group projects are a third way for students to participate and earn credit. KSP students will present the results of their projects to groups of other students in the program.

These projects do not just give students harder material to master, they provide ways for them to make connections with other disciplines. A student in an agriculture class, for example, could research the ecological effects of large-scale farming. Several students could develop a business plan to start up an enterprise such as a new campus coffeehouse, writing a paper on the impact the coffeehouse could have on the academic community

The fourth element of the program involves interacting with campus speakers and discussing ideas that arise from their lectures. Special discussions with guest speakers and student-led follow-up discussions will be planned for KSP participants.

Sikkema believes that KSP students will gain a better sense of what it is to be a Christian in the academic world and of what Christian scholarship is about as a result of the program. And he hopes that the interdisciplinary emphasis of the program will encourage students to go on to graduate school in areas they might not have considered before.

"The number of and need for interdisciplinary degrees is increasing in our world," he says. "We want students that God has gifted academically to develop those gifts to their greatest potential and then use them to give leadership and serve others."