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Dordt is awarded $2 million Lilly Grant

By Sally Jongsma

Being invited to apply for a $2 million dollar grant is hard to pass up for educational institutions like Dordt College. There are always more ideas for good things to do than there is money to fund them. So, two years ago, when Lilly Endowment Inc. invited Dordt College to apply for a grant as part of their Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation, a group of faculty got to work. Dordt was one of thirty-nine colleges to receive one of last year's round of awards. Eighty-eight church-related colleges and universities have received $2 million grants over the past three years.

Dr. Socorro Woodbury is one of over twenty faculty members who are teaching and mentoring first year students.

Dr. Socorro Woodbury is one of over twenty faculty members who are teaching and mentoring first year students.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is interested in helping colleges and universities train future Christian leaders and in encouraging them to consider ministry in the church.

"I immediately saw the grant as a possible way to better fund our youth ministry program," says Kok, who is dean of the humanities division and now also project coordinator for the grant.

But Lilly's notion of Christian vocation was open-ended, Kok says. "Parts of the description refer to ecclesial ministry, but parts also clearly talk about a full-orbed sense of Christian vocation."

In its application for the grant, Dordt College committed to being more deliberate in encouraging students to examine the relationship between their faith and their vocational choices, to provide more opportunities for students to explore Christian ecclesial ministry, and to enhance our ability to mentor students in ways that recognize God's call to serve in many areas of life.

The planning committee listed six considerations that would guide their proposal:

Whole-life discipleship

Whole-person education

Hearing the world's needs

Disciplined scholarship

Opportunities for leadership

Community engagement and encouragement

Many institutions have picked up on Lilly's desire to train Christian students for church-related ministry. Dordt College did too, but the bulk of the grant focused on the broader curriculum through Gen 100, a new course in the general education program titled Kingdom, Identity, and Calling. That means the grant money affects everyone, not just those with certain interests.

The five-year, $2 million grant is now funding "Programs in Christian Vocation: From Insight to Ministry," offering nearly a dozen different opportunities for Dordt College students and faculty. The cornerstone of the program is the new first-term seminar, Gen 100, in which students will discuss not only the concept of calling, but also talk about specific career plans with their advisor/mentor. A small amount of the grant money will be used to fund faculty research that is related to the concept of Christian vocation and calling as well as faculty release time to redesign courses that better weave the notion of vocation into their curriculum.

As Kok hoped when he saw the invitation to apply for the grant, the youth ministry program is benefiting through increased staffing for the theology department. Adding Dr. Tom Wolthuis to their staff has allowed the department to add more courses in youth ministry.

Money is also designated for a half-time director for a proposed honors program that could begin as early as next fall. Although still being fleshed out, the proposed program would target students who exhibit such things as a passion for learning, critical thinking skills, curiosity, self-discipline, creativity, and a willingness to live a life of service.

Campus worship is also affected by making money available to bring in outside speakers and alumni for chapel. Grants are available for seminary and graduate school visits, as well as career shadowing. And $30,000 has been designated for summer grants for students who participate in mission or service opportunities instead working in a higher paying job to earn tuition.

A lecture series on Christian vocation, grants for faculty research on Christian vocation, and faculty retreats on such topics as whole-life discipleship are also in the proposal and will be implemented in the months ahead.

For Kok, the exciting thing about the grant is not the money, but what it makes possible.

"We always have so many good ideas for improving the education we offer, but we get busy with the next day's work and often don't have the time or opportunity to implement those ideas," he says. The Lilly grant made some changes possible because it gives faculty the time and the resources to implement new initiatives.