posted August 29, 2010

Convocation Talk Emphasizes Approaches for Making the Most of College

With the members of the incoming Class of 2014 at Hope College at the beginning of their college experience, speaker Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown suggested ways to make the most of the learning opportunities ahead.

Trent-Brown, an assistant professor of psychology, presented the address “A Multi-‘tude’ of Opportunity” during the college’s Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 29, in the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse.

Approximately 2,000, primarily new students and their families, attended the event, which marked the formal beginning of the college’s 149th academic year. The new students moved in on Friday and returning students began moving in on Sunday. Fall semester classes start on Tuesday.

Trent-Brown included the colloquial short form of the word “attitude” in the title of her address to emphasize that how the students approach their education will play a key role in what they gain from it. She suggested that they adopt a multitude of “’tudes” in pursuing the multiple lessons that their years at Hope will offer.

First, she encouraged the students to embrace the way that the college’s “multi-disciplinary” liberal arts education can give them additional perspectives with which to understand the world and make a difference in it. “As we better comprehend the world in which we live—its intricacies, nuances and subtleties—we are better prepared to meet its needs, to battle its ills, and to uplift its joys; making informed contributions and providing effective service,” she said.

Next, Trent-Brown said that they should also take full advantage of Hope’s “multicontextual focus,” or emphasis on educating the whole person. “At Hope we identify three primary contexts within which we want students to grow—the academic, the co-curricular and the spiritual,” she said. “Hope strives to be a place where the integration across these multiple contexts forges interconnections that produce more substantial learning outcomes for students than could any of the single contexts alone.”

Third, she noted that the students should be open to the different styles of learning, or “multidirectional pedagogy,” that they would encounter, from traditional classroom teaching, to hands-on laboratory sessions, to field placements, service-learning projects and more. “First, it encourages us to be open to learning in ways that may be very different from what we have been accustomed to, because, you know, it may turn out that it works for you,” she said. “Second, our ‘multi-‘tude’ encourages us to jump right in with full willingness to participate. If we only give something a weak, half-attempt, we’re already putting ourselves at a disadvantage for reaping maximum benefit from the experience.”

Fourth, she encouraged them to be open to the many prospects that the college will offer for “multicultural encounter,” from on-campus coursework to domestic or overseas off-campus study to learning from others at Hope who are from different races and traditions. “We’ve heard about the necessities of globalization and being able to participate effectively in the changing world, in effect, becoming adept global citizens. So, yes, this will be important for your careers, but more importantly, for your lives,” she said. “Our ‘multi-‘tude’ here encourages openness, hospitality, patience, honesty, humility and compassion. It also undergirds courage—it can be scary moving outside your comfort zone, making ‘first contact,’ not knowing what you might find and how it might change your life… change you.”

Trent-Brown also asked the students to pursue the multiple attitudes in a unified way, “thoughtful, intentional and prayerful in discerning amongst the choices.” She reflected on the way that the Christian faith informs learning at Hope and cited Philippians 2:1-11, in which Paul calls for his readers to follow Christ’s example and act in faith and humility, and with regard for others.

“It has been said that ‘it is your attitude… that determines your altitude,’ meaning that you can achieve new heights in your life if you are intentional about your attitude,” she said. “Class of 2014, there is no limit to the heights you might achieve sharing the attitude of Christ, and a ‘multi-‘tude approach to your education, you just have to rise to the occasion.”