Physicist Dr. Rachel Reena Philip has been spending the spring semester at Hope as a visiting exchange professor through the college’s ongoing partnership with her home institution of Union Christian College in India, her positive experiences reinforcing her decision to seek the opportunity.

An assistant professor of physics at UCC, she arrived in February and is staying through the end of May.  She has been conducting research in the laboratory of Dr. Stephen Remillard, associate professor of physics and chairperson of the department, and also experiencing a variety of aspects of life at Hope, including attending administrative meetings to learn more about how the college operates and plans.

Her visit is supported through a grant from the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (UBCHEA).

“The visit is a continuation of the academic relationship between Hope College and Union Christian College, and we are just delighted to have someone of Dr. Philip’s character and scholarly pedigree at Hope College,” said Alfredo Gonzales, associate provost and dean for international and multicultural education at Hope.

“She is having not only a research experience but also experience with how a school like Hope operates and implements its educational mission,” Gonzales said.

Hope and Union Christian College, which is an ecumenical institution founded in 1921 and located in Kerala in southern India, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for collaboration in 2007, formalizing a relationship that began some years before.  A total of five members of UCC’s faculty have visited Hope since 2004, including the college’s principal (equivalent to Hope’s president).

Glowing reports by the colleagues who’d preceded her and the UCC alumni settled in North America helped inspire Dr. Philip to continue the tradition.  “They all had very good impressions of Hope to pass over to me, especially regarding the outstanding role Hope plays in liberal arts education in North America and also about the vibrant Christian atmosphere at Hope,” she said.

Dr. Philip appreciates the insights she has been gaining both as a member of an academic and faith community and as a scientist and teacher.

“I have numerous ‘take-aways’ from Hope, which assuredly will make an impact on my personal life and that of the UCC,” she said.

Those insights include practices at Hope that can apply to her home institution but also an appreciation for the character of the college.

“To make it brief, one strong impression Hope gave me is the exemplary model of ‘servant-leadership,’” she said.  “My interactions with the leaders of Hope especially at the Dean’s Council headed by the provost and at various other occasions such as the conferral ceremony of the honorary degree to Dr. Gerald J. Pillay [on April 11], gave me the impression that ‘the higher up you go on the ladder, the more you grow in gentleness, kindness and humility.’  In tune with a remark from the president of Hope College at a function, I witnessed in each Hope faculty ‘the courage of a leader and the heart of a servant.’”

“I realize that as academics we are all called to be leading a community and that means to be ‘servant leaders,’” she said.

Dr. Philip has seen the closeness of the community reflected by her experience of Christian fellowship at Hope.

“I was amazed to see Dimnent Chapel overflowing with students and faculty of Hope on week days, which convinced me that Hope really takes the mission it proclaims very seriously,” she said.  “That is, ‘to educate students for lives of leadership and service in a global society through academic and co-curricular programs of recognized excellence in the liberal arts and in the context of the historic Christian faith.’”

Throughout her weeks at Hope, she has also been actively involved with Dr. Remillard’s research group, experiencing an instructional model that her institution also values.  UCC, like Hope, involves students in collaborative research with faculty mentors, and UCC students also have opportunities to participate in major scholarly conferences, just as do their Hope counterparts.

In addition, though, the work itself has dovetailed well with her own scholarship.

“Research experiences in such a short time at hope have been remarkably fruitful,” she said.  “Dr. Remillard, my mentor, could very well identify research areas where we could collaborate and complement based on our individual expertise.  That made my days busy because whenever there was some time in the day away from meetings or discussions with other faculty, I found myself working over interesting problems in the Microwave, SEM and XRD labs with Dr. Remillard.”

“And it is really satisfying that we are already preparing a few journal papers together, which will be evidences of Hope-UCC research collaboration,” she said.

She also had an opportunity to attend the March Meeting of the American Physical Society with Dr. Remillard, Dr. Jennifer Hampton of the physics faculty and four students who had conducted research in physics at Hope.

“All these have been enriching as a researcher and teacher,” she said.  “I have grown deeper in my understanding of many characterization techniques we use, which I can explain to my students in my home institution.”

Dr. Philip noted that she is grateful for the chance to have been spending the spring semester at Hope, and for the hospitality shown by the members of the campus community.

“It will be a failure on my part, if I neglect to acknowledge the extraordinary hospitality I experienced at Hope,” she said.  “The generous efforts of Alfredo Gonzales who is my coordinator and his wife Maria stand first in this regard. I indeed wish to recall the hospitality of Dr. Moses Lee, Amy Otis-De Grau, Dr. Annie Dandavati and Habeeb Awad in particular. I recall with thanks the wonderful opportunity Dr. Lee gave me to make a power point presentation about UCC at a luncheon meeting for the Science faculty and also the invitation to make a presentation on ‘A peep into the World of Photovoltaics’ arranged by the Physics Department.”

And when she returns home at the end of May, she, too, will be readily recommending the experience to colleagues.

“I extend my thanks to UBCHEA for sponsoring me. Thanks to Hope for hosting me. Thanks to UCC for recommending me. Thanks to my dear family in India who made huge sacrifices and let me free of all my household duties to enjoy four months at Hope and to all my cousins and relatives who sponsored my travel to many States in the USA while here,” she said.  “It has been an amazing experience that will be remembered for life.”