Dr. Virginia Beard, associate professor of political science at Hope College, will present “Grace and Beauty, Death and Life—Now and Yet to Be” on Monday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. in the Maas Center auditorium through the “Last Lecture Series” organized by the college’s Alcor chapter of the national Mortar Board honorary society.

The public is invited.  Admission is free.

Beard has been a member of the Hope faculty since 2007.  Her areas of specialization are comparative politics, focused on Africa, as well as public policy. Her research interests are in the areas African political development; democratization; conflict and stability; land rights in Africa; the role of institutions in political development; identity politics with a focus on gender, religion and ethnicity; public policy in political development; homelessness policy; and public policy and poverty. She has spent much time in Kenya and has language experience in both Swahili and German.

In 2012, she was one of only 15 scholars nationwide chosen to participate in the 2012 Lilly Fellows Program Summer Seminar for College and University Teachers, “Teaching Peace and Reconciliation: Theory and Practice in Northern Ireland.”  She also serves as the book review editor for the “Journal of Poverty and Public Policy.”

In addition to her teaching, she mentors students as collaborative participants in her research projects.  Most recently, Beard was one of three GLCA faculty chosen to work collaboratively with students and librarians at the Library of Congress through the GLCA’s Library of Congress Digital Humanities grant on her research regarding the political history of homelessness in the United States.

Her involvement in the life of the college has also included presenting a focus session during the college’s 2012 Critical Issues Symposium focused on reconciliation, and serving as faculty mentor for the Hope students coordinating the annual Model United Nations held for high school students.

Beard earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with a focus on African Politics and Third World Development from Calvin College in 2000. After a year living in Dallas, Texas, as an AmeriCorps VISTA working on affordable housing and microlending projects, she returned to Michigan and pursued graduate studies at Michigan State University, where she earned a master’s degree in public policy and administration in 2005 and her doctorate in political science with a focus on international development and African politics as well as public Policy in 2006.

As a graduate student, Beard worked on the Afrobarometer Survey Research Project, a nationally recognized and awarded dataset that covers economic and political opinions among citizens across 18 African nations. She continues to conduct research and evaluation work in East Africa, primarily in Kenya, but also in Rwanda and Uganda.

Prior to joining the Hope faculty, she worked for a year at Public Policy Associates Inc., a Lansing-based policy research and evaluation firm. She also has served as a commissioner on the Greater Lansing Commission on Race and Diversity and is committed to racial reconciliation and being part of community initiatives to combat institutional forms of exclusion and oppression.

Beard is a long-distant runner, completing the Boston Marathon in 2011 and 2013, and enjoys traveling, spending time investing in local community, and visiting family around Michigan as well as in her homes of Texas and Mississippi.  She lives in Holland with her husband, a University of Michigan Law School graduate and attorney in Grand Rapids.

The title of the lecture series, which the chapter initiated during the 2008-09 school year to feature members of the college’s faculty and staff, is rhetorical.  The lectures are not literally presented as the last that the speakers will deliver at Hope, but are meant to highlight the advice that they would most want to share if the event was indeed the final opportunity for them to address the college’s students.  The speakers are asked to reflect on their careers and lives, and to think deeply about what matters to them and about what wisdom they would like to impart.

The concept was inspired by the “Last Lecture” delivered at Carnegie Mellon University by Dr. Randy Pausch on Sept. 18, 2007.  Pausch, a member of the Carnegie Mellon faculty who had terminal pancreatic cancer--a fact known at the time that he spoke--presented “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.”  He died on July 25, 2008, at age 47.

Mortar Board is a national honor society that recognizes college seniors for outstanding achievement in scholarship, leadership and service, and provides opportunities for continued leadership development, promotes service to college and universities, and encourages lifelong contributions to the global community.  Since its founding in 1918, the organization has grown from the four founding chapters to 230 collegiate chapters with nearly 250,000 initiated members across the nation.

The Alcor chapter has existed at Hope since the 1936-37 academic year, although it did not become part of the national Mortar Board organization until 1961.  The chapter has received multiple awards at the Mortar Board National Conference during each of the past several years, including being named the top chapter during the national conference in July 2010.  During the conference this past summer, the chapter received a “Golden Torch Award” and 19 “Project Excellence” awards, with long-time co-advisor Dr. Dianne Portfleet of the English faculty receiving one of only two top advising awards.

The chapter also sponsored a “last chance talk” during the 1960s.  The idea back then was to invite a faculty member to express his/her ideas under the hypothetical assumption that this would be the last opportunity to address the student body.  The late Dr. D. Ivan Dykstra, professor of philosophy, delivered the first “last chance talk” in the spring of 1962.

The first 150 attending will receive one of the following three books, “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born,” by Ayikwei Armah, “Grace Eventually,” by Anne Lamott, or “14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life,” by Alberto Salazar.  The chapter will also distribute copies of the “Last Lecture” to audience members following the address.

There will also be a freewill donation box, with all gifts supporting Mortar Board’s many service projects.

The Maas Center is located at 264 Columbia Ave., on Columbia Avenue at 11th Street.