Hope College is preparing for its 155th academic year, with the incoming Class of 2020 arriving on campus.

Residence halls for new students will open on Friday, Aug. 26, at 10 a.m., with New Student Orientation beginning later that day and continuing through Monday, Aug. 29.  Residence halls for returning students will open on Sunday, Aug. 28, at noon.  Fall semester classes will begin on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 8 a.m.

Dr. Curtis GruenlerThe academic year will begin formally with the college’s Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 28, at 2 p.m. in Dimnent Memorial Chapel.  The featured speaker will be Dr. Curtis Gruenler, who is a professor of English as well as director of general education at Hope.

The convocation has been moved to the chapel from the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse due to the refinishing of the fieldhouse court floor.  Admission to the convocation itself will be for members of the incoming class and the faculty.  In addition, the event will be live-streamed at hope.edu/live with an opportunity to watch on campus in the Concert Hall of the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, located at 221 Columbia Ave., between Ninth and 10th streets.  The public is invited to the Concert Hall presentation, and admission is free.

As every year, the college has spent the summer pursuing a variety of projects designed to enhance the campus.  The most prominent has been the continued construction of the Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center, which is scheduled to be complete in time for the start of the 2017-18 school year.  In addition to the refinishing of the fieldhouse floor, other work has ranged from remodeling the Hope-Geneva Bookstore in the DeWitt Center in conjunction with the student-center project, to relocating the Office of Financial Aid to the second floor of the Anderson-Werkman Financial Center from the first floor, to renovating the Gilmore Hall residence hall for women, to replacing the lights above the concourse and courts in the fieldhouse.

Hope will be enrolling a smaller freshman class this year, admitting approximately 740 students versus the 778 of last fall. Although Hope has been setting enrollment records during many of the past several years, the college is making a point of leveling off its enrollment in order to provide the best possible experience for the students it serves, according to William Vanderbilt, vice president for admissions and retention at Hope.

“At a certain point, enrollment growth stretches capacity and the larger size itself begins to affect the experience that students have,” he said.  “We want every student to benefit fully from the individualized attention and sense of community that are Hope hallmarks, and that’s best achieved by stabilizing our overall enrollment a bit below where it’s been most recently.”

Hope doesn’t announce its enrollment until it makes an official count a couple weeks into September, but the college is anticipating a headcount this year of about 3,200.  Enrollment during each of the past two years topped 3,400, with a record high of 3,433 in 2014.

This year’s Opening Convocation speaker, Curtis Gruenler, has been a member of the Hope faculty since 1997.  In addition to directing general education since 2013, he has coordinated the cultural heritage (humanities) portion of the general education program since 2006.  He is also a faculty fellow of the college’s Center for Ministry Studies and a member of the Mellon Scholars Committee.

His major area of teaching and research is medieval literature and thought. His interest in the relationship between Christian theology and literature extends from the literary theory of the Middle Ages to more recent Christian literary thinkers, such as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, René Girard and Wendell Berry.  In July of this year he organized and co-led a week-long seminar at Hope on Girard's mimetic theory for scholars and professionals from throughout North America. He has also mentored students conducting original research through the college’s Jacob E. Nyenhuis summer grant program and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities.

Gruenler’s book “Riddles, Rhetoric, and Theology: Piers Plowman and the Medieval Poetics of Enigma,” currently in the process of being published, focuses on an important 14th-century, Middle English, allegorical dream vision in order to shed light on why medieval Christian authors cultivated a certain sort of playful obscurity.

He has also had several articles in scholarly publications and has presented many papers and invited addresses at professional conferences.  He edits the newsletter of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion, which is the professional association of those interested in Girard’s mimetic theory, and is active in the International Piers Plowman Society.

Gruenler has received external awards including a New Directions Initiative grant from the Great Lakes Colleges Association in 2011 and an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant from The Huntington Library in 1999, and has also received a variety of awards from the college, including an Andrew W. Mellon Scholars Program Mentoring Award in 2014.  He graduated from Stanford University with a major in English in 1985, and completed his master’s and doctorate in English literature at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1993 and 1998 respectively.