Calvin Researchers Catching On

July 31, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — CalvinCollege science students are getting a taste of what their future careers might be like, while their prospective employees have the opportunity to try them on for size.

Calvin has had a record number of 91 student researchers this summer, which is a 10 percent increase over last year, said David DeHeer, chairman of the biology department.

“We’ve been steadily building this program,” he said. “We are particularly pleased that it has continued to grow.”

DeHeer said the growth can be attributed to the number of opportunities in the area as well as the benefits that the students and organization receive from the experience.

“Involvement in research is the very best way to teach and learn science,” he said. “It prepares students for careers in real-world applications.”

It also gives the organizations a chance to utilize the students’ skills and evaluate their progress.

“Student workers are beneficial to an organization because they are knowledgeable and they are trained, and they also represent potential employees,” DeHeer said.

With 25 percent of the students at Calvin in a science program, DeHeer said, no one has tracked just how much the science programs have grown recently. But he knows the numbers are high.

“The whole area seems to be increasing in terms of opportunities for students, just because of what’s happening,” he said of the presence of the Van Andel Institute and the growth of the health-care industry in Grand Rapids.

DeHeer said the Calvin student researchers work in a variety of locations, from the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital to IsleRoyalNational Park. They’re involved in a variety of subjects, from stem cell research in bone marrow transplants to controlling invasive species.

“There’s quite a bit of diversity in what the students are doing,” DeHeer said.

Bart Williams, a scientific investigator for the Van Andel Institute, said he currently has two Calvin student interns and 11 of 16 students he has worked with have been from Calvin.

“I tend to like to have the local students work in the lab,” he said.

Often those students will go on to work part-time during the school year or for a year or two after graduation while preparing for graduate school or medical school.

Williams said the students are a welcome addition.

“We can certainly use the help and assistance in the lab and certainly the energy that they bring,” he said. “They seem to be well trained for this in terms of the class work they’ve done at Calvin before this.”

When the Van Andel Institute starts its own graduate school in 2007, Williams said it hopes to draw students from local programs such as Calvin’s.

“I’ve been very happy with the students I’ve had from all the local universities.”    

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