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Lilly Grant helps launch Gen 100: Kingdom, Identity, and Calling

By Sally Jongsma

"What's Gen 100?" upperclass students are asking. First year students know. They're meeting twice per week in a new first-term seminar that gives them the opportunity to ask questions, reflect on who they are and why they are at Dordt College, consider what it means to be a student, and reflect on what they may be called to do after college.

Students in all majors will benefit from a wide range of new programs that help them consider the relation between their faith and their vocation.

Students in all majors will benefit from a wide range of new programs that help them consider the relation between their faith and their vocation.

Gen 100 is the shorthand way of referring to Kingdom, Identity, and Calling, a two-credit general education course now required of all new students. It was made possible through the $2 million grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. that Dordt College received last fall for its proposed "Programs in Christian Vocation: From Insight to Ministry." The course is taught by twenty-four-nearly one third of the faculty-instructors to groups of fifteen students.

"Our goal is to be more intentional about mentoring our students," says Dr. John Kok who is project coordinator for the grant. Although the instructors won't be the students' advisors throughout their college careers, they hope to model a mentoring relationship that will be carried on as students find their place in their major, says Kok. The small group seminar setting gives students the opportunity to ask questions and participate more easily.

The course begins by helping students assess their skills and interests, set goals, and learn self-management skills, laying what Kok hopes is a foundation for them to be successful in college. Using the booklet, Deepening the Colors, written this summer by Theology Professor Sydney Hielema, students and mentors explore what it means to be a called person, who they are as children of God, what their place is in his kingdom, and how they can live and use their gifts in service to God and others. The small group seminar format, which includes writing assignments, asks them to reflect on these topics and at the same time build relationships with their fellow students and faculty mentor.

"We've long thought we should do something like this," says Kok. And, in fact, some of what is covered in Gen 100 has been included in the curriculum before in a variety of ways. More than a decade ago Gen 10 was offered to help students learn good study skills and learn how to access the resources they needed to do their work well.

It later evolved into a one-credit small group class taught by faculty and staff members, in addition to their regular course or office work load. In recent years some of the content has been incorporated into beginning-of-the-year orientation sessions. But too many things happen too fast during orientation for students to absorb it all, Kok says.

The Lilly grant provided the funds to hire additional faculty so that the twenty-four sections of the new course could be included in faculty teaching loads. It gives instructors the time they need to advise, mentor, and get to know their small group of students

"The course has a great degree of both definition and flexibility," Kok believes. A course syllabus was fleshed out over the summer, and instructors met regularly to prepare and coordinate the course. But because participating faculty come from across the disciplines, they each bring their own areas of expertise and interest to their teaching, making each course different.

First-term seminars are not unique to Dordt College. Nearly seventy percent of colleges offer one in some form or another, says Kok. The strength and somewhat unusual character of Dordt's is that it works to nurture a sense of self as students in the context of God calling his children to become citizens and servants in his kingdom.

Coordinators and instructors hope that participating in these small group discussions, activities, and relationships will not only help students think about what they will do, how they will live, and how they will make good choices in life, but also lead to a greater sense of participation in the rest of their classes and involvement in the life of the campus community.