For more than 12 years, the Phelps Scholars Program has been helping prepare students to better bring hope to the world by bringing the world to Hope. Each year, 60 to 70 freshman students enroll in the program because of its emphasis on preparing them to understand and thrive in our diverse and interconnected world. They take a holistic approach, not only studying about diversity-related issues but continuing the discussions on their own while living in community in a single residence hall.
“Numerous research studies show that college students with diversity-related experiences do better academically and achieve greater personal development than students without those experiences,” said Dr. Chuck Green, professor of psychology, who has directed the program since it began in 1999. “The underlying purpose of the program is to give people the opportunity to get to know a wide variety of folks, to work on developing relationships, and to explore cultural diversity in a supportive environment.”
Darell and Mary are quick to point out that they are pleased with Hope’s decision to increase the diversity of the student body. “We strongly believe that students of all ethnicities and origins have much to contribute to the culture of Hope College. A more diverse community will enrich academic experiences and will add to the personal maturity and wisdom of all students,” said Mary.
One area that is both unique and impressive to the Schregardus’ is the peer-to-peer aspect of the program. Phelps Scholars explore issues of diversity in rigorous and systematic ways. Within the context of a designated residence hall, this also allows students to participate in planned activities that provide structure and concrete lessons.
“They may safely engage in discussions, sharing good as well as difficult life experiences while they form community,” said Darell. “This mutual support later becomes the springboard for peer education on campus. Peers teaching peers is a very powerful form of education.”
As they complete their freshman year and move from Scott Hall to other residences on campus and become active leaders in a variety of organizations, the students who have chosen to participate in the Phelps Scholars Program continue to embody, and serve as informal ambassadors for, the program’s message. The Phelps Scholars Program, however, is also working to connect with the larger Hope community in other ways.
“Over the years we have developed a rich array of opportunities for students who are interested in pursuing issues pertaining to race and culture,” Dr. Green said.
The continued development of the Phelps Scholars Program is part of a larger initiative at Hope to integrate campus life into the academic program. Seeking further support for International and Multicultural Education is not only a priority at Hope; it is included in the college’s strategic plan and a component of the A Greater Hope fundraising campaign.
Darell and Mary understand the importance of Hope investing in international and multicultural education. “We need to continually build a global society on Hope’s campus to expose students to others different from themselves and walk in their shoes,” explained Darell. “We believe this to be a very important way to develop compassionate students.”