Tales from Student Conferences

Trinity’s Honors Program shapes student leaders. How? For starters, by encouraging you to present at academic conferences. Nothing enriches your speech like having a fresh audience. Nothing opens and deepens your character like interaction with diverse others. And nothing strengthens your arguments like fielding questions and hearing criticisms.

Can you see yourself presenting your academic work at a conference?  Could you find the gumption?  The time?  The money?

Let’s tackle the last question first. The College offers three kinds of financial support for student scholarship.

* The Trinity Scholars Fund supports Honors students presenting at conferences (generally in connection with an Honors seminar or with Honors Work in the Major).

* Sometimes your own department will offer money to support student scholarship.

* And, of course, the VanderVelde Fund supports VanderVelde scholars’ conference presentations.

As for questions about time and gumption–well, take a gander at this week’s Honors Blog, featuring testimony from three recent Honors conference presenters:  Josh DeJong (with Pat Page at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, April 3-5 at University of Kentucky), as well as Ethan Holmes and Esther Sullivan (Undergraduate Conference on English Language and Literature, March 15, at the University of St. Francis in Joliet).

Josh DeJong writes:

To be honest, I was a bit nervous when Pat Page and I found out that our abstract had been accepted for an oral presentation at NCUR. To be presenting the research that we had been working on for the past year and a half was an exciting experience. However, the caliber of the conference seemed a little daunting. Upon arrival of the conference, the reality of the experience settled in as the governor of Kentucky gave the opening speech to the conference. With the 300 page conference program sitting on my lap, I learned that our small Trinity group (Pat, Kiera Dunaway and myself) were 3 out of 4,200 participants in this conference. My first thought was “Shoot. That is a lot of smart people…” We were but mere dots on the canvas of this undergraduate scene.

Luckily, Pat and I presented directly after the first plenary speaker who taught us to avoid going into research with partners ((to hear more about that story, please come find me to tell you over coffee)). As we presented our research, we found that people were interested in what we had to say. Some people even came to hear our presentation because they were interested by the title of our project and not merely because they knew who was presenting! It was amazing! In that moment, I thought came to mind. Trinity Christian College has something profound to offer to this nation. What an experience to represent my community by presenting my hard work to a group of people who have never met me before!

It was an opportunity that I will always be grateful for and would strongly recommend to any student with a passion to learn (science, philosophy, literature, music, sociology, nursing, business, theology, etc.).


Ethan Holmes writes:

Presenting is always a thoroughly interesting experience–if you can connect with someone there in the topics that are being talked about. Conferences present a unique opportunity to engage with people who share similar interests while coming at them from varying degrees of differing perspectives, which is invaluable for realizing that

1) you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do
2) you don’t know how to defend your beliefs as well as you should
3) your ideas aren’t actually new, and maybe not all that interesting
4) despite all that Christ makes a difference in your life, and your ownership of faith means more than any of our inadequacies.

At this conference in particular there was an extremely smart man who I struck up a conversation with, whom ended up being the perpetual conversation partner of our group. He was very strongly not Christian and the conversation revealed a lot within myself, within him, within my peers and professors that I can’t help but be changed by, and which I hope everyone else involved can say as well.

In short, God worked through our time at that conference.


Esther Sullivan writes:

Because this was my first conference, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by the intimate and intellectually stimulating environment that met me when I walked through the doors. These conferences are filled with like-minded people, who equally encourage and challenge each other. I have never experienced an environment like this, filled with so many people who are passionate about the same things I am passionate about. It was beneficial simply to attend this conference. The conversations I was able to engage in were so stimulating that, by the end of the day, my colleagues and I were mentally exhausted, but in the most satisfying sense of the word.

As far as presenting goes, I must express gratitude for the preparatory assistance my professors gave to myself and the other presenters from Trinity. The workshop they organized to help us prepare was invaluable. I gleaned three main things from that workshop which I would recommend to anyone planning to present at a literature conference:

1)       Give context for the passages you reference in your paper. Depending on the work, most of your audience will not have read the work you are referencing. You will better retain their attention if you “clue them in” to what’s going on in the novel.

2)       Pre-mark sections in your paper that you can paraphrase. In most cases, reading strictly from the paper will become dull, and the audience will lose interest. It’s okay to treat this presentation more like a conversation than a lecture.

3)       Practice, practice, practice. Remember in public speaking class when your professor told you to practice your speeches ahead of time? Yeah. Do that. Reading your paper aloud several times will make you familiar with it and keep you from getting lost in the middle of your presentation.

At the St. Francis conference, there was a decided difference between the presenters who applied tactics like these and those who did not. Clearly, if your paper has been accepted into a conference, it is already brilliant; but if you don’t present it well, your audience will never see that brilliance.




Hang in there.  The break is right around the corner.  You can make it.

These are words that are heard a lot right before a break.  This week, the week right before a long weekend, can seem so long.  And words like these seem to offer encouragement to our stressed out peers.

However, I’d like to raise up a question: is this the best way to live?  You say “What do you mean? If we have to survive college, we have to encourage one another.”  And I would say to that: very true.  Don’t get me wrong; I want you to continue to encourage one another.

“So what are you trying to say, Hannah?” Allow me to explain.

It’s really easy to get caught up in our work.  Specifically in this audience, I think that is true.  Raise your hand if you are an over-achiever (Just raise your hand – Don’t try to hide it.  You’re a part of the Honors program for Pete’s sake.)  This is a good quality to have – it means you’re motivated, dedicated, committed, and just plain hard working.  Which is awesome.

Most of the time.

The downside to having a I-could-probably-be-classified-as-an-overachiever work ethic is that sometimes, while we are continually checking things off our never ending to-do lists, we are always waiting for a time for the work to be done.  And, I hate to break it to you, the work isn’t ever done.  Academically, you can always study more, read more, edit more, write and re-write more.  If you are in athletics or drama or involved in committees, you can always practice more, rehearse more, think more, speak more, see more people, love more people.  Is the work ever done?  Speaking from my experience, I’d have to say no.  With that in mind, there’s no sense in just “hanging in there” until the next break comes.  In case you haven’t noticed, this year is drawing to a close real fast.  In a blink of an eye, exams will be over and summer will be here – with its own joys and challenges.  But summer will come and go as well.  A new school year will arrive with a new kind of busyness, new joys, and new challenges.  And the cycle continues.  Here’s the hard truth, friends: Life doesn’t get any easier.  It never slows down.

So now you are like, “well, this is the most depressing Honors blog post ever…”  Well, hopefully it won’t be.  Stay with me for one more minute.

If you are waiting for a time of easy life, you end up doing just that: waiting.  When we were in high school, many of us spent plenty of time waiting until we could “get out of there” and be in college.  Now that we’re in college, we long to be in the “real world”, with real jobs – and the promise of less homework.  But graduating doesn’t give you rest.  And marriage to another individual, no matter how much you love them, won’t be a cake walk either.  Our hearts long for children and a family of our own (so maybe girls’ hearts more than boys… but you get the idea).  A young family brings its own challenges, so we wait for a time when kids are potty trained, done teething, and dressing themselves. But those days slip away too.  And soon the next thing on the horizon is retirement.  After years of being tired, we hope to seek rest in the absence of work. But for many, this isn’t restful either.   So what do you wait for after that? After death?  Life with the Lord.  And I can promise you that will be restful.  And beautiful.  That life is the way life is supposed to be.

So what do we do in the meantime?

My advice to you is this: Stop waiting.  Stop waiting for the next break, the next season of life.  Stop just “hanging in there” and seek joy in each moment, each conversation, and seek it every single day.  Seek joy in the quiet moments when you are sick, and in the crazy moments when you are sick of life.  Choose to see your studies not as work, but as what they really are: worship.  Worship the Lord in all that you do.  And even though your heart longs for heaven, where the tears and pain will be no more, stop waiting for that time.  Eternity starts here.  You are already eternal.  The Lord’s rest is available to you now.   He will be the only thing that brings real rest, so take time for your Sabbath.  Make Sabbath more than just an hour out of your week; make it a life style.

The reality is that you don’t have much time.  So be sure you don’t wish it away.

Stop waiting for what’s ahead; stop worrying about the things to come; start living into what’s here and now.  Don’t miss opportunities to love the Lord and love those around you because those chances slip away so quickly.  Choose joy today.

[a word from Hannah Huisman]





Fighting Uncertainty


Hello from Hannah Wasco studying and working in Washington, DC! 

For the subject of this blog, I was trying to think of a way that my semester here in DC could relate to those of you back in Chicago and those who are all around the world.  The past three months have been a crazy journey.  I thought that maybe if I started to take you down just one leg of this adventure, you would find a point where you could hop on.

A huge part of this journey has been the amount of experiences from which I have been able to learn.  Actually, after three months of these experiences—interning at the American Enterprise Institute, hearing from a Supreme Court Justice and Bill Gates, visiting the Lincoln Memorial in the snow, studying at the Library of Congress, standing on the Speaker’s Balcony at the Capitol, and attending numerous conferences and seminars, to name just a few— the blessing of opportunity has begun to overwhelm. Image

In my courses here, we talk a lot about calling and vocation.  These are ideas that go beyond classes and future (I am tempted to say “looming”) careers, though they are definitely parts of them.  They extend over our entire life and have to do with our relationships with God and with other people—how you fit into God’s sovereign plan for humanity.  There is one thing, though, that scares me the most about calling and vocation: uncertainty.

There is something about an unclear future that gets to the best of us—when you’re walking along and all of a sudden you realize that you can’t see exactly where God is leading anymore.  Right now, I am feeling this uncertainty in the midst of overwhelming opportunity.  I could intern here or work there.  I can consider this career field or being involved with that organization.  What will my future look like if I pick this option?  How will it be different if I pick another?  What if I chose the wrong one for me?  At some points, I just wish I would be handed a map for the future and that would be the only plan I needed to follow.

After listening to the wisdom of mentors who have become a part of my life here, I have realized that there is no need to fear uncertainty in my pursuit of vocation and calling.  With one of these mentors, the two of us have read together C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces.  The main character, Orual, struggles throughout the novel to find her place in the world.  At the end of the story, she receives her answer: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.  You are yourself the answer.  Before your face questions die away.  What other answers suffice?”  All questions that I have about my vocation fade away in the light of God’s perfect plan for my life.  He knows where He is leading me, and that is all that matters.  God’s plan for my life is so much bigger than my own.  He is all that I need.


I have recently encountered a verse from Job that has further helped me with my fear of uncertainty: “Behold, I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive Him; on the left hand when He is working, I do not behold Him; He turns to the right hand, but I do not see Him.  But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:8-10).  The periods of uncertainty and darkness often seem longer than the moments of clearness and joy.  I know that God will continue to lead me, though, even when I cannot see it.  And when I arrive at wherever that may be, the golden sunlight will seem so much brighter.  Uncertainty just makes certainty so much more certain.


March Madness (Suwyn’s Sanity)

Keeping in touch with my inner nature requires me to include some discussion of sports. All of my friends would agree with this, and anybody that has a conversation with me can generally relate to the fact that much of my free time (such a loaded phrase that is) is spent on or around the industry of sports. And what a great time of year it is for such activities! The Cubs opened the season with a disappointing 1-0 loss to the Pirates in extra innings, while the White Sox got by the Twins in their opener. Meanwhile, the NBA and NHL seasons are winding down, and the pressure is on the best franchise in hockey history (obviously the Red Wings) to make the playoffs for the 23rd consecutive year (hey it’s ok Blackhawks fans you just have to make it every year until 2030 to get to that point). In the midst of all these professional sports, arguably the most well-known tournament in all American sports has made it down to the Final Four teams. With all of this going on, I’m forced to choose where my priorities are in this sports world.

Doesn’t our life match that of a sports fan? From group projects and presentations to tests and papers, everything seems to be ending and starting at the same time. Where will we spend our energy? The season of midterms is over, but the season of finals is barely even on the horizon. OPUS is coming up quickly, and spring break has passed like a mere blip on the radar. This goes without mentioning the beloved Easter break, and the interim experiences we all had. Where do we prioritize our time in this crazy month?

The one thing we can be assured of is this: there will be great moments, stories, heartbreaks, and memories made during this time. Most of these experiences are things we would never be able to predict beforehand. So how do we react? We can be depressed that our bracket got busted and our plans were destroyed. All those good intentions and thoughtful picks are meaningless. Or we can recognize that March Madness is just such a small part of all these great seasons. The woes we feel during this busy time as a student are all a part of the narrative we belong to: life. If we can see these “light and momentary troubles” as another simply another season to be enjoyed, we will have much less stress for the time being.

 So if you’re like me, you’ll probably spend the next few weeks cheering for the Red Wings, hoping the Pistons tank for a better draft pick, and watching the Cubs waste the small amount of talent they actually have. I can rest for the time being without having to deal with the Packers’ success, but that is a discussion for another time. This month of April (which might seem insurmountable) will come and go just as March did, Lord willing. And hopefully we can stand on the other side of it with the same calm sense of appreciation that we now have for March.

- Adam Suwyn

Mango Hands and No Pants

When we pulled into the villages in Haiti for our workdays, the kids would literally come sprinting around the corners to greet us. I recognized them, not only by their faces but also by the same minimal clothing items that I had seen just the day before. There is one little boy that I can still picture in my head very clearly. He was probably around the age of three or four, and he came running towards us: no shoes, no pants, dust-covered, holding his most-prized possession – a mango, of which he ate down to the very last bite. I took one look and thought, “Please, God, I’ll hold anyone else. He’s a mess though.” It wasn’t long before those dark brown eyes dug deep into my heart and I could no longer ignore the gentle tug on my skirt. I scooped him up into my arms and witnessed his eyes light up instantly.

When I look back on this moment, I’m almost ashamed to share it. Was I really asking God to give me a “skip card” for who I should love in life? It is ironic how this three-year-old boy had more impact on my life in that one instant that I probably had on him. I really needed this reminder in my life. People are a mess, they’re sinful; they have a past that makes them dusty. As followers of Christ, we do not have a choice as to whether or not we should love them. Christ does the same for us. Whether you want to admit it or not, you are messy. I am messy too. Our sinful nature does this to us. 1 John 1:7 gives us the best promise though, “And the blood of his Son Jesus washes all our sins away.” I made the mistake of thinking that little boy was too messy for me, but Jesus Christ is never going to hesitate in embracing you no matter how big your mess might be. So I want to challenge you to do the same to those around you: spend intentional time with those different than you, converse with those you would normally turn away from, and pray for the messes in all of our lives. Love others just as Jesus loves you.

- Lisa VanderMeiden

The Desert of College

I’m not sure exactly what it is that makes it so, but for some – for me – college life proves to be a desert-like experience.  Perhaps it is entering a new place that is not your home for an extended period of time, or perhaps it is the experiences you endure while going through college that make it feel like something of a desert.  Maybe it is the constant pressure of people asking you questions like “So what are you going to do after college?” to which your response in your head is “How am I supposed to know? I don’t even know what I’m going to do while I’m in college.”  Maybe you’re juggling your major – really enjoying classes in some area of study, but equally enjoying classes in a different area.  Whatever it is, college can begin to feel like a desert.

I have definitely experienced this myself during my time at Trinity.  I remember setting foot on Trinity’s campus with the sheer confidence that only comes from being a college freshman.  I had bright dreams and goals and thought I knew my exact plan for how my four years at college would go.  Little did I know, God had other plans.  Freshman year brought forth confusing and difficult times in my life, however, it also brought some of the closest friends I’ve ever had.  We walked beside each other through our difficulties as we stumbled through the deserts we had been brought into.  In my sophomore year, and presently, in my junior year, I continue to experience the lost feelings that come from being in a desert.  I am one of those juniors who still has little clue as to what he plans on doing after college.  I am one of those Christians who feel like they are currently in a place of spiritual estrangement: a desert of doubt if you will.

Why?  The question we always find ourselves asking, but never seem to find an answer to.  Yet, perhaps there is an answer this time.  Take a look at biblical characters who found themselves in deserts (really it was all of them).  Moses.  Moses was in the wilderness for 40 years before God spoke to him from a burning bush and told him to go set His people free from Egypt.  Would Moses have been prepared to lead God’s people had he been the rash man who killed the Egyptian slave driver?  David.  God brought David into the desert of fear and doubt when Saul was in hot pursuit to kill him.  Why?  God using the dryness of the desert to grow David’s faithfulness and trust in Him, so that when David would later become king, he would rely on God in times of trouble.  Jesus.  Yes, even Jesus found Himself in a desert; in fact, it was the Holy Spirit who led Him in.  Why?  Christ fasted and was tempted in the desert just before He made His way to Calvary where He endured the most pain imaginable for our sin.  God was preparing His Son for what was to come.

There may be other reasons for why we experience the deserts we do.  For instance, a desert of spiritual estrangement may be the result of binding sin that we refuse to let go of.  Regardless, in any desert situation, God is always trying to teach us something and prepare our hearts for the ways in which He plans to use us.  So the next time you find yourself in a desert, consider asking not, “Lord, bring quickly to the land of milk and honey”; but rather, “Lord, use this time in the desert to prepare me for what is to come, so that I may best enjoy the Promised Land You have set before me.”

Don’t forget that the Honor’s excursion I am leading will take place on April 26 at the Indiana dunes, and we will be reflecting deeper on this subject of deserts in our lives.  We will also be discussing the importance of fasting as a spiritual discipline for strengthening our reliance on God.  Dr. Mattson has also graciously offered house up for dinner afterwards as well, so we will be concluding the excursion with a wonderful meal at the Mattson household.  Let me know if you plan on coming soon, so that I can get a number for who’s all planning on coming!




Summer Internship – Eighth Day Farm

This summer Trinity alumnus Kyle VanEerden plans to take half a dozen interns to Eighth Day Farm, in Holland, Michigan. This agricultural internship teaches practical farming/gardening skills, but Kyle also describes it as “a sort of…life…discipleship…thing.” He says that the group shares life thoughtfully, deliberately, meaningfully. You can expect morning prayer, hard work throughout the day,  good eating, and local community involvement.  The program offers housing, a grocery stipend, and “all the veggies anyone could ever want to eat.”
Kyle offers a link that more thoroughly explains the internship: v=http://www.eighthdayfarm.com/754-2/
Hope you’ll consider this summertime opportunity.