Leaning in to Learn. Forward.
A closer look at how Redeemer’s 2025 Strategic Plan is moving the institution forward by strengthening its roots and investing in student and graduate success.
15 min. read
October 28, 2021

If you take a walk around Redeemer’s campus these days, you can see evidence of the history and tradition of the nearly 40-year-old institution, but there’s something else too. There’s a feeling of excitement and energy. There are many new faces, including new faculty, students and staff, and changes to the makeup of campus, with a new building about to open, fresh and modern parking and many more upgrades. There are new degrees and new technology all contributing to a sense of moving forward, of innovation and change.

Much of what is happening at Redeemer flows out of Learn. Forward., the 2025 Strategic Plan. Building on a rich Reformed heritage that seeks the redemption of all things through Christ, Redeemer’s vision is to see Kingdom-centred, innovative graduates make a profound impact in a rapidly changing, complex and digital world. People are catching sight of this vision (with significantly lower tuition), and enrolment continues to climb.

“Despite a challenging context in which to work amidst a global pandemic, this is an exciting time of growth for Redeemer,” said Dr. David Zietsma, interim president. “There is an incredible momentum as doors open and opportunities abound. Looking at the past few years, it’s clear to me that God is at work at Redeemer, and he is at work in the hearts and lives of students, faculty and staff.”

More than a Buzzword

“Career paths are rarely linear anymore, and the challenges of society are multi-dimensional. Everyone is talking about innovation for a reason. It is a key requirement of education in a fast-paced, increasingly digital world, and Redeemer needs to prepare graduates to think differently,” says Zietsma. “Being innovative and entrepreneurial has become a fundamental skill for graduates of all disciplines. A key initiative of the strategic plan is to launch a Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship that supports and enhances the university’s liberal arts and sciences approach.”

Redeemer’s School of Education will line up with the industry standard and allow Redeemer to position its strong and uniquely Christian teacher education programs effectively.

Learn. Forward. also seeks to add new degree programs and accreditations that provide students with the competitive edge they need to embark on career paths where the future is evolving. Redeemer gained authority to offer new degrees in December 2020 with the passing of Bill 213. A bachelor of business administration was launched in late spring, and a proposal for a new bachelor of kinesiology is nearing completion that would see this new degree being offered within the next year. The university is also exploring other business and environmental science accreditations to strengthen its programs in the coming years.

Supporting this work is a newly implemented academic structure. This structure consolidates Redeemer’s academic divisions and departments into Areas and Schools. As part of the new structure, Redeemer has launched new Schools of Business and Education. The School of Education more clearly indicates the unique nature of Redeemer’s bachelor of education programs — which are second-degree programs — as distinct from the rest of its undergraduate programming.

“Nearly all other teacher education programs in the province are housed in their own faculty or schools,” says Dr. Kyle Spyksma, interim vice president, academic. “Redeemer’s School of Education will line up with the industry standard and allow Redeemer to position its strong and uniquely Christian teacher education programs effectively.”

With the launch of Redeemer’s new bachelor of business of administration, the time was right to set up the university’s business programs in a School of Business. “This new structure can be a springboard for future developments and growth in Redeemer’s business programs. It also signifies the university’s commitment to providing a holistic and faith-based approach to rigorous training of Christian business leaders,” says Spyksma.

Learning Outside the Classroom

Part of developing Redeemer students holistically means providing opportunities to acquire skills and knowledge both inside and outside the classroom. While the university gave special focus to this a number of years ago with the launch of the Centre for Experiential Learning and Careers, which facilitates experiential opportunities like co-ops and internships, there are countless other learning opportunities outside the classroom that make up the Redeemer student experience. The university is exploring the opportunity to develop a co-curricular transcript for students that would allow for more official documentation of a student’s activities and the skills and experience that have been gained from these activities. A co-curricular transcript can complement a résumé and allow students to emphasize leadership experience and skill development attained through involvement in student government, clubs, service opportunities and more to potential employers and graduate programs.

The chaplaincy program at Redeemer is also continuing efforts to integrate faith into all aspects of a student’s life. This past September, the first-ever Discipleship Week focusing on how to follow Jesus in all aspects of life, involved two chapel services with a guest speaker that focused on a clear vision of discipleship and time for discussion. This annual week aims to help students understand the current call of Christ in their academic season of life while preparing them for a life of leadership and service wherever the Lord leads them. It’s a time for students to attend to their whole formation, especially their spiritual formation, both in class and beyond.

Various student-led clubs were invited to launch during the week as a way to create synergy and momentum for the whole year. Chaplaincy plans to expand on this model in the coming years.

What Does it Mean to be Reformed?

One of the pillars of the strategic plan is enhancing the integration of the Reformed Christian worldview. As a Christian university, Redeemer has a unique academic mission centred around Christ’s lordship and comprehensive work in all areas of life and learning. Living out that mission and translating that worldview well for students in all disciplines requires intentional integration across the curriculum and campus life. The aim is to shape students through a whole-person experience which includes a deepened faith, a life of worship and solid preparation for exercising their God-given talents and abilities in their careers, callings and communities after graduation. Redeemer is investing in this integration in a number of areas.

Deepening What’s at the Core

At the heart of every undergraduate degree at Redeemer is a core curriculum that expands student perspectives beyond their major and roots their entire degree in a Reformed Christian worldview. As students explore their gifts and think about their future careers, the core encourages them to think broadly critically about the topics and information they are encountering. These forays beyond specialization enable students to be versatile problem-solvers and to work collaboratively in interdisciplinary teams.

“We’re pleased to have hired two accomplished and enthusiastic new faculty members to teach and provide leadership in the core,” says Dr. Karen Dielemen, interim associate vice president and dean, academic. In the past, the core program has been overseen by a committee of faculty members, but with the addition of professors Dr. Amber Bowen and Dr. Doug Sikkema, the program will transition to a smaller but more singularly focused team of faculty for its over-sight within the humanities area.

Launched in 2015, the “new” core is already undergoing an extensive internal review to measure its effectiveness and listen to faculty and student perceptions of the program. The goal is ongoing improvement and long-term sustainability.

“Faculty members from across many areas of the university including social sciences, business, ministry, English, history, philosophy and health sciences have been involved in teaching core courses. It’s important to understand faculty enthusiasm for instructing in this area as well as how to support and encourage them as they take on teaching commitments in the core,” says Dieleman.

Redeemer’s significant enrolment growth over the past few years has posed some unique challenges. With large incoming cohorts that all need to take core courses, class sizes are increasing. For example, the core capstone course in fourth year is an experiential learning opportunity that develops students’ project management and problem-solving skills. Students are divided into groups to tackle a project, often with an external community or city partner. Finding enough appropriate and meaningful projects in the community or City of Hamilton and matching them to available faculty as the number of student groups grows requires significant management and resourcing to provide students with opportunities such as collaborating with peers, cultivating relationships, thinking outside of their area of study, working with external partners and meeting professional-quality expectations.

We’re please to have hired two accomplished and enthusiastic new faculty members to teach and provide leadership in the core.

“It sets the bar high,” says Dieleman. “It’s a really valuable experience for them. Many students have commented that the capstone course stretched them in ways that were really significant.”

As Dieleman leads the internal review to completion, she and other faculty reviewers will identify key areas for growth. Possibilities include opportunities for expanded writing instruction, inclusion of more Indigenous content, and further exploration of how our digital society shapes our identities, all from a Reformed Christian perspective.

Faculty Mentoring

Faculty onboarding has begun to incorporate more intentional development of the Reformed worldview and how it integrates into curriculum, research and the student experience. A new cohort of faculty who joined Redeemer this summer were able to attend enhanced research and development sessions as part of research week attended by faculty colleagues.

For nearly two decades, Redeemer’s faculty mentoring program focused on the roots of the Reformed tradition, the use of Scripture in scholarship and the implications for the calling of faculty in our culture. That emphasis remains, but new elements will be added. New to the director of mentoring role this year, Dr. Robert Joustra plans to build on a model of cohort mentoring with a group of as many as seven faculty members new to Redeemer this year. The cohort will be bringing them into book-based discussions that have already been happening on campus, like those on issues of race with the involvement of scholars like Rev. Dr. Esau McCaulley and his book Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope.

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labour and Liturgy by Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristen Kobes Du Mez
Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News by Jeffrey Bilbro
Jesus the Great Philosopher: Rediscovering the Wisdom Needed for the Good Life by Jonathan T. Pennington
Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope by Esau McCaulley

“We’ll be working our way through some of the really contemporary, urgent and fresh questions,” says Joustra, listing a series of other exciting conversation-starting books set to be part of the mentoring program. Joustra looks forward to testing the model this academic year with the hope of expanding it into each academic area under the leadership of three senior faculty members. “This will allow faculty to dig into subject matter more specific to their areas of study, which then becomes the catalyst for conversations on campus throughout the year that will filter into the classroom.”

In the future, staff will also be able to participate in education modules to enhance their understanding of the Reformed worldview. For both faculty and staff, these investments will enrich the way they think about their calling at Redeemer and the way their faith integrates with their work.

Building on the Tradition

It’s one thing to be rooted in a rich tradition, benefitting from the centuries of scholarship, and another to cultivate and move forward the intellectual foundations of Redeemer’s mission and vision. Three new faculty fellowships hosted by the Centre for Christian Scholarship, one from each of the arts and humanities, sciences and social sciences areas, will receive allocated time and budget to lead the new faculty mentoring cohorts previously mentioned. They will each host an event with a scholar of their choice who has expertise in applying the Reformed scholarly tradition and who can lecture and discuss their work on campus. During a three-year term, fellows will also extend their own research, in the area of applied Reformed thought, inviting others to collaborate with them, to engage with the research interests of others, and to generally serve as a touchpoint for leading scholarship in their discipline at Redeemer.

“The Centre for Christian Scholarship is thrilled to be able to elevate mentoring, scholarship and research at Redeemer through these fellowships,” says Joustra.

An exciting new journal and conference partnership is also in the works. Together with Calvin, Dordt, The University of Edinburgh, the Theological University of Kampen, Fuller Theological Seminary and others, Redeemer will be a founding partner in a new journal, consolidating the Bavinck Review and the Kuyper Centre Review. Long and short-form pieces will be hosted as well as a podcast. Like the Christian Scholar’s Review, this publication will share faculty learning across a range of institutions with a greater focus on the Reformed tradition and will be accompanied by the annual Kuyper Conference.

The Centre for Christian Scholarship is thrilled to be able to elevate mentoring, scholarship and research at Redeemer through these fellowships.

Pressing on to a Bright Future

While much has been accomplished even in a year marked by the global pandemic, there is much to do to meet the goals of the strategic plan over the coming four years. The forward momentum of the past few years continues to catalyze positive change that will benefit students and enhance the mission. It is an exciting time to be part of the Redeemer community, taking strength from a rich Reformed tradition and pressing ever forward to prepare students and graduates to fulfill God’s calling for each of them and bring the hope and love of Christ to the world.

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