About the Department
What We Do
The programs that make up IRIS: The Integrative, Religious, and Intercultural Studies Department share a commitment to offering flexible degree pathways to support students of all backgrounds, identities, and walks of life. Our award-winning faculty put students first. With four academic programs that can be tailored to meet individual needs and interests, we help students to maximize their tuition investment by learning specific, transferrable skills that are in demand by employers today.
Rooted in the values of liberal learning, those skills include an emphasis on critical thinking, development of strong written and oral communication abilities, complex reasoning, creativity, and interdisciplinary inquiry that is rooted in the humanities and social sciences while also drawing upon STEM. All of our programs emphasize the value of ethical reasoning, intercultural competence, and global mindedness.
Courses offered by the department are rigorous. We set a high bar for academic standards, including research and professional integrity. We also appreciate that people learn differently. Our faculty and support staff provide direct, hands-on support to ensure that our students thrive.
95% of students successfully complete their degrees.
77.4% graduate in 6 years or less.
Nearly 100% report finding jobs that directly use skills from their majors within 3 years of graduation.
Who We Are
Our faculty support students on Grand Valley's Allendale, Grand Rapids, and Traverse City campuses. The department is made up of 20 full-time faculty members and 35-40 dedicated adjunct faculty. One full-time office coordinator, Lynnette Keen, serves all of the department's programs. We work closely with the Center for Adult and Continuing Studies as well as the Brooks College Office of Integrative Learning and Advising.
Professional advisors who serve our students include: Jennifer Jameslyn (Director, Office of Integrative Learning and Advising), Kate VanderKolk (Center for Adult and Continuing Studies), and Jackie Abeyta (Traverse City Campus).
Faculty teaching in IRIS represent the values of diversity, interdisciplinarity, and excellence that we teach our students:
- More than 3/4 of our faculty were first-generation-to-college students themselves, including faculty who studied as undergraduates at GVSU.
- 35.4% of our full-time faculty are people of color.
- 47% of our full-time faculty are members of marginalized or under-represented groups, including LGBTQ+, non-US citizens, among others.
- Members of our faculty also include veterans, individuals who are multi-lingual, and immigrants.
- For the past 8 years, our faculty have won at least 1 (and often more than 1) prestigious university award every year in addition to national and international awards.
- We rank among the top department's university-wide for scholarly productivity.
- Quality of faculty teaching, measured by student feedback, peer observation, and external recognition/awards, is among the absolute highest of any department across the university.
- 100% of our faculty say their favorite part of working at GVSU is teaching.
Ms. Lynnette Keen is the office coordinator for all of the academic programs in IRIS. She joined the department full-time in April 2018. She holds a BA in English and Journalism from Calvin College and brings with her over 12 years of experience as an admissions advisor at Baker College. She has also held positions at Herman Miller and the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids.
She is often the first person that students see or hear when contacting the department and is a terrific source of information and assistance with all aspects of registration, scheduling, helping to find advising appointments, as well as supporting our department's events planning, outreach efforts, internal meetings, and administrative work. Want to learn more about the department? Have a question about your classes or how to enroll? Give Lynnette a call today or send her an email and she will be happy to help.
Office Coordinator, IRIS
Department Chair: Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss
The Integrative Studies Program is directed by Department Chair, Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss. Her responsibilities include overseeing all aspects of the work of the IRIS Department, including course scheduling, personnel, budget, outreach, and grade appeals.
Dr. Shell-Weiss specializes in U.S. civil rights and migration studies with a particular interest in political organizing and social movements. She has taught at GVSU since 2011 and is a nationally-recognized scholar, teacher, and oral historian. She holds a PhD in History (Michigan State University, 2002), MA in American Studies (Michigan State University, 1996), and a BA in the Social Sciences (with an emphasis in Race Relations) and Creative Writing & Literature from the University of Michigan's Residential College (1994). Dr. Shell-Weiss had the good fortune of beginning her undergraduate studies at GVSU, including coursework in the English and History Departments.
She has published several books in addition to scholarly articles and book chapters. Much of her career has been devoted to collaborative, public history work resulting in a range of exhibitions, archival collections, documentary films and other multi-media productions. Prior to coming to GVSU, Dr. Shell-Weiss taught in the Center for Africana Studies and Department of History at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland (2003-2011) and at Michigan State University where she also served as Assistant Director of MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences (1996-2003).
Assistant Department Chair: Dr. Brent Smith
As Assistant Department Chair, Dr. Brent Smith assists with course scheduling and staffing, assigning student majors to faculty, and manages the Religious Studies Program. He also assists with personnel matters within the department.
Dr. Smith is a specialist in the interdisciplinary study and teaching of religion. He has taught at GVSU since 2010 and is a recognized scholar and public commentator. Dr. Smith holds a Doctorate of Ministry from the Meadville Lombard Theological School (1984), Master of Arts from the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (1983), and a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from Hanover College (1976).
Dr. Smith brings a wealth of experience not only as a scholar and teacher but also as a Unitarian Universalist minister. He has served congregations in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Grand Rapids, Michigan and remains a leading figure within the Unitarian Universalist church. In Fall 2019, Dr. Smith will be on sabbatical leave as he completes revisions to his forthcoming book, Religious Studies and the Goal of Interdisciplinarity, which is under contract with Routledge University Press.
Interim Assistant Department Chair (F19): Dr. Diane Maodush-Pitzer
Through Fall 2019, Dr. Diane Maodush-Pitzer will serve as Interim Assistant Department Chair of IRIS and lead coordinator for the Religious Studies Program.
A specialist in educational persistence and retention, Dr. Maodush-Pitzer was one of the founders and founding coordinators of the GVSU Religious Studies Program, which she led from 2012-2015. IRIS owes a great deal to Dr. Maodush-Pitzer's vision and leadership. She has taught for nearly two decades at GVSU and her voice is recognized by many thanks to her weekly radio show, Soundings, which is broadcast on WOOD Radio 1300 AM and 106.9 FM and offers ecumenical perspectives on the relationship among current events, culture, faith, and spirituality.
A champion for women in ministry, Dr. Maodush-Pitzer is the founding director of WITNESS, a non-profit organization working to bring more women into religious leadership positions. She is also an ordained Reverend in the Reformed Church in America and a much sought-after mindfulness educator and community leader. Dr. Maodush-Pitzer holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from Eastern Michigan University (2016) in addition to an M.A. in Ritual Studies (University of Notre Dame, 1997), M.Div. in Pastoral Care (Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan, 1982), and a B.S. in Human Development & Early Childhood Education (Northern Illinois University, 1977).