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 six 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. 

Our Students Succeed
Our Students Succeed

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, Holland, Traverse City, and Detroit 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.


Come See Us!
Come See Us!

Our Main Office is located on GVSU's Allendale Campus in 324 LOH.



We are open Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. EST

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.

Lynnette Keen, Academic Program Coordinator

Lynnette Keen

Academic Program Coordinator, IRIS

Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss, Department Chair

Dr. Melanie Shell-Weiss

Department Chair, 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. Denise Goerisch

Dr. Goerisch received her PhD in Geography from San Diego State University and University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focuses on the socioeconomic lives of children and young people, care ethics, and geographies of education. She has published on topics related to emotional labor and girlhood, children’s work and play, leadership in informal education spaces, popular geopolitics and care, faculty labor, mentoring practices in higher education, college affordability, and feminist methodologies. She recently co-authored a book, The True Costs of College, which will be published in Fall 2020.

Dr. Denise Goerisch, Assistant Department Chair

Dr. Denise Goerisch, Assistant Department Chair

Professor Justin Pettibone

Professor Justin Pettibone, Assistant Department Chair

Assistant Department Chair: Professor Justin Pettibone

Justin Pettibone graduated with an M.A. in Continental Philosophy from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Prior to that, he graduated from the Liberal Studies Department at GVSU, focusing on Intellectual History. He has taught for the department since 2008. In recent years, Prof. Pettibone has worked as the coordinator of the Accelerated Leadership Program, developed courses for the new LEADS program, collaborated with colleagues in the Writing and History departments to teach connected courses in the First Year Learning Communities, and designed and led a study abroad program to Chile with colleagues from GVSU's TRIO office.