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Faculty Profile: Joel Toppen
Assistant Professor of Political Science

“I love working with Hope students,” says Dr. Joel Toppen of the political science department. “It’s such an exciting part of life. There’s so much transformation in four years. I get to work around people who are asking questions and pursuing things and have a whole sense of wonder about the world.”

For Dr. Toppen, active interest in the world is an important part of a college education. He says, “Our goal as I see it is to be more fully engaged with the world.” He is particularly interested in exploring issues of global poverty and development along with Hope students.

“Issues of global poverty are the most pressing human issue of our time,” he says. “We have a responsibility to address these issues in a serious and humane way."

Recently, Dr. Toppen helped develop a joint internship/research assistantship program with World Vision. Centered in Johannesburg, South Africa, the program gives Hope students the opportunity to learn about, research, and attend to global poverty issues in an immediate, experiential way.

He thinks such hands-on learning is essential. “You can do some effective research here,” he says, “but in order to understand issues of global poverty and development, you have to meet people. You have to talk to people. You have to be in the field.”

Regarding the new internship program, Dr. Toppen said, “It brings together, as I see it, so much of what a Hope College education in the 21st century should be about. It’s interdisciplinary; it’s global; it’s experiential; it’s transformational, in both an intrapersonal and an interpersonal way.”

The transforming power of experience and the power of personal learning are important ideas for Dr. Toppen, who attended Hope himself as a third-generation student. Of his own work, he says, “I want to shrink the difference between prayer and research. I’d like my faith, my political ideology, my teaching, my research, my values all to be integrated.”

In the future, Dr. Toppen hopes to see the internship program grow, providing Hope students with more opportunities to learn and experience outside the classroom. “I would like to expand the program around issues of global poverty and development,” he says.

Growing student interest at Hope in issues of global poverty and the world’s needs encourages and excites Dr. Toppen in his interactive role as a professor.

“I’m so encouraged by Hope students’ interest, and I’m excited about pursuing that interest,” he says. “I am constantly inspired by the Hope students I work with and encounter.”

This profile was written by Melissa Sexton, a 2005 Hope College graduate from Kalamazoo, Mich., for the 2005-06 Hope College Catalog.

Hope People - Learn about the experiences of some of the people connected with Hope College.