Goshen’s hedgehog

Photo by Liudmyla Denysiuk on Unsplash

Jim Collins, author of the business books Good to Great and Built to Last, defined a Hedgehog Concept as what differentiates great companies from good ones. He writes, “A hedgehog concept is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, an intention to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at.” When you identify it, it has the quality of “a quiet ping of truth.”

In 1903, our first college president, Noah Byers, coined our motto, “Culture for Service,” almost 100 years before Jim Collins would have named it our hedgehog concept. Embraced through the decades by GC leaders and faculty, this simple motto serves as a “real world” set of instructions that replicates and renews our mission to integrate academic excellence with real-world experience and active love for God and neighbor.

Today, GC students restore coral reefs, run the best college radio station in the nation, manage international performing artists in Sauder Concert Hall, explore concepts of justice with incarcerated people in the Elkhart County Jail, discover how insects recycle organic matter in Witmer Woods, work shoulder to shoulder with Anabaptist volunteers on Mennonite Disaster Service projects…I could go on, but you get the idea!

Education researchers now consider Goshen’s quiet understanding of “what we can be best at” to be “high-impact practice” — service-learning, research, internships, capstone projects and global engagement, to name several forms. These experiences, which every GC student experiences in multiple instances, lead to powerful outcomes that range from critical thinking, creativity, personal development, work ethic, moral reasoning, graduation rate, job attainment and future service to communities.

In a national ranking based on publicly reported data on civic engagement, research, social mobility and graduation outcomes, Goshen was #4 in the nation and #1 in Indiana. That is because Goshen is truly great at “Culture for Service.” 

For example, check out these recent stats:

  • 100% of GC seniors engage in community-based learning, compared to 69% at private 4-year institutions nationally.
  • When asked about their career paths after college, 67% of graduating GC seniors in 2022 said it was very important or essential to work for social change, compared to 50% of seniors at other private 4-year colleges.
  • In more career-specific learning, 81% of GC graduates completed an internship, compared to 65% of students at other baccalaureate colleges and 41% of college students nationally.

Our students feel the impact. GC seniors report their greatest learning (outside their specific academic majors) to be in the areas of critical thinking, research, leadership and community-building skills.

Learning is a process for acquiring memories, which are changes in thoughts or behaviors caused by an experience. In the words of alumna Julia Jun ’24:

“Memories from Goshen College, which have pushed me to learn, perform, and educate passionately, are the greatest gifts that college has bestowed. The experiences that formed these memories were made possible by the college’s generous supply of valuable opportunities and the encouraging community through which those opportunities were explored.”

This is our quiet truth, a century old and going strong.

Rebecca Stoltzfus