Much to celebrate
It might seem odd that U.S. News & World Report calls a 128-year-old institution an "Up and Coming College," ranking us No. 3 in the nation in that category. But the gratifying aspect is that this category is based on "making the most promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics, faculty and student life." While these rankings don’t define us as an institution, I am pleased that we are consistently rated as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.
— George S. Bridges
Each year Whitman people and their collective achievements offer extraordinary inspiration and promise. The 2009–10 academic year was no exception. Punctuated by accomplishments that strengthen the reputation of the college and enrich the experiences of our students, last year was among the most successful I have witnessed in my five years as president.
In November 2009, Bob Withycombe, professor of rhetoric and film studies of more than 30 years, was honored in our nation’s capital as a 2009 U.S. Professor of the Year for the State of Washington. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education accorded him this honor.
Bob’s prestigious award — one of just 38 given to professors from across the nation — increased my admiration for him and filled me with immense pride for Whitman’s academic legacy. But I was, perhaps, most moved by what happened after Bob accepted his award that night.
A few of us made plans to conclude the evening with a celebratory toast at a local restaurant. As I made my way into the establishment, I saw another example of why Bob’s teaching had earned him the distinguished honor. There, in the middle of the bustling room, some 3,000 miles away from Walla Walla, stood the person of the hour, encircled by a spirited crowd of Whitman alumni. Now living and working in the D.C. area, these former students gathered to congratulate their celebrated professor who made such a lasting impact on their lives.
The camaraderie, joy and respect that filled the room caught the eyes of everyone present. Those former students weren’t just celebrating Bob’s award; they also were honoring a heritage of faculty-student relationships that have helped define Whitman since its founding. The lively celebration reflected the true character of the college: a passionate commitment to academic excellence, its open and unpretentious Northwest culture, and a closely-knit community of engaged students and professors.
In addition to Bob’s recognition, we’ve had much to celebrate over the past year. While the economy continues to ebb and flow, Whitman has thrived, thanks to faculty members who continue to foster unrivaled academic experiences, a student population comprised of some of the world’s brightest young minds, and the generous support of our faithful donors, who collectively gave more than $12.5 million to the college during the 2009–10 fiscal year. Despite a rocky economic landscape, total gifts to the college increased by more than $1 million, affirming the confidence our donors place in the college’s mission and vision.
This continued support has allowed us to build on the distinctive Whitman experience that has drawn increasing recognition from national media. Whitman jumped four spots, to No. 16, on Forbes’ list of "America’s Best Colleges." The Princeton Review also places the college on a number of Top-20 lists in its ranking of "The Best 373 Colleges," recognizing Whitman for its classroom experience, quality of professors and overall administration. It might seem odd that U.S. News & World Report calls a 128-year-old institution an "Up and Coming College," ranking us No. 3 in the nation in that category. But the gratifying aspect is that this category is based on "making the most promising and innovative changes in the areas of academics, faculty and student life." While these rankings don’t define us as an institution, I am pleased that we are consistently rated as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.
Whitman’s reputation for academic excellence supported by caring faculty and staff, combined with countless opportunities to connect with our vibrant campus community, makes the college the school of choice for an increasing number of prospective students. The class of 2014 was selected from a pool of about 3,300 applicants — more than twice the number who applied for admission just 15 years ago. This fall, we welcomed 441 remarkable new students who collectively represent the most diverse class in the college’s history.
Coming from 36 states, 15 countries and a spectrum of ethnic, racial, cultural and philosophical backgrounds, this first-year class brings a wide variety of insight and perspectives to the Whitman community. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that one in eight of these new students is the first in his or her family to attend college. Thanks to the continued support of our donors and our well-managed budget and resources, Whitman is able to offer more than $20 million in annual scholarships — making the exceptional education we offer a reality for talented and able students from very diverse backgrounds.
Members of the Class of 2014 begin their Whitman experience at a dynamic time for the campus. Recently completed capital projects include the development of the new Glover Alston Center, a complete renovation of Sherwood Athletic Center and extensive updates to Olin and Maxey halls. Current construction projects include a $7.4 million expansion and renovation of Harper Joy Theatre, a project that recently received a $150,000 boost from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. When completed in summer 2011, the renovated HJT facility will better serve our revered theatre department, while increasing access to cultural experiences for the entire region. These improvements reflect both the innovative vision for the advancement of the college and the generous contributions of our loyal donors.
The Glover Alston Center opened for students in January 2010, and the official dedication was in May. Left to right: Donors Thad Alston and Trustee Kari Glover ’72; Sarah Deming ’10 and (partially hidden) Nadim Damluji ’10; and Mukulu Mweu, associate dean of students, intercultural programs and services.
While the buildings on our campus evolve to fit the changing needs of the college community, the academic experiences of Whitman students also are advancing through innovative programs. For example, The Global Studies Initiative, funded by an ongoing $345,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, allows our faculty to collaborate with colleagues across multiple disciplines, to examine global topics through regular symposia and group reading projects, and to develop team-taught courses and other new curricula using a 360-degree perspective of global issues. Through this intensive process, Whitman’s faculty is deepening its ability to prepare students to think creatively about issues of world concern, to grasp the complexity of these issues, and to lead the way in finding solutions to global problems.
Of course, this is just one illustration of Whitman’s emphasis on enriching the curriculum with innovative learning experiences for students. Another is the record number of student-faculty research projects and internships funded by grants last year. This funding provided nearly $140,000 in student stipends, enabling more than 42 students to gain immeasurable experience working alongside faculty.
In addition to being great teachers and mentors to our students, our faculty members also are scholars and leaders in their respective fields, earning an increasing number of grants, fellowships, awards and appointments each year.
During the 2009–10 academic year, Whitman faculty received more than $1.5 million in federal and private grants in the sciences and humanities. This includes two National Science Foundation grants totaling about $800,000, thanks to the diligent work of Marion Götz, assistant professor of chemistry; Kirsten Nicolaysen, assistant professor of geology; Timothy Machonkin, assistant professor of chemistry; and the support of their colleagues and students. These research instrumentation grants enabled the science department to purchase several pieces of significant laboratory equipment, including a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer and a Scanning Electron Microscope. Both enhance Whitman’s student-faculty research, giving students more opportunities to receive expert training as working scientists.
Additional research grants in the sciences included two National Institutes of Health research awards, totaling more than $400,000, to Doug Juers, assistant professor of physics; and Ginger Withers and Chris Wallace, Dr. Robert F. Welty associate professors of biology; as well as a $46,500 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust awarded to Tom Knight, assistant professor of biology.
Whitman’s humanities programs also were enhanced by a variety of grants and faculty accomplishments. Katrina Roberts, Mina Schwabacher associate professor of English, earned a $6,000 grant from Washington Humanities for the Visiting Writers Reading Series she directs. One of the speakers in the series was celebrated writer Sherman Alexie. Several faculty members also published literary works, including "Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War" by Elizabeth Vandiver, Clement Biddle Penrose associate professor of Latin and classics; and "The Clerical Dilemma: Peter of Blois and Literate Culture in the Twelfth Century" by John D. Cotts, associate professor of history.
Prestigious fellowships were granted to a number of Whitman faculty members, including Robert Sickels, professor of rhetoric and film studies, who was honored as a Fulbright Scholar, enabling him to travel to Hong Kong for a teaching and research opportunity from January to May 2010 at Hong Kong Baptist University. A Fulbright Scholars award from the highly esteemed Fulbright Distinguished Chairs Program was granted to Suzanne Morrissey, assistant professor of anthropology. She is spending fall semester 2010 as the visiting research chair in environment, health and sustainability at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.
Like the faculty, Whitman students and alumni contributed greatly to the college’s legacy of excellence, receiving major fellowships, scholarships, grants and awards in 19 programs — including two Watson fellowships, three Fulbright awards, a Scoville fellowship and three Princeton in Asia fellowships, to name a few.
Alumni drew international attention and appreciation for their efforts. In December 2009, John Stanton ’77 accepted the U.S. Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence on behalf of Trilogy International, the wireless provider company he chairs, for its work in Haiti. In May 2010, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg ’01 was awarded a United Nations’ Alliance of Civilizations "Marketplace of Ideas" award for Akili Dada, the nonprofit scholarship organization for Kenyan girls she founded in 2005.
And then there was the Whittie who traveled into space. On April 5, 2010, Dorothy "Dottie" Metcalf-Lindenburger ’97 became the college’s first graduate to venture 200 miles away from Earth, blasting off for a two-week NASA shuttle mission to work on the International Space Station. A month after touching back down at the Kennedy Space Station on April 20, Dottie visited Whitman to present a moving Baccalaureate talk titled "Growing up in a Wheat Field." I can’t help but imagine how our earliest graduates might have felt, knowing a fellow alumna would one day take her Whitman experience to such inspiring heights.
The continued achievements and societal contributions of Whitman alumni, students, faculty and staff give cause for celebration year after year. In May 2010, the Whitman community gathered to celebrate the 95th birthday of George Ball, Weyerhaeuser professor of biblical literature emeritus. Hundreds of notes poured in from alumni expressing their gratitude to the respected professor, who has played an influential role in students’ lives for more than 50 years.
But true to Whitman’s legacy of deep connectivity and loyal support, notes weren’t all that came in to honor Dr. Ball’s lasting impact on the college. More than 530 alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the college contributed more than $1.7 million in Dr. Ball’s name, creating the George Hudson Ball Chair in the Humanities. The endowment is both a fitting tribute to a great man, and a perfect example of the continued dedication shared by Whitman’s large network of supporters.
For this, and for more examples than I can list, I sincerely thank Whitman’s many donors for honoring the college’s history, celebrating our recent triumphs and helping us chart the course for an even brighter future.
With best wishes and expectations for another achievement-filled year,
George S. Bridges