WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Connie and Roger Carlstrom of Yakima, Wash., return each spring to the Whitman College campus to give an award that honors their late daughter.

At this year's presentation of the Connie Jill Carlstrom Endowed Award for Japanese Studies, however, it was the Carlstroms on the receiving end of special honors.

The title of "honorary parents" was bestowed on the couple by two groups of students, one representing Tekisuijuku, Whitman's Japanese language house, and one representing their daughter's Delta Delta Delta sorority. Both sets of students urged the Carlstroms to visit campus more often, noting that they look forward to Roger's help with household repair jobs at Tekisuijuku and to Connie's cookies and care packages.

"I think it is wonderful that our students have made the Carlstroms their honorary parents," Whitman assistant professor of Japanese Ron Takemoto said. "Connie and Roger have a genuine interest in our students, and their influence is very positive. It helps that our students have 'parents' like the Carlstroms, people who listen to what concerns them and what excites them. All of us look forward to more frequent visits."

Beginning in 1994, the Carlstrom Award has been given annually to one or more outstanding students of Japanese language and culture who are interested in pursuing graduate studies and possibly a career in some aspect of U.S.-Japan relations.

The Carlstroms helped present this year's award to Wren McNally, a Boulder, Colo., student who graduated from Whitman on May 20 with honors and distinction in her Asian Studies major.

The award honors the memory of Connie Jill Carlstrom, who graduated from Yakima's Eisenhower High School in 1989 and from Whitman in May, 1993. She was teaching English in Tamamura, Japan, as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching program when she died in September, 1993.

McNally plans to spend the next few years in the Washington, D.C. area, exploring foreign service employment possibilities related to Japan. Working in the field, she says, might be one way to narrow her focus for eventual graduate school studies.

McNally entered Whitman with a strong background in Spanish but quickly added Japanese to her language studies. She eventually completed academic minors in both Spanish and Japanese studies.

After having studied Spanish in elementary school and high school, McNally inquired about starting another language as she registered for her first year of classes at Whitman. Takemoto heard that initial inquiry from a separate registration table, and took the opportunity to shout a suggestion that McNally "Try Japanese!"

Not only did McNally try Japanese, she liked it. "Wren consistently earned the highest grades in Japanese for four years," Takemoto said. "Her accomplishments in Japanese studies puts her directly in line with the nine students who previously won the Carlstrom Award."

McNally lived in Whitman's Japanese language house during her second year at Whitman. She spent her junior year at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, as part of the prestigious Associated Kyoto Program (AKP).

After her AKP experience sparked an interest in Japanese cuisine, McNally began researching traditional and modern aspects of Japanese food culture. Back at Whitman for her senior year, she continued her studies with Harumi Tsujino, the Japanese native speaker on campus, and with Takemoto and other faculty members. She wrote an honors thesis on the Aesthetics of Japanese Food, and she passed her oral examinations with distinction.

McNally graduated cum laude from Whitman, which requires a cumulative grade point average of 3.6 (4.0 scale) for all classes. Her overall grade point average was 3.7.

She earned Academic Distinction in each of her three years at Whitman, and she twice received Scholar-Athlete honors. She was on the women's varsity soccer team during her first two years on campus, and she ran with the women's cross country team as a senior.