nyww Students from three area colleges came together recently for a three-day summit.

For decades, the Walla Walla area has had three colleges, whose three populations of busy students living in somewhat parallel universes have generally been unconnected from each other. But a Whitman College senior’s idea last spring to create a network has changed that.

Students from Whitman College, Walla Walla University and Walla Walla Community College came together recently to participate in a three-day summit of the new Network for Young Walla Walla (NYWW). It is an effort to create connections and to create a respected organization of the area’s young leaders and educated minds of multiple viewpoints and experiences that could be a resource and participant in helping to solve local and national issues.

“This is the first organization geared to unify the three student bodies,” said Camila Thorndike, the Whitman student who launched the idea. The group, which exists because of a “team of dedicated people,” began at a spring picnic and kick-off events at each institution, and then took another major step recently, holding a summit with the help of in-kind and other donations from the institutions, faculties, students and business community.

The summit’s focus, at a WWCC conference facility, was to further organize and delve into its theme of creating a sustainable future.

About 130 students are now involved and the next meeting in spring will focus on creating officer positions and a managerial position modeled somewhat after what she does, Thorndike said.

Thorndike, an environmental humanities major, said the old politics may not be part of the lexicon of her generation. Instead, creating relationships, friendships among people, is the first and best step to developing a “basis of respect.” And that’s when learned conversation and discussions can really begin — as educated minds try to face and solve the major issues.

Thorndike said the group has discussed everything from health-care issues in Walla Walla to elementary and secondary education and environmental issues.

“What we accomplished would have been simply impossible without a solid team of dedicated people from across the valley,” Thorndike said. She said, as an example, that Elise Fandrich from WWU, a member of the Core Team and led External Affairs, coordinated four students from different schools who took on business, nonprofit, and media outreach.

“The summit was an utterly collective endeavor,” Thorndike said.

Christina Stamper, a WWCC student: "It was so fulfilling to be a part of bridging the 'gap' between campuses. Every young person that showed up, showed up with excitement and a determination to get the most out of their experience at the summit, and it showed."

Whitman student Elana Congress '12, a summit organizer, said she hopes that in years to come the network “is a rallying point” for Walla Walla's youth, and she hopes the three colleges' admissions officers will mention the network when prospective students ask about community involvement or ask about ties between the colleges' student populations. She also hopes “NYWW proves that Whitman students are not at all blase about the local community, but instead consider themselves members of the greater Walla Walla community.”

Read more about the conference by clicking here for a Dec. 7 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin article.

— Virginia Grantier