George Bridges

As another remarkable academic year at Whitman ends and we reflect on the past months, one of the year’s accomplishments in which we take great pride is Whitman’s new Global Studies Initiative.

Originating from the faculty, this important initiative offers students expanded opportunities to explore the interconnectedness of the world’s most pressing issues and discover the influences of its diverse cultures and societies. Made possible by a $345,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, the initiative will sponsor new interdisciplinary courses with global themes in addition to campus-wide fora and symposia on subjects of international interest. In keeping with the mission of the college, global studies at Whitman will better prepare our students for living in and understanding an increasingly complex world.

An enthusiastic advocate of the Global Studies Initiative is Ryan Crocker ’71, a recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this country’s highest honor given to a civilian. Now retired from the United States Foreign Service — most recently serving as U.S. ambassador to Iraq — he said, during a recent visit to Whitman, that the college shaped much of his life and career. In noting that a liberal arts education “teaches you to think” and develops students’ abilities to deal with complex issues, Crocker believes that the initiative is a “tremendous” addition to Whitman’s already strong academic programs.

An English major at Whitman, he stated that literature, for example, provides an effective tool for understanding and relating to the world and to foreign cultures, and is a “tremendous mental discipline … (that) expands your mind, requiring abstract formulating of knowledge.”

A very generous and visionary gift from alumni Ashton J. ’43 and Virginia Graham O’Donnell ’43 has proven critical in launching the global studies program. The couple established an endowment in 2002 that has brought to campus speakers with expertise in international affairs. The Ashton J. and Virginia Graham O’Donnell Endowed Visiting Professorship in Global Studies has catalyzed interest in global and international issues across many academic disciplines.

As our students embrace this new emphasis in global exploration and discovery, I reiterate my thanks to all of you for supporting Whitman. In an era of rapid international change and severe economic challenges, your support has enabled our faculty and staff to continue the longstanding tradition of rigorous teaching and learning while also enriching our students’ education with life-changing experiences on campus and abroad.


George S. Bridges