Continuity and change are themes that recur throughout Whitman’s history. Like the generations before us, we remain dedicated to providing a challenging education that develops and prepares students for their adult lives. Yet our curriculum, though based soundly in the liberal arts tradition, is as much a reflection of modern society as it is an influence on the future of our world. With so much depending on the next generation of college graduates, Whitman College must continually evaluate and evolve to meet the changing needs of our students and society.
Not unlike advancements in modern medicine and technology, a Whitman education is constantly progressing — enhanced by innovation and enabled by generous support. In the same way we wouldn’t want to return to the medical practices of 50 years ago, even the most effective methods of educating students of yesterday must be enriched with contemporary and visionary thinking.
At Whitman, we witness this steady evolution in academic programs across all disciplines. Our faculty members continue to incorporate new approaches to learning that enrich traditional classroom experiences with field and lab work, independent exploration and collaborative research in order to engage students in the pursuit of new knowledge.
These fundamental changes are driven partly by technology and the voluminous amount of information now readily available with the click of a mouse or the tap of a thumb. Professors no longer simply transmit information and knowledge; they also enable and assist students in interpreting knowledge by providing context to concepts and ideas. Today’s students have as much access to information as faculty members, but Whitman’s dynamic professors and innovative learning programs offer unique and exciting experiences for students to directly apply this knowledge.
Many of the college’s programs involve student/faculty collaboration, made possible by a number of gifts, grants and endowments. For example, this year 21 research teams received Louis B. Perry Summer Research Awards, fostering applied research across the liberal arts. In the humanities, Sharon Alker, associate professor of English and general studies, and Eleanor Gold ’11 were granted a Perry Award to examine "models of Scottish masculinity in one of writer John Galt’s most understudied works, ‘Sir Andrew Wylie of that Ilk.’" Among Whitman science recipients, Kate Jackson, assistant professor of biology, and Claire Snyder ’12 and Khoa Nguyen ’12 used funding from their Perry Award to "search for evidence of cryptic speciation in the Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca), a species of wide distribution in sub-Saharan Africa."
Other opportunities for applied learning enable Whitman students to deeply explore and address contemporary world issues. Administered by Pete Parcells, associate professor of economics, The George Osborne Policy Paper Project offers faculty mentorship and annual stipends that allow students to investigate and critically analyze an economic policy and prepare a comprehensive paper in support of a position. In October, four students submitted thought-provoking papers, including "Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070; A Good Immigration Policy?" written by Margaret "Spring" Lonneker ’11 and "The Case Against the Value-Added Tax" by Shanglun Wang ’13.
The high demand for participation in these programs is evidence of the increasing desire students have to be educated in this profound way — learning alongside faculty members and gaining real-world experiences that prepare them for future careers and postgraduate and professional studies.
This is the future of higher education, and I am confident that Whitman is leading the way among liberal arts colleges. On behalf of our students, faculty and staff, I thank you for your continued support in helping us pave this important path to the college’s future, and I look forward to more exciting advances in our academic work in the coming semester and the years ahead.
George S. Bridges