Embracing challenges and realizing success
Sarah Stanger '13 shares a laugh with President George Bridges as she describes her research during the poster session at the 13th annual Undergraduate Conference in April 2011.
Students, faculty and staff rose early on a May morning to watch balloons launch from Ankeny Field during the 37th annual Walla Walla Balloon Stampede.
A Whitman education is about challenges and opportunities — seeking out and identifying problems, developing solutions, and then reflecting on that process in an enduring cycle. The thoughtful evolution of ideas is, and has always been, the key to our success. We seek to refocus both our questions and answers in an effort to continuously advance and adapt. The 2010-2011 school year saw many challenges that became opportunities — many ways in which Whitman advanced and adapted, while maintaining loyalty to our long-standing traditions.
Again this past year the uncertain economy posed difficulties. While managing Whitman's budgets carefully, we have sought to increase support through fundraising. Despite less than favorable economic times, our generous donors both amazed and humbled me with their giving this year, which marks Whitman's most successful fundraising year in our history.
Whitman donors gave more than $15 million toward strengthening academic programs through faculty support, solidifying access to Whitman through scholarships, building the endowment, and other key Whitman priorities, such as athletics, facilities — particularly the Harper Joy Theatre project — and general fund support. Foundations gave almost $3 million toward buildings, science equipment, capstone experiences, new faculty lines and Canadian Studies.
This economic period has proven just as challenging for families as it has been for institutions, and recruiting an exceptional class in an increasingly competitive environment remains complex and intricate. Thanks to our hard-working admission team — and owing also to the proven value of a Whitman education — we were able to enroll yet another class of excellent, diverse and passionate students. This year's class comes in with exceptional academic abilities (median SAT score of 1360 and an average GPA of 3.85) and represents 16 different countries and 37 different states.
David Schmitz, Robert Allen Skotheim chair of history, and Davey Friedman '11 discuss their research. The faculty-student team earned a Perry Summer Research Grant in 2010 to study the role of nationalism in the emergence of the Cold War years.
One of the great challenges that all institutions of higher learning face is preparing students to succeed in the complex and unpredictable landscape of a 21st century world. Our students may well be working not just in careers but in industries that don't yet exist and using technology that we can't yet imagine. This is why Whitman's tradition of ensuring that students learn how to learn — rather than simply acquiring information or completing specific tasks — holds more value than ever. Our students must synthesize, analyze, and interpret a vast range of information and perspectives. They must draw parallels between disparate subjects and find harmony in irregular patterns.
We are continuing to fortify this kind of inquiry with our Cross-Disciplinary Learning and Teaching Initiative, which made important strides in 2010-11. This initiative provides a way for faculty from different academic disciplines to work with and learn from one another to enable their students to experience much greater convergence between disciplines in their own studies. While our academic infrastructure of majors and departments thrives, the college is working to bolster cross-disciplinary programs and curricula that encourage students and faculty to cultivate connections between what Provost and Dean of the Faculty Tim Kaufman-Osborn calls "different provinces of inquiry."
For those who spent long hours in Harper Joy Theatre classrooms and stages, the 2010-11 academic year was one of transition. Students, faculty, and staff worked around construction throughout the year in anticipation of the opening of the renovated facility in fall 2011. Pictured here: A scene from the December 2010 HJT production of "The Sea."
Last year we also reconfigured our faculty teaching schedules to create more time and space for integrating students into scholarly work. Whitman's reputation has always included impressive student access to professors whose scholarly achievements rank among the best in the nation — that is, for personalized instruction in an environment where students' interests and passions are nurtured through rigorous and thoughtful education. Our faculty members are committed to balancing active scholarship with meaningful teaching. This reconfiguration honors that symmetry and seeks to enhance not only students' classroom experiences, but also their opportunities for scholarly pursuits outside the classroom.
For example, after taking a course with philosophy professor Julia Ireland, Gary Wang '11 submitted a paper that was subsequently published in Prometheus, an international undergraduate philosophy journal. Faculty-student teams were chosen to receive research grants through Whitman's Abshire, Perry, and Adam Dublin Award programs. Four economic policy papers written by students under the guidance of three faculty mentors were presented as part of the GO Policy Paper Project (an extracurricular learning experience generously funded by Whitman overseer George Osborne '66). Zachary Schierl '12 and Sam Schonfeld '12, along with astronomy professor Nathaniel Paust '98, hand-built a sky camera and installed it on the roof of the Hall of Science. The third annual Global Studies Symposium gathered students and faculty to listen and share opinions with a group of esteemed visiting speakers on their notions of "Global Media, Global Spectacles." And the 13th annual Undergraduate Conference showcased student academic excellence with more than 200 participants.
A jubilant Whitman community shared in the men's basketball team's momentous win over the nation's No. 1 ranked Whitworth University in February 2011.
These forms of engagement are in turn reflected in the numbers of students who have earned fellowships and scholarships from prestigious organizations such as Watson, Fulbright, and the National Science Foundation — and this year we also were named as one of the top 20 schools to contribute graduating seniors to Teach for America. We believe that our faculty is now better positioned than ever to further support and expand our students' scholarship opportunities.
Our students also desire access to enhanced activities outside the traditional classroom that will build their skills for the future. Not surprisingly, our academic-based experiential programs — as well as outdoor and other co-curricular programs — provide exceptional experiences in learning, leadership, and discipline.
The field of athletics is another avenue for such enhanced experiences. Many of our students are involved in athletics at various levels, and many others are avid fans. For this reason, I'm particularly proud to say that this year we had our best overall varsity athletic season ever. Whitman placed third in the Northwest Conference All-Sport competition, when point totals were adjusted to reflect the 14 sports in which Whitman competes. Our men's tennis team led the way with its fourth consecutive NWC title. And men's basketball, men's soccer, women's golf, and our men's and women's swim teams also had outstanding seasons.
One of the most moving moments of 2010-11 came when our men's basketball team beat the previously undefeated Whitworth Pirates — then ranked the nation's No. 1 team in NCAA Division III. While the exciting win carried our team into the conference playoffs, even more exciting to me was the energy of the fans. George Ball Court was packed to the rafters. And the students' joyous eruption onto the court at the end of the game was one of the most remarkable collective celebrations of success I have witnessed at Whitman.
Every year, the challenges of providing our brand of liberal arts education move us forward. Looking to the future, Whitman faces three challenges that also represent great opportunities: We must offer greater access to the life-changing education available here to an ever-widening array of students; we must focus on sustaining and strengthening our academic programs by recruiting and retaining exceptional faculty; and we must remain vigilant about ensuring Whitman's financial strength. If we embrace these challenges as opportunities, we will ensure that Whitman has a promising and sustainable future.
On behalf of our students, staff and faculty, I thank all of you for your support of our remarkable institution in myriad ways. As always, I look forward to continued success in working together on the many exciting opportunities ahead.