In the first installment of a five-year series, Whitman Magazine introduces you to six students who have taken the first steps of their journey through college.

Each Whitman experience is unique. Students come from different places, have different backgrounds and have different aspirations. Six first-year students agreed to give Whitman Magazine readers the privilege of seeing how their Whitman experiences unfold over the course of their four years at college, and in their first year after graduation. In each March issue of Whitman Magazine, we’ll check in on these six students. Come along for their journeys.

Where will Whitman take me?

Shireen Nori ’16

Major: Undeclared (leaning towards race and ethnic studies.)

Hometown: Fremont, Calif.

Favorite Class: Gender studies 

Most challenging class: “International politics (but an incredible class, nonetheless).”

Favorite extracurricular activity: “My a cappella group.”

Plans after college: She wants to combine social justice with education and public health.

Shireen Nori ’16 is busy. 

The undecided major who says she might major in sociology or race and ethnic studies and race, belongs to an a cappella group, a poetry slam group, the Black Student Union and FACE (a feminist group), just to name a few. To top off her club activities, she’s also performing in a one-act play. Plus, she serves as a member of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 

“At Whitman, I get an incredible amount of support from many different sources,” said Shireen, who earned a prestigious Sherwood Scholarship for what “she can accomplish at Whitman.”

Shireen was apprehensive to apply to Whitman. She had grown up in a city, and wasn’t sure she’d enjoy a small college atmosphere. However, now that she’s completed her first semester, she’s thankful she chose Whitman.

“Being close to a city my entire life, I thought, ‘What am I going to do when I come to Walla Walla?’ But I wanted to go out of my comfort zone.

“So far it’s been a sort of ‘Wow.’ I can see myself forging really great relationships here, and I’m excited to see where Whitman will take me.”

Fire and ice

Kevin Gardner ’16

Major: Undeclared, but leaning toward chemistry or astronomy.

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Favorite class: Chemistry lab

Most challenging class: “General chemistry requires a lot more math than I thought.”

Favorite extracurricular activity: “The theater. I’ve auditioned for almost every show and finally got into ‘My Chernobyl,’ where I’m playing an upright bass and a ukulele.”

Plans after college: “Working in a corporate lab for DuPont.”

Kevin Gardner ’16 knows how to take an EKG and set up an IV. He learned these skills as a volunteer fireman while he was a high school student in Washington, D.C. He also was a skate guard for his local NHL team.

“I play hockey, and I’m a big fan,” Kevin said. “I worked for the Washington Capitals at the practice arena, which is also open to the public. I got to use my ambulance skills and apply them to anyone who got hurt on the ice.”

Kevin became interested in Whitman when, as a freshman in high school, he went on a rafting trip along the Salmon River in Idaho. While rafting the rapids, he met Brien Sheedy, Whitman’s outdoor program director, who told Kevin all about the college.

“I thought it sounded like a really cool place. I told my mother about Whitman, and she said, ‘Where the heck is Walla Walla?’ But then she read the book ‘Colleges That Change Lives,’ and she told me, ‘Kevin, you’re going to Whitman.’”

Whitman is paradise

Emma McCullough-Stearns ’15

Major: Anthropology with a minor in Chinese

Hometown: Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands. For those who haven’t heard of it, Saipan is a tiny island (15 miles by 3 miles) near Guam out in Micronesia.

Favorite class: Anthropology of Prehistoric Europe with Gary Rollefson.

Most challenging class: “An anthropology class that I took last semester.”

Favorite extracurricular activity: “Anything involving the beach, volleyball, swimming/scuba diving and baking!”

Plans after college: “After college, I definitely would like to travel for a bit. In terms of a career, I have no idea! But something that incorporates traveling with the opportunity to speak Chinese.”

When Emma McCullough-Stearns ’15 Skypes with her parents, she asks them to point their iPad out the window so Emma can see the tropical beach where she grew up.

Emma arrived at Whitman via Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts via Saipan, an island paradise located in the Northern Mariana Islands. “The Mariana Trench (the deepest spot in the world) is in my back yard,” said the transfer student who is majoring in anthropology and minoring in Chinese.

“Shortly after starting at Mount Holyoke College, I began to realize that Whitman would have been a much better fit for me, so I applied to transfer,” Emma said. “So far I love all aspects of Whitman. Everything from the classes to the friends I’ve made.”

One thing Whitman had over her previous college was the Outdoor Program. It makes sense that a student who grew up on an island would look for a college where she can participate in outdoor activities. But does Emma miss her island paradise?

“I get text messages from my parents telling me that they’re going swimming or sailing,” Emma said. “But one thing I like about Whitman is that it shares the closeness of an island community.

“Whitman feels safe, and it’s a tight-knit environment. I love it here.”

A black belt in self-defense

Everett Wild ’16

Major: Environmental studies-politics

Hometown: Oak Grove, Ore.

Favorite class: Environmental Science-120, Intro to ES

Most challenging class: Economics-177, Microeconomics and the Environment

Favorite extracurricular activity: “Participating in local politics.”

Plans after college: Graduate school (masters and possibly Ph.D.) and law school.

Everett Wild ’16 has rebooted Whitman’s Aikido club.

The environmental studies-politics major holds the title of Shodan (black belt) in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. So when he arrived on campus, he decided to restart the defunct club.

“I like that Aikido is a martial art that can be used to defend yourself without hurting someone,” said Everett, who plans on going to law school and starting a career in politics. “Plus, it’s great exercise.”

Everett says that the Aikido community is welcoming. This notion of community is not only why he restarted the club, but also why he chose Whitman over numerous other liberal arts colleges.

“Whitman was always on my radar. I knew it had a strong environmental science program. I had friends that went here. But I came to Whitman, because when I visited the campus I immediately felt like I was home.”

Salsa dancing is the spice of life

Gillian Friedman ’16

Major: Undecided

Hometown: Seattle

Favorite class: Race, Class and Trauma: Post-Katrina Media

Most challenging class: America in Vietnam

Favorite extracurricular activity: Whitman Salsa Club!

Plans after college: “To be determined. I plan to take a few years off to travel and study dance in many different countries around the world, and eventually hope to attend graduate school to study law or politics.”

Gillian Friedman ’16 wrote the first paper of her life in Penrose Library. She was a sixth-grader, visiting her older sister who was at the time a first-year at Whitman.

“Both of my siblings went here,” said Gillian, an undeclared first-year who came to Whitman from Roosevelt High School in Seattle, Wash. “I’ve been coming to Whitman about twice a year for the past seven years.”

Her familiarity with Whitman was a strike against the college. She wanted to make her own way and have her own experience, rather than following in her siblings’ footsteps. However, after applying to 15 other liberal arts schools, and going through dozens upon dozens of interviews with admission officers, she began to feel alienated.

“I chose Whitman because, unlike the other colleges, Whitman made me feel like an individual, rather than just a tuition check.”

While Gillian is excited to be on campus, she did notice one area where Whitman was not up to her standards. There was no Salsa dance club.

“I wanted to create something fun and social that has a sense of intimacy and a spark,” Gillian said. “Salsa is something you learn with another person, and it binds you to that person. It helps you embrace and discover new parts of yourself.”

The ball bounces differently here

Noah Lee ’16

Major: Psychology or economics

Hometown: Forestville, Calif.

Favorite class: “Encounters. My teacher is brilliant.”

Most challenging class: Encounters

Favorite extracurricular activity: Varsity tennis

Plans after college: Pursue tennis or a find a job in the field of psychology.

Noah Lee ’16 is taking an acting class, which gives him a chance to be goofy.

“I’m not comfortable acting so it’s been fun to see the other side of myself,” said the 6-foot-3 tennis player with a blistering serve.

After graduating high school, Noah assumed he’d be going to a “UC” school, like UC Santa Cruz or UC Davis. However, after a spring visit to Whitman, he was hooked.

“Whitman felt like this heavenly place,” Noah said. “Everyone was exceptional and talented in eclectic ways.

“After that visit, I knew I wanted to come to Whitman.”

Noah hopes to become a better tennis player and develop as a person during his four years at Whitman. While the tennis season is just underway, he’s already taking classes that are helping him learn more about himself.

“I realized that before I came here, I didn’t know how to write a good paper,” Noah said. “The first paper I turned in for my Encounters class was so bad. I was shocked. But I’ve learned not to make generalizations.

“You can’t just jump to conclusions at Whitman.”