By President George S. Bridges
Prior to joining Whitman College as president in 2005, I routinely taught in university classrooms with hundreds of students. One of the great challenges in teaching classes of this size is engaging students in important ideas and ensuring that their learning lasts. So, in an effort to engage students more fully, I once designed an extra-credit module in which students voluntarily performed at least 20 hours of service in an agency or community organization. Their work would directly relate to the academic material covered in the course, and they were to prepare papers linking their observations and experiences in the community with their academic readings. Viewing this as an experiment that would stretch the students beyond their already busy schedules, I anticipated no more than 10 percent of the class would consider participating.
To my utter surprise, nearly 250 students (out of 700) sought these experiences. Shocked staff members scrambled (successfully) to find 250 placements in local agencies and community organizations. I read far more papers at the end of the term than I had ever expected or experienced previously; however, the experiment proved profoundly important to many students’ learning. From a student perspective, “seeing the problems and issues firsthand brought the readings and lectures to life.”
I’m pleased to inform you that my naïve university experiment is more of an established institutional practice here at Whitman College. Most Whitman students have a profound passion for serving others and linking their academic work to activity outside the classroom. These activities provide them with an outlet for their energy and personal desire to give back to their community. In fact, service- and community-based learning is so commonplace here, Washington Monthly recently ranked Whitman College No. 18 in the nation among liberal arts colleges in terms of community service.
Examples abound in which faculty and staff link service to academic study, and although the activities vary in size and scope, woven to a whole, they are meaningful examples of a multi-faceted Whitman College education. Prof. Paul Apostolidis and his students have earned international recognition for shedding light on the underserved Hispanic population in their ongoing project State of the State of Washington Latinos. Every other year, as part of Whitman’s Semester in the West, students have an opportunity to investigate a variety of tensions between environment and humanity and explore resolutions. Some students are known to moonlight as civil rights educators in local public schools through Whitman Teaches the Movement. On Make a Difference Day, student volunteers partner with community entities to work on everything from stream restoration to domestic violence prevention campaigns and everything in between. And while students from many colleges see spring break as a time to enjoy themselves, many Whitman students see this time as an opportunity to serve others through Spring Break Service Trips that take them to communities across the nation to work on meaningful projects, such as rebuilding homes in New Orleans.
In this issue, we’re highlighting five students as they travel the course of their college careers to graduation and beyond. Many of their stories, captured here in “My Whitman Journey,” include mention of extra-curricular efforts and activities that are community focused. For example, Shireen Nori ’16 rallied to bring Jackson Katz, a nationally-renowned lecturer on gender violence prevention, to speak to our campus and community. Everett Wild ’16, an avid volunteer, has already taken steps to start his own nonprofit with a dream of “improving the world, one partnership at a time.” I encourage you to read all of their stories.
Echoing Everett’s sentiment, we also acknowledge the critical value of partnerships for our success. As we move into the home stretch of our Now Is The Time Campaign, I ask all alumni, parents and friends to partner with Whitman College with a gift to the campaign. Why? Because a successful campaign will allow us to touch the lives of more students like Shireen and Everett who will, in turn, touch the world with their dedication to serving others. Thus far, our progress has been excellent, as gifts to our campaign now exceed $135 million toward our $150 million goal. We need your help to finish strong. Already, gifts from alumni, friends and partners like you have enabled permanent support for student scholarships; vastly expanded and funded internship opportunities, many of which involve service to communities; added important depth and breadth in our liberal arts and sciences curriculum through the addition of more than a dozen endowed professorships and permanent faculty lines; and made possible significant additions to and renovations of campus spaces such as the Fouts Center for Visual Arts, Harper Joy Theatre, Sherwood Athletic Center and the Hall of Science. Gifts made through the campaign have led to improvements within Whitman College’s varsity athletics programs, as well as new innovations in teaching and learning and additions to the curriculum in the areas of finance, global studies, religion, constitutional law and computer science.
So let there be no surprises: the next generation of Whitman graduates is here, and they are making a critical difference in the lives of others while advancing their studies. Even though they may reside on our campus now, they are touching communities across the country and the world – serving others and often making a difference for those who are much less fortunate. We share in their efforts by supporting them financially and taking pride in their accomplishments. We are all part of the legacy of Whitman College, each of us contributing in our own ways. I happen to believe that this generation of Whitman students may help form the next great generation of Americans. No recent generation of youth has contributed more to the lives of others than this one.
George S. Bridges