The report for May, as usual, provides an occasion to celebrate much at Westmont, including awards at Commencement, the appointment of new colleagues, and the opportunities of summer. But the bright scenes of the month are now blended with the shadow of tragedy at UCSB. Violence in a college community shakes higher education throughout the nation, but all the more so when the devastation sweeps our neighbors.

Let me begin this report, then, by expressing prayerful sympathy for the community of UCSB, my alma mater. Part of our solidarity with the UCSB community at such a time comes in recommitting ourselves to join efforts to understand and address issues of injustice, mental health, misogyny and violence in many forms.

In that spirit, I am grateful for the work of those who organized and participated in this month’s conversations about the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. A brief report on that dialogue—as well as other good work by our colleagues—follows.

Mark Sargent

Updates

HALF THE SKY CONVERSATIONS

Half the skyDuring May two large reading groups of faculty, students, staff and alums have explored Nicholas Kristof's and Sheryl WuDunn's Half the Sky, a wide-ranging, unsettling and yet hopeful study about the plight of women throughout the globe. Written by a husband-wife team of journalists, the book takes its title from a Chinese proverb that "women hold up half the sky," though its blend of stories and data shows disturbing trends in the ongoing decline of women's health, education and liberty in several regions of the world. These reading groups grew out of discussions that followed Muhammad Yunus' talks on the day of the Presidential Breakfast. Co-sponsored by the Westmont Women's Leadership Initiative, the Office of Global Education, and the Gender Studies Program, the reading groups offered extended opportunities for participants to consider how micro-finance and other approaches might help alleviate poverty and injustice for women and children. Even as the meetings wrap up during the final days of May, there are plans for future steps. Sandi White is coordinating the effort to identify Westmont alumni who are engaged around the world in programs to address poverty in women and children and the violence, illiteracy, maternal health, and trafficking problems that follow. The hope is to help our own community forge better connections with the Westmont graduates who are already making a difference.

CHOIR AND CHAMBER SINGERS TOUR LITHUANIA AND RUSSIA

MoscowThe day after graduation the Westmont College Choir and Chamber Singers began their annual spring tour, starting in Santa Barbara, Arroyo Grande and San Ynez and then heading off to Lithuania and Russia. Led by Michael Shasberger and Grey Brothers, the 50 students, along with three faculty, two staff and one Russian-speaking dad, performed eight formal concerts, led three master classes with Russian choirs, and participated in three worship services (from a Ukrainian Baptist service in Santa Barbara to Roman Catholic masses in Lithuania). They also sang numerous impromptu concerts at churches and museums along the route during the 14-day tour. As Michael reports, "the highlights of the trip included the beauty of Lithuania and the hospitality of our friends at the LCC International University (and the food in Lithuania!), exchange concerts with the Tchaikovsky Conservatory Choir in Moscow and the Moscow Choral Music Conservatory." (In the photo, Emmalee Wetzel models the official tour shirt in front of St. Basil's Cathedral on Red Square). The choir enjoyed the sights of Moscow and St. Petersburg and the opening day of the gardens at the Peterhof Palace along with about 6,000 Russians, seven military bands, fireworks, 18th-century costumed dancers, and beautiful blue skies. . . . [continue reading]

Christen FoellAaron Sizer

GAEDE INSTITUTE ASSISTANT DIRECTORS

With Chris Hoeckley set to spend several autumns overseas as the co-director of the new Westmont in Northern Europe program, the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts has hired a new assistant director—actually, a wife-husband team who will share the duties. Christen Foell and Aaron Sizer met in Page Hall during their first day as Westmont students, went on the same Europe Semester as seniors, and yet didn't start dating until after college. Now married for eight years, they have a two-year-old daughter—Emma—and a common excitement about returning to their alma mater. They both love cooking and hiking, and consider Montecito Peak a favorite destination. Christen, who holds a master's degree in public administration from Seton Hall . . . [continue reading]

Marcelo Mejia-Perez

ONE-YEAR APPOINTMENTS

Several departments will have faculty serving in one-year appointments in the coming year, due largely to sabbaticals, leaves of absence, or service to off-campus programs. Marcelo Mejia-Perez (photo), who earned his doctorate in Spanish literature at UCSB, joins the Modern Language Department in a full-time role after teaching on a part-time basis during the past year. Rachel Winslow will teach in the History Department and assist us with the development a downtown study semester, designed to start in fall 2015. Coby Harmon, one of this year’s adjunct award recipients, will teach accounting and management in the Economics and Business Department. Elizabeth Hess, who has previously taught courses and been on staff of the England Semester, will serve the first of two years in the English Department. She will be joined next year by Katherine Calloway, a doctoral graduate from Notre Dame with an expertise in literature and science. Carrie Stein, lab coordinator for the Chemistry program, will cover the organic chemistry curriculum while the search continues for Dave Marten’s replacement. Stephanie Cowell, a Westmont alum of 2004, will step in as the department's lab coordinator.

Incoming class

ENROLLMENT UPDATE

Our Mayterm enrollment dipped this year, as the student credit hours dropped to 1083 from a high of 1662 in 2012. With a smaller first-year class last August and our largest-ever graduating class in May, the drop could reflect the smaller pool of students.

Recruitment for the fall shows genuine promise. As of Memorial Day, there were 440 new students (385 first-year students and 61 transfers) who have confirmed their attendance at Westmont in the fall—about a 90 -student increase over last year at this time. During the summer we will see new enrollees—mostly transfers—and some attrition, as the final fall enrollment traditionally settles close to the late May numbers. Since the new class last fall was small and the graduating class this month was large, we will still remain well under the mandatory cap, even with a large incoming class. According to the present count, we are anticipating over 850 returning students next year, a retention rate of 94%. That retention count includes the 100+ students who will be attending off-campus programs in the fall.

Lots of factors influence students' choices about where they attend college, but a robust effort by Silvio Vazquez and his team to increase campus visits this year seems to have paid some dividends. To date, about 45% of our applicants for admission have visited campus, yet that cohort provides 82% of the students who have chosen to attend Westmont.

Biology Research

AWARDS FOR BIOLOGY STUDENTS

Two Biology students came away with top honors at the recent West Coast Biological Sciences Undergraduate Research Conference at Azusa. Jake West, who worked with Eileen McMahon McQuade, won the “best talk” award for his work describing how “Lymphopenia and T Cell Homeostatic Expansion May Contribute to Clinical Arthritis in Inherited Inflamed Joints in Mice.” Aaron Wilk won the best poster session for research with Gaston Bonenfant (under the guidance of Steve Julio) on “The Role of the CO2-Responsive Sensor Kinase PlrS in Bordetella Bronchiseptica Virulence.” Other Westmont projects at the conference included a poster by Peter Huang, Cameron O’Neill, and Tyler Paras (under the guidance of Frank Percival) on “Harvesting Phylloplane Bacterial Communities for Molecular Analysis”; and Brittany McHargue’s poster (under the guidance of Steve Julio) on the “Analysis of the Role of PlrS Sensing in Multiple Bordetella Bronchiseptica Strains.”

John Moore

HONORS FOR BASKETBALL COACHES

Men's basketball coach John Moore has been chosen to help select the United States Under-18 Basketball Team at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs this summer. He is one of three coaches on the selection committee, and the only representative from the NAIA. “As a coach there are few greater honors than those in which you get to work with other coaches as you represent your country," John said. "It has been surprising and humbling." John and women’s basketball coach Kirsten Moore were also recently selected for the inaugural Santa Barbara Basketball Court of Champions. The new hall of fame, established to recognize outstanding contributors to the game from the local region, chose 21 members for its initial class, including the two Westmont coaches and former Lakers Bill Bertka, Don Ford, Brian Shaw and Jamaal Wilkes.