In a few days we will be on the baseball field staring up at the slopes of the Santa Ynez as we celebrate Commencement. But now, a few paces short of our own year-end summit, we often get the best views of the work done by our students. Nearly 60 students displayed posters in the recent research symposium, and 31 students were inducted last Friday into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. Some of those students are also members of the men's and women's track and field teams, which just swept the GSAC titles for the first time in Westmont's history. This report is full of stories and links about student achievements, and I encourage you to pause for a few steps, catch your breath, and enjoy the panorama.

I would like to echo here the words of appreciation that I shared at the last faculty meeting for Alister Chapman and his two years of astute leadership as vice chair of the faculty. He has worked conscientiously to keep his eyes on a wide range of themes and his ears alert to many voices. I would also like to thank Jim Taylor for his sound counsel and his work setting agendas this year as the vice chair of the Senate. Niva Tro has been elected to serve as the Senate’s vice chair next year.

This is my 25th Provost's Report since I started drafting these in May 2012—every one of them done with the technical assistance of Brittany Myles. With Brittany leaving us for a new post at Cottage Hospital next month, let me take this occasion to tip (or toss) my cap in appreciation for her partnership in this endeavor.

Mark Sargent


Ron See


The Psychology Department will welcome Ronald See as a new professor in the fall, teaching primarily in neuroscience. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Ron completed his master’s degree and doctorate at UCLA, and has held long-term academic appointments at the Medical University of South Carolina and at Washington State University. At present, he is finishing his third year as a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Tabuk in Saudi Arabia. He has extensive international experience, serving as a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, as a visiting fellow at Oxford University, and as a one-year visiting professor at Kuwait University. As an undergraduate, he also did a year of study at Georg-August University in Germany. Dr. See has been the principal investigator or co-investigator on 16 grants from the National Institutes of Health, and has been the primary author or contributing author on more than 130 scholarly articles. “As a neuroscientist,” he writes, “I have always been and continue to be amazed at God’s creation of the human brain, perhaps the most astonishing and complex physical entity in the known universe.” A member of more than 30 dissertation committees, he has long worked with students on research projects. His recent scholarship covers a range of topics related to addiction.

UN Award


A delegation of twenty Westmont students received a “Distinguished” award at the National Model United Nations Conference in New York City, where they represented Kazakhstan. The award is based on the students’ overall performance on remaining in character, participating in the committees, and making proper use of the UN rules of procedure. According to Susan Penksa, who formed the delegation from her Political Science 112 course, “This group received more awards in a single year than any other group that I've taught since 1997.” Along with the general delegation award, several students won outstanding position paper awards. Ben Wilcox and Rebekah Catron received recognition for their paper for the UN General Assembly First Committee, Celestine Jahren and Andrew Greenman were honored for their paper on the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Committee, and Christian Hatchett and Will Brenma earned honors for their paper for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. Westmont’s performance was especially noteworthy since our students were all competing in their first Model UN, unlike the delegations from many other institutions. A memorable part of the experience was hearing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon speak at the closing ceremonies.

Heidi Nichols


This month the Department of Athletics held its 21st Annual Golden Eagle Scholar-Athlete Awards Dinner, hosted again by Kirsten Moore, the associate athletic director. The award recognizes the top student on each athletic team, based on grade-point average and the nomination and the support of the coach. I've tried to capture a few highlights about each athlete, drawing from the comments made by the coaches and recipients at the occasion.

Heidi Nicholls (photo), a senior social science major, represented the women’s cross country team. A native of Hawai’i, Heidi has “adjusted to the cold in Santa Barbara” and achieved a 3.78 GPA. Coach Russell Smelley praised her as the “binding glue” that held together the cross country team in its first-place finish in the GSAC and eighth-place finish in the nationals. In receiving the honor, Heidi told a story about “tapping into her Westmont education” at the 22-mile point of the national marathon in Alabama when she began to wonder if “God really loved me.” Westmont, she claims, “opened up a vision of success” that was “less about myself than about others.” continue reading...


"Research," Zora Neale Hurston once said, "is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose." The recent Student Research Symposium displayed something of the varieties of human curiosity. A few teams of students had climbed aboard mature projects already set in motion by senior scholars, and they discovered what it is to push the long-term process of inquiry a little further down the road. Others were poking and prying on topics of their making, often reaching only preliminary conclusions but discerning what needed to be done next for their research to move forward.

The annual event keeps getting bigger: this year nearly 60 students presented work on 30 projects. A walk around the posters in the mezzanine in Winter Hall did lead to brain fatigue, whooping cough and Christian romance novels—yes, all subjects explored by students in their posters. They also investigated the connections between EEG alpha waves and creativity, the link between cycling sprints and plasma volumes, and the relationship between proteins and neurodegenerative disease. I spent time at a poster while Anneka Rienstra explained the chemical process whereby photoactive dendrimeters degrade wastewater contaminents. One interdisciplinary effort looked at differences in evangelical and psychoanalytic rhetoric about motherhood. (For a glimpse at the students' various projects, click here and survey the abstracts.)

Recently I enjoyed a dinner on Stearns Wharf with the students and advisors who had completed "Major Honors" theses (click here for abstracts). At the Academic Convocation this month, we also recognized each student selected as the recipient of the departmental award for the major (click here for a list of students and brief descriptions). This month another 31 students—and two faculty members, Steve Contakes and Felicia Song—were inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, the nation's first honor society for the liberal arts, founded at the University of Maine in 1897. Westmont's chapter is reserved for seniors in the top 10% of the class (and a few juniors in the top 5%). The Greek letters Phi Kappa Phi are the opening letters of the three words in a phrase that means, roughly, "love of learning captivate humanity." Paul Delaney and Brenda Smith read tributes to each of the students selected for the honor. For a list of the new Phi Kappa Phi inductees, click here.

Westmont Fountain


As part of the preparation for the WASC review, Tom Knecht helped us prepare a survey for our alums, crafted in part to assess how well we did on some of same themes explored in a recent Gallup-Purdue study. That study examined whether American college graduates were thriving in life and in the workplace. Over 700 graduates from the past two decades responded to our survey, and their comments were encouraging. For instance, more than 98% of respondents claimed that they had one or more professors at Westmont who made them excited about learning, and 94% asserted that they felt their professors cared about them as people. Just over 60% had an internship during college, and 88% of the respondents were involved in some form of “extracurriculars.” For a glimpse of the data, you can click on the link here to view some slides I shared recently with Westmont's Board of Advisors.

Aaron Wilk


Westmont's instrumental musicians received the highest honors in the Santa Barbara Performing Arts Scholarship Foundation competition, sweeping the top four spots and receiving two of the three honorable mentions awarded in the finals.

Junior pianist Aaron Wilk (photo) claimed the first-place award (he had placed second in the competition last year), Senior cellist Rebecca Shasberger received the second-place award (and she celebrated her fifth consecutive appearance in the finals of the competition). They were joined in the finals by Westmont College Choir accompanist and staff pianist Christopher Davis, who placed third, and sophomore violinist Lalia Mangion, who was awarded fourth. Adjunct instructor Joanne Kim and first-year cellist Timothy Beccue were also finalists and received honorable mention awards. A pianist from UCSB was the sole other finalist. The competition is open to all musicians who live and/or study in Santa Barbara County up to the age of 32. Many professional musicians enter the competition, and it is remarkable that so many of our Westmont musicians received the distinction of being chosen to perform in the finals of this year’s event.

Winter Hall


Deborah Dunn is organizing this year's Mayterm Faith and Learning Seminar, called "The Heart and Soul of a Westmont Education." Over the course of five days (May 18-22) faculty will get a glimpse of some of our best teachers at work—and reflect on the ways we are called to be a community of scholars and teachers. Sessions will begin with a time of reflection on prayer and learning. Lisa DeBoer and Wayne Iba will help us think about some older Christian traditions and practices. Then, on each day, one faculty member will engage participants in the experience of a favorite course, sharing about issues in the course that students find challenging. Jeff Schloss, Caryn Reeder, Niva Tro, and Cheri Larsen Hoeckley will lead these discussions and exercises. The group will also move beyond the classroom and encounter the co-curricular programs, as Celia Howen, Dave Wolf, and Angela D'Amour will lead sessions. It is a great opportunity to get to know new colleagues, engage in thoughtful discussions, share stories about teaching highs (as well as challenges), and enjoy lunch together. If you are interested, let either Deborah or the Provost's Office know.


Along with the American Chemical Society, Westmont (led by Steve Contakes) co-hosted the US National Chemistry Olympiad. The April competition was held in Winter Hall and the Whittier Sciences building; it was the second part of a three-part process by which students are selected for the four-member US team that will compete in the 47th International Chemistry Olympiad in Baku, Azerbaijan this summer. The top ten high school chemistry students in Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties, identified by a local competition in March, completed a two-part written examination and a lab exam in which they were asked to solve complex laboratory problems with a minimum of equipment and prompting. The competition also featured a luncheon organized by Westmont's chemistry club, an award ceremony, and lecture on the chemistry and the practice of 19th-century photography.