The Christmas break is always a good time to sneak away and release a little pressure, but I hope that the start of this semester has been fully inflating. Lots of exciting events coming in the next month. It's the stretch run for the men's and women's basketball teams, which together are 17-3 in their last 20 games. The Music and Theatre Departments collaborate on opera scenes (January 28 to February 1), and the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art opens the splendid new show of Rembrandt prints on February 12. When visiting the show on "Rembrandt and the Jews," be sure to venture downstairs in the Adams Center to see an accompanying exhibition of William Castellana's photographs of Hasidic Jews living in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Gaede Institute's annual "Conversation" (February 26-28) explores the "Liberal Arts and the Social Good"—a vital theme during a time when many observers are quick to overlook the importance of interdisciplinary inquiry for democratic society, ethical discernment and economic vitality.

At a Faculty Forum I shared some of the data from the recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which compares educational practices at institutions across the nation. There was plenty of good news about Westmont. For instance, 96% of Westmont seniors have participated in what the NSSE scholars define as "high-impact practices." That is much stronger than the rate for California private institutions (73%) or the nation as a whole (62%). We also learned about some areas where we can improve. Along with Edee Schulze, I will be exploring some of this data—and materials from other studies—at the annual Provost's Forum for co-curricular staff on February 24 (see below).

Blessings for a vibrant and rewarding semester.

Mark Sargent


Barb Kennedy


The big story in the Provost's Office this month is that Barb Kennedy, the senior administrative assistant, has announced that she will retire in May. An Employee of the Year in 2013, Barb has made exceptional contributions to the college on so many fronts. Virtually everyone knows that she was a vital thread holding the work of the Provost's Office together through the transitions between four chief academic officers in six years. Her knowledge of the institution, advice, and personal concern have been gifts to all of us who work in academics. "Barb is of course effective, hard-working and helpful," Mark Nelson notes, "but she is also unfailingly kind and cheerful. When she does a favor for you, she doesn't make it seem like a favor; she makes it seem as if you are both in on the same, fun little conspiracy."

All those wonderful conspiracies began in 2003, when she came to Westmont to serve as the administrative assistant to the Biology Department. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Barb had completed an M.A. in Library Science at San Jose State. In 2005 she was recruited. . . [continue reading]



The annual Provost’s Forum is now scheduled for February 24 (10:30 to noon, Founders Room). This year I will be co-hosting the Forum with Edee Schulze, and we will focus on recent studies about students’ learning and growth during college. How fully are undergraduates engaged in their learning? How much credit does the academy deserve for students' thriving during and after college? How effectively do colleges use “high-impact learning practices” and how well do they create a culture supporting students’ educational development? The Provost’s Forum is designed for the co-curricular staff. As always, we will get at the data with some fun and games, as this year’s Forum will have an Academy Awards motif. The winners get Oscars, and everyone gets lunch afterwards. Any interested staff should contact Barb Kennedy.

Jane Wilson


I am delighted that the Board of Trustees recently voted to grant tenure to Jane Wilson (photo). In making its recommendation, the Faculty Personnel Committee (FPC) commended Jane for "dynamic modeling of her pedagogical approach" and for innovation in the classroom. "Her variety of classroom teaching techniques and use of technology are good examples for students in their pursuit of becoming effective future teachers." They also lauded her extensive service to the institution and her interest in the science of gratitude. Along with Jane's tenure, the Board voted to promote Lesa Stern to full professor and Michelle Hughes to associate professor. The FPC praised Lesa for her teaching and research as well as her "humor, energy, enthusiasm, transparency, personal devotion, care for others, and courage to confront." Similarly, the committee saluted Michelle for many contributions to Westmont, including her "versatile repertoire of teaching techniques and strategies" and her "indefatigable efforts to nurture relationships with administrators and teachers in local Santa Barbara schools." Congratulations to all three on these career landmarks.

During the meeting the trustees also approved sabbaticals for Steve Butler (an oratorio based on the life of St. Nicholas of Myra and Lycea), Grey Brothers (publication of the complete works of the seventeenth-century Mexican composer Luis Coronado), Bill Nelson (articles on prophets, book on I Samuel), Jane Wilson (collaboration with Australian scholar on how gratitude enhances learning in the classroom), and Telford Work (international teaching—Lithuania, Ethiopia, Korea, among others—and selected writing projects).

Steve Contakes


Stephen Contakes has been selected as a member of the new Templeton-funded project entitled "Bridging the Two Cultures of Science and the Humanities 2015–16.” Twenty-five faculty members from around the world will participate in summer seminars at Oxford University aimed at developing interdisciplinary skills in science and religion. The project will also provide funding for new opportunities for students at their home institutions. This endeavor is a collaboration of Oxford University and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Steve hopes to aid “chemistry’s re-engagement with the faith-science dialogue," and has a special interest in how Christians approached chemistry before the modern era. Specifically, he is intrigued by medieval believers' “reflection on alchemical matter theory, which along with atomism and craft traditions, developed into contemporary chemistry.” Steve also just became a member of the advisory board for Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith, the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation.

Westmont bridge


Last year our assessment efforts focused on "critical thinking." As a result of those studies, the Senate recommended the development of several workshops or forums focused on improving ways to nurture critical thinking skills. The first of those sessions will be a "Brown Bag Conversation on Critical Thinking" on Tuesday, February 24, from noon to 1:00 pm in the Founders Room. Jim Taylor, who led the critical thinking assessment, will host the conversation, and Randy VanderMey, Jane Wilson and Steve Contakes will be giving examples of how they have incorporated critical thinking in their teaching. The Provost's Office will sponsor beverages and snacks for all participants.

Several faculty are participating in new technology and learning pilot projects this spring: Tom Knecht (gamification of a course module), Gregg Afman and Chris Milner (iPad and the "untethered professor"), and Mitchell Thomas (lecture capture via PadCaster). A number of faculty (including Brenda Smith, Ken Kihlstrom, Jim Taylor, Elizabeth Hess, Patti Hunter, Andrea Gurney, and Carmel Saad) are also involved in a pilot project with the new Canvas "Learning Management System."

Emily Brooks


Lesa Stern’s Interpersonal Communication class is one of several that requires extensive capstone research projects, and the class culminated with a public poster session. The students from last fall conducted inquiries on topics ranging from dating dynamics to community inclusion to perseverance.

“The class is intended to allow students to engage in research and contribute to the scholarly community, preparing them for grad school and communication-related careers,” Lesa observes. “Students pick a a topic that’s interpersonally based and select whatever methods they want to explore within their particular topic, using communication discipline standards.”

Emily Brooks (photo), a double major in English and Communication Studies, presented her findings at the session. She explored grit and growth in Westmont’s Writers’ Corner. “Grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals and the growth mindset is the idea that your intelligence is malleable as opposed to fixed, so it can grow,” Emily states. “There’s a lot of research that the growth mindset can be instilled in students through communication, but little is known about grit. I was interested to see if grit could also be impacted through tutor-client communication in the Writers’ Corner.” Emily’s topic hit home when she faced challenges interpreting the data. “I kept telling myself that I am researching perseverance so I need to persevere through the project. Now I have the satisfaction of overcoming those challenges and it’s definitely affirming and empowering to know that I can do it again.”

Grey Brothers


The end of last semester featured several significant contributions from our Music Department to the local music scene. Steve Hodson directed and conducted the Santa Barbara Master Chorale’s presentation of Bach’s “Mass in B Minor,” with Grey Brothers (photo) , Michael Shasberger and Nichole Dechaine as principal soloists. Several adjunct music instructors played in the orchestra: Laura Roth, Andrea DiMaggio, Trey Farrell, Paul Mori and Steve Gross. Michael Shasberger conducted the West Coast Chamber Orchestra in a program of works by Mozart. Orchestra members included two of Westmont’s adjunct faculty, Tamsen Beseke and Steve Gross. Grey Brothers, Michael Shasberger and Celeste Tavera appeared December 9th as soloists for the annual Santa Barbara Messiah Sing Along, a benefit for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. Steve Hodson was the organist. Grey also conducted the UCSB Chamber Choir in their fall quarter performance, as he is serving this year as the guest conductor for the university during the conductor’s sabbatical.