As always, I begin the new year anticipating some rich conversations and unexplored trails, though the last few days have given me occasions to look back. I remember meeting Steve Cook nearly three decades ago at a Christianity and Literature conference on the east coast, and I still clearly recall our conversation about poetry and film during a long walk to the metro. Though the time we eventually shared at Westmont was brief, it was filled with testimonials from students who found their voices in his classrooms or gained a passion for learning during a semester with him in England. This summer, prior to my own trip to England, I spent a few days in Ireland, not far from the ancestral roots of my mother-in-law, Florence Muirhead Van Dam. With her passing just after Christmas, I have been reflecting on her many gifts to her family, including a love of reading, constant writing of letters, and strong commitment to send her children to college. Three of them came to Westmont. My opportunity to serve here, in many respects, has allowed me to join that trail. I am grateful for her love and legacy.

About a week before Christmas, a small group gathered under the oaks that shade the narrow walkways and stone bridges near the formal gardens to dedicate a new bench in memory of Jane Higa, former vice president of student life, and her husband Paul. Built by soccer coach Dan Ribbens, the bench has been superbly set by Randy Jones into a ring of large stones, comprising a “conversation circle” where friends can linger. At the short dedication, Tim Wilson remarked that Jane was a "refuge" for many students since she “listened unusually well" and was "so deeply and genuinely interested in everyone’s story.”

I hope the new semester is full of many conversations that linger, whether you are residing in your office, walking through the trails in the barrancas, or sitting on one of the many conversation stones around campus, each one a reminder of the years and the stories that have preceded us.

Mark Sargent signaure




After a two-year search, the Mathematics and Computer Science Department is delighted to welcome Maria van der Walt to its faculty. Currently an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, Maria completed her doctorate in applied mathematics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2015. A native of South Africa, she finished her Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees at Stellenbosch University—a major public research institution about 30 miles inland from Cape Town. Maria’s research interests are primarily in computational harmonic analysis, approximation theory, and spline theory. In her post-doctorate work, she has been engaged with professors from Vanderbilt, Cal Tech, and the University of Bologna in research endeavors related to “real-world applications.” These include developing techniques for estimating the signal component from a non-stationary signal, an undertaking with relevance for electrocardiographic data. Her project on predicting a patient’s future glucose levels (based on prior blood data) will be pertinent for the management of diabetes. Active for many years at Reformed and Presbyterian churches in South Africa and the United States, she often plays violin and viola for worship services and sings in the choir.



One of the highlights of my week is the Thursday Faculty Forum, and there are several notable events on the docket for this term.  The first Forum—on January 12—will feature Alan Smedley, the chaplain of Michaelhouse School in South Africa (photo). Rev. Smedley is accompanying the first two Michaelhouse Scholars, who have joined us at the start of the spring term.  Peter Thorrington, chair of Westmont’s Board of Trustees and a graduate of Michaelhouse, will also be present at the Forum. Rev. Smedley, who has served at Michaelhouse for 24 years, will give us a glimpse into historic and contemporary issues in South Africa.

Other notable Forums will include a presentation on February 20 from the curators of the LA/LA (Los Angeles and Latin America) art exhibit. On March 23 the Forum will allow us to hear speakers who are a part of the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts' annual "conversation." This year's conversation will be devoted to the theme of liberal arts and the environment. On March 30, Brother Thierry from the Holy Cross Monastery near Rostrevo, will speak at the Forum.  Students from the Westmont in Northern Europe program have often heard from Brother Thierry during their studies on peacemaking.  And, of course, we will hear several sabbatical reports along the way. The full schedule is posted here.


Deborah Dunn and Rachel Winslow have been selected by the Kettering Foundation to take part in a two-year learning exchange with a small group of civic organizations and universities. This exchange provides training, resources, and networks that offer participants insights into how they can strengthen democracy in their own communities and institutions. Using Westmont Downtown as a hub, Deborah and Rachel will explore how they might expand or modify the existing curriculum to develop students, first, as facilitators of deliberation and dialogue and, second, as researchers. Engaging students on two levels will help equip a future generation of citizens who are committed to public life and the common good. Through this forum, Westmont Downtown will also host and facilitate cross-community and cross-cultural conversations.


Plans are in motion for hosting just over 100 Augustinian Scholarship candidates on the weekends of January 20-21 and February 10-11. The Admissions Office and Provost's Office worked closely to select a diverse pool of candidates with strong academic profiles. Several faculty are set to teach courses on the event days, ranging from science topics to acting and movement.

Just under 40 new students—including transfers and readmitted students—will be joining Westmont this spring. The Student Life Office offers a robust orientation program for the transfer students, though we are aware that there will be challenges for new students entering a tight community in the middle of the year. So one of the features of the orientation process is a "take-your-transfer-to-lunch program." If faculty have transfer advisees or transfer students in courses that they would like to make feel welcome, contact the Provost's Office to pick up vouchers for the complimentary lunches.


Westmont just finished one of its strongest fall athletic seasons in history: the Warriors are currently ranked second in the entire NAIA in the Director’s Cup standings (the scale that rates overall athletic performance by a college). Both cross country teams qualified for the nationals, as did the women’s soccer team, which compiled a record of 16-4-2 en route to a trip to the national quarterfinals. Brooke Lillywhite and Grace Lemley were selected for first- and second-team All-American honors respectively.

On the men’s side, Genaro Hurtado was a second-team All-American, as he and his teammates earned a share of the GSAC title in the regular season. One of the big stories in the fall was the volleyball team: they became the first Westmont team to compile a perfect regular-season record, as they won all 31 regular-season matches, and breezed to a GSAC title, dropping only one set out of the 49 they played. They eventually spent several weeks ranked first in the nation before concluding the season in the national quarterfinals. Libby Dalberg was named a first-team All-American, while Taylor Beckman was chosen on the second team. Dalberg, Lillywhite, and Hurtado (photos) were all named players of the conference for their respective sports.

Things don't seem to be slowing down this winter: our men's and women's basketball teams have launched into the new year without any signs of a holiday lapse. After the twelfth day of Christmas and a sweep against Biola, our two teams are collectively 29-2.

And maybe the biggest athletic feat of all belongs to Dave Odell, director of athletics, who celebrated his 50th birthday by running 50 miles on the Westmont track—all part of a fundraiser. The KEYT news coverage of the story is worth a look.


We are looking forward to welcoming 25 high school students to campus in late June for the inaugural year of Trailhead: Seeking God’s Call. The project is supported by a substantial grant from the Lilly Endowment and developed by the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts; Aaron Sizer and Christen Foell have led the early planning efforts for Westmont. Trailhead will strive to equip students to think vocationally—to be attentive to God’s purposes in the world and in their lives—as they start college and pursue a career. Students will complete an intensive two-week residency during the summer and then receive mentorship throughout the next year.

Each summer's residency is organized around four contemporary problems. For the coming year, those will include creation care, which will be taught by Sameer Yadav and Tommy Givens from Fuller Seminary. Other courses examine doubt and decision-making, immigration, and fear and risk. Students will live and work in community on campus, but they will also have opportunities to explore firsthand, through site visits in the Santa Barbara area, how local businesses, nonprofits, and ministries are meeting critical needs in the social and natural world. In the last year, the Gaede Institute staff has met with more than fifty pastors in Westmont’s network of churches, and the response has been encouraging: churches have already reserved the majority of available slots for the coming summer. We are expecting the program to grow to 50 by the summer of 2018.



One hundred and twenty-nine students returned from studying in an off-campus program during the fall semester. Westmont sponsored student programs in Mexico, England, Northern Europe, Uganda, East Asia, and San Francisco.

Twenty-three students are set to join this spring's Westmont in Jerusalem program, which has returned after being cancelled two years ago. Under the guidance of Bruce Fisk, the program will begin in Amman, Jordan (photo) and then proceed into Israel/Palestine. While in Jordan, the group will visit archeological sites, a refugee church, and begin their study of Arabic, and soon transfer to Bethlehem. We are regularly monitoring safety concerns in the area. With safety in mind, we are currently exploring options to Instanbul and Turkey for the program led by Heather Keaney and Jim Wright, scheduled for spring 2018.

Recruitment has been in full swing for the global programs in the fall of 2017. We will be offering our programs in Mexico and Northern Europe, along with our 44th Europe Semester—the sixth trip led by Rick and Barb Pointer. On the other hand, this will be our second "global health" semester in Uganda.

Russ and Kay Howell spent last semester directing Westmont's program in Querétaro, Mexico. Their nine students lived with host families and a took a variety of courses on Spanish language, literature, and art. Russ comments on the strengths of the group: "We are very grateful for their mutual cooperation, desire to learn, and their having just the right amount of playfulness." Highlights of the semester included a trip into the Sierra Gorda, the mountains north of Querétaro, to some missions built by Junípero Serra. Serra actually began his missionary journeys to northern Mexico and what is now California from Quetétaro, so the group was retracing some of his steps. Russ writes, "We were in the town of Jalpan on the anniversary of Serra's canonization, so were treated to a performance of a variety of Mexican dances."

Continuing a program we started in the fall, during this spring ten students from Gachon University in South Korea will be participating in the Westmont in San Francisco program alongside eight of our own Westmont students. This partnership has enriched opportunities for cross-cultural engagement. All students live in Westmont's Clunie House and share meals. Just as our students engage in internships, the Gachon students focus on opportunities to learn about American business and entrepreneurship. Together they learn about the urban environment of San Francisco through a common seminar course and field trips in the region.



So much of the conversation about “interdisciplinary” work in higher education focuses on general education, often the work done before students settle more firmly into specializations and their own “disciplines.” But there is also increasing desire among American college leaders to create opportunities for students to engage in interdisciplinary, project-based work at the upper-division levels, not least because the skills developed in such endeavors have been shown to foster the critical thinking abilities, problem-solving skills, empathy and imagination we associate with the liberal arts. 

Over the past couple decades, the interest in interdisciplinary study in the United States has grown, with the increase of numerous interdisciplinary majors and departments at American universities. Many observers—such as the AAC&U (American Academy of Colleges and Universities)—have attributed the growth of interdisciplinary efforts to globalization. They recognize that fostering knowledge and social remedies in our complex world requires multiple lenses and varied inquiries. At the same time, some observers, like Wesleyan historian Edward Klein, worry that interdisciplinary studies have too often become another “attempt to create and foster niche markets,” and in that sense they become “complicit, if not responsible, for the fragmentation of the university into a series of localized specializations isolated from, and in competition with, one another” in the search for “customers.”

In the Provost’s Office, we have thought about how we might encourage more interdisciplinary projects that invigorate, rather than drain, traditional liberal arts majors.  In that spirit, we are exploring whether we could incorporate more interdisciplinary projects into senior seminars. Could two or more departments share a seminar—or share a major seminar project? Could seminars be structured so that faculty and students from other disciplines contributed to the exchange of ideas? Are there ways of highlighting more interdisciplinary and collaborative research projects in our annual Research Symposium? Accordingly, we will provide some resources—stipends or release time—to support a few departments that would like to pilot an interdisciplinary and collaborative seminar project.  We will follow up with a more detailed description of the initiative early in the semester, but we encourage you to think about whether this is a project you would consider joining. Feel free to let us know of your potential interest.


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