Psalm 118 begins and ends with the same words of thanksgiving: “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.” This Hebrew word for love—“hesed”—could also be rendered as “loyalty.”

Thanksgiving is a discipline of loyalty—and also anticipation. For all the assurances of the past, thanksgiving rituals can still convey yearning, sometimes borne in doubt. Among Western cultures, such rituals have roots in ancient harvest festivals when ample crops were hoped for, though far from guaranteed. Our national holiday began during civil war, and still commemorates the immigrants who saw themselves—in the words of the Geneva Bible—as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth," exiles awaiting their "better country" in the presence of God. In his new commentary on the Psalms, Tremper Longman observes that Psalm 118 was the “final song in the Egyptian Hallel,” commonly sung after the Passover meals in celebration of God’s protection during the exodus. It was a rite of expectation, not just remembrance. As Tremper remarks, the weaving of this psalm into the familiar Passover liturgy “explains its widespread use in the Gospels as an anticipation of Jesus.” Both Jesus and Peter cite the psalm more than once to underscore messianic themes. Giving thanks can nourish hope.

This Thanksgiving I am mindful of the friendship of Jud Carlberg, president emeritus of Gordon College, who died last week—far too soon, like some of our beloved colleagues at Westmont. Recalling their spirit of loyalty and thanksgiving, often most evident on the darkest days, helps us rekindle our own aptitudes for vision and gratitude.

Mark Sargent


Westmont trees


Westmont has just been awarded a $44,000 grant from the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE), an organization associated with the Council for Independent Colleges. The grant provides resources that will enable us to bring several prominent women speakers to chapel and other lectures and symposia. It also provides funding to help us prepare some of our best students for top postbaccalaureate opportunities, such as international internships, Fulbrights, premier graduate programs, etc. Supported by the Lilly Endowment, NetVUE is “a nationwide network of colleges and universities formed to enrich the intellectual and theological exploration of vocation among undergraduate students.” Thanks to Patti Hunter for crafting a successful application.

Mexican Dancer


Leonor Elías and nine students have been spending the semester in Querétaro as this fall’s Westmont in Mexico (WIM) cohort. Along with homestays and the study of Spanish, they have been hiking, watching the Fiesta de los Concheros (photo), and encountering both warmth and sorrow in their new community.

Leonor provides a glimpse into their lives:

'Once you realize you are my son, then you will realize how to live with us.'

My son: this is how he is introduced at family gatherings, friends’ parties, and chance encounters. This is the hospitality that the 2014 WIM group has been met with in Querétaro: love, patience, and genuine efforts to understand the meaning of gluten-free and vegetarianism in the midst of a typical Mexican diet of meat, bread, and no shortage of queso (cheese).

This hospitality has sparked a pursuit of learning remarkable in its sincerity and enthusiasm. Students unfailingly tote their vocabulary scratch pads that have developed into a living resource—each word or phrase carrying a story, a connotation, or an experience in tow. . . . [continue reading]



At the November faculty meeting I gave a précis on the work of the Academic Senate this fall. That report included some of the institutional data gathered by Bill Wright—materials that set the contexts for several of our Senate discussions. Here is a summary, with a few more updates and a little deeper plunge into Bill’s research:

Michelle Hardley has developed a new form for Senate proposals. It not only defines the information needed for various types of proposals, but also indicates the decision-making cycle. Cynthia Toms has worked with the Off-Campus Programs Committee to develop a protocol that will be used to evaluate all new off-campus programs when we consider moving them from pilot phase to a regular part of the curriculum. The Senate has also approved some revised guidelines that define the requirements for all syllabi and offer advice about preparing a thorough and effective syllabus.

Student and faculty evaluations of our five pilot First-Year Seminars were extremely positive, so we have decided to continue the pilot next fall and double the number offered.

The average GPA at Westmont last year was 3.31. Just over 52% of the grades awarded were A’s. That places us around the national average for private liberal arts colleges. . . . [continue reading]

Katie Weibe


In October the Sociology and Anthropology Department hosted a retreat entitled “Breaking the Silence: How Do We Respond to Trauma?” It included worship, prayer, reflections and discussions focused on local instances of shock and suffering and what the Westmont community can do in response. Katherine Weibe (photo), Director of the Institute for Congregational Trauma and Growth, led the conversations on sociological and theological approaches to trauma. Felicia Song, chair of the department, noted that the use of presenters from outside the department set this retreat apart from those of previous years. Those speakers included Paul Willis, who discussed poetry and the Westmont Tea Fire, and art professor Meagan Stirling, former resident of Columbine, who shared how her printmaking engages themes of safety. Mackenzie Holman, a senior Sociology major, appreciated Dr. Weibe's exegesis of scriptural passages that showed "the power and goodness of Jesus to stop destruction, and to halt the generational effects of sin and death and trauma." As Felicia points out, "the Bible actually contains significant accounts of trauma in the story of Israel and the story of Jesus—all of which point to how God is acquainted with grief, injustice, and violence, and he is unafraid to deeply engage and walk with us through this part of our human experience."

Westmont education graduates 2014


At its Teacher/Principal Advisory Board meeting last week, the Education Department celebrated the good news that all nineteen of its credential graduates in 2013-2014 (photo) landed teaching jobs! Eight of them have started their careers at California public institutions, while another seven found posts in the state's private schools. The others can now be found in Colorado, Washington, or abroad. Erin Simmons is teaching third grade in Costa Rica, while Emily Hagen works with first graders in Micronesia. In addition, one of our recent graduates—Katie Curry, class of ‘13—was just named the “Distinguished New Educator” for the Santa Barbara region. Katie, who teaches art at Santa Barbara Junior High School, will be teaching an “Art for Children” class for Westmont in the spring. Kudos to the faculty in the department—notably Michelle Hughes, Andrew Mullen, and Jane Wilson—for guiding these graduates into such early success.

H and M


The Provost’s Office is privileged to have two Provost’s Fellows working for us this academic year. Heidi Nicholls ’15, Social Science major, is from Hawai’i, and was recently named to the all-GSAC cross country team. She ran last weekend in the NAIA nationals. Megan Litschewski ’16, a double major in Art and Economics and Business, came to Westmont from Colorado and is a Monroe Scholar. The fellowship was created to give leadership and administrative opportunities to students who have interests in higher education. Working directly with the provost and vice provost, the students undertake a variety of projects—advising about possible initiatives, leading focus groups, writing for the Provost's Report, conducting research, helping prepare presentations, and even trying to come up with new quizzes and games. Recently, one of the fellows helped craft and distribute an on-line survey for students who completed the new First-Year Seminar course. We are grateful to have two bright and energetic students on our team this year.

Russell Howell


As part of a National Science Foundation grant, Russell Howell convened a team of fifteen scholars this past June from around the country to work on curricular reform in the area of complex analysis. It is, Russ observes "a subject that deals with the calculus of complex numbers, also known as imaginary numbers—even though they really are NOT imaginary!" The weeklong workshop addressed the widespread perception that “complex analysis, despite its beauty and power, seems to have lost some of the prominence it once enjoyed in undergraduate mathematics, science, and engineering.” “Thirty years ago,” Russ writes, “knowledge of the subject produced practical, tangible benefits, such as the ability to evaluate real integrals by complex residue techniques. For purely practical, computational purposes computer algebra systems now make many of those benefits obsolete.” However, “computer technology now offers valuable new ways of visualizing complex functions. . . . At the theoretical level, complex analysis draws on and links important domains of classical mathematics.” The workshop drew laudatory reviews from participants. As a follow-up Russ has organized two sessions on this topic at the Joint Mathematics Meetings this January in San Antonio.

Booker, never mind


On December 11 we will welcome Chakaia Booker, an innovative African-American sculptor, for the opening of her exhibit at the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art. Based in New York City, Chakaia forms sculptures from sliced parts of rubber tires. Her work often evokes West African artistic and cultural motifs, even as it conveys aspects of an African American experience. As some art critics note, the tread patterns in the tires mirror the textiles, body painting, and masks that are common African art forms. At the same time, her work is reflective of her urban life, including the sight of debris, burnt rubber and worn-out cars that she encountered during her younger years in East Village. Her use of discarded materials also reflects her theme of caring for the earth's resources. "Painters have a palette of colors that give their work energy," she once commented. "My palette has textures." As Robert Shuster writes in The Village Voice, "the rubber’s softness, its reptilian textures, and all the non-Euclidean shaping suggest some complicated life form—born of urban turmoil, and now projecting it. Booker talks about incorporating a grand vision into her work, what she calls 'the constant composition of the street and the alley and the people between the sky and the earth—it’s all one.'" The Provost's Office and the Museum are sponsoring a small pre-opening conversation and tour with the artist.