Westmont Magazine A Center for the Sciences
Bauder Hall, originally built for a Montecito estate, is charming as a carriage house but deficient as a center for the psychology department. Located at the top of campus, it is isolated from all other academic facilities. With only one small classroom and one cramped lab, the building can’t even house all the faculty comfortably. Moving the psychology program near the other sciences and providing adequate classroom and laboratory space for professors and students is one of Westmont’s most urgent funding priorities.
“Of all the disciplines on campus, psychology has been the most geographically marginalized,” notes Provost Stan Gaede ’69. “So it seems to be absolutely critical to pull them in with their colleagues in the division of the natural sciences.
“It’s also important as we’re developing the new neuroscience major, which is on the seam between two disciplines: physiological psychology and biology,” he adds. “Bringing the two of them together makes the neuroscience major much more viable.” Known for the quality of its science program, Westmont is the leading Christian college that offers a major in neuroscience, a rapidly growing field.
In a faculty-led planning process, a new science classroom building for the psychology, mathematics, and physics departments emerged as one of the College’s top funding priorities. Located near the Whittier Science Building, this new center will bring the sciences together at the heart of the campus and provide state-of-the-art classrooms and labs.
“I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in Bauder,” says Ray Paloutzian, an 18-year veteran of the department. “We’ve gotten a lot out of very little, but we can’t do much more with such limited resources. Building new facilities will be a major step forward for us and yield very significant consequences for the program.
“I am utterly thrilled with the calibre of the professors we’ve recruited,” he continues. “We have built a first-rate faculty who share a common vision, and we now need a first-rate facility to carry out our program.”
Thomas Fikes, who joined the department this year, explains that psychology is a broad discipline incorporating both scientific researchers and practitioners. “The term ‘psychologist’ can be confusing,” he notes. “It describes the scientist who studies behavior and mental processes as well as the therapist who applies this research by treating patients or doing educational testing.”
“Psychology is a broad discipline interconnected with many other theoretical and applied fields,” explains Brenda Smith, who chairs the department. “It’s an important element of the liberal arts, not an isolated specialty. Studying human behavior influences art, literature, history, politics, and biology. Students must learn to see issues and solutions from a variety of perspectives. Proximity to other departments will help such cross fertilization.”
Like all scientists, psychologists conduct research, so the Westmont curriculum includes a variety of psychology labs. But Bauder Hall contains only one small room for these courses, so the professors must constantly set up and take down the equipment. Some research simply isn’t possible. Westmont lacks the space to house animals according to government guidelines so professors can’t apply for federal grants for projects that require work with animals.
A key feature of the new building is the lab space it provides for “a thorough grounding in research, methods, and theory, which lies at the center of our program,” Professor Smith notes. “That’s what makes the new facilities so essential.”
For example, a social behavior lab will include an observation room for professors and students who are studying how people behave in a variety of novel and unique contexts. A vast array of research on social interaction becomes possible with these facilities.
Professor Smith studies how children learn and remember and looks forward to the new developmental lab equipped with toys and furniture designed for youngsters.
Westmont’s new clinical psychologist, Susan Keortge ’89, will teach students therapeutic techniques and psychological testing in a clinical lab designed for these purposes.
A growing area of psychology, human factors engineering, studies how people work with machines to make sure they are designed with the operator in mind.
Professor Fikes is developing a perception and motor lab to conduct this kind of research. Until the new building is completed, his lab will be located in a temporary modular building in the Clark Halls parking lot.
Other labs will provide facilities for physiological studies, cognition, and animal behavior. The new building will also include a computer lab for psychology students and a vivarium.
A number of psychology majors currently do research with professors, and many attend conferences where they present their findings. In two of the past four years, Westmont students won first place at the Western Psychology Conference for Undergraduate Research. New facilities will expand these opportunities.
Many psychology majors go on to earn graduate degrees at schools such as USC, UCLA, Tufts, Purdue, and the University of Virginia. In addition to traditional jobs as therapists and social workers, graduates find positions in a variety of professions, including law, management, and human resources.
Adding Space for Mathematics
Like the psychology department, the mathematics faculty are located in an old estate building. A former garage that once housed the biology department, the building is inadequate for the mathematics program and faculty. The recent addition of a computer science major will make it even more cramped.
Not only will the new building provide the space needed for classrooms and faculty offices, but it will bring mathematics together with the discipline most akin to it: physics.
“We are too far away from the physics department to share lab space or even engage in ongoing dialogue,” says Russell Howell. “Bringing our two departments together will raise the bar for our students and encourage them to take more classes in each other’s major. I also expect it to lead more physics students to minor in mathematics, and vice versa. Increased faculty interaction will yield big benefits as the departments work more closely together.”
“The new facilities will make our own department more unified as well,” adds David Neu, who chairs the department. “Students will have a place to gather near faculty offices, so there will be many more opportunities for interaction. A growing emphasis on group projects makes this kind of space where students can meet and study very important.”
“Mathematics is pretty critical these days for both the natural sciences and the social sciences,” says Provost Gaede. “The new building will foster interdisciplinary dialogue between mathematics and the other sciences. Students will also benefit by not going to separate buildings for mathematics, psychology, or physics — they’ll be trafficking in a building that is more broadly science-oriented. Frankly, I think that gives them a sense of being a part of a larger science enterprise.”
Although the number of math and computer science majors is relatively small, their credentials are impressive. “Since 1980, 15 of our majors have earned doctorates in mathematics or associated fields at top graduate schools,” Professor Neu notes. “Seven of these people are women. In addition, we have graduates doing linguistics work for Wycliffe Bible Translators, working for Microsoft, and teaching mathematics in college and high school.”
Both mathematics and computer science add an important dimension to the liberal arts curriculum. “These disciplines teach critical reasoning, careful logic, and abstract thinking,” says Professor Neu. “Opinions can vary on the interpretation of a poem, but if a computer program doesn’t run, it is clearly wrong. That’s a powerful tool in teaching logic.”
This year, the faculty voted to add a computer science major, and the new building will include a computer lab for mathematics, physics, and computer science students. While physics currently has its own small computer lab, students studying mathematics and computer science lack such a resource.
Classrooms in the new building will also be wired for computers and the Internet, so students can bring laptops to class. “This technology will radically change resources for lectures and class presentations,” notes Professor Neu. “It will greatly enhance what we are able to accomplish in the classroom.”
A growing demand for computer science graduates led Westmont to reinstate a program it dropped in 1994.
“There is now a dire shortage of competent computer scientists,” explains Ray Rosentrater. “The pervasiveness of the computer has also raised new, important issues in almost every academic discipline, and serious study of these issues requires faculty and students who are expert in these areas.”
Next year, Kim Kihlstrom, who has completed a Ph.D. in computer engineering at UCSB, will teach computer science part-time at Westmont while the College conducts a national search for a full-time professor. Her husband, Ken, chairs the physics department at Westmont. Eventually, the mathematics professors expect to work with two full-time computer science faculty.
“A liberal arts college without a computer science major is unusual and may be seen as technologically backward,” Professor Rosentrater observes.
The same danger applies to science programs forced to operate in insufficient facilities. Lack of adequate laboratory space, access to computers, and faculty offices hinders the programs in psychology, mathematics, and physics.
“We’ve accomplished a lot with the space available,” says Professor Kihlstrom. “Our research space is very limited; three laboratory courses share one room. More space will allow us to add an advanced lab, increase opportunities for student research, and give students a place to study together near faculty offices. Science can’t stand still. New facilities are critical to sustain and improve our position as a first-rate science program for years to come.”
— Nancy Favor Phinney ’74