Westmont Magazine A Leader Who Has Learned to Listen
Jane Highstreet ’11 brings an air of unassuming confidence and good listening skills to her position as president of the Westmont College Student Association (WCSA). The communications studies major has served with WCSA for three years, taking a hiatus from student government last year to become the business manager for Westmont Student Ministries (WSM).
On her first trip to Westmont, the Sacramento resident came by herself and left a guided campus visit. “I didn’t want a tour, and I didn’t want to be sold anything,” she says. “I just walked into Van Kampen, met a student in the bathroom and asked her to tell me about the school. Everyone I met clearly loved it. I felt at home — the people were so welcoming. It was encouraging when students shared their faith because I didn’t have a youth group at home or a group of Christian friends at school. I knew these were the people I wanted to live with for the next four years.”
Highstreet served as freshman class representative (Page Hall) her first year at Westmont and WCSA vice president her second.
“Rather than focusing on social planning, we provide a voice for the students to faculty and administration,” she says about WCSA. “We listen to student concerns and find the appropriate avenues for getting them heard and acted upon.”
As president of WCSA, she has spent much of her time listening. “One of the blessings of being on a small campus is that you can have a conversation and things can happen immediately,” she says.
WCSA oversees the spending of student fees, $140 per person each semester, which fund student-related activities. The organization also helps students bring about change. For example, they convinced Sodexo to replace much of the coffee in the Dining Commons with a certified, fair-trade brand.
As WCSA president, she meets monthly with President Gayle D. Beebe and has learned that being interested in people personally helps lead them effectively. “In a conversation with President Beebe, I’ll mention a student’s name,” she says. “And he’ll either know them or look them up and write down the information because he wants to really know people.”
Last year, Highstreet oversaw the budgets of all 22 ministries, paying invoices and reimbursing students. Even though she had little experience, she accepted the position and completed a week-long training session with Jim Reid, director of business office operations and financial reporting, and Tim Wilson, associate dean of students. “They taught me how to use VendorLink and to manage the $36,000 entrusted to me,” she says. “Those skills will be helpful in any job.
“Working with WSM was one of the most exciting and life-changing things I’ve done,” she says. “Even something like keeping the books for an organization can be a ministry. That’s so important because if it’s not done well, the ministry can’t function, and people can’t be served.”
While she was business manager, Highstreet focused much of her non-paperwork attention on two ministries: Not for Sale, which raises awareness about human trafficking, and Bread of Life, which feeds the homeless in Santa Barbara.
“I was inspired by how passionate and dedicated students can be outside of the classroom,” she says. “Every week Anna Woodruff ’12 (now serving as WCSA vice president) was coordinating a meal for around 60 homeless people, taking care of groceries, budgeting for the food, preparing the meal, doing the publicity and coordinating rides so Westmont students could get there. She did that on top of her school work and social life.”
Highstreet has also competed in the speech and debate tournament and has participated in several service projects in Compton, Calif. “I can’t imagine where my life would be if I hadn’t come to Westmont,” she says. “I feel like I have been pursued here — that people wanted me to learn and care. The professors are passionate about their teaching and sharing their knowledge instead of just continuing their own research.”
Highstreet, who has enjoyed studying intercultural and interracial communication as well as racial reconciliation, says she hopes to attend graduate school after taking a year off. “I’m too busy to worry about the future,” she says. “I’m trusting that being faithful to the work in front of me right now will serve me well and give me the experience I need to get ready for any job that is open May 10 after I graduate.”