Westmont Magazine Student Guides an Outing for the Birds
Monroe Scholar Carrie Steingruber shares her enthusiasm for bird-watching with the local audubon society.
Monroe Scholar Carrie Steingruber ’12 not only excels in academics, she’s one of the region’s top birders. The art and English double major led a group of three dozen bird enthusiasts from the Santa Barbara Audubon Society on a field trip to Westmont April 30. Many of the guests visited the leafy campus for the first time as they have few connections to the college.
Andrew Mullen, professor of education, tagged along for the tour.“It was great to see a winsome and articulate Westmont student taking charge in an area that matters to these civic-minded people,” he says.
The group spotted or heard about 40 species during the outing, including the hooded oriole, black-headed grosbeak and a Swainson’s thrush, a first-ever sighting for some members. “We also found a couple of nesting Wrentits, which usually skulk and are shy, but these two and their nest were fairly visible at close range,” Steingruber says. “It’s always a treat to see birds nesting.”
Steingruber grew up feeding red grapes to mockingbirds she found in the yard of her Carrollton, Texas, home and enjoyed trying to identify the birds visiting her feeders. “In the summer of 2005, my family took a vacation to Southeast Arizona, one of the biggest bird-watching destinations in the country,” she says. “We had no idea what we were getting into. When you’re down there, surrounded by colorful tropical birds and a bunch of hard-core bird-watchers, it’s easy to catch the birding fever. I remember we had to stop at Wal-Mart midway through the trip to buy me a pair of binoculars.”
Steingruber says the hobby has allowed her to meet people she wouldn’t normally encounter. “The bird-watchers I’ve met have been kind, hospitable and enthusiastic,” she says. “We all have some obvious common ground, and it’s fun to hear stories of birders from all over the world recounting a range of experiences. Getting involved with the local Audubon Society in Santa Barbara has allowed me to interact with people of different ages.”
Steingruber says she wanted to attend a small, Christian, liberal arts college after high school. Several factors influenced her decision to enroll at Westmont. “Many of the colleges I found didn’t have the academic quality I was looking for,” she says. “Westmont seemed like the perfect mix of academics and Christian focus. I was also struck by the high rate of returning students — much higher than the other colleges I was looking at. And the Townsend’s warblers foraging above my head during my first tour of campus didn’t hurt.”
She initially wanted to major in English, but after taking two art classes her first year, she decided to double major in English and art. Since then, she has created her own book, “Birdy: A Collection of Facts, Quotes, and Anecdotes About Birds and Bird-Watching,” and was a 2010 finalist in the West/Southwest Regional Collegiate Scholarship Competition for a digital painting self-portrait. “I enjoy drawing, painting (especially with oils), and computer graphics, which has lately been my medium of choice,” she says.
In fall 2010, Steingruber participated in England Semester. She spent the time studying Shakespeare, Irish poetry, British and Irish theater, and metropolitan anglo-phone literature. “It was spectacular,” she says. “Eye-opening, challenging, exhilarating — so many great experiences and great people packed into four, too-short months. And there were new birds around every corner. It’s fun to go somewhere different where none of the birds are familiar.”
Steingruber says her education at Westmont has strengthened her belief in the liberal arts. “I’ve learned a lot both in and out of the classroom through conversations with my peers and professors,” she says. “Westmont has shaped the way I think and look at the world. The people here have taught me how to ask new questions and look for answers in unexpected places. It’s also been fun to take multiple classes outside my majors, like astronomy and colonial and revolutionary America.”
Steingruber says she has gained valuable editing and graphic design experience by taking writing-intensive classes and studying art. She hopes to become an editor who also creates some layouts. “But mainly I’m hoping that the ways of seeing and thinking I’ve learned here will continue to evolve as I move into the workplace, especially as I seek to bring my faith into what I do,” she says.
“Bird-watching will always be a large part of my life,” she adds. “I’m thinking about starting a nature walks club next year at Westmont. I go bird-watching every weekend as it is, so why not invite others to join me?”