All who attended the White House Summit (more here) will attest that the President and First Lady were awe-inspiring in their messages about access and opportunity. But as usually happens with me, I was most inspired by a student. Troy Simon, who introduced Michelle Obama, is a young man who propelled himself away from trouble for the sake of his younger siblings, and his talk certainly fueled my desire to do my all to help achieve the President’s objectives. As the First Lady said so convincingly, Troy was helped along the way, but nothing would have made a difference had he not wanted to change his life course and expected that he could.
There were determined helpers for Troy, and to meet the goals of college access and success for a much broader section of our population it will take people from so many sectors working together. The Summit’s organizers recognized this and cogently began the process of bringing us all under one tent. Critical are the philanthropists who will direct their dollars to scholarships and to the programs that are known to make a difference, as are governors and mayors who see what is needed in their states and cities and prioritize interventions. Nonprofits and educational organizations must apply all their might and creativity to find new ways to expand their reach. And colleges and universities, public and private, must re-examine their commitment to recruiting, enrolling, and graduating a socio-economically diverse student body and work with partners, step up their goals, and direct resources to achieving them.
I must admit that when I first learned the objectives of the President’s Summit, I wondered what more Whittier could contribute. Being a majority-minority private college with one-third of its students eligible for Pell awards and 80% on financial aid, Whittier is already a model for the nation for diversity. But while we draw students from around the country and around the world, we can do more right in our backyard. So, in responding to the President’s Northstar challenge, we are reaching out to do just that. We already work closely with high schools and elementary schools in Whittier, and now we are connecting in multiple ways with El Rancho High School in nearby Pico Rivera, a city where 12% of adults attended college and where 58% of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch. Through mentoring programs led by Whittier students and funded by dedicated philanthropists, partnerships with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund’s Generation 1st Degree initiative and the Be a Leader Foundation, college counseling by Whittier’s admission and financial aid staff members, and offering co-enrollment to El Rancho’s students, we will help first generation and low-income students prepare for college and career success.
And that’s not all. We will establish 2 + 2 programs with a nearby community college and are seeking a partnership to create a co-enrolled honors degree program. These partnerships not only enable students to get an elite education, but do so at less cost than a typical four-year private college degree.
New efforts by Whittier and all of the colleges and universities in this country joined by businesses, nonprofit organizations, philanthropists, and governments will – as the President said – enhance the competitiveness of this nation. And there is no question that competitiveness and economic wellbeing truly are at stake. But I keep thinking back to Troy and the trajectory his life might have taken had he lacked the will and the vision to change and had no one noticed his potential. What a personal loss this would have been for him, as well as the nation.
Thursday’s Summit makes me hopeful that we will make even more progress in the days to come.
Summer is here, and David and I are taking advantage of a little bit of down-time to travel to Spain. Right now we are in Barcelona and spent some time wandering down La Rambla near the port and admiring the mimes (see photos). We have been coming to Spain since the 70s and watched with fascination as Spain changed from a dictatorship to a democracy and as social mores changed in revolutionary ways. But the mimes always show up on La Rambla! Tomorrow we leave for the Pyrenees to start our bike trip. May you have good adventures this summer as well.
In what has become a yearly tradition, the pledges of the William Penn Society stopped by yesterday for a lively serenade on the steps of Mendenhall lobby.
In the “small world” department: Here are Whittier students getting a lesson from an executive of one of the biggest hand bag trading companies in the world, who happened to be on the crowded subway that our students were riding the other morning. Trustee Edwin Keh ’79 recognized his former colleague from Taiwan, and his colleague was happy to talk to the students about doing business in Asia. And students were happy to ask about doing internships with him!
I urge you to watch the Youtube video of Jimmy Kimmel showing clips of Los Angeles weathermen and women ”freaking out” about the unusually cool temperatures that we’ve been experiencing in LA.
Well, early one morning last week I took my own video of our hardy women’s lacrosse team practicing in “relatively” cold, windy rain. Take that, LA weatherpeople!
Just the other day I called attention to Whittier’s Janterm travel courses on this blog — and then almost immediately heard from another professor, Andrea Rehn, traveling with her class and Professor Doreen O’Connor-Gomez’s class to Spain and Morocco. Professor Rehn said they ”ran into the King of Morocco.” I will assume that the English professor did not intend that message to be taken literally. You can read many quick posts of class members’ experiences — including descriptions of the sights they are seeing and meals they are enjoying — at blogs.whittier.edu/eng390. And see the article on Janterm trips in this week’s QC as well.
I wrote a little while ago about Whittier’s Nixon Fellowship that each year awards grants to talented students interested in exploring public policy issues, as well as careers in public service. On Monday, through their Fellowship, Daniel Kulick ’13 and Carlee Shults ’14, have the opportunity to attend President Obama’s inauguration. I hope they wear their Poet gear and we can pick them out of the crowd. See the story about more of their fellowship experiences here: http://www.whittier.edu/News/Articles/InaugurationNixonFellows2013.aspx
I probably repeat the phrase “I want to be a Whittier student” three or four times a week, but never more than during Janterm or Mayterm when I hear from students who are participating in one of our intense travel study courses. What an opportunity to study somewhere around the world in a small group, guided by a Whittier professor and mentor. I would have a hard time deciding whether to study art and architecture in Greece and Rome, biodiversity in South Africa, jazz and culture in Cuba, politics in Argentina, multinational business opportunities in China or Chile, or — closer to home — Arts in LA, among other courses. And this is just the beginning, as Whittier expands the catalogue of courses we will offer in the years ahead. Last night I received the photos you see here from Professor of Business Administration Jeff Decker and Trustee Edwin Keh (the former SVP of Walmart, Global Procurement, who is helping students learn about the rise of China as a world business force), showing class members posed after a walk along Shanghai’s Bund and in a seminar on Sunday morning at their hotel. Students and faculty out there in the world: Send me photos and stories of your experiences and make me even more jealous.
One hundred years ago today, Richard M. Nixon was born. His birthday is being celebrated in Washington and through news accounts, such as this one in our local paper: http://www.whittierdailynews.com/news/ci_22335641/president-richard-nixon-still-reviled-revered-100-years. We on campus celebrate our most famous alumnus in a number of ways, but most significantly through our annual Richard M. Nixon Fellowship competition, awarding talented students a stipend to undertake an internship or a research project anywhere in the world. I can think of no better way to continue the President’s legacy than to inspire young people to explore careers in public service.
According to a recent survey, 55 percent of Board members at colleges and universities across the country think that the cost of college is too high. But when asked if their own college or university was too expensive, 62 percent said no (http://agb.org/reports/2012/2012-agb-survey-higher-education-governance). Let’s face reality: college is too expensive for most families, and Whittier is no exception. The challenge is how to preserve the quality of education at schools like Whittier at less cost to students. Whittier is attacking this challenge in multiple ways: (1) attracting more financial aid, scholarship, and fellowship support, often through gifts from generous alumni who tell us they could not have earned a Whittier education without the aid they received; (2) deriving more of the revenue needed to run the College from sources other than students’ tuition (e.g., running summer camps and educational programs, and renting conference space); (3) scouring administrative and academic budgets for ways to economize, and (4) continuing to urge that education is a public good, which should be supported by all of the citizens of this nation and state (please join me in asking Congress to extend tax incentives for charitable giving to colleges and universities). As I said at the beginning of this post, we do not want to sacrifice the quality of the education we offer to save on costs, but there are many other ways to achieve some relief for our students and we’re determined to succeed. Sticking our heads in the sand and saying “there is no problem at our school” is not a viable solution.