Making “major” changes to Whittier Scholars Program

Making “major” changes to Whittier Scholars Program

Nathan Tolfa

The Whittier Scholars Program (WSP) is turning forty and re-evaluating itself as it moves into the digital age and department heads depart.

At the end of this school year, the current Associate Director of WSP, Whittier College Director of the Writing Program Charles Eastman, will be ending his year as WSP Associate Director and will be replaced by Assistant Professor of Chinese Ken Berthel.

Eastman is leaving the position by choice. “I am serving currently in a one-year interim capacity,” he wrote, “and that one year is about up. I did not apply for the three-year term position Professor Berthel will soon undertake.”

Berthel was chosen after an application process. Faculty members were encouraged to apply for the position, and submissions were reviewed by the Whittier Scholars Council — excluding Council members, such as Berthel, who applied themselves — who then submitted their choice for Associate Director to Vice President of Academic Affairs Darrin Good, who has the final say in whether to approve the applicant.

Berthel intends to continue supporting WSP while working to facilitate change that will help WSP students. “I just plan to continue working with the council and with the director Professor Andrea Rehn,” said Berthel. “We’re always looking at ways to improve the program for the students who come through.”

Whittier Scholars Council, the decision-making body behind the WSP, is going through a re-evaluation of sorts. “Council is beginning a thorough Program Review to make sure we are doing the best we can for our students and for the College,” wrote WSP Director Andrea Rehn in an email to the QC. “If we find any places where improvements could be implemented, they will be proposed through the regular curricular review process.”

Council currently consists of nine faculty members, each of whom usually holds their position for three years, two students  who hold their positions for one year, and the Program Coordinator, Joanna Diaz. “The Whittier Scholars Council is the main decision-making body of the Whittier Scholars Program,” said third-year Malory Henry. Henry serves as one of the student chairs on the Whittier Scholars Council, along with third-year Kate Yeash. Decisions made by the Council, such as who to hire as a new Associate Director, are made through discussion.

First: Fourth-years Andy Bertelsen, Nicole Briedis, and Ty Lopez (not pictured; Jada Henry and Maggie Niemann) present their senior WSP capstone projects, ranging from art to robotics.
Second: Wardman Hall houses all the WSP department faculty’s offices, and once was a residence hall.

“All the decisions we make, we make through reaching a consensus, so it’s something that we all have a long discussion about and will agree [on], rather than voting,” said Henry. Council listens to concerns from students within WSP and works to approve their proposed majors. WSP’s goal is to be there for “students who prefer an existence that is based on self-determination and who are open to change.” This means, in literal terms, that students can design their own majors. For instance, Henry is majoring in Medical Anthropology, a major that is not typically offered at Whittier College, but one that she can study through WSP.

It can be somewhat difficult to build courses around the program, as the interests and majors of the students within the program change year by year. “There have been some concerns [raised] by students with regards to the curriculum,” said Henry. “One of the complaints was, maybe this class isn’t as relevant as it used to be —maybe they’re focusing on things that students might not want.”

Henry feels as though Council is doing what they can to address student concerns about the WSP. “[Council is] really trying to represent the students as best they can and make them really comfortable in the program and make sure that they are doing work that they are confident in and that they enjoy.”

“We’ve been looking at every single course that the program offers and trying to [ask], ‘is this working for our students?’” said Rehn. She has also stated that it is not yet clear if courses need to be added, but that Council is re-evaluating what is taught and how in the courses themselves.

WSP does have a number of plans for the future, which Rehn believes resides online. Last year, a “Poetfolio” web app was implemented, in part,  by Assistant Professor of Mathematics Bill Kronholm and the Quaker Campus’ own co-Editor-in-Chief Ty Lopez. This program gives Whittier Scholars an easy-to-use, accessible system for planning out their own majors. 

WSP is also in the process of digitally archiving over 850 senior projects. “What we are doing is creating a database of descriptive abstracts, [to share] what kinds of scholarships people have done at Whittier College [in the Whittier Scholars Program,] … over the last 40 years” said Rehn. WSP cannot post senior projects in their entirety without the permission of the project’s author, but they can post the project’s title, author, and abstract. This allows students and researchers to get an understanding of what a project entails and the information necessary to then reach out to the project’s author for more details.

“Ken and I are both excited about growing [the Whittier Scholars] Program,” said Rehn. “We’re thinking about what we can offer back to the College.” Rehn wants to make an effort in the coming weeks — and year — to help WSP reach out to the rest of the college. She feels that the upcoming 40th anniversary celebration next Fall might be a chance to facilitate connection between WSP and the larger Whittier campus. The event will involve alumni and faculty who participated in WSP returning to campus to talk about what they have been working in the time since they left the college.

“[The 40th anniversary celebration] is a way we might be able to contribute back to the campus by hosting a series of events that offer the best opportunities for students,” said Rehn, “whether [they’re] Scholars or not.”