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Going Down?

“I felt completely detached from the rest of the world. It was all at once grotesque, alien, wondrous, and beautiful. Outside our windows animals of all shapes and sizes were flashing brightly all around us. It was a display that would make a Christmas tree jealous.” No, this is not a deep-space adventure. Kirt Onthank ’06, a biology graduate, was on his way down under the ocean surface to the Mothra hydrothermal vent field on the Juan de Fuca Ridge in the North Pacific. Onthank completed a master’s degree in biology at WWU in the summer of 2008, focusing on octopuses. This dive to the thermal vents was the opportunity of a lifetime to observe some of these creatures in their natural habitat. “It was an enormous privilege to be able to look at life and phenomenon that only a handful of other people have ever been able to glance at with their own eyes,” says Onthank. The dive was made possible through Onthank’s doctoral program at Washington State University. His lab professor, Ray Lee, is studying animals that live at the vents, particularly focusing on how they can survive the high temperatures and high amounts of sulfide in the water, which is very toxic to humans. The space in the submarine was quite cramped. Three people were crammed in a six-foot diameter titanium sphere, along with all the computer and equipment needed to operate the sub. “It sounds claustrophobic,” says Onthank, “but I was so enthralled with what was outside, I barely noticed my tight quarters.” While on the ocean floor, Onthank and those with him on the dive collected animals and rock samples from areas of the vents and switched out an incubator, among other things. Alvin, the sub Onthank dove on, is one of the most famous deep submergence submarines. It has been in operation since 1964, and has done some noteworthy explorations, such as locating a sunken U.S. submarine armed with nuclear missiles, and exploring the Titanic when it was rediscovered in the 1980s. “Honestly, this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” says Onthank. “I feel like it was something of a rite of passage for me into marine biology.”

Set For Success

Two new initiatives give students a solid start at WWU

“Committed to excellence in thought, the University seeks to impart a broad knowledge of the arts, sciences, and professions by careful instruction and open inquiry at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.”
As that excerpt from the Walla Walla University mission statement implies, we’re passionate about cultivating “excellence in thought” on our campus. For that reason, we’ve launched two initiatives to help our newest students take full advantage of our academic programs.

New Entrace GPA
WWU has adopted a new minimum grade point average entrance requirement. Starting in fall 2009, students should have a 2.5 cumulative GPA for admittance. “This new GPA standard is one that we’ve carefully considered,” says Ginger Ketting-Weller ’85, vice president for academic administration at WWU. She says research indicates raising the entry-level GPA requirement is important for both the students it affects and WWU. “A student has higher chances for success in life when they have the tools they need to be successful in college,” Ketting-Weller says. “No student should feel set up to fail. WWU provides an academically challenging and socially stimulating college experience. Without developing and practicing good study skills, a student could be easily overwhelmed and drop out or be academically dismissed. And that kind of experience is definitely not in the best interest of the student.” While WWU provides academic support in the form of reading and study skills courses for students at risk, the data shows that the success rates for students entering with a GPA below 2.5 are very low. “If students do leave our program, it represents not only a significant loss to them and us, but their departure affects our retention rate. This in turn could affect the level of student aid we can provide,” Ketting-Weller adds. Our student retention rate is one of many variables considered by lenders when student aid is provided. Though our retention rate (approximately 70 percent from freshman to sophomore year) is higher than many other Seventh-day Adventist colleges and universities, student loan companies prefer a stronger retention rate through to graduation, Ketting-Weller says. “We want to be sure we can continue to provide financial assistance to as many students who need it, and improving our retention rate is one way to do that.” The new 2.5 GPA standard was endorsed by the WWU faculty senate, and the Board of Trustees voted to adopt the recommendation in August.

Freshman Mentoring Program

Every WWU freshman student has the support of a dedicated mentor, thanks to our new Freshman Student Success Program. More than 30 trained mentors work with each of their freshmen students weekly, helping the students eliminate barriers to academic success, encouraging them to seek additional resources when necessary, and connecting the students with each other.
The success program was required for every freshman student after a pilot program showed impressive results. “Students who were mentored last year had higher grade point averages, were less likely to drop or fail a class, and were more likely to stay in Christian higher education,” reports Carolyn Denney ’92, WWU registrar. Denney helped to develop the program and explored options as she pursued her master’s degree in educational leadership. She eventu¬ally published a thesis titled, “The Effects of Formal Mentoring on First-Time Freshmen GPA, Course Persistence and Retention Rates.” Mel Lang, former WWU professor and associate academic dean, volunteered to help launch the ambitious program. “We want students to come to Walla Walla University and accomplish their goals,” says Lang, now the Freshmen Student Success Program director. Mentors were chosen carefully and are required Carolyn denney ’92 and mel Lang (center) lead a team of trained mentors who are helping wwu freshmen get a strong start in college. to connect weekly with their students and each other. “The majority of mentors are WWU alumni. More than half of them have master’s degrees or above. We select them through an interview process, and ask for recommendations. But the biggest thing we look for in our mentors is a heart for students,” he says. He notes that mentors are collectively spending about 150 hours a week with freshman students. Some students who were mentored in last year’s pilot program asked to continue with the program, and other non-freshman students are asking for mentors as well. “Right now we have a waiting list; we have our hands full. We’re stretched to our funding limits,” Lang reports. The mentoring program complements other dedicated services offered by faculty and staff, and Denney is energized by the stories she hears from both students and mentors. “The whole campus is working together.”

To learn more about how you can support the Freshman Student Success Program, contact Mel Lang at (509) 527-2715.

Aviation Education is Taking Off

Fields of wheat are getting smaller and smaller beneath the craft. The altimeter reads 7,000 feet and climbing. The pilot has his eyes on the gauges and his hands reach for this button and that switch. Behind him, at a desk, his aviation instructor observes the student’s progress on a computer.
   No, this isn’t a classroom in an airplane. In essence, this is an airplane in the classroom. Through generous donations, the Walla Walla University aviation program recently acquired two flight training devices.
   The first Flight Training Device (FTD) is an ATC 810, which represents a multi-engine aircraft. There is no vision simulation, just an aircraft instrument panel with mechanical flight instructs. This device was donated by Phil and Demptha Bingman of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and is valued at approximately $40,000.
   The second FTD is produced by FRASCA, a company which produces both helicopter and fixed-wing craft training devices. This FTD has the capability of converting between different airplane types. It will replicate a Cessna 172, and a Piper Seminole, both of which WWU currently owns.
   The FRASCA is unique from the ATC 810 because it also has a visual database, allowing the student to do visual as well as instrument training. Projectors display images on a screen, which wraps around the pilot for 220 degrees of vision.
The FRASCA training device also allows the student pilot to do more emergency training. The

   Our FRASCA flight training device displays images on a screen that wraps 220 degrees around the pilot, giving students more preparation before taking to the air.

   ATC 810 allows for this, as well, but the FRASCA has the option of having even more systems fail.
The benefits of having FTDs are almost infinite. When weather is bad, or the planes are down for maintenance (which happens every 100 hours), there is a lot of downtime without flying. The FTDs can be utilized in all kinds of weather, at all times of day.
   “Training will be more efficient with these new FTDs,” says Shawn Dietrich, director of training for the aviation program at WWU. “Students can be prepped in the FTD before going up in a real aircraft. They’ll learn exactly what they’re going to do before they even set foot in the actual plane.”
   This will not only give students better preparation, but it will also save them money. Each time the planes are taken up for a practice session, the student is charged for use of the aircraft. If they already know what to do when they get in the cockpit – how the plane works and what to expect – their flying time will be more efficient and productive.

To learn more about WWU’s four-year and two-year aviation degrees, visit

A Summer to Remember

     This past summer, Paul Dybdahl ’92, assistant professor of theology, spent two months teaching at Mission College in Muak Lek, Thailand.
     In addition to teaching, Dybdahl, who has a doctoral degree in the area of mission, conducted some research. He recorded personal interviews with students from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and hopes to use them in classes at WWU. He also collected a written survey from theology and religion majors in Thailand. The survey centered on their view of pastoral function. Dybdahl plans to compare their view of the pastoral role and function with that of Walla Walla University students.
     Paul Dybdahl ’92 (back row, blue shirt) taught more than 60 students during his summer in muak Lek, thailand.

     Dybdahl’s history with Thailand goes back to before he was born. Dybdahl was born in Chiang Mai, and spent the first six years of his life there. After his sophomore year at WWU, he returned as an Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) volunteer, teaching English and Bible, and helping with church services.
     “This summer reminded me how quickly we can become attached to other people,” says Dybdahl. “I said goodbye at Mission College knowing that the students would soon be scattered all around the world, and I would likely never see them again. They were beautiful, fun, good people, and I wished we didn’t have to say goodbye.”

WWU Welcomes New Faculty

Nine new faculty joined the university at the start of the 2008-2009 school year.

Doug Logan ’74, dean of the School of Engineering, received a bachelor’s degree from WWU, and his master’s and doctorate degrees from Stanford University.

Brian Roth ’01, assistant professor of engineering, completed undergraduate work at WWU, and continued his education at Purdue and Stanford universities.

Onduru Odongo, assistant professor of chemistry, received his doctoral degree from State University of New York at
Binghamton after doing undergraduate work in Kenya.

Heidi Haynal, assistant pro-fessor of mathematics, completed undergraduate work at Ohio State University. She was awarded her master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of California in Santa Barbara.

Emily Tillotson ’97, assistant professor of social work, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WWU.

Rosemarie Buck Khng ’81, assistant professor of nursing, holds a bachelor’s degree from WWU and a master’s of science from Loma Linda University.

Bob Cushman ’79, biology department chair, completed his undergraduate work at WWU, and holds a doctorate degreee in geology from Colorado School of Mines.

Richard Scott, assistant librarian, has a bachelor’s degree from Union College and a master’s from the University of Kentucky.

Karin Thompson ’91, music department chair, received a master’s degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, and a doctorate degree from the University of Maryland after doing undergraduate studies at WWU.

Last update on June 4, 2019