Excellence in thought is one of Walla Walla University’s four core themes, and in few places is it more apparent than in the honors general studies program. “The program provides an alternate general studies curriculum, which features smaller, interdisciplinary, team-taught classes,” says Cynthia Westerbeck, WWU professor of English and honors program director. “These seminar-style classes focus on active learning through reading and discussion of primary texts.”
The honors program is a separate track of general studies and thus can be combined with any major. The program challenges students academically, fostering critical thinking skills and intellectual growth. It also actively promotes social engagement amongst its students, faculty, and community. The primary venue for these efforts is the Honors Program House, a building that serves as the official home and gathering place of the honors program, as well as the actual residence of up to three upper-division honors students.
Hospitality is a requirement for upperclassmen applying to live in the honors house, for they are responsible for hosting various activities and events throughout the year. “Each Friday afternoon,” says Westerbeck, “students gather at the honors house for Honors Tea which is a chance to just relax over a cup of tea and good conversation with fellow honors students. A different member of the honors faculty also attends each week, so it serves as an opportunity for students and faculty to get acquainted outside the context of the classroom.”
Charlotte Davis, sophomore English major and honors student, recalls fondly the conversations, games, and sense of community at Honors Tea. “It is a great chance for us to connect and talk about our weeks,” she says. Other recurring events at the honors house are the quarterly game nights and the honors JumpStart retreat where new honors students are invited to gather at the honors house for lunch and an afternoon of activities planned to help build community with fellow honors students and faculty.
It isn’t all fun and games at the Honors Program House, however, as students also use the space for studying and community service. “This last school year, we established a weekly study hall on Wednesday nights, during which people could do group studies or individual assignments,” says Davis. The honors program also collaborates with the University Church to provide food for students in need at Lincoln High School in Walla Walla. These students rely on school lunches to meet their nutritional needs and so are without food on the weekends, which is where the honors program comes in. As Davis explains, “We keep a supply of several nonperishable foods in the basement—crackers, granola bars, instant noodles, and oatmeal, et cetera,” says Davis. “We also keep fruit and cheese to add into the bags on Friday when we deliver them.”
These kinds of social and community service events are exactly what previous honors program directors Terrie Aamodt, professor of history, and Linda Emmerson, instructor of philosophy, wanted when they created the honors house. Westerbeck concurs, saying, “The honors house is about building community.” The success of their efforts is evident, as Davis explains, “The house is the place where stressed students relax and bond. We’re all a very connected group, and the house and its residents are the backbone of it all.”
Posted August 16, 2018