By Lucas Beechinor, '08
Whitworth's first course catalog describes the university as an institution committed to "guarding well the moral and religious life of the students, ever directing them in the pursuit of that learning and culture of mind and heart that make the finished scholar."
The Weyerhaeuser Younger Scholars program has played a major role in exemplifying that pursuit by bringing together Whitworth faculty and students who produce original, graduate-level research that the students present at research conferences in their disciplines.
Whitworth Professor of History Dale Soden has overseen the program since 1993. Initially, it was called the Pew Younger Scholars Program and was funded by the Pew Foundation. In the late '90s, after funding from the Pew Foundation ran out, the name was changed to Weyerhaeuser Younger Scholars (WYS). Funds for the program now come from the Weyerhaeuser Center for Christian Faith & Learning, which was established at Whitworth in 1998. To participate in the program, a student must be invited by a faculty member.
Soden says that the key focus of the program is the mentoring relationship that focuses on the possibility of the student seeking an academic career.
"The student meets regularly with the professor and pursues a research project," he says. "Money is provided to help defray both research costs and the cost of travel to a regional conference. The program requires that the student present his or her research at an academic conference during the school year."
Seven faculty members and eight students have been involved in the Weyerhaeuser program during the 2012-13 academic year. Fields of study vary greatly, as do research projects, but all of the current scholars and their mentors seek to exemplify the value of the liberal arts in students' pursuit of success in their chosen fields. Alumni and current scholars find that their work in the program has enriched their learning, their professional credentials, and their lives. Read more about their projects in the following vignettes.
As an English and biology double-major, Diana Cater is combining those fields in an investigation of the role of science narratives in popular culture, focusing on Randy Shilts' book about the AIDS epidemic, And the Band Played On. In addition to her research, Cater has been involved with HIV-and AIDS-prevention and awareness campaigns in Spokane.
Cater has immersed herself in her research, says her faculty mentor, Assistant Professor of English Nicole Sheets. "It's exciting for me, as her mentor, to see the ways she's narrowed and refined her thesis," Sheets says. "Rather than just looking at the importance of narrative in publicizing scientific discovery and raising awareness, Diana is now examining the ways that the 'science detective' narrative can actually be detrimental to scientific inquiry.
"Her focus on the Shilts book is kind of the center of the Venn diagram (a diagram that features overlapping areas of interest) where her literary, scientific, and public-health advocacy interests meet," Sheets says. As Cater's research into her topic has intensified, Sheets has helped her streamline her arguments and explore other avenues of inquiry.
"Nicole helped me realize that the most solid, well-backed argument is lifeless if its author isn't engaged in it," Cater says. "Research for the sake of research itself is draining; passion that becomes research is empowering."
Because one of the requirements of WYS is for students to present their work at a research conference, Sheets helped Cater find conferences to submit to and also helped her tailor her writing to each specific event. Cater says this was essential to making her research engaging and relevant to her audience. She says that WYS gives liberal-arts students the chance to demonstrate the power of their education while putting it to good use.
"Whitworth students are curious people," Cater says. "I think Weyerhaeuser Younger Scholars rewards that. We care about learning and sharing our ideas, and that means going above and beyond what it takes to just get by."
Cater believes that the value of a liberal-arts education lies in the critical thinking, ingenuity and determination gained through research. She says that analyzing systems, isolating problems, and developing creative solutions are just some of the skills students gain through an education in the liberal arts. "It was liberating for me to be self-directed and to know that no one was making me write this paper," she says. "I wasn't only pushing myself academically; I was depending on my own passion and conviction to keep going. This meant knowing not just my mind, but my heart as well."
Jason Hogstad, a history major and Spanish minor during his Whitworth career, has worked at the High Desert Museum, in Bend, Ore., for the last three years. "I started the summer after graduation as a part-time seasonal custodian," he says. Later that fall he applied for a position as a living-history interpreter and got it. In spring 2012, he was promoted to assistant curator of living history.
Hogstad says his time in WYS and the attention he received from Whitworth faculty was instrumental in his post-graduation career path. "The program seemed to be a natural evolution of two of Whitworth's best qualities," he says: "a commitment to rigorous academic inquiry and an involvement in the lives of those around you." As a student, Hogstad was inspired by the fact that Professor of History Arlin Migliazzo had invited him to participate in the program. "Having my research and work validated in that way changed how I viewed myself," he says. "By the end of the program, I felt that I could confidently bring something to the table in academic and professional settings." Hogstad says it was this kind of attention that set him up for success in his current career.
"The faith that individuals such as Dr. Mig had in my abilities translated into a confidence that I was able to project as I applied and worked at the museum," says Hogstad. He says that because of the younger scholars program, he didn't have to guess whether he had the skills necessary to work in an academic setting. His abilities had already been put to the test.
For his part, Migliazzo had quickly recognized Hogstad's curiosity, passion and enthusiasm for history. "I put those three things together and thought he might be really interested in this program," says the longtime Whitworth history professor.
"One of the things that struck me right off the bat about Jason was when he came to me regarding a class project and said, 'What can I do to make this better? What can I do to finesse this argument?'"
Migliazzo enjoys participating in the program and gets a special satisfaction from seeing a student's sense of accomplishment, along with his or her recognition that s/he has the ability to frame legitimate arguments and see different perspectives. "They [students] decide what to do," he says. "The mentor may make suggestions, but really it's a student's baby from the beginning to end, and it's great to see the feeling of accomplishment they get from it."
The program reaffirms students as capable scholars and also recognizes their curiosity and enthusiasm. For students interested in history, it also helps them see that they don't have to become history teachers to enjoy a career in the field. He adds that the program is just one opportunity for students to discover other things they can do vocationally with the skills they sharpen while studying history.
Pictured left to right: Kirk Forsyth, '96, Paul Forsyth, '67, Sheila Forsyth, '67, and Kyle Forsyth, '99
After graduating from Whitworth, Kyle Forsyth (who comes from a long line of Whitworth grads), attended law school at the University of Notre Dame, graduating in 2003 with a J.D. He worked as a law clerk for a federal district court judge and then for a federal court of appeals judge. Since 2006, he has worked as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, in Washington, D.C. His office is about six blocks from the White House.
"My practice is focused on commercial litigation," he says. "It usually involves contract or statutory disputes about money between the federal government and any non-federal entity, including commercial or state entities."
Forsyth recalls his time in the Pew Younger Scholars Program and his guidance from faculty mentor Julia Stronks as being critical in decisions he made regarding his career. "One of the most significant things she did was help me think about graduate school and recommend that I consider certain law schools. It's fair to say that without her guidance, I would not have ended up at Notre Dame."
While at Whitworth, Forsyth, an international political economy major, was interested in how economics play out politically in public policy. He says that even though he was not majoring or minoring in religion or philosophy, he was interested in surveying Christian perspectives of economic justice and comparing them with influential non-Christian perspectives such as those of Marx and John Rawls. This became the basis for his research project while he was in the younger scholars program.
One of the things that Stronks enjoys most about mentoring students who participate in the program is its deeper one-on-one working relationship. She sees it as a great source of encouragement for the student and says that it produces the best kind of intellectual and personal growth. Stronks notes that, to her surprise, most of the students she has mentored through the program have gone on to become prosecutors.
"We [took] those ideas that in Core might seem abstract, and then we 'put some meat on the bone,' if you will, and [explored] the real-world consequences of the ideas," Forsyth says.
"Kyle was a quiet intellect," Stronks says. "Working on a larger project gave us the chance to know each other better both personally and professionally. I can't sufficiently express how proud I am of students like Kyle who are contributing to the world by using the gifts God has given them."
"One of the things that this program allows is a deeper examination of structural injustices that occur in the world," Stronks says. For example, "many students care for the poor by feeding them in volunteer programs or by raising funds. That is important. But some students are then able to examine social and political realities that cause poverty or that keep people in poverty. The [younger scholars] program helps me help students dig deeper into significant challenges that our society faces."
Kwak and her fiancÚ, Dan Bauch, '07
Carly Kwak is currently the sales manager of River Point Farms, in Hermiston, Ore. The company is the largest grower, packer, shipper, and processor of onions in the United States. She says that her time at Whitworth, and especially in WYS, has played a key role in her career at River Point.
Kwak's job requires her to track data, follow market trends, and communicate that information internally and externally. As a younger scholar, she was introduced to doing professional-level research while working under a deadline. She says that she sharpened her skills dramatically through her research project, which involved documenting the history of a Spokane church.
"Dale Soden showed me how to think about a subject from different perspectives," she says. "For example, an individual's narrative could be influenced by factors such as social class or gender." Kwak says that the project gave her team-building skills that have served her well professionally. "Taking the time to understand each team member's story helps to create trust and understanding," she says. "Additionally, [Soden] showed me to look at an individual case study, such as a local church, and see how it fit into the larger picture of what was happening in America and in religious movements." Kwak found the church's history quite fascinating, as its congregation had existed for about a century at the time of her research and had experienced dramatic change through the decades. "I spent some hours in the library, but for the most part, the research involved gathering individuals' stories and deciding how to best frame them within the larger narrative of what was happening in the church."
Kwak says that WYS is important for liberal arts students because it offers the opportunity for them to do primary research, and it is up to each student what the end-product of the research will look like. She says that she had never done a research project like that before, but she found that it fit her needs and Whitworth's mission of a mind-and-heart education very well.
"Personally, I found talking to people about their church, families and friends very inspirational. I feel that documenting other people's lives, ideas and faith validates how important their experiences are."
Soden recalls Kwak as a bright and thoughtful student. "She had a passion for the history of ideas and the complex forces that shape our world," he says. Kwak says that her time in the program was one of the highlights of her Whitworth career - a time that prepared her for the future in ways that informed and inspired her search for both capital-T truth and a meaningful career in an ever-more-complex world.