By Megan Fraser, Audrey Gore, and Caitlyn Starkey
As a student, Lara Thompson thought she would only spend four years at Whitworth. But after earning two degrees at Whitworth, she returned to her alma mater to pursue her vocation as associate director of admissions.
Whitworth's commitment to an education of mind and heart is illustrated in its alumni's dedication. Graduates value Whitworth's mission and commitment to stretching and encouraging its students so much that many of them stay to pursue careers, Thompson says.
The Post-Whitworth Days
Thompson received a bachelor of arts degree in business management and marketing in 2006 and a master's in business administration in 2009. After graduating, she worked at a finance company in Spokane.
"I very quickly discovered that the corporate world was not for me," Thompson says. She got frustrated one day when she was sick, but was scheduled to sign final papers with her top client. A co-worker took over and got the papers signed, but Thompson later discovered that the sale was credited to her co-worker, and she missed out on almost $3,000 in commission.
"That experience was the tipping point for me, since that colleague was someone I viewed as one of my closest friends and most trusted co-workers in the office," she says. "I felt completely betrayed."
Thompson started looking for a new job. She has now been associate director of admissions at Whitworth for almost five years, a job she plans on keeping for a while. "This is where I want to stay. I love Whitworth, I love my job," she says.
Dolores Humiston, associate vice president of human resource services, believes Whitworth's dedication to helping students find vocations, not just jobs, leads many back to work on campus. Whitworth doesn't keep records of how many staff members are alumni, but in Human Resource Services alone, five out of the seven employees are Whitworth graduates, Humiston says. This is a common story for departments across campus.
Tad Wisenor, '89, had left Whitworth for three years when he realized he missed the caring, close-knit community. He worked in radio-marketing in Seattle, but soon realized that what he really wanted was a rewarding career, not a career just focused on earning money. "I was ready for a career that I cared about; I was ready to make a difference through my job," Wisenor says.
Gail Fielding, a Whitworth library specialist in interlibrary loans and the reference section, heard about a job opening on campus and called Wisenor, one of her former student employees. Eager to return to the alma mater he loved, in 1992 Wisenor interviewed for and accepted a position in the Whitworth Admissions Office.
"The position offered meaningful work, and I got to get out from behind a desk," Wisenor says. "It was almost a type of evangelism, preaching the good news about Whitworth."
While Wisenor loved his job, his transition from student to staff was not completely seamless. "It was like the Wizard of Oz: suddenly you get to be behind the curtain and see how the university works. You come back, and the professors that you looked up to so much as a student are now your colleagues. You get to see them as real, fallen people." Coming back to Whitworth as a staff member is very different than being a student, Wisenor says. Mentors become co-workers.
Wisenor eventually became director of parent and alumni relations, and now serves as the campaign director in institutional advancement. Whitworth provides excellent opportunities for staff members to move up or expand into other departments, Wisenor says.
"Every time my job started to look the same, my job changed," he says.
Barrett Urness also sees his job at Whitworth as an excellent opportunity for career growth. "This job is definitely a stepping stone," he says.
After graduating in 2009, Urness worked as a technician at a Spokane eye clinic, but when an admissions-counselor position opened at Whitworth, he jumped at the chance. While Urness is still wondering whether to go back to school or possibly apply for another job within Whitworth, he is very content with his current job.
"It's a great place to be a student and just as awesome a place to be on the staff," he says.
Completing the Circle
Kimberly Connors, '10, realized at graduation how important Whitworth community was in her life. After completing a summer internship, Connors was unemployed and was looking for a workplace environment that shared her values. She became the program assistant in career services in Oct. 2010. Helping students and providing career guidance to them has felt like more than just a job. Finding job satisfaction at Whitworth helped her to understand Whitworth's mission and how it applies to vocation.
"You have your own journey inside the mission statement. There really is the mind and heart, and you really need to have that to enjoy your job," Connors says.
Brian Davenport, '02, discovered just how vital Whitworth's mission was for him after graduating and working in organizations that didn't possess the same optimism.
After graduating from Whitworth with degrees in sociology and history, Davenport went on to earn a master's in teaching from the University of Puget Sound. He taught social studies, coached soccer, and served on a Young Life staff for five years before moving back to Spokane. "I was seeing administration and teachers becoming bitter and hardened, and I had promised myself I would never become that person," he says.
Davenport combines his experience with teaching and passion for Whitworth as assistant director of the Whitworth Master's in Teaching Program.
"It's important to make sure (the job) is the right fit for you," Davenport says. "Remember that you can't recapture the glory days, but it is definitely a fantastic place to work. My heart is in my work because I love the institution."
Changes over time are obvious: new buildings are built, more students enroll, and more growth occurs. But more important are the things that haven't changed.
"Whitworth is still a place to be stretched and supported. It is still an institution with the same mission, still challenging students to not blindly accept ideas but to discover them for themselves," Davenport says. "Everybody here cares deeply about the students. It's the common thread that binds us all together."