Students Find Community in Honors Program

September 20, 2018

Excellence in thought is one of the Walla Walla University (WWU) four core themes. In few places is that excellence 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, so it can be combined with any major. The program challenges students academically, fostering critical thinking skills and intellectual growth. It also actively promotes social engagement among students, faculty and community members. The primary venue for these efforts is the Honors Program House, a building that serves as an official home and gathering place for those involved in the honors program, as well as the actual residence of up to three upper-division honors students.

Residents of the Honors House are responsible for hosting various activities and events throughout the year. “Each Friday afternoon 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,” says Westerbeck. “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 quarterly game nights and an honors JumpStart retreat during which 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.

Students also use the Honors Program House for studying and as a home base for community service programs. The honors program 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 during the week and 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.”

“The Honors House is about building community,” says Westerbeck.

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.”

Learn more about the WWU honors program at www.wallawalla.edu/honors or by calling Cynthia Westerbeck at 509-527-2370.

Charles Riseley, WWU university relations student writer