Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

March 13, 2001

Whitworth Receives $1 Million Grant for Innovative Project to Help Students Carry Out 'Lives of Commitment'

Many college students struggle to connect the beliefs they develop in school to personal and professional behavior in the complex world they enter after graduation. Help is on the way. Whitworth has been awarded a $1,014,000 grant from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, combined with about $864,000 in college resources, to launch a program based on new research that identifies tools for helping college students develop a robust worldview that becomes a way of life after they graduate.

The five-year project - "Lives of Commitment: Connecting Belief and Behavior in the College Years" - is one of the largest non-science, programmatic grants ever awarded by the Vancouver, Wash.-based trust, and is the latest in a long list of Murdock grants to Whitworth over the past three decades.

"The Murdock Charitable Trust has been the biggest supporter of science and technology in Whitworth's history; we simply would not have the level of excellence we enjoy in these areas were it not for Murdock," says Whitworth President Bill Robinson. "Now, for the trust to come forward and support this kind of program affirms and supports the 'heart' side of Whitworth's mind and heart mission in a very powerful way."

The "Lives of Commitment" project builds on research done by Steven Garber of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and Sharon Parks, a former Whitworth chaplain and Harvard University professor now affiliated with the Whidbey Institute. Garber's research identified three common elements in the college years of people who, unlike many of their peers, were able to connect belief and behavior into adulthood. They are: formation of a worldview strong enough to meet the complex and competing influences of modern society, a mentor who models a life consistent with his or her worldview, and a community of peers who positively reinforce and support living out one's worldview. Parks's work confirmed the same general results but also found that students who engage in activities or service that reflect their convictions while in college tend to live out those commitments after graduation.

Whitworth has always emphasized the need for students to think carefully about the worldview that directs their lives, says Associate Professor of Politics and History Julia Stronks, who is directing the "Lives of Commitment" project. The Murdock grant will enable the college to be more intentional and systematic about helping students connect their worldview beliefs with behavior during and after college, she says.

"Students tell us that justice, civic responsibility and community service are priorities they will pursue 'later,' but, with the pressures of adulthood and finding their place in a complex world, 'later' often never comes," Stronks says. "We want to break that cycle."

The "Lives of Commitment" project will support visiting speakers, research seminars, faculty-development programs and other initiatives to integrate worldview issues and civic engagement into the college culture and curriculum. In addition, freshman will take a revised seminar course exploring what it means to live ethically in society and all students will be encouraged to take advantage of expanded service-learning opportunities.

The main thrust of the project will be a model cohort program in which 20 freshmen will be selected each of the next five years to take part in an intensive set of courses and extra-curricular activities to link belief and behavior. The cohort students will be mentored by community leaders and alumni who have common interests and who have lived out their convictions in their professional lives. Each cohort also will be encouraged to live together in college housing throughout the program to help create a supportive community environment.

Participating students will take part in service-learning projects each year of the program, culminating in a senior research project addressing a demonstrated need in the community, Stronks says. The senior project will build on prior coursework and service-learning experience and will be presented in an annual research symposium beginning in the fourth year of the program.

Cohort students will be surveyed in their freshman year, senior year and five and 10 years after graduation about the extent to which they feel they are living out their worldview commitments. Their responses will be compared with responses to the same questions by current seniors and by peers of the cohort students to further gauge the program's impact.

"Our hope," Stronks says, "is that no matter what vocation students pursue after graduation, they'll be confident in their ability to make decisions about civic responsibility, family life and economic priorities that reflect the worldview commitments they make."

The M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust's mission is to enrich the quality of life in the Pacific Northwest by providing grants to organizations that seek to strengthen the region's educational and cultural base in creative and sustainable ways.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private, liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The college enrolls 2,000 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.


Julia Stronks, associate professor of political and international studies, (509) 325-4786 or jstronks@whitworth.edu.

Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

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