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Mind & Heart Newsletter: May 2020

The May 2020 update from Whitworth University President Beck A. Taylor

This past weekend was supposed to be the much-anticipated public celebration of years of hard work and academic success that our newest graduates so richly deserved. Instead, the coronavirus pandemic kept the Whitworth community sequestered and unable to recognize the Class of 2020 in all of the ways we had planned and hoped for. The rhythms of academic life are strong, and my commencement routines haunted me all weekend. It felt so strange to not be engaged in the exciting activities of celebrating this most recent group of graduates, and frankly, I battled feelings of sadness, anger and loss, even as Whitworth did an amazing job of honoring our graduates through online and social media platforms. I would look at my watch and say to myself, "I would be serving communion to graduates right now," or, "I'm supposed to be greeting Act Six scholars and their families right now," or, "I'd be 600 handshakes into the commencement ceremony by now." Of course, my own feelings of loss don't compare to those whose last academic term as students came to an abrupt halt, or to the family members who sacrificed so much to see their loved ones complete a Whitworth degree, only to be robbed of the opportunity to stand and cheer. President Emeritus Bill Robinson and I consoled each other over the weekend, and Bill called Commencement Weekend an important "ROI" (return on investment) moment, not only for our graduates and their families, but also for us dedicated staff and faculty who walked with these students during their time at Whitworth. Indeed, the joy and satisfaction faculty and staff feel when we see newly minted graduates cross the commencement stage is second to none. But know this: Our collective disappointment in the ways we couldn't celebrate could never erase the achievements of our graduates, or the admiration we have for them. While I wasn't there to greet each graduate with a handshake along with other Whitworth colleagues, and although our graduates couldn't receive the thunderous adoration of their friends, family and mentors, we were together in unbroken spirit – bound in love by the Whitworth spirit and by the Holy Spirit. In times like these, those are sufficient gifts, and we received them with gladness. Well done, Class of 2020. You will be in our hearts forever. See you in October. Go Bucs!


Three Whitworth students were awarded with prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships. Congratulations to biology major Ryan Bax '20, biology and chemistry double major Ben Crews '21, and physics major Maria Straight '21. This is the first time three Whitworth students have received the award, given to undergraduates who show promise of becoming research leaders in the STEM fields. For a campus of our size, this is a large number of honorees!

Two Whitworth seniors received Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Awards. Victoria Robbins '20, a Spanish language & literature major, will serve in Spain. Shasta Brooks '20, a special education major, turned down the award to serve in Argentina because of concerns about traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Once again, Whitworth is proud to produce a disproportionately large number of Fulbright scholars.

Biochemistry major Nadia Sarfraz '20 was awarded the 2020 Governor's Student Civic Leader Award. The award recognizes her exceptional leadership and commitment to addressing critical issues on campus and in the community. Way to go, Nadia!

Biology major Katriel Sahlstrom '20 participated virtually in the Council on Undergraduate Research's Posters on the Hill event. She was one of 60 students nationwide to be selected for the event, which normally takes place in April in Washington, D.C., and brings undergraduates and their research mentors together with members of Congress.

Kari Nixon (English) had her first monograph published this month, titled Kept From All Contagion: Germ Theory, Disease, and the Dilemma of Human Contact in Late Nineteenth-Century Literature. The book explores the effect of quarantine and social distancing on the human spirit. She also had an article published in the solutionsjournalism magazine YES! about using art to grieve and heal from COVID-19 losses. Such timely research, Dr. Nixon!

Karen Petersen Finch (Theology) wrote a chapter in Full, Conscious and Active: Lay Participation in the Church's Dialogue with the World. The book came out in February from the Vatican publisher Libreria Editrice Vaticana. She was the only Protestant theologian to write a chapter, titled "A Deeper Reception: Engaging Lay Theologians in the Outcomes of Reformed and Roman Catholic Dialogue."

Erika Burden M.Ed. '94 was named the National Association of Secondary School Principals' 2020 Advocacy Champion of the Year. Burden is a school counseling program graduate and the principal of Westwood Middle School in the Cheney (Wash.) School District.

Student Life

This spring, student activities and the Associated Students of Whitworth University worked to build community even though students were not together on campus. They hosted a series of virtual events including a night with comedy magician Daniel Martin, where he taught students magic tricks; an online trivia night; playlist bingo; a movie night; and a 14-day challenge, which asked students to complete tasks each day like writing a letter to a family member or friend and cooking a meal. The Whitworth community is alive and well!

Whitworth housed and supported roughly 70 students who requested to remain on campus this spring after residence halls were closed due to the pandemic. Residence life staff used technologybased programming to provide them with support and connection, and Sodexo kept them well-fed with takeout meals. Students had discussions on subjects like self-care and took part in engaging activities like social distancing "bored" games and Zoom nights with me every Wednesday night.

The Health Education Action Team (HEAT) hosted a Virtual 5K Scallywag Scurry Race/Walk from May 1-3. This passionate group of peer health educators brought together the Whitworth community near and far for this event, which had a record turnout of 186 participants. It was the first time the HEAT utilized a virtual format for the annual 5K, and the team's creativity shined through in efforts to promote health and safety for participants in the context of a pandemic. Thank you to those of you who participated!

In mid-March, campus ministry began offering daily videos with words of encouragement for our community. The chapel worship theme this semester from the book of Deuteronomy was based on the Hebrew word for "Listen," which is "Sh'ma" (Deuteronomy 6:4). The videos were called the "Sh'ma of the Day" and were posted to Instagram (@whitworthcampusministries) and YouTube (search Whitworth Campus Ministries). The short videos were made by campus ministry team members, students, staff and faculty. They were extremely wellreceived as our community continued to engage with God and God's word together. The videos have been put on hold for the summer, but they can still be viewed on Instagram or YouTube. I highly encourage you to watch them if you need a quick pick-me-up.


Like many universities across the country, Whitworth extended from May 1 to June 1 the deadline for students to make their college enrollment decisions. Of course, students and their families are facing this big decision amidst unprecedented challenges related to the coronavirus. But the value of a Whitworth education is greater than ever, and there is a compelling economic case for students to invest in their education now rather than deferring enrollment until later. So, send potential Pirates to We're still accepting applications, making full financial aid offers and hosting an amazing variety of online visit events.

Incoming first-year and transfer students should have received (or will soon) an email with a link enabling them to sign up for a phone appointment with a faculty advisor to register for fall classes. We have a great registration guide online to help students prepare for these calls. Go to and click "Register for Classes."

Residence hall and roommate assignments will be sent by early July to students who have signed up to live on campus. We anticipate being able to welcome students into our residence halls in the fall and will do all we can to ensure our students are healthy and safe. We will keep students and parents informed about all plans.

The Campaign for Whitworth

Thank you for caring for the Whitworth community. Students are grateful for the generosity of over 175 donors who have contributed more than $34,000 to the Thrive Fund to help students in need. Seventy-one students have been helped this year with unexpected or emergency needs. Learn more at

If you follow Whitworth Gives on Instagram or Facebook, this spring, you met our 2019-20 "Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow" (STAT) team members. The STAT team is a group of student leaders who are passionate about continuing to make Whitworth's mind-and-heart education possible for their classmates. They raise awareness about the impact that individual donations have on students and how every single one of us can make a lasting impact on the Whitworth community.

Double your impact. Your employer might match the donations you give to Whitworth through its charitable giving programs. Check our database at, ask your employer for details or email so we can find out together. Make a great match and support Whitworth students today! 

Alumni & Parents

In light of COVID-19, Whitworth is postponing or canceling our currently scheduled events for alumni and parents. As regions continue to make guidelines known, we'll share news about in-person events. 

We are working on plans for next fall's Homecoming Weekend (Oct. 9-11) and Family Weekend (Oct. 16-18). This year, the Class of 2020's Commencement Weekend will also take place during homecoming. A combined graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 11, and we hope many returning alumni will make plans to celebrate this unusual commencement with these newest alumni. Stay tuned for more details.

Check out the new Pirates in the Loop webpage! All spring, the office of alumni & parent relations has been working to provide online resources and opportunities for alums and their families in the midst of the pandemic. Faculty, staff and alumni have provided resources and activities for alumni to help them with their physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and financial wellness. You'll also find ways to connect with other Whitworthians, from our new Alumni Business Directory to our virtual book club. Follow along at


The athletics department recognized three outstanding senior student-athletes and an inspirational senior class with the school's year-end special awards. Basketball All-American Ben College is the 2020 Dennis Spurlock Award winner, while Emiko Kahler (volleyball) and Nick McGill (track & field, football) are the 2020 Senior Athletes of the Year. All senior athletes whose seasons were cut short by the impact of COVID-19 received the Aaron Leetch Inspiration Award. This includes swimmer Owen Lempert and seniors from men's basketball, men's and women's golf, men's and women's tennis, baseball, softball, lacrosse, and men's and women's track & field.

Jeremy Payne took over in April as the new men's soccer coach for the Pirates. Bravely moving across the country in the midst of the crisis, Jeremy comes to Whitworth from Eastern University in Pennsylvania where he led the Eagles to a record of 42-17-5 over the last three seasons. He is a graduate of Messiah College (Pa.), where he was the NSCAA Division III Player of the Year in 2012 and 2014.

Whitworth coaches have continued to work hard. Both the football and volleyball teams have announced their  largest-ever recruiting classes under Rod Sandberg and  Kati Bodecker, respectively.

Whitworth's streak of consecutive Northwest Conference McIlroy-Lewis All-Sports Trophy victories did not continue in 2019-20, but the Pirates are still unbeaten. The NWC elected not to award the trophy this year because the spring sports season could not be completed, but Whitworth led the standings after the winter season. Whitworth will still be a  13-time reigning champion when the trophy chase is resumed next year. Go Bucs!