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A faculty roundtable Q&A discussion

When you corral a group of high-powered intellects in a room, you sometimes need just to light the fuse and stand back. That happened recently at Whitworth, when we asked five faculty members to spend 90 minutes with us discussing Whitworth's past, present and future and sharing some of their insights about what makes this place special and what will guarantee that it continues to be a city on a hill in higher education. We chose faculty members from across the spectrum of disciplines and length of service at Whitworth, and we recorded their conversation. Those of us who were there to observe agreed that these five Whitworthians touched on topics both dear to us and previously unconsidered, and they did so with wit, thoughtfulness, grace, deep humility, and a strong sense of collegiality. This article will briefly introduce you to the participants and to a sampling of their thoughts.

The faculty members who agreed to participate are (in alphabetical order) Professor of Philosophy Forrest Baird (Ph.D., Claremont Graduate University), who came to Whitworth in 1978 and was the longest-serving member of our group; Assistant Professor of Business Dawn Keig (D.B.A., Kennesaw State University), who joined the university in 2014 after 30 successful years in business and was our relative newbie; Associate Professor of Education Lisa Laurier (Ed.D., Northern Arizona University), who has been at Whitworth since 2003 and is deeply interested and involved in preparing educators for the future; Professor of Physics Kamesh Sankaran (Ph.D., Princeton University), an honest-to-goodness rocket scientist who joined Whitworth in 2004; and Associate Professor of Art Meredith TeGrotenhuis Shimizu (Ph.D., Northwestern University), '93, the only alum on our panel, who returned to her alma mater to teach art history in 2008.

Our moderator was Vice President for Institutional Advancement Scott McQuilkin, '84, who has served in a number of capacities at Whitworth since returning to his alma mater in 1985. McQuilkin, who holds a Ph.D. from The Pennsylvania State University, brought a slate of questions for the group that ranged from "Why did you become a professor – and why did you come to Whitworth?" to "What are your concerns for Whitworth's present and future?" Here's a sample of the responses he elicited.

You're all talented people; you all could have chosen from a host of vocations. But you've chosen to become a professor – and to serve here. Why the life of a professor?

Keig: "[Being a college professor] was a dream I just held out there. For 30 years I was in industry, and I realized, 'You need to get on to another career while you're still alive and kicking!' It wasn't just teaching that was the primary driver: I came to love the domain of knowledge" and "to learn the domain that I'd been working in from a different angle ... and being able to apply it to the classroom." Why Whitworth? "I believe in the soft side of business and in the heart part and the creative side of business. So this is a place for realizing that dream."

Laurier: "When I was working on my doctorate [after a decade as a classroom teacher], I was recruited to teach an undergraduate class. And beyond the fact that I love working with people who are passionate about working with children and becoming teachers and making a difference in the world, I realized that my influence as a professor could be broader. Instead of working with 25 children in a classroom, I could work with 25 future teachers who all would have 25 children in a classroom," thus increasing exponentially her ability to influence education for large numbers of students. "...So I ended up...deciding to pursue a career as a professor, because I feel like there's so much room to improve our public-education system, and I wanted to be a part of that conversation." Why Whitworth? "I think an education of mind and heart recognizes that good teachers are scientists and artists, and...I see that valued here."

How does your Christian faith influence the way you teach, and the way you interact with students?

Shimizu: "When I decided to pursue the vocation of scholarship and being a professor, I had a very distinct vision that I would be at a secular school. ... So when I got the call to come to Whitworth, this was actually a struggle for me, because I thought, 'Okay, what does this mean for my call...?' And in some ways, it really hasn't changed it. Because the gospel is the gospel, and people need to hear it whether they're coming from a faith background or not. So I still get so excited when I come to the lectures where I have to explain a theological idea in order for students to understand an artwork .... We have to contend with how we come at this difficult subject matter from a position of faith and ethics and our own sense of morality, and with how these artworks actually have something to teach us about those different perspectives on the world."

"I think an education of mind and heart recognizes that good teachers are scientists and artists, and...I see that valued here."

What concerns you about Whitworth and its future?

Baird: "I don't think Whitworth has really changed that much in the 39 years I've been here, and I hope we won't change that much in the future, either. I see new faculty coming in, and they're continuing the things that have been important to us in the past. ... We've been very blessed that our recent leadership has been outstanding. I hope that will continue." Baird also hopes that "we always keep strongly to our Christian focus. That's got to be central. Otherwise, why are we here? That's got to be at the very center. And [we need to hold on to] our fearlessness in looking at any issue. Nothing scares us. ...If we really believe that all truth is God's truth, then we need to follow it wherever it goes. So if I find out that I have white, male privilege, well, then I do. Then that's part of God's truth... and we don't have to be afraid of it."

Sankaran: "As long as we have these twin pillars of conviction in our Christian commitment and the courage to pursue the truth wherever it takes us, we have a significant reason for existence. I think if you remove one or the other, our reason for existence is significantly weakened .... Why is [Whitworth] worth it? How do we convince people that it's actually worth it to leave old comfortable things and actually come to live in a residence hall, and actually show up in classes...? ...If we continue to hold on to these twin pillars of conviction in Christ and the fearless pursuit of truth, we can actually model that it is worth it for our students, and we can handle all the other challenges. It's worth the inconvenience. It's worth the cost."

When you arrived at Whitworth, you had a faculty mentor who gave you counsel. Who was that person, and do you recall what that counsel was?

Keig: "(Dean of the School of Business) Tim Wilkerson,... and Craig Hinnenkamp, our associate dean, who has encouraged [faculty members] to be ourselves. ...[H]e wants us to bring our own experiences into the classroom, and he tells us, 'You can be who you are.'"

Baird: "(Professor Emeritus of Psychology) Pat MacDonald...would always come up to me and say, 'So, how's the world going – because you're managing the world, right?' ...[S]he just always brought me down a peg, in a good way, in a loving and supportive way. And that was what I needed."

"[I hope] that we always keep strongly to our Christian focus...That's got to be at the very center. And [we need to hold on to] our fearlessness in looking at any issue. Nothing scares us."

Sankaran: "Roger Mohrlang. ...[T]he passion with which he approached his subject on a day-in-and-day-out basis [made it seem] as if each day he was seeing the material for the first time. And the commitment he had to pray for his students on a daily basis [made me think] 'Wow – I wish I could be like that ....'"

Laurier: "(Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences) Noelle Wiersma taught me what it means to be a professor. ... (Professor of Communication Studies) Mike Ingram was the first person who really pushed me to find a church family. ... And (Professor Emeritus of English) Laura Bloxham [told me that] "If you want to stay here for a long time, you need to find faculty friends that you do fun things with."

Shimizu: "I had a built-in set of mentors [Core 250 faculty Forrest Baird, Leonard Oakland and Kathy Storm] I saw four times a week. So I was able to listen to these lecturers who had crafted their lectures over long periods of time... and it has been just amazing. I'm grateful that I still have that privilege."

Much is lost in translation between a vibrant in-person conversation and a brief magazine article. We encourage you to click here to see this faculty roundtable video in its entirety.

Forrest Baird

Professor of Philosophy

Lisa Laurier

Associate Professor of Education

Dawn Keig

Assistant Professor of Business

Kamesh Sankaran

Professor of Physics

Meredith TeGrotenhuis Shimizu, '93

Associate Professor of Art