Walla Walla University

August 30, 2016 | Kim Strobel

Faith and Learning

A Report to the Constituency of Walla Walla University

At Walla Walla University, learning takes place within a framework of faith. “It’s the context in which we conduct our academic pursuits,” says Bob Cushman, vice president for academic administration. “Faith pervades the entire range of life and learning here.”

Many faculty members start classes with a devotional thought, discuss faith issues that intersect with subject matter and pray with students. Faculty members also encourage exercising faith as they model their own commitment to Adventist beliefs and prepare students to speak intelligently in a secularized world.

A prime example of the many tangible ways that students, in turn, apply what they learn is the Independent Colleges of Washington (ICW) Ethics Bowl, a full-day competition among student teams from the 10 member colleges of the ICW. Each college sends a team to debate in a competitive setting, using cases that explore ethical issues that are relevant today.

Students who participate in Ethics Bowl say it is one of the most valuable things they have done at WWU. One such student, Acacia Chan, ’16, was a member of the team for three years and is pursuing a master’s degree in religion at Yale Divinity School.

“Throughout my childhood, I loved gathering useless information, but in Ethics Bowl I was able to gather useful facts and apply them in a way that blended classical moral theories and current events,” says Chan. “Because of this experience, I am an informed, active participant in political and social discussions. I’ve learned to structure my thoughts in a way that conveys information to other people in winsome and easy-to-follow ways. Going into academia and education, this lesson is hugely important and will influence my teaching style for the rest of my career.”

Another example of the union of faith and learning at WWU is evident in computer science classes. “The concept of service is built into our curriculum from freshman-level introductory courses, which include contributing to free open-source projects, to senior-level capstone experiences, which require students to take on a major programming project,” says Jonathan Duncan, computer science department chairman. “Our courses and faculty encourage students to approach computer science from a Christian worldview, examining concepts such as artificial intelligence and ethics from the unique perspective of a believer.”

Excellence in Thought and Purposeful Stewardship

Among the many highlights on campus during the last five years are:

COMPETITIVE EXAM RESULTS — WWU students consistently score at or above national averages on standardized tests in a wide range of fields, including chemistry, business, literature and biology.

COURSES OFFERED ONLINE — Disciplines that offer online classes include social work, education, psychology, math, religion, history, English, business, computer science and graphic design.

INCREASE IN FIRST-TIME FRESHMAN ENROLLMENT — In fall 2012, WWU enrolled the largest freshman class in nearly two decades. In each year since, the freshman class has been larger than classes recorded in the 17 years prior to 2012.

HIGHER AVERAGE GPA — The high school grade point average for 2011–2015 prospective student cohorts averaged 3.512, up from 3.420 for 2006–2010 cohorts.

IMPROVED COMMUNICATION — We rolled out a new website that is more accessible and works well on mobile platforms, improved online enrollment tools for students, and developed a WWU smartphone app.

MINIMAL TUITION INCREASES — Thanks in part to a generous scholarship program, tuition costs haven’t been raised more than 2 percent in any of the last five years.

LAUNCH OF A COCURRICULAR TRANSCRIPT — This collection of student activities and involvement outside the classroom provides an official record of awards, leadership, professional development and service.

CAMPUS IMPROVEMENTS — Improvements include ensuring accessibility in compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act; installing fire sprinkler systems in several buildings; adding and improving outdoor lighting; creating collaborative learning spaces; improving residence halls; remodeling the new building for the School of Social Work in Missoula, Montana; adding new cabins at the Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory; and remodeling the gym and adding a new wood gym floor.

As We Move Forward

As we look to the future, the challenges we face include:

  • Growing and developing new and existing academic programs in an environment where resources are limited;
  • Balancing our mission with the market and maintaining our identity and purpose in a culture that is rapidly shifting toward challenging Christian ideals;
  • Finding and establishing communication channels in new markets given lower enrollment in Adventist academies;
  • Recognizing increased activism and more vocal protest about social-justice issues by students;
  • Working with state and federal regulations related to Title IX and LGBTQ compliance;
  • Updating and renovating student residential living spaces that integrate technology;
  • Keeping tuition affordable.

Giving Thanks

“The Apostle Paul urges us to give thanks ‘always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 5:20, ESV),” says John McVay, WWU president. “Such thanksgiving is rooted in reflecting on the past, recalling blessings and challenges. As we at Walla Walla University have reviewed the quinquennium just past, 2011–2016, it has indeed cued thanksgiving to God.”

“You have read here record of initiatives to further strengthen the excellent spiritual and academic mission of Walla Walla University,” says McVay. “God’s blessings, though, have outstripped our efforts, diligent as they have been. He has taken our little and made much of it. We invite you to join us in giving thanks to God, from whom all blessings flow.”

This report is an abbreviated version of the Walla Walla University report for delegates to the 2016 North Pacific Union Conference Quinquennial Constituency Session, scheduled for September 25, 2016.


Alix Harris, Class of 2016

Attending WWU meant leaving home and starting a life full of new places, people and experiences.

At the beginning of my freshman year, I was terribly homesick. I missed my family and friends and the familiarity of home. One Tuesday evening near the end of my first quarter, I was sitting in Heubach Chapel at a worship service, and I suddenly realized that I wasn’t so homesick anymore. Listening to the students around me singing praises to God in the low candlelight of the chapel, I realized that WWU was a family and I wasn’t alone. To me, that’s why this is such a special place — WWU is family.

Earning my degree at a university where faith in God is a central theme has shaped the way I look at my future. Studying at WWU has shown me how service and faith go hand in hand. I want my career to be one of service to God and my community.