Colleges That Change Lives

Colleges That Change Lives
Colleges That Change Lives

Share your story

As we celebrate our legacy, take a moment to share your story about the people and events at Willamette that helped shape your life.

Select a group of stories from a category below!

Changing Lives

Willamette won a spot among 40 colleges and universities featured in the book, Colleges that Change Lives. Only five northwest institutions were featured. Willamette was chosen because of the sense of community that is shared between faculty and students alike. When students leave the university, they are better equipped to enter the workforce and develop meaningful lives shaped by diversity, compassion, and critical thinking.

Below, you can read some of your fellow alumni WU stories as they reflected on their time at Willamette and beyond.

» 18 Stories


Posted by Dave Rigsby '00 on January 6, 2014, 10:29 p.m.As I reflect upon my diverse experiences at Willamette, I am struck by the countless people who have enriched my life. Jeanne Clark (Rhetoric) challenged me to find my voice and become a better writer. Frances Chapple, Norm Hudak, Dave Goodney and the other chemistry faculty pushed me to reach my potential as a scientist. And finally, Bob Hawkinson, my mentor and former Dean and member of the politics faculty, taught me about courage, leadership, and selflessness. Today, as a Willamette employee, I am blessed to be a part of this team of "changers" - a generous, supportive, and thoughtful group of faculty, coaches, staff and others who continue to enrich student lives. I feel blessed every day.

Posted by Nathan Keffer '11 on October 21, 2013, 11:12 p.m.I currently live in Ecuador where myself and two fellow Willamette graduates are opening a Microbrewery.It has been a very rewarding yet difficult experience starting a business in a foreign country and I believe that it was WU's rigorous liberal arts education that has allowed us to succeed thus far.

As a Politics major my degree had little if nothing to do with the actual science of brewing. However, as liberal arts students we were constantly forced to expand not only our way of thinking but our normal areas of study. So even though both the subjects of Business and of Brewing were new to us we simply saw it as a challenge and a new aspect of life to explore, much like taking a class outside your major at WU.Willamette really instilled in us the mindset that we could learn and do anything we wanted, it just took a little bit of hard work and a lot of research. In this day and age knowledge is easily accessible, all you have to do is know how and where to look for it.

Posted by Dani Gehm '13 on October 7, 2013, 2:34 p.m.During my sophomore year at Willamette, I decided to switch my major to Rhetoric and Media Studies. Although I didn't have many faculty connections in the rhetoric department, I was welcomed graciously by Nacho Cordova, who took me on as an advisee after only meeting me a handful of times. Throughout my time at Willamette as a rhetoric student, I became close to my second advisor, Amber Davisson, after Nacho tragically left us. I felt welcomed into the rhetoric community and continue to foster relationships with rhetoric alumni and my advisor even after graduating. I had a truly wonderful experience in my department and I couldn't have asked for a major that better prepared me for my marketing career.

Posted by Steven Malick '07 on October 5, 2013, 7:25 a.m.Where do I even begin to try and answer this question? I wish I could just jump on the phone with someone and ramble through this. Willamette has been an integral part of my life--helping me understand and live out the values that I hold dear. As an incoming freshman, I did not understand the university motto, "Not unto ourselves alone are we born," but now in retrospect I deeply understand it. Immediately, as a freshman, I found myself living within a community of scholars, artists, and humanitarians. I found myself challenged in all aspects of my life--everything from my beliefs around politics, consumerism, faith, identity and everything in between. This challenge was not a "you're wrong" kind of challenge but instead a, "Have you thought deeply and critically about these beliefs that hold? How do your beliefs intersect and impact others? Why do others hold potentially competing beliefs?" As a freshman, I was entered into a freshman colloquium where we took courses from professors who were experts in their fields. This was something that I knew at bigger universities would only be reserved for upperclassmen. I also was able to find a close group of friends who all lived in my freshman year dorm, and by the end of that first year, this group of individuals continues to be my closest friends and the people who I fly across the country to see every year. Even though I came into school thinking I would major in math, I found the way that the basic graduation requirements were structured encouraged me to explore questions in fields across all disciplines and this lead me directly to the major I chose--Anthropology. Choosing this major dramatically impacted the course of my life. First, my adviser (Rebecca Dobkins) was just an incredible mentor in my life and is still someone who I keep in touch with. Second, it connected me with two of the most pivotal experiences in college (volunteering at Chemawa Indian School and Bush Elementary School) which resulted in becoming committed to eliminating educational inequity, applying to Teach For America, spending 4 years teaching middle school math to under-served children in Newark and the Bronx and now spending 3 years coaching first and second year teachers who have joined Teach For America. As a college student, I had the opportunity to have my hand in just about everything. I was a senator for ASWU and HHR (even rewriting the Constitution for HHR). I was involved in Forensics, Circle K, and NCCS. Even though I wasn't a particularly religious person, I interacted frequently with the Chaplain's office which helped me explore how I was living out my personal values. They had a project called the Lily Foundation which allowed me to create and establish a enrichment program (in conjunction with another student) at Bush Elementary School called Tiger Club where we set elementary students up with mentors from the college. I also became a Carson Scholar recipient and had the amazing opportunity to conduct independent research on the intersection of how the faith of men influenced their notions of masculinity. Through all of this all, I felt like part of a community with mentors who valued me and all my naivety and fostered my intellectual curiosity and personal development. People like my advisers Rebecca Dobkins and Richard Ellis helped make sure that I was on-track to graduating and still pushing myself academically. Others like Monique Bourque, Nancy Norton, and Karen Wood who helped me discern what opportunities were available to me and how I could fully access them. But I'm rambling now. I gladly support the university every month, and I only wish that there was as meaningful outreach to alumni as there was meaningful outreach to students. I am getting close to paying of my loans, and I gladly make those payments. (I'm sure that puts me in the minority of people, but I honestly believe that my money was well spent. And for those who might be a little bitter about their experience, I would argue that those folks were not open to the full college experience or there was something going on their lives that prevented them from having the full college experience.)

Editor's Note: Thank you for your feedback. We are in the process of reviewing our alumni engagement and are looking forward to creating new opportunities in the coming year. We really appreciate alumni who want to stay connected to Willamette as it improves and grows. We hope to connect with you soon, Steven!

Posted by Danielle Valles '10 on October 4, 2013, 5:04 p.m.Going to Willamette for my undergraduate degree put me in contact with some amazing people who started helping me to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. Studying abroad in Granada allowed me to feel confident in international settings and convinced me to join the Peace Corps. After volunteering for 2 years in Ukraine I am now pursuing my Master's in International Education at the School for International Training in Vermont. Thank you Willamette!

Posted by Bill Richter '61 on October 3, 2013, 7:52 p.m.Thanks for this opportunity to reflect on how a brief period more than half a century ago has changed so much that has happened in my life since. Since I was slow to respond to the "WU love story" opportunity a couple of months ago, I decided I had better not let this one pass by.

Several aspects of Willamette's impact stand out in my memory. As the first in my family to attend college, I learned a lot about the world and about myself in those four short years. I don't remember "values" being drilled into us (although that was the era of compulsory chapel) but the university's motto, "Non nobis solum nati sumus," has been perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned.

Willamette changed my career plans. I entered the university planning to go into the US foreign service. One day early in my senior year Professor Ted Shay asked if I might be interested in applying for a Danforth Fellowship, designed to support graduate study for future college professors. I applied, was surprised when I received the fellowship, and became hooked on a career in academia.

Willamette was a place where friendships were made, some of which have not only endured over the decades but have helped to make life more fulfilling. The friendship that most changed my life is the one that has been at the core of my marriage to Linda (Linda Clark, '64). We met at Willamette, carried on a three-year long-distance courtship while she was at Willamette and I was in grad school at Chicago, then married 49 years ago.

I am grateful for these and other ways Willamette has changed my life.

Posted by david s. wood Select your degree '56 Select your degree '69 on October 3, 2013, 6:31 p.m.I came to WU as a sophomore transfer in '53, majoring in Spanish. For those 3 years I belonged to Wesley Fellowship, holding an office, and participating in their weekend activities, including Ski Spree and Oregon Methodist Student Movement(OMSM). My years at WU helped me improve my English skills as well, as I had lived in Hawaii 7 years, and needed to get away from the Pidgin English in which I was 'fluent'.
Willamette's small size helped me learn more on an individual basis, as I continued college studies at the much larger University of Colorado, though graduate school had an intimacy similar to WU's.
All in all, I feel that I grew academically, socially and physically. My experience at Willamette contributed greatly to all of the above.
David S. Wood, Spanish 1956

Posted by Heather Flynn BA '65 MED '88 on October 3, 2013, 6:23 p.m.I just returned from Iceland. It's a geological wonder. I love geology! Why? Because I took a one semester course in Physical Geography from Dr. Montgomery (required) for my BA. I fell in love with kettles and drumlins, strata and all kinds of rocks. And I live with all of it in Alaska.

Posted by JoAnn Newcomb on October 3, 2013, 5:42 p.m.I did not attend Willamette, but three years ago I gave you my daughter.

You are giving me back a focused, dedicated, committed, open-minded young woman who loves exploring truths, weighing facts, and communicating her findings in an enthusiastic and articulate manner. You are giving me back a daughter whose talents are honed and horizons broadened. You are giving me back a daughter who is well on her way to becoming the person she is destined to be. And you are giving me back a scientist, where once there was a little girl.

JoAnn Newcomb
Proud Parent of Megan Newcomb, 2014

Posted by Lindsay Partridge '86 JD '89 on October 3, 2013, 5:34 p.m.Willamette opened up a universe of possibilities to me. My experience with students, faculty and staff broadened my view of the world and what my place in the world could be. Buzz Yocum welcomed me into the community, Sue Leeson inspired me to think critically and Bob Hawkinson encouraged me. They are just a few of the individuals that make me proud and thankful to be a Bearcat for life!

Posted by Matt Benjamin '02 MBA '05 on September 23, 2013, 9:48 a.m.Willamette has changed my life in so many ways – it is hard to imagine life any different. Most importantly, I was introduced to my wife at Willamette, my career, my friends, my city – but in recollection, I am assuming many of these things are true for most universities. So what makes WU different? Here is a short list from my perspective:
1. I can walk on campus more than 10 years after graduation and my past professors, coaches and even campus staff still remember my name. Even better, those whom I never had in a class still give me the polite nod as if we were long lost friends.
2. Years later, I can approach nearly any student who was on campus at the same time I was and strike up a conversation – even if I never really knew the person. Remembering names is irrelevant as the common bond of WU carries the rapport and conversation.
3. I can reach out to any person in the WU community for help and they will be there – whether it is helping volunteer in the community, helping mentor a student, speak on a panel, or just lean on for advice.
4. Oh yeah, the education wasn’t too bad either!

Posted by Arminda Lathrop '03 on September 20, 2013, 1:46 p.m.I have Willamette and many generous scholarship donors to thank for showing me a world that is bigger and more complex than I could have imagined the day I first set foot on campus. Willamette has a special community of faculty who care deeply about their students' success. People like Carol Long and Julie Abendroth were not only great teachers; they also demonstrated patience, kindness, and joy in their teaching. They gave me support and confidence. I was shocked to enter grad school and learn that not all faculty are this way. :) Thanks, WU community, for a great education and a rewarding career.

Posted by Caitlin Horsley '09 on September 19, 2013, 11:29 a.m.Since graduating from Willamette, I can look back at my time in Salem and confidently say that it had a large hand in shaping the person and professional I am today. First and foremost, Willamette taught me to think and act in ways that will enrich my life along with those around me. Willamette encouraged me to find a way to not only survive in this tough economy, but search for fulfillment with the support of our large Willamette network backing me up post-graduation. Willamette was a great place to grow, learn, engage, and form life-long friendships.

Posted by Sue Corner '90 on September 18, 2013, 9:55 a.m.My time at Willamette most definitely changed my life. My closest and most treasured friends are the people I met when I was a student here. There are a handful of us who try to get together for a weekend a few times a year (we're a little spread out and have busy lives, so that's the best we can do right now). When we gather, there is an instant connection and collective memory that I don't share with anyone else. Even our kids (there are 13 kids among us) seem to have a special bond, even though they only see one another on rare occasions. I attribute all of that to Willamette and am grateful for it every day. These are women I admire professionally and personally - they are successful and thriving in so many ways, and I count myself very lucky to be in their company. Were it not for Willamette, they would not be the solid rocks in my life that I know them to be.

Willamette also changed my professional life. While a student, I fell in love with our beautiful campus and the idea of making a career of college. I knew I didn't want to teach, but the administrative side of academic life really caught my attention. Teresa Hudkins, Jim Booth, Frank Meyer and Sally Suby-Long all mentored me and gave me opportunities to learn about higher education as a career path, and I'm so very thankful for their guidance. I work at Willamette now, and love being a part of the admission function that gets to share Willamette with prospective students and families. I feel old now that I'm starting to see the children of my classmates visiting and enrolling!!

Posted by Caitlin Rathe '10 on September 17, 2013, 1:37 p.m.Before arriving at Willamette, I thought of myself as a shy, geeky, and goofy kid. But very quickly the close friends I made and the small size of campus gave me the confidence to try things I never thought I'd do, like join the cheer squad with one of my friends from Opening Days! Willamette is also unique in that you can take so many different kinds of classes; I was on track to be a biochem major, with lots of math classes, but ended up with a B.A. in economics and french lit. The way professors and the campus culture support wide-ranging curiosity has definitely contributed to where I am now in a history Ph.D. program with a future (fingers crossed!) in policy research. My four years at Willamette were an invaluable experience that changed the way I saw myself and the world, and for that I am grateful. Thanks WU!

Posted by CJ Koll '10 on September 16, 2013, 10:03 a.m.In one of my Willamette Chemistry classes I had a professor who would always give us time to develop questions before moving on to the next subject. This week was the first week with my 97 brand new high school chemistry students. Day 1 I asked all my students if they had any questions or reflections. Each time I asked, in my head my P-Chem professor was saying to me 'wait for 20 seconds. Don't rush the thinking process'. Therefore, I waited and waited and waited some more until there was an uncomfortable silence in the room. In one class, a brave student raised his hand and asked a wonderful question to clarify a statement about my policies. One point for my p-chem professor. He was one of many Willamette professors who were trying new things in class to push the learning process. He showed me the power of this teaching technique and it is a tool I constantly use in my own chemistry classroom to help shape the lives of my chemistry students.

Posted by Cathy "Rah-Rah" Tronquet '70 on September 16, 2013, 10:03 a.m.At Willamette, I found myself challenged by the academic standards, and was so lucky to be at a school where the professors took a real interest in helping students be successful. I had such a difficult time taking tests, that I was on academic probation my sophomore year. By my junior year, I was still struggling with grades, but I had professors who "believed in me"; the most memorable were Dr. Kestner and Al Berglund.

In October of my junior year, I almost quit school. I couldn't justify staying at Willamette with such poor grades. I went to Mr. Berglund, my academic counselor, to tell him I planned to leave. After a lengthy discussion, he wisely pointed out that I was running away, with no concrete plans. He said if I RAN AWAY, he would lose the respect he had for me, but if I came to him with a plan to RUN TO, he would do what he could to help me achieve it. He was right, I had no plans, except to RUN. He challenged me to stay at WU through the semester. By that time, my grades had improved, and by my senior year, Mr. Berglund was writing a recommendation for me to get into Graduate School!!

If not for the fact that Willamette professors can KNOW the students, and have that kind of impact, my life would have been very different. I have remembered Mr. Berglund's advice many times since that painful fall of 1968. With many decisions over the years, I've remembered my lesson, and asked myself, "Am I RUNNING AWAY from this challenge, or am I RUNNING TO this opportunity?"

Thank you Al Berglund, and thank you Willamette.

Posted by Lauren Vannini '13 on September 16, 2013, 10:01 a.m.Professor Courtney Dillard changed my Willamette experience. As an economics major, taking rhetoric courses was a bit out of my comfort zone. In "Creating Persuasive Campaigns" course, Professor Dillard opened my mind to education's professional application. Through my required internship for the course, I created a communications campaign for A.C. Gilbert's Discovery Village. This experience that I could document on my resume and in my portfolio of work, helped me gain other internships that were not through my academic department. My experience with Photoshop, community relations, and professional communication jump started my understanding of what the business sphere would require of me, post-Willamette. Stretching outside of my comfort zone, with her support and guidance, connected concepts from my economics and politics courses unlike any class that I had taken at Willamette because of the practical application in the community. Her mentorship within my job and grad school search was invaluable. I am so thankful to call Courtney Dillard a friend and proud to be a Bearcat.