Willamette faculty, staff foster strong relationships with students

by Jennifer Johnson,

  • Faculty member talks to international students and their families at event he hosts at his house.
    Willamette Law Dean Curtis Bridgeman speaks to international students at an event he hosted at his home a few years ago. Bridgeman and his wife, Beth, welcome students in a variety of ways. When Willamette Law has had female students from Muslim countries, Beth has taken them out to tea as a group each semester.

One evening at midnight, Professor of Law David Friedman received a text from a student. 

The student was preparing for the bar and requested to talk first thing in the morning. Friedman texted back, “I’m up now,” and they talked through what was going on.

While the timing of the text was unusual, the fact that Friedman had given the student his cell number was not. 

Students are usually in a period of great transition in their life, he said, whether they’re adults switching careers or preparing for their first professional experience.

He often reaches out by giving his cell number or turning Starbucks into an informal office space to field bar prep questions. Sometimes, students don’t have other people they can turn to or they’re afraid to ask anything in general, he said. 

“It’s just what I do,” he said. “If you have a relationship you build day-to-day with students, they’re much more inclined to talk to you.” 

For a lot of faculty and staff at Willamette, small things matter. Making students feel supported and welcomed is a priority, and the university’s recent ranking stems from true stories. 

Faculty care deeply about students’ professional growth. When Alfredo Zuniga ’12 contacted Associate Professor of Biology Jason Duncan to learn more about the subject, Duncan gave Zuniga his own project and trained him for 18 months in a one-to-one lab setting, an experience essentially unheard of at larger colleges. After Athletics Communications Director Robert McKinney found out Brandon Chinn ’14 was curious about media jobs, he gave Chinn an increasing number of writing responsibilities — game day programs, player biographies, stories about athletic events — that prepared him well for his first job with the Portland Trail Blazers. 

But faculty and staff also appreciate the comfort food can bring to students. Over Thanksgiving, Willamette Law Dean Curtis Bridgeman and his wife, Beth, have handed out cookies and coffee at the library. In the spring, they hosted a barbecue for his contracts class — he agreed to hold the dinner if every student correctly answered a particularly tricky part of an exam. 

Reyna Meyers, administrative program coordinator for classical studies, and her husband Craig have hosted several groups of students — Opening Days leaders, students from the Willamette Law Review and Tokyo International University of America, the Native and Indigenous Student Union — at their home for countless dinners or to make fry bread. 

Even from India, MBA’s Director of Recruitment Juliet Valdez made one student feel at home. 

Before Valdez traveled to Bangalore for work, she met Rakesh Muddukrishna ’20, a native of the city, to learn more about the city. During their lunch, she immediately sensed two emotions: excitement and sadness. 

“He was so excited to tell me everything about the city but he was sad he couldn’t be there to show me around,” she said. 

Muddukrishna, who kept in touch with Valdez during her trip, offered to connect her with his sister, Kavana. Of course Valdez would meet her — they ended up shopping together. Valdez returned to Willamette with a gift from his sister and a box full of his favorite snacks and sweets. 

“I always put the student first,” Valdez said. “Our MBA program is two years. To me, this is two years away from a student’s family, network and support system. We do our best to make sure students are supported.”

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