Message to Prospective Students from Willamette President

by Marketing and Communications,

  • aerial view of Willamette University with Waller Hall and the Star Trees in foreground

Looking forward to the fall.

I wanted to follow up my message to you from this past weekend with information addressing some of the specific concerns you may have as you think about becoming a member of the Willamette University community.

Willamette faculty and staff have been working hard to ensure that plans are in place to return to on-campus life and classes as quickly and safely as possible. I am also serving on a committee of college presidents advising the State of Oregon on the high-priority task of “re-opening” higher education, as the pace of new COVID-19 infections begins to decline and widespread testing becomes more available.

Although we cannot yet be certain about either the course of the pandemic or federal or state actions, I expect colleges and universities will be able to safely open as long as they can maintain group sizes below about 50 people, implement some modified social distancing practices (e.g., closing buffet lines with shared serving utensils in the dining halls), and closely monitor the health of members of our community.

Many large universities will likely be forced by those constraints to continue offering their instruction on-line, but Willamette’s size and structure make it easier to keep in-person class sizes small and to work within health department guidelines. When I was at the University of California, I often taught 200 people in one lecture hall. Here at Willamette, our average class size is just 17 students — a great help for planning “low-density” instruction.

Because we have heard that shared housing is a concern for some families, we are going to make a single-room residence hall option available to first-year students, at least through the fall semester. I think it is noteworthy, too, that unlike many other schools that forced students to go home this spring, we maintained open residence halls, including dining options, throughout the current semester for students who needed or desired to remain on campus.

We have also been thinking about the academic and personal challenges you have faced in your disrupted senior year. We want you to know that it is important to us that you get proper credit for the work you have done, and that we are ready to help fill in gaps if necessary. As an example, we will offer additional tutoring resources in math in the fall to make sure nobody falls behind in their readiness for a college science class just because senior-year AP Calculus fell apart in its final weeks. We also plan to offer several optional four-week, half-credit “bridge” classes this summer in math, chemistry, creative writing, environmental science, public health, sociology, and more for those who feel their education was short-changed by the disruptions of this spring. These on-line classes will showcase some of Willamette’s best teachers.

I am exceedingly proud of how well our faculty and staff made the quick transition to learning-at-a-distance this spring. It has been remarkable how their concern for quality and authentic engagement still shows through. But after a while, even the liveliest Zoom seminars and drop-in office hours begin to wear thin. We are all looking forward to being together in Salem again soon.

I hope that in the midst of this tough spring, you are able to maintain hope that these challenges will pass. Stay optimistic about the exciting opportunities your college years will bring. If you have questions or concerns, or if, for any reason, you need to delay your May 1 decision date, please do not hesitate to email or call your admission counselor. If you reply to this message, I will forward your question to whoever can answer it most directly and quickly.

I am looking forward to meeting you and welcoming you to Willamette soon.

With best wishes,

Steve Thorsett
President

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