What do I love about Westmont? Everything. I answered this question recently and loved being able to respond so quickly and so emphatically. Yes, we have our challenges, but I believe there is no other college or university doing so many interesting things on such an intimate scale with such consistent impact. Let me give you just one great example.
This week I met with Tom Fikes and Carmel Saad, faculty members in our psychology and neuroscience department. Both professors possess keen intellects, warm hearts and a passion for pursuing knowledge and the life-changing impact they can make on our students. Our discussion involved (among other things) crafting an empirically-based research project demonstrating the unique and compelling benefits of a liberal arts education. What a fantastic undertaking.
Tom specializes in brain-based research and how we understand neuroscience, biology and the dynamic interplay of consciousness and the processes of life. Carmel focuses on social psychology, and her most recent research explores how a bi-cultural identity stimulates creativity. Both are engaged in some of the most cutting-edge research in their fields, and they bring that study and passion to their work at Westmont. Another great professor at Westmont involved in this initiative is Jeff Schloss, a biologist who holds the T. B. Walker Chair in the Natural and Behavioral Sciences. The founding director of the Center for Faith, Ethics and Life Sciences, Jeff has done extensive research in how different activities stimulate the release of oxytocin, cortisol, adrenaline and other human hormones that indicate comfort, attachment, and stress.
As a key element of this work, Westmont will launch a longitudinal study on how the brain develops and matures as a result of a Westmont education. Beginning with the class of 2018, we will invite 50 first-year students every year to have their brain mapped at the beginning of their time at Westmont, after they complete two years, and after they return home from a semester abroad through one of our overseas programs. We will invite them back three years, five years and seven years after they graduate to discover how they continue to grow and develop.
Many aspects of this project excite me, including the insight it will provide into the profound impact an undergraduate, residential, Christian liberal arts education can make on our growth, development and long-term engagement with life. Each one of us wants to find meaning in life—we want to make a difference and engage in the education and experiences that give us the greatest likelihood of making an impact that outlives us. Being able to identify, understand and address life’s great questions while discovering rich and compelling responses is only one of the many reasons I love Westmont.