GUEST COLUMN - Campaign seeks to solidify Whitman's future in Valley

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Recently, Whitman College announced the launch of a major fundraising campaign, titled "Now Is the Time."

It began quietly in 2007 with a vision to provide greater support in three areas that are critical to Whitman: advancing excellence in our academic programs, expanding endowed scholarship support for our students and increasing Whitman's overall financial strength.

Announcement of the $150 million campaign may come as a surprise in these uncertain economic times.

While Whitman is strong financially by some measures, strengthening Whitman is imperative. A Whitman College education provides graduates with the competencies they need to thrive in their chosen work and to make them strong leaders; we owe it to our students to develop the resources necessary to provide the highest quality experience possible.

Additionally, Whitman competes for talented faculty, staff and students with the very best liberal arts colleges in the nation, and our financial strength relative to many of these schools pales in comparison.

Our campaign will enable Whitman to add new faculty members, provide more opportunities for students to learn experientially, and globalize its curriculum. Most importantly, it will strengthen Whitman's financial foundation in perpetuity, growing our endowment so that the college can, in part, ensure that Whitman has the resources to provide the best education possible.

The campaign also will provide permanent endowed support for our financial aid program, to ensure that a Whitman education is accessible financially to students who earn admission.

"Now is the Time" is the first publicly announced campaign by the college in 25 years, and it will bring enormous benefits to our students, to our faculty and to the college as a whole, underwriting excellence in all areas of Whitman.

It would be impossible for me to talk about Whitman's excellence without sharing our belief that the college would have great difficulty achieving its mission or retaining its unique, affirming and engaged culture in a place other than Walla Walla, and I am so honored to thank the many community members, neighbors and organizations that support Whitman in many ways.

The Walla Walla Valley is among the college's greatest assets; its geographic location compliments Whitman. The town's relative isolation from large cities means there are fewer distractions than in urban settings, and, because of this, the relationships our students foster here often are stronger and last longer than those developed at colleges where students live far from campus or commute to school.

It's a joy for me to talk to Whitman alumni whose best friends are still the ones they met while living in Walla Walla.

Walla Walla's geographic location also provides our students with the opportunity to explore the area's diverse landscape. In fact, one of the themes upon which Whitman delivers to prospective students is the unique "sense of place." The "place" that Whitman is - the geographic location and the regional environment - helps us attract students, as well as faculty and staff.

I also believe that Whitman is a great asset to Walla Walla. Our students serve as volunteers and a labor force and our staff and faculty support the local economy and serve on countless committees and boards of organizations that strengthen our community. It is our privilege to offer myriad cultural and educational opportunities and public events. We are and will continue to be a private institution with a very strong commitment to public service.

The liberal arts education that Whitman offers holds profound value for our society. We teach students to take in the expanse of ideas available in today's information society and to determine what's important and filter the rest in order to create synthesized understanding.

Our commitment to developing students' skills in critical reasoning, effective communication and collaborative work enables them to imagine creative new futures for our communities and fosters habits of mind that will forever guide their lives.

Our students become leaders in their communities and in their professions.

The need couldn't be greater for leaders whose capacity for reasoning enables them to embrace complexity, for leaders who communicate clearly and effectively and can work collaboratively with others to address difficult global challenges, for leaders who view technology as a tool for solving problems rather than a solution to the problems, and finally for leaders who acknowledge the critical importance of learning as an end in itself.

We believe learning leads to a life of meaning. Whitman graduates learn how to think well, to question and to explore ideas deeply and fully. These are the qualities our world desperately needs.

This campaign will enable Whitman to sustain the unique teaching and learning that make our graduates agents of change in the world. Now is the time!

George Bridges is president of Whitman College.

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