What I like about Whitman and Walla Walla

After last week’s post, I realized a note of melancholy had crept in. That’s no good for public relations, and it’s not making me any happier. I decided to reflect a bit on what I like about Whitman and Walla Walla, both the ridiculous and the sublime.

As I’ve gotten to know the community here, I’ve been learning there are additional complexities to many of these points – but I will save those complexities for another time.

Things I liked before I accepted the job

Whitman is a highly ranked liberal arts college. Forbes Magazine ranks Whitman College #50 among all colleges and universities, #21 among liberal arts colleges, #8 in the West, and #1 in the Pacific Northwest. The faculty and students I met at Whitman lived up to the reputation. (I particularly liked Albert Schueller and other members of the interdisciplinary CS steering committee.)

The math department is housed in the Olin Building with mostly humanities faculty, creating some neat opportunities for chance encounters and informal interactions.

Whitties design great posters! They are all around the academic buildings. I first noticed a lovely series of posters educating on phishing and other computer security attacks, which I later learned were created by a student on WCTS commission. Then I noticed all of the COWS posters, which I am sure are Lydia McDermott’s brainchild. There are thoughtful, eye-catching posters addressing serious social issues like cultural appropriation, as well. And who wouldn’t want to join Fencing Club “because someday, someone will insult your honor”?

Whitman College Technology Services has it together. I’ve been impressed by everyone I’ve met. For someone who teaches computer science, that is a big deal.

Whitman has a generous sabbatical policy and a thoughtful family/medical leave policy.

Walla Walla is a small city of about 45,000. Thanks to a burgeoning wine tourism industry, there are not only many tasting rooms, but more and better restaurants and shopping than you would expect to find in a town of this size.

The name “Walla Walla” refers to the many small creeks that run throughout the town.

I can’t say “Walla Walla” without smiling.

The Columbia River is less than an hour away. The Blue Mountains, visible from the edges of town, are not much farther. Whitties can rent equipment from the Outdoor Program Rental Shop.

Walla Walla’s tiny airport has a direct flight to Seattle. The drive through the Columbia Gorge to Portland is beautiful.

It’s the West. During the summer, the humidity is low and you can smell the dust in the air. It’s hot during the day but cool at night. Spring and fall are long and mild.

Whitman has a beautifully landscaped campus designed around College Creek. There are many mature trees and a large collection of sculptures.

After the Gold Rush, Walla Walla was the banking capital of the Pacific Northwest and slated to be the Washington State capital. There are many grand houses near campus and downtown. Lots are small and housing is dense; the neighborhoods feel less like a small rural town and more like Seattle’s old streetcar suburbs. The mix of house styles reminds me a lot of Portland or Seattle, even though Walla Walla turned out to be a much smaller town.

Walla Walla is in Sunset garden zone 3B: “This is fabulous country for annual vegetables and flowers and a long list of perennials, trees, shrubs, and vines.” We’ve seen everything from sumac to Rose of Sharon to hardy bananas. I am so looking forward to gardening here.

Things I have learned since moving here

Whitman is really into tennis. There are outdoor courts at the center of campus, and they are always busy, whether with team practice, students playing for fun, or community members. There is also a whole building devoted to tennis that I haven’t been into yet. (I don’t play, but I might have to learn.)

Whitman claims to be a block from downtown, but it’s actually less than a block.

I’ve been amazed at how Olin empties out at 4 p.m. You can see the students out playing on Ankeny Field at the heart of campus. On the whole, Whitman seems to be a remarkably healthy place, and I’ve been feeling healthier myself since moving here.

COWS hosts faculty writing hours twice a week during the academic term. (This blog would be at a standstill without them.)

Whitman has amazingly efficient faculty meetings. None yet has lasted longer than an hour, even with controversial topics on the agenda.

Whitman has good programs for bringing faculty to work and socialize together over food: Lunch at the Baker Center three times a week, the weekly noontime Faculty Forum in which faculty present on their research or teaching, and occasional workshops sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning. And the food is pretty good, too.

The offices in Olin have great big windows. I was worried my office at Whitman would be a step down from my office at Grinnell, but it’s not.

Whitman’s on-campus health and counseling center is open 24/7 while the College is in session.

Whitman has had gender-neutral housing for more than 20 years. ASWC recently passed a resolution regarding preferred gender pronouns. Mike Osterman, Director of Enterprise Technology, has been leading efforts to let students’ preferred names, instead of their legal names, appear in the campus directory and on course rosters.

Whitman’s Power & Privilege Symposium was created by ASWC in 2012 and has been organized by students each year since.

People are very friendly. When Brooks and I were checking references for building contractors, I was surprised by how many invited us to see their homes.

Walla Walla has a thriving arts scene. Shakespeare Walla Walla brings in terrific performances from out of town such as the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s production of As You Like It and the Guy Mendilow Ensemble’s Tales of the Forgotten Kingdom. We bought season tickets to Whitman’s Harper Joy Theater (cheap!); we were really impressed by the first play we saw, the College’s production of David Ives’ The Liar.  And we’ve gotten a couple of invitations to events at the Walla Walla Symphony, something we would not have done on our own.

Walla Walla has a strong civic community. Whitman’s Student Engagement Center is pretty good at helping faculty get engaged as well. I wrote earlier about community based-projects in my Human-Computer Interaction class. I’ve been particularly impressed by the role of Community Council in the region’s public deliberation and I look forward to learning more about the organization. But I’ve also had interested people in the community reach out to me.

I met with Science Outreach Coordinator Heidi Chapin yesterday and learned about Whitman’s programs. I am so happy that her position exists.

So many students and faculty are so excited to have computer science at Whitman!


That’s all for now; I may add more later. Happy Wednesday!

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