The liturgical year starts not with the launch of January but with the lighting of the first Advent candle. With that tradition we renew our promise to watch and wait, usually with more ceremony than fear. This year, however, the ritual of setting flames to wax was eerily conflated with images of wind-borne embers and erratic plumes igniting the chaparral. On December 16, from the third floor at Westmont Downtown, many of us watched and waited as the frontline of the flames raced to the west, flying up the ridges and descending into the canyons of the Santa Ynez. The foliage of last spring, such splendor after the long drought, had become fuel.

Looking now over the scorched hillsides above us, we can be grateful for the mercy that spared our campus, even as we recognize that others suffered loss. In a recent blog, Felicia Song wonders if the fires might draw us closer to the "harassed and helpless" crowds that surrounded Jesus in Matthew's gospel. Caught up in both the fevered pace and the relative affluence of our professional lives, we seldom consider life without our "self-sufficiency.” Perhaps, as Felicia observes, the "fire-ravaged landscape" can stir us from "collective indifference to inequities and violence” in our world and boost our longing for “the arms of God.” Advent is a call to rejoice in God’s presence in the midst of our vulnerability, and a reminder that many “wait in lonely exile” until the coming of grace. 

No doubt, this Advent will be retold as the season when we had to reinvent the end of the semester. Even as we feared the threat to our campus, we were reminded how much of Westmont survives in the loyalty and good will that exist apart from our grounds. I don’t take for granted the brisk and collegial manner with which the faculty adapted to the moment, remaking final exams so they could be offered remotely. While we can thank the faculty for adjusting on the run, I am sure that the professors themselves will be eager to commend our risk managers Troy Harris and John Draper as well as the members of our fire brigade. For years the brigade has prepared to protect our campus, our offices, our research, and potentially our lives. So here’s a grateful shout-out to Tom Bauer (chief), Michael Vinogradski, Alex Vertsekha, Julian Saavedra, Mike Prather, Cipriano Paredes, Ariel Palomares, Viktor Markev, Memo Macias, Javier Guzman, Hugo Franco, and Tom Beveridge.

When I think of the Thomas Fire, I will also recall the two weeks when many colleagues gathered in our offsite headquarters at Westmont Downtown, each of us seeking our own corner to carry on our duties, but drawn easily into conversations about students, colleagues, and projects needing care. I will return to campus with a sense of having shared and reaffirmed our mission together during a time of uncertainty.

In any improvisation, as in Advent, there is something that begins anew.

Mark Sargent signaure

 

Updates

Westmont pathUPCOMING IN THE NEW YEAR

The unhealthy air and the raging fires led to the cancellation of several Christmas events on campus, so perhaps we can extend a little of the Christmas spirit into the opening of the new semester. After all, there’s Epiphany on January 6, the traditional commemoration of the Magi’s arrival, and the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25, the beginning of the new year for many medieval churches. Between January 6 and March 25—the 13th and the 79th days of Christmas, if you will—there are several academic events worthy of celebrating. All of them are designed to engage the full community, and I would love to encourage our students to take advantage of the opportunities. With that in mind, please consider ways to connect the events to some of your courses and programs . . .

mallampalliInstallation Ceremony for Chandra Mallampalli (February 5). The college will formally honor Chandra as the new Fletcher Jones Chair in the Social Sciences on Monday, February 5, with a full-regalia ceremony in the morning. The installation not only commends Chandra, but also reaffirms the value of scholarship for the life of the Christian. The events will include the morning service during chapel as well as an afternoon forum and a lecture by Chandra, entitled "Dangerous Knowledge? Reflections on the Protestant Legacy in India." (Note: The installation of Sandy Richter as the new Gundry chair will take place in April. More on that in a future report.)

A Journey Through African Sculpture: The Jere and Fima Lifshitz Collection (February 8 through March 24). Residents of Santa Barbara, Jere and Fima Lifshitz have collected African art for forty years, and many pieces in their collection will be on exhibit throughout February and March in the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art. The main exhibit will have multiple themes—including zoomorphic images, portraits, passages, and beliefs—and will be accompanied by a separate exhibit of African masks downstairs. Part of the exhibit will focus on ancient Nok culture, the Iron Age civilization that flourished during the first century before Christ in the area of modern Nigeria. The English Department and a few others have intentionally expanded their coverage of African themes in recent years, and this exhibit can certainly enhance our community's engagement with the aesthetic and intellectual worlds of Africa.

Knowledge in Crisis: Liberal Learning in a "Post-Truth" Age (March 22-24). The Gaede Institute's Seventeenth Annual Conversation will invite discussion on the role and future of the liberal arts during a time when disputes about knowledge, facts, and truth have become caustic in the media, politics, and the academy. The term "post-truth" was actually Dictionary.com's 2016 word of the year—an indicator of how much distrust has been the norm in civic discourse. The annual "Conversation" is a great opportunity for students to listen to scholars and enter the discussion about how we can avoid splintering into closed and competing information camps.

 

Anna JordanNEW PILOT DIGITAL COURSES FOR MAYTERM

This summer we will be adding a new layer to Mayterm when we will offer three pilot online courses. At present, many Westmont students transfer some online courses—often taken during the summer—toward their degrees, and the Academic Senate concluded that we would see if we could stir some interest in digital courses offered by Westmont faculty. 

Don Patterson, a veteran of several online courses and a leader of the Computer Science minor, will teach a hybrid version of CS-30: Abstract Models for Concrete Systems. Anna Jordan (photo), an adjunct professor in English with notable experience teaching online, will offer creative writing. A graduate of Westmont, she completed her M.F.A. at the University of Vermont and has published in several magazines and books and led multiple writing workshops. Paul Bradford, who directs the Office of Career Development and Calling, will oversee an offering of APP-190 online to enable students to complete an internship course remotely.  That will certainly assist the many students and advisors who want students to undertake internships around the country and around the world.

 

"ACROSS COLOR LINToyaMariah VelasquezES" RETURNS

Many of you will remember the film, dinner, and discussion series led a couple years ago by Toya Cooper and Mariah Velasquez. In the spring we will once again offer a version of "Across Color Lines," this time focusing on "10 People, 5 Films, and a Conversation about Race." The opportunity to watch some classic films and award-winning documentaries will enable participants to explore the historical and contemporary role of race in the United States, as well as its implications for how we live with and among one another.

Toya and Mariah will once again be guiding the series, and we hope that, like last time, the meals and films will enhance friendships, invite candor and trust, and challenge us to face some of the difficult questions about American history and society. The cinematic series is designed for staff members, with occasional visits by faculty guests. Look for the opportunity to sign up shortly after the New Year starts.

 

Volleyball westmontFALL SPORTS WRAP-UP

Another excellent fall athletic season came to an end with two of our teams—women’s soccer and volleyball—reaching the quarterfinals of the national tournament.  For the second straight year the volleyball team claimed the Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) title and completed the regular season undefeated. Libby Dahlberg was named the conference player of the year for the second consecutive season, and the team won the inaugural conference tournament, staving off three match points to upend Vanguard in five sets (photo). They finished the year with a record of 36-4. 

OldachWomen’s soccer just missed a conference title, losing on penalty kicks in the title game, but picked up two wins in the national tournament before eventually falling to national champion Spring Arbor in the quarterfinals. They ended the year at 16-4-2. For the first time since 2008, the men’s soccer team won the GSAC conference tournament and earned a berth in the national tournament. Both cross country teams finished second in the conference, as sophomore Michael Oldach (photo) put in a stellar performance to win the individual conference title in the race. The men’s team eventually claimed twenty-second place in the national meet.

Both basketball teams are off to winning starts this season, even as the fire has required some relocated practices and postponed games. Congratulations to John Moore for finishing 2017 by winning his 500th game as Westmont's coach with a victory over the University of Alberta.

 

Silvio VazquezCAMP NOU ("A NEW FIELD") FOR SILVIO VAZQUEZ

On both the east and west coasts, Silvio Vazquez and I have spent several hours together talking about numbers: the ups and downs of applications, attrition and conversion rates, the attendance on visit days, and the Patriots’ Super Bowl odds. Silvio loves the analytics, but I also enjoyed when the talk turned to language. I remember once discussing East of Eden with him during a Massachusetts winter, long before we both found ourselves together in California. For Silvio, marketing was often a search for the right metaphor. Of course, as an Argentinian and former midfielder, he eventually found a way to compare Westmont to Lionel Messi in one of our Admissions brochures. Admittedly, there is poetry in the inexplicable ways that Messi evades defenders, even as there was often a lyrical quality in the stories Silvio told about how Westmont changed lives. He clearly remembered the students he recruited—their names and aspirations, not just their numbers. If you want to hear stories with a touch of poetry, get him to recount his soccer matches with his son Rafa'el on the living room carpet. As he heads to Wheaton in January to become their Chief Enrollment Management Officer and resumes life in the snow, I know he will continue to find joy in showing off faculty to prospective families. Blessings, Silvio.

 

Elizabeth GardnerDISSERTATION AWARD FOR ELIZABETH GARDNER

Elizabeth Gardner, who completed her doctorate at the University of Maryland, was recently honored for writing the 2017 Outstanding Dissertation by the American Society for the History of Rhetoric. She presented a paper based on the research ("Establishing Adolescents' Rights through State Child Labor Legislation") at the National Communication Association Conference in November. Elizabeth also co-authored an article ("Understanding Instructor Immediacy, Credibility, and Facework Strategies through a Qualitative Analysis of Written Instructor Feedback in Qualitative Research Reports in Communication") for the publication Qualitative Research Reports in Communication.

 

Blood weddingHONORS, OFFICERS, AND AN INTERVIEW

Scott Anderson's poster for Westmont's production of Blood Wedding, directed by Mitchell Thomas, received a Gold Award from the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles.

A couple colleagues were recently elected to national roles. The Association of Christian Economists has chosen Edd Noell to serve as its vice president. Edd has enjoyed a long history of leadership within this group.

In November Holly Beers was elected to the Board of the Institute for Biblical Research.

The local NPR affiliate, KCLU, came to Westmont to do a story on whooping cough and how the research of Steve Julio is helping to improve the Steve Juliocurrent vaccine. The reporter interviewed Steve and his research students.

KCLU states that what's "happening at a lab in Santa Barbara could someday lead to whooping cough's rapid decline. . . In 2011, Julio found a gene in the bacteria called PLRS that plays a role in the disease. But it wasn't until more recently that he and his colleagues discovered how significant a role this gene plays."

For more on the story, you can check out the link: http://kclu.org/post/south-coa st-scientist-does-groundbreaki ng-research-whooping-cough-hop es-stopping-its-spread#stream/ 0

 

Smith, You AreMARTIN INSTITUTE BOOK AWARD GOES TO JAMES K. A. SMITH

On January 26, Westmont will present the third annual Martin Institute Book Award to Professor James K. A. Smith for his work You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. The book draws strongly on the ideas in his influential study Desiring the Kingdom, translating some of the key concepts for practices in homes and churches.  Smith describes “the formative power of culture and the transformative possibilities of Christian practice,” and envisions worship as the “imaginative station” that nurtures human loves and aspirations and directs our actions toward Kingdom service. 

A professor of philosophy at Calvin College, Smith speaks often—including leading a recent summer workshop at Westmont—on spiritual formation in the classroom. After developing his scholarly expertise in contemporary French philosophy, he has devoted his recent work to building bridges between the academy, society, and the church. He serves as editor-in-chief of Comment magazine, and has written for numerous periodicals, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and First Things. The award will be given in chapel on January 26, and he will speak the previous day at the Faculty Forum.

 

Die FledermausMUSIC AND THEATRE DEPARTMENTS PREPARE FOR STRAUSS OPERETTA

Since 2013, the Theatre Arts and Music Departments have collaborated on opera/operetta projects, both large and small. Over these years the departments have produced The Pirates of Penzance, The Old Maid and the Thief, The Servant Turned Mistress, Dido and Aeneas, and Jeptha. This March, the departments set their sights on one of the most popular vehicles in the operetta repertoire, when Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus (“The Bat”) opens at the New Vic Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara. The operetta’s razor-thin plot involves an elaborate practical joke played on Gabriel Von Eisenstein, who several years prior to the operetta’s action left a friend unconscious on a street dressed like a bat. The elaborate revenge for this humiliation will pull in Eisenstein’s wife, a maid, and a mysterious count, at whose villa a marvelous costume masquerade dominates the entire second act.

First performed in 1874, Die Fledermaus blended several popular Viennese musical styles, from waltzes to polkas, in a comic romp, and it avoided the elaborate costumes of most operas for less-expensive contemporary attire and sets—a smart move given the stock exchange crash the year before. In some respects, the high spirits of the music served Vienna during a time of depression much like American musicals in the 1930s.   

The departments are very excited about the opportunity to present the work of our students in downtown Santa Barbara. There are two performances only:  March 2 and 4. Ticketing details will be announced early in the spring semester.

 

Chris Milner in IdahoSOME GOLDEN WORDS FOR CHRIS MILNER

Chris Milner began this academic year—her 40th and her final one at Westmont—viewing the total eclipse in Idaho with her husband Brian (photo). “We especially enjoyed watching the darkness roll over the hills and valley below us,” she reflects, “and then surround us in all its beauty.”  Chris has always had an eye for beauty in the landscape, whether hiking with friends in the Santa Barbara foothills or along the bluffs of Scotland with students in the Kinesiology Mayterm program. As a professor, she has helped others enjoy movement, most notably the aging population and the people with disabilities whom she has studied and served. 

As usual, we will find time during the spring semester to honor Chris upon her retirement, though I have also typically saved space in these reports to share a few words of tribute to each retiree. In this case, those words of tribute came easily from her Kinesiology colleagues. 

“I honestly can’t imagine the department without her,” Cynthia Toms admits. “She has been an advocate, leader, and encourager, and has made us a family.” “Chris is thoughtful, inquisitive, careful, patient, creative, supportive, and organized,” Russell Smelley observes, “and bold, inclusive, and futuristic in her thinking.” Some prime evidence for this forward thinking has been the strong role Chris had in creating the Kinesiology program, often our largest major during the last ten years. As Dave Wolf notes, “I have really appreciated Chris’ steady hand and ‘on point’ messaging. She has wisely cultivated the gift of delivering the ‘right message at the right time.’”

Gregg Afman recalls some of the shared travel experiences on many Mayterms: “Chris is a wonderful friend who listens and cares. She is also the consummate planner . . . Her planning skills are so fine-tuned that I as her departmental near-sighted travel partner could read print and maps while her far-sighted self could see distant signs that I could not!  Amazing!”

Many of her colleagues applaud her selflessness and respect for character. “Chris has raised up women as leaders and encourages us,” Cynthia claims. “She is salt and light, the very best kind of human because you always leave her office and presence better than when you first walked in.” According to Russell, "if Chris had lived in Palestine 2000 years ago, she would have had the heart and wisdom to know to follow and serve the newly revealed Christ.”

Twenty years ago Chris sent John Moore a bookmark with a devotional that he still frequently reads. That bookmark asserts that “it only takes a small EXTRA effort to be better than most.” “Chris has modeled that extra effort,” John states, “and has done it with dignity and an incredible attention to detail. One more thing. The older I get the more I appreciate trustworthy people. Chris is one of the most trustworthy people I know. Her word is golden, her actions are honorable, and our students and faculty benefit from this deep devotion.”

I know Chris will find plenty of time for walks in the years ahead, and I am sure she will continue to find beauty in the land that she explores and in the company that she keeps.