Just a year ago, COVID-19 forced us to “go remote.” For the past year, the protocols of the pandemic have hidden from view so much of what we take to be normal college life. We have been robbed of the casual interactions with students in the context of chapel, on the sidewalk or in the dining commons.
I am delighted to report to you today that the transforming work of a Houghton education continues to flourish even amid these strange times. I have seen the evidence firsthand in recent days.
In the Classroom
First, it was the five STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) students who asked for a Zoom meeting with me and our Marketing Director so they could tell us how much their Houghton education exceeded all of their own hopes and expectations. For an hour, we listened as the students from our Pre-Med, Pre-Vet, Pre-Physical Therapy, Physics and Data Science programs regaled us with evidence of their learning experiences in the Paine Center for Science. They praised our Science Honors program, the availability and excellence of the faculty, their preparation for standardized examinations like the MCAT, and their opportunities to do collaborative research with faculty on real-world problems such as Alzheimer’s. They were eager for their stories to reach the next generation of prospective STEM students!
Second, I had the privilege of participating in the accreditation process of our Teacher Education program. The visiting accreditation team was lavish in reporting on their engagement with our students as they testified to the ways they were challenged in the classroom and nourished in the context of a caring multi-generational learning community. Our students experience firsthand modeling and mentoring that they will be able to infuse in their own future classrooms in this country and around the globe.
Third, I met in person with this semester’s Honors in London cohort as the students created together “London-in-Houghton” in the Dan and Brenda Dix MVP Room inside the Kerr-Pegula Field House. Even masks and social distancing did not deter their efforts to explore the origins of the modern world—and to make sense of the contemporary circumstances in which they are living out their own lives. Despite the delay in their travel plans to London, they have become here on this campus the kind of distinctive Christian liberal arts learning and worshipping community that we associate with a Houghton education.
Fourth, I have been interacting throughout the semester with students as part of my final chapel series, “Do You Have Any Questions?” When I invited students to send in their own questions for consideration as part of the series, I was gratified to see that, even in the midst of the pandemic, Houghton students are asking the large human questions! They are participating in the timeless conversation about the mystery and wonder of our existence that draws in people from all times and places. Even though I would much prefer seeing students across the room or across the table, I rejoice in the opportunity to be part of this same dialogue with aspiring undergraduates that has energized me for the past forty years of my professional journey.
Finally, one of our students recently came to my office, asking explicitly for an in-person appointment with the president. Given the persistence of the student, I assumed this was going to be a difficult conversation about something that the student was unhappy about. He began by telling me how grateful he was for something the college had done. I expected that to be only the introduction to what would then become the real reason for his visit. So, I said, “Thank you so much, and what can I do for you?” He said, “Nothing, I just came to say thanks.” I thought I had seen everything over the course of my time working with undergraduates, but this was a first: someone who simply came to say “thanks.”
It was a gift to me—and a challenge—to focus in this second Lenten season of the pandemic on the things for which we can be grateful. Today, first on my list of gratitude is the amazing community of Houghton College students who have resolutely and faithfully persisted to seize the opportunity of an education in circumstances that none of us would have chosen. They have exhibited a maturity in the classroom (both in person and remote), on the athletic field, in their music performances and in their community life together that serves as a model to our entire Houghton alumni community. We should all be exceedingly proud to have them as part of the greater Highlander family!
May you experience in your own life today, even in these final days of Lent, the joyful anticipation of Resurrection.
Shirley A. Mullen, Class of 1976