Willamette University: Rich in history, innovative and committed to service
Willamette University’s motto takes a bit of effort to unpack: “Not Unto Ourselves Alone Are We Born.” Even the university’s website notes, “You may not immediately understand its full meaning when you see it,” but for Dean of Admission Mary Randers, the message conveys a commitment to others, which is central to how Willamette inspires its students to go out into the world.
“To me, the motto is about taking the great benefit we gain from learning and connecting within the Willamette community, and think critically about how to use our talent to help others and change the world,” she observed. “We take a really solid foundation, a liberal arts curriculum, we bring students up in learning how to think critically and communicate to one another, but from everything from student affairs to athletics to alumni activities, it’s all grounded in this idea of service and contribution.”
Randers points out that the school, which dates back to 1842, “is the oldest institution in the West, and was established before Oregon was even a state. And yet, it’s very innovative and has been throughout its history.”
She explained, “Our first graduate was a woman, and we’ve recently added programs needed in today’s world like public health and data science. Most recently, Willamette is challenging the status quo in our region. We recently announced a 20 percent tuition reset for Fall 2021, and we’re challenging regional partners to come together to address that college costs have risen to unattainable levels for many of the families we serve.”
She also notes, “We don’t just educate students by talking at them or asking them to simply absorb knowledge. But, at Willamette we challenge students, and the faculty who lead them, to turn knowledge into action.”
The location in Salem, Oregon also provides some distinct advantages. The campus is just 76 feet from a state capitol building—they measured last year—in an urban setting, but it’s also an hour from the mountains, an hour from the ocean, and less than an hour from Portland, which offers an even larger urban setting with a distinct and innovative approach to city life.
Randers, familiar with NHI from her time at Southwestern University, notes that Willamette joined the NHI College Register last year. “Willamette has always been committed to access — it is the most ethnically and socio-economically diverse college in our region,” she remarked. “But, over the last few years we’ve been trying to demonstrate that commitment actively and more formally through our recruitment efforts.”
She added, “We see a real mission alignment between Willamette and NHI in our shared commitment to developing leaders who generously serve others and create positive change in their communities.”
It’s been a trailblazing college in other ways as well. Though the college football world celebrated Sarah Fuller’s pioneering play at Vanderbilt University, as the first woman to play and score for a Power Five team, Willamette’s Liz Heaston broke both college football barriers with the Bearcats in 1997.
And Randers is optimistic that Willamette will continue to be a distinctively groundbreaking college even as American higher education undergoes changes. “We need people who can find their passion, find how they need to contribute to this world, and to do some good out there,” Randers observes, noting that the current college landscape can be daunting for students trying to find that right fit.
“I’m so inspired that everyone finds their place,” she says of Willamette’s alumni. ”For some that path is politics, for others the performing arts, others are entrepreneurs, scientists, and educators. No matter how they contribute, our alumni are united by turning Willamette’s motto into mission-driven lives. That’s the thing about Willamette that really inspires me every day … the students are told over and over and over again, it’s possible for you to make a difference. They take that to heart and go out to do amazing things in the world.”
This article is part of a series featuring NHI College Register members. To learn more about Willamette University, visit its website. To learn more about College Register, visit its page on the NHI website.