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Willamette changes lives

Willamette University enriches students’ lives for the better, according to “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges.”

The popular guide highlights the extraordinary links formed by master teachers with passionate students at the human-scale liberal arts college in Oregon's capital city.

Author Hilary Oswald extensively interviewed students and faculty when revising the 2013-14 edition of "Colleges That Change Lives," expanding the guide originally published in 1996 and written by New York Times education reporter Lauren Pope.

Oswald found students challenged by dedicated professors. In small classes, outstanding teachers plant seeds across fields of knowledge. Students not only harvest the fruits of their labor literally through the university's Zena farm and research forest, but they're encouraged to transform knowledge into action in their communities.

The commitment to service connects students, faculty, staff and the community.

"Maybe this collaborative spirit is born of Willamette's oft-quoted motto: 'Not unto ourselves alone are we born.' Students mention it. Professors point to it. It’s a guiding principle, not a marketing mantra,” writes Oswald. “Unlike megauniversities, where professors tend to defend their disciplines against all others and where turf wars are legendary, professors here see themselves as part of the whole.”

Art historian Ricardo De Mambro Santos celebrates the opportunity to teach at Willamette. Instead of colossal "knowledge machines" where 400 students were "shadows in the arena," the small liberal arts environment allows professors to form closer relationships with students. "I wanted to help them analyze and solve problems, not just memorize," said De Mambro Santos.

Oswald points to De Mambro Santos' work with students on Italian drawings, which reflects professors' passion for collaboration. Students "started providing ideas and analysis that I never would have imagined," said De Mambro Santos. "I was learning along side them. We were on fire."

Students and faculty shared this sentiment across academic disciplines. While employers and graduates report that a broad education is at the root of a flourishing career, Oswald noted a germane point in a quote from rhetorician Amber Davisson:

The thing we do is not about specialization. We don't let students confuse a degree and a career. We focus on analysis, and we expect a lot of critical thinking. We teach our students how to ask questions and answer them.

The top guides include important quantitative data, and Willamette fares well from this perspective. Earlier this month, Washington Monthly ranked Willamette 7th in the nation for service among liberal arts schools. The university was also named a Best Western College by The Princeton Review’s popular guidebook, “The Best 377 Colleges,” and it was included among "America's Top Colleges" by Forbes.

In "Colleges That Change Lives," Oswald captures the spirit of the university.

“The sense around campus is that Willamette is a rising star — a place that does its work well and has momentum to claim its rightful spot among the few colleges in this country that prioritize undergraduate education.”