Our Stories

Welcoming a New Class

A median high school GPA of 3.76, 34 valedictorians and 6 salutatorians, a median SAT score of 1,230 and ACT composite score of 27, almost half in the top 10 percent of their class -- these are the characteristics of Willamette University's Class of 2011.

The 516 new undergraduates arriving on campus this fall come from 27 states and 16 countries, and 54 percent are women. Twelve percent are first-generation college students, and 21 percent are multicultural or international.

It's easy to just focus on numbers, but who are these new students? Meet three of them.

Megan HorningMegan Horning
Megan Horning attended high school in Page, Ariz., on the northern border of the Navajo reservation, and 80 to 90 percent of her classmates were Navajo. So it seemed a little strange when she tried to join her school's Navajo Language Club and found she was the only member.

She already had taken three years of Navajo language classes, and despite not being Navajo herself, she knew she had to revive the club. Soon she and her classmates were premiering Native-produced films in town, inviting Native artists to visit, hosting concerts by Native punk rock bands. Last summer -- after months of raising money for the trip -- she traveled with the club to Seattle to participate in a tribal canoe journey.

"It was important for us to continue the Navajo language," she says. "The language and the culture are dying, and they're being replaced by things that aren't always good for people."

During all this, Horning still found time to run cross country and track, and she excelled academically, becoming one of five valedictorians in her class. She earned Willamette's prestigious Mark O. Hatfield Scholarship for Public Service, a full-tuition award that goes to only one freshman each year -- someone with strong academic and leadership skills who is committed to public service.

Horning feels her work with the Navajo people in her community was the most worthwhile. "We wanted to show the kids that their culture is beautiful."

Sol CooperdockSol Cooperdock
When Sol Cooperdock graduated high school, he knew he eventually wanted to go to college, just not right away. "I feel like a lot of people just jump right into college," he says. "I didn't want to do that. I wanted to get myself dirty, do some hard work."

So even though he had been accepted at Willamette, he asked if he could defer his admission for a year. He had some soul-searching to do, and for him that meant leaving his home in Concord, N.H., to join Americorps. He went to the Mojave Desert area of Nevada and spent a year working for the Nevada Conservation Corps.

Cooperdock planted trees, built trails and blocked off makeshift roads that drivers had used to cross the desert. But it wasn't just manual labor -- he also discovered important science lessons about the delicate ecosystem of the desert. "I can identify most desert plants now. I learned a lot -- way more than I learned throughout high school."

This fall he's making the transition back to academia as he enters Willamette. "I definitely think I can do more if I get a degree. It will help me no matter what type of job I choose."

Emily TerrellEmily Terrell
For Emily Terrell, cooking isn't just a survival tool, it's a creative outlet. Since arriving on campus, she already has discovered Salem's downtown farmers market and bought fresh tomatoes and basil there to make pasta sauce for her friends in Terra House residence hall.

Using organic gardening practices, buying produce directly from local farmers, cooking healthy fresh dinners, taking care of the land -- these are all things Terrell learned in high school when she helped organize the Boise Urban Garden School, or BUGS for short.

It began when she was in eighth grade and a teacher convinced her to spend her summer helping BUGS get its start by turning an abandoned, weed-filled field behind a church into a beautiful garden. The program teaches youths ages 11 to 14 how to grow their own organic produce and turn it into healthy meals.

By the time she graduated high school, Terrell had written grant applications and solicited donations, served as secretary on the program's board of directors, and mentored younger students in sustainable, healthy eating practices. These practices also are followed at Willamette by food service provider Bon Appétit, a major reason Terrell was drawn to the campus.

"It's great to see how the young kids can start out learning these principles, teach them to their friends and family, and carry them on for the rest of their lives," Terrell says.