The 3 W’s: Whitman, Walla Walla University, Walla Walla Community College

Audrey Kelly

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Whitman students rarely have the occasion to gussy themselves up, but the evening of Feb. 5 was one of those nights for Whitman seniors. They strode self-confidently through Reid Campus Center, ignoring the students in sweats eating from Café 66. Some adjusted their ties, others tugged down their pencil skirts. Before entering the Reid ballroom, they paused to pick up their name tag and proceeded through the doors, taking two steps before pausing in confusion.

It wasn’t just Whitman students.

There were other, unrecognizable people milling around in suits and pencil skirts. Young people whose faces didn’t look familiar. Students stood in clusters, some clutching plastic water glasses as if they were the most interesting objects in the world, some attempting to catch the rotating appetizer trays at every opportunity, some taking surreptitious peeks at the faces outside of their clusters.

They were all attending the Etiquette Dinner, an event organized by the three colleges together.

Whitman students are so accustomed to recognizing the faces that they see every day as they walk to class that it prevents them from remembering that there are two other institutions of higher education in Walla Walla, both serving Whitman-aged students.

Walla Walla University is a private university affiliated with the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Walla Walla Community College enrolls upwards of 12,000 students and has one of the premiere viticulture programs in the nation.

For many Whitman students, that is the extent of their knowledge of the two other institutions of higher learning in Walla Walla. There have been a few chances to engage with students beyond the Whitman bubble through school-sponsored programming such as the Tri-College Community Service Day hosted every year in April, but these chances are special opportunities.

Recently, career development centers at the three institutions have made intentional efforts to collaborate because of the administrative assets. While there are certainly many benefits to sharing resources to host events such as the Business Etiquette Dinner, three career developers see more subtle benefits as well.

“There’s not a lot of diversity at Whitman, particularly in experience. All three [institutions] have students with different experiences to learn from,” said Kimberly Rolfe, Director for Business Engagement at Whitman.

Walla Walla Community College’s Dean of Business, Entrepreneurial Programs and Extended Learning, Jessica Gilmore, echoed this sentiment in an email.

“All students, no matter which institution [they are from], benefit from collaborating with other students,” she said. “Each person brings a unique set of experiences, educational background and goals to the table. Creating opportunities for the students to share their unique qualities with others significantly enriches the educational experience for all.”

One such opportunity was the Business Etiquette Dinner on Feb. 5. Students from Whitman, Walla Walla University and Walla Walla Community College were strategically assigned table placements to encourage students to meet new people.

“We very intentionally assigned places at tables so that they would be mixed. However, a big piece [of being in a professional setting] is how to walk up to someone you don’t know and introduce yourself, and the SEC is trying to help students feel comfortable doing that,” said Rolfe. “We see the opportunity afforded by doing events with the other schools because Whitman students don’t know them, and we hope that Whitman students use that space to learn.”

Walla Walla University’s David Lindstrom, director of the Career Development Center, saw students at the Business Etiquette Dinner embracing the ambiance created in the Reid Ballroom.

“Coming together with the other schools inspired, and I think would inspire the students at future events to be even more professional than they would if they were in a familiar environment with only people they knew,” he said in an email.

The impetus and inspiration for the Business Etiquette Dinner and the subsequent collaboration came when Lindstrom saw Enterprise Holdings talent acquisition Manager Crystal Stanfield speak in a different context and thought that it would be a good experience for students of Walla Walla University to see her present. He approached Rolfe and Gilmore for collaboration because Stanfield would present for no charge if there were 150 students or more in attendance. All three administrators felt that their individual institutions would not have been able to muster up enough attendees, but with all three collaborating there were more than enough.

“There are differences in terms of resources and the students at the three schools often have different aspirations, but we all have one goal: to help young people become thoughtful, well-spoken individuals that are career-ready,” said Rolfe.

One of the resources Whitman has to offer to the equation is oftentimes locations such as the Reid Ballroom for collaborative events.

“It’s easy to use the space here in Reid because it’s centrally located and we have great unique spaces [at Whitman],” said Rolfe.

Lindstrom found the space at Reid to be an integral part of the success of the Business Etiquette Dinner.

“The Reid Center at Whitman is a classy environment, and I think it raised the level of excitement and the feeling of professionalism for the students who were able to be there,” he said.

That could change, however, which could give Whitman students a chance to venture off campus.

“The Business Club was so excited about the turnout and results of the Business Etiquette Dinner that they are hoping to plan and host the event themselves on the WWCC campus next year,” said Gilmore.

Rolfe said that the SEC would love to encourage an event with the other schools in a location other than the Whitman campus and stated that transportation would of course be organized for students without cars.

All three administrators echoed the desire to repeat the event next year, citing its usefulness for learning skills applicable to a professional environment, as well as the enrichment that participants got from discussing etiquette with students from different backgrounds and experiences.

While Rolfe, Lindstrom and Gilmore would be interested in organizing a career fair in order to create the critical mass necessary to attract recruiters from companies. One of the challenges is finding employers that overlap the interests of the students from all three institutions. Walla Walla University and Walla Walla Community College both have programs that are more technical than those at Whitman, plus the different backgrounds that students come from often lead them to have different goals for their careers.

Rolfe emphasized the potential she sees for the coming years.

“At the SEC we are making a real concerted effort to help all Whitman students develop into who they want to be and do what they want to do,” she said. “We love hearing thoughts and ideas from students because we want to innovate, iterate and change.”

As the SEC and its counterparts at Walla Walla University and Walla Walla Community College grow to share resources and ideas at events like the Business Etiquette Dinner, there are sure to be more instances where Whitman students’ eyes widen in surprise when they enter the Reid Ballroom. These are chances to learn about different experiences within this small town of Walla Walla, and it is time to seize these opportunities to connect.

Editor’s note: The version of this article published in the March 5 edition of The Pioneer incorrectly identified Walla Walla University and Walla Walla Community College as “subsidiaries” of Whitman College. All three institutions are unaffiliated with one another.

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