Westmont College — the Christian, liberal arts school that sits at the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains — seems to be attracting more and more students from different backgrounds, as the college welcomed last week one of its largest and most diverse classes.
In 2017, 36 percent of its incoming students (410 for that year) identified as African American, Asian American, Hawaiian Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Native American or multiracial — totaling about 148 students. A year later, this figure inched up to 37 percent, corresponding to about 155 students out of the total 420. Last week, the figure jumped by two percentage points, a change that meant there were almost 180 students of color out of the incomers.
Irene Neller, the school’s vice president for enrollment, marketing and communication, believes this trend keeps up with the modern world.
“Graduates today need to gain a global perspective and international exposure to keep up to respond to the growing demands of our globally-interconnected workplaces,” she said. “The incoming students reflect our commitment to shape effective and compassionate global citizens who lead lives of significance.”
During the second half of last week, students from across the country and around the world were arriving to Westmont, their home for the next four years of their lives. Westmont — where the annual cost of attendance is well more than $60,000 — awarded four-year academic scholarships ranging from $6,000 to almost $38,000 each year to more than 90 percent of these incoming students. Scholarship funds often help create a campus environment that is not only ethnically diverse but also socio-economically diverse. Twenty percent of new students, for example, are the first in their family to attend college.
There are also fellowships set up for the school year to establish rapport in Westmont’s community. According to a statement, 56 new Augustinian Scholars and 14 Augustinian Fellows — named after Augustine, the Roman African saint — will “integrate Augustine’s ideas with a contemporary conversation about committed people of faith honoring their convictions while being deeply engaged with the wider issues of our society.” Twenty Presidential Fellows will also be working closely with the school’s president Gayle D. Beebe as part of a new program.
Last week, all these fellows and their classmates were welcomed by about 40 orientation team members, volunteers who unloaded the vehicles and delivered belongings to students’ rooms.
“What an incredible opportunity to welcome these students with exceptional service the moment they arrive,” said Angela D’Amour, dean of student engagement. “The orientation team looks forward to making the critical transition to college go smoothly. The first few days of college can be overwhelming, and hospitality can ease the angst of moving in.”
While seniors graduate with a commencement ceremony, the newcomers undergo the service of commitment. This ceremony welcomed students with faculty members in their robes, bagpipes and their first walk through the formal gardens to Kerrwood Lawn, which is the path that graduating seniors go through as part of their last walk.