A few thoughts on the course of WTE

ReAnne Utemark

The Washburn Student Government Association’s resolution against funding any more Washburn Transformational Experience programs or trips. This makes sense, as the WTE is an administration mandate, rather than a student life mandate, for all incoming students from the 2006-2007 school year. I have had some interesting discussions about the WTE with administrators, students and participants in the program. I was not sure where I stood on the program.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have participated in two different transformational experiences. The first was a class which took place in various countries in Europe, which falls under the international education pillar of the WTE. The second was a trip to a history conference in New Mexico, which fell under the scholarly and creative pillar. This occurred before the “only one” rule was instituted.

Now that this perspective is understood, let me preface: I think the funding for WTE is a wonderful idea. That students who would not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in a transformational experience get to do so, is phenomenal. I think a school like Washburn, which has such an incredible student-to-faculty ratio, has a unique opportunity with the idea of a transformational experience.

That the faculty have terminal degrees in their field makes it even more beneficial. These faculty can mentor students to produce work beyond their years as an undergraduate, as was demonstrated at Apeiron on Friday. The WTE allows for students to do that research with some funding so they don’t have to take money from their probably already stretched paychecks that they have to earn in addition to being an overachieving student.

The WTE can help students who would otherwise have never stepped outside the boundaries of Kansas see the world around them, which is part of what a college experience is supposed to expose them to. The WTE can help provide the means to make up for hours spent helping the community rather than at their part-time or, in some cases, full-time jobs. The WTE can also help send students to places to look at dusty archives or to buy the materials or use the equipment that they need to complete the research that will help spur them on to graduate school, medical school or law school. In short, there are incredible benefits to the WTE.

The questions that remains are, would these students do this without WTE money, and will the students who are required to do it be transformed? There will always be a student who realizes they have not taken English until the second semester of their senior year. There will be many students who realize they have not fulfilled their WTE requirement until the same time. These students, who hurry through a research paper or enroll in LE100 just to fulfill the requirement, will probably not realize the benefits of the WTE. Nor will they have realized the benefits of the university. They will probably have come here to get their degree and get out. A mentality which, to my understanding, is something that the WTE program is trying to avoid.

While the WTE is trying to fight that mentality and I commend them, I think it would be better to have it done by students who have a desire to do it and by faculty who are willing to help. Forcing anything does not seem to be the best way to go about it. If students are willing to be transformed during the university experience, they will be. They will find their own ways of doing it, enjoy the experience and carry it with them for the rest of their lives. Those that are unwilling to be changed will not be and they will, indeed, walk across the stage at commencement the exact same person that they were when they walked on to campus the first time. A thought that, in its implications, is horrifying.