Abigail Padilla

Managing Editor

One of the most unique things about Whittier College is our Whittier Scholars Program major. This program essentially allows you to major in anything you want; even if the school does not have your specific major. The program is better known as WSP, which allows students to design their own major and make it their own so it fits their exact needs and interests. 

Dr. Michelle Chihara, director of Whittier Scholars Program, explains it as a different way of making decisions in your college career. “[We all] have to make choices between depth and breadth,” she emphasized. Whether it is WSP or a catalog major, we all have to make decisions about how we approach the requirements for majors. In WSP, professors teach about the ways departments make decisions about degree requirements, such as why one required course would be traded for another, so students can apply that same logic. 

“They know what they’re learning and why,” says Chihara, “[we are] teaching you about other majors so you can create your own.” 

“The practice of designing one’s own degree (or of examining an existing degree in WSP 101–perhaps with the intention of adding a WSP minor) will inherently lead an individual to ask a few questions–who designed this course or set of courses? What’s the intended outcome of this course? What’s the purpose of it being designed in such a way (and of having an intended outcome)? That’s all in the abstract, but it naturally leads to a large amount of discussion and research in this direction,” explained Professor Scott Creley, who has been teaching at Whittier for about a decade. 

Any student is a good candidate for WSP, but students who are just curious about college, may be the best. “We’re able to tap into the benefits of a liberal arts education [while] having a real structure directed at depth and breadth,” Creley emphasized. 

Chihara expanded, “[w]e have an enormous respect for all disciplines… we don’t want students to not go deep anywhere.” She finds that students are concerned with closing doors, and while she “has compassion for those who want to keep all doors open”, she knows you “[c]an’t move forward without closing [one].” “There is more than one job, more than one path that will make you happy. And you only have to find one.” In general, Chihara noticed that the students in the program want work that is meaningful. 

Chihara shared a story about her first student; this student was interested in latiné authors, and how those authors were published, marketed, and so forth. Through WSP, the student got a grant to go to Texas and visit an independent publisher run by latiné people. The student got to interview many authors, talking to them about their experiences, and ended up making a great senior project. After Whittier, the student went on to get a degree in library sciences; the student currently works as an archivist. In that way, the Whittier Scholars Program allows you to dive deep into your areas of passion, and realize a career path from there. 

To get into the program, both Creley and Chihara recommend taking WSP 101 in either your freshman year or beginning of sophomore year. Obviously the earlier you start on the track, the more likely you are to graduate in 4 years. 

The best part about WSP, in Creley’s opinion, is “the agency it gives people to forge their own path.” They also talked about how WSP can create more equity in the college system by finding those different ways to meet requirements, and avoid being in a situation where school feels impossible. In general, college is not made for everybody. It is an old institution whose roots are in a time where only white men went to school, and it is still rippling through the system as we try to move forward and be more progressive. 

“I would say the most beneficial part of WSP was the amount of support I got from the professors and students who are in WSP,” said Bridget Deitz, a senior WSP Major in Film. “I feel like without their support and input for my major, I wouldn’t have any idea what I would be doing for my major, off-campus experience, or senior project.” Deitz’s off-campus experience is pretty impressive, too; she was able to work with the LA Rams during the Superbowl in 2022. This satisfied the WSP off-campus experience requirement. 

Moving forward, Chihara plans to make WSP more sustainable. “… Doing my utmost to stay true to the spirit of the program and provide flexibility, guidance, and support for the students despite big changes.” 

Chihara fondly remembers the conversations of graduating students, who are “truly thriving in the world” and “feel such ownership – they know they did what they wanted… That’s where the magic happens.” 

That magic is already happening for incoming seniors. They feel that their time in college was well spent, and know they have the tools to succeed in their unique adventures. 

Featured Photo Courtesy of Abigail Padilla / Quaker Campus

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