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A Community in Pursuit

Personal reflections from four unique, and yet similar, perspectives.

As Southwestern embarks on a year-long celebration of its 175th anniversary, representatives of the faculty, staff, alumni and student body reflect on their unique, and yet similar, Southwestern Experiences.

Memories of the people and the place, as well as the changes and traditions, can be varied and diverse. But nearly all with whom one speaks have had experiences that are deeply personal, interpersonal and lasting…often for a lifetime.

Through the individual and collective relationships shared here, as well as countless others, our purpose becomes clear. We are all in pursuit of two ideals—minds engaged and lives transformed.

hessabi

 

In February 2012, I attended a Southwestern University admission event in Houston, where I met an alumnus—Steven Lufburrow ’81—who told a story about his experience at Southwestern. He talked about how close he was with his professors, and how everyone was part of this big family. While he was talking and I was trying to make the most important decision of my life at the time, I thought, “That is the kind of community that I want to be a part of.” I made my decision that day.

Now, looking back at my two and half years at Southwestern, this is still the community that I want to be a part of, and I already have plenty of stories to share that are very similar to Mr. Lufburrow’s experience.

I am originally from Iran and have only been in the United States for about six years now, and three of those years have been at Southwestern. I have loved every moment of being at this school. Southwestern is the place where I find myself comfortable enough to get out and make friends. Let me say that one of the most important parts of making the decision to come to Southwestern was that the community at this school is phenomenal. Students, faculty, staff and alumni—everyone is caring, generous and easy to talk to.

From my first week on campus, I have met people who I will not forget for the rest of my life, beginning with the dinner with my First Year Seminar, “Waiting for Superman, Educational Reform,” at Provost Jim Hunt’s house, to regularly meeting with alumni who are actively interested in the work that I have done on campus so far. In the past three years, I have grown and learned so much, including the true meaning of friendship, which I see and feel every day.

I have been very fortunate to have many academic and non-academic opportunities at Southwestern. I believe that if you want something, you have to go out and get it. At Southwestern, there are so many opportunities to do the things that you are most passionate about. When these opportunities arise, it is up to students like myself to take advantage of them.

I have been a King Creativity Scholar for the past three years, allowing me to do something cool that I wouldn’t have been able to do in a classroom. I was fortunate enough to work with two of the most creative people on this campus, Chandler Johnson ’14 and junior Keeley Coburn. In February 2014, we got together and started to work on a project that we would have never thought would take us where it did—from winning the most creative award at the student works symposium to getting a patent on the design. The Solar Chairs (SOLeisure) are the result of our hard work after about a year of designing and producing small and large models.

Socially, pledging a fraternity was never something I envisioned myself doing, but I found Pi Kappa Alpha to be the right fit for me. I have also learned the true meaning of leadership, which not only means setting goals and steering a group in a particular direction, but also means being part of the team and pushing everyone else to be leaders as well. This has been my motto since I was a first-year representative to now as Vice President of the student body.

Academically, my experience has been different. I came to college with the intention of being a pre-med major, but after exploring and taking a couple of classes, I found that I am interested in engineering. Since we don’t have an engineering school here, I was able to construct my own major, which is robotic engineering. I am hoping to continue my passion in this field in graduate school after graduating from Southwestern.

Time is a very strange concept, and it moves very fast. It feels like yesterday that my parents dropped me off and I started this journey not knowing anyone, but my time here has been great and I have come to love this campus and its people. Southwestern is beautiful on the outside, but is also gorgeous in the inside because of its members.

kain

 

“Nothing endures but change” -Heraclitus, Diogenes Laertius

I just returned from teaching in London, and the words I have heard most often are, “It’s a time of great change.” No doubt the last two years have seen many historic changes at Southwestern. They include inaugurating our 15th president, fielding our first football team since 1951, restructuring the campus governance system, adding women’s lacrosse, starting construction of a new science center and the retirement of a number of faculty and staff.

Preparation for my retirement in December and the 175th anniversary celebration of our first root college’s charter have led me to reflect upon my nearly 30 years at Southwestern. While the present may seem unique, the last three decades have been a time of constant change here on campus.

Memorial Day weekend, 1986. I had just driven more than 1,700 miles from Ithaca, N.Y., where I’d spent the last six years in my first full-time academic job on the faculty at Cornell University. Small mountains of unpacked boxes filled the living room in the small house I’d purchased at 1904 Paige Street in Georgetown. The heat and humidity seemed more oppressive than anything I’d experienced while getting my Ph.D. at Chapel Hill in the late 1970s.

There was no new college catalog the year I arrived; it was only published bi-annually, with a brief pamphlet updating the content every other year. [1] That catalog illustrates some of the dramatic changes that have taken place in the past three decades. The number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty at Southwestern in 1986 was less than 70; today it is more than 110. The Biology Department had only four full-time tenure-track/tenured faculty members compared to eight in the 2014/2015 catalog. Similar contrasts were reflected throughout the catalog. Art, for example, had two full-time tenured/tenure-track faculty members compared with seven in the Art and Art History Department this year. [2] In my department, Sociology, there were three faculty in 1986 compared to six in Sociology and Anthropology this year. The English Department had four faculty members (with two additional part-time) when I arrived; today it has seven (with an additional visiting writer-in-residence). Major support from The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston spurred significant growth in Southwestern’s endowment making this type of transformation possible.

Changes in the size of the student body parallel this increase. In my first semester at Southwestern, the student full-time enrollment was 1,096. This year it is 1,524. This type of two-point comparison does not give the full picture for any of the changes at SU, however. The student body, for example, has been growing relatively continuously for the past half century, although at varying rates of speed. In 1966 it was 811, rising to 889 by the nation’s bicentennial. The fastest growth happened in the 1980s when there was an increase in the student body to 1,200 students. [3] It stayed between 1,200 and 1,300 through 2009, when another strategic decision increased it to 1,524 by this academic year.

For returning alumni and friends, however, the most noticeable changes are in the physical structure of campus. When I arrived in 1986, the semi-circular walkway on the main quad was a road. One could drive past a much smaller Fondren Jones Science building, Mood Hall (which housed not only the departments that are currently there, but also Psychology, Foreign Languages and Classics), a significantly different library building, the old Student Union Building (where the McCombs Campus Center stands today), the Chapel and nearby Religion Building (which was moved over by the President’s house) and the old West Gym with its unusable cracked outdoor pool near where the Olin Building stands today. LK (Laura Kuykendall) Hall and the campus switchboard stood where you now find the Prothro Center and Brown-Cody Hall. The last thing you’d pass when you drove in this direction was Mabee Hall, which had just opened the year before.

The Grogan and Betty Lord Residential Center, Dorothy Manning Lord Residential Center and Sharon Lord Caskey Community Center didn’t exist. Jesse Purdy (professor of psychology) had his fish lab in a small house along Maple Street in that part of campus. The Charline Hamblin McCombs Residential Hall was not there. Nor were Joe S. Mundy Hall or the Rufus Franklin Edwards Studio Arts Building, the greenhouse and community garden, or the Fountainwood Observatory. The Fine Arts Building had not yet been renovated as part of its transformation into the Sarofim School of Fine Arts. Perhaps the most striking changes are on the east end of campus. Open space and the Kurth-Landrum Golf Course stood where you now find the Julie Puett Howry Center, Rockwell Baseball Field, Taylor-Sanders Softball Field, Marvin D. Henderson, Sr. Tennis Courts, Robert K. Moses, Jr. Field, and Snyder Athletic Field.

The most important changes in the past 30 years, however, came to our academic program. As we were re-categorized by the Carnegie Foundation, moving from being a regional liberal arts to a national liberal arts institution, our focus changed. Departments added capstone experiences. Interdisciplinary programs like Animal Behavior, Feminist Studies and Environmental Studies emerged and thrived. Funding from the Robert and Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust supported the establishment of the Paideia Program. Paideia encourages students to focus upon interconnections in their undergraduate experience and to build collaborative learning and intercultural experiences into their college years.

Throughout my time at Southwestern, more and more students have studied internationally. When I first taught in our London semester in 1989, only about 8 percent of Southwestern students had that experience. By my fourth time teaching in London in 2009, 50 percent of Southwestern seniors walked across the stage to accept their diplomas with at least one international experience during their undergraduate years. [4]

When I arrived at Southwestern, very few faculty colleagues had active research programs. Indeed one senior colleague advised me that I talked about my research too much; she suggested that was an indication that my teaching was not strong. Many people thought of liberal arts schools as teaching colleges, where research played no role. I was puzzled by this. The best teachers are those who are active in research and professional activity. This keeps faculty members current so that students are introduced to the most recent academic work. If our students want to be successful in applying to graduate schools they need research experience. Doing research and presenting it in professional settings are ideal pathways for the development of the critical thinking, writing and oral communication skills necessary for success in jobs in both the corporate world and in non-profits.

Today, Southwestern is a community of teacher-scholars. That community encourages student/faculty collaborative research and projects. In my first decade at Southwestern, while many majors in my department went on to professional programs such as social work, seminary and law school, very few applied to graduate school. Now each cohort of seniors includes graduate school applicants, and they get into the top programs in the country. Their success can be directly linked to their solid training and involvement in research. These kinds of changes were recognized with establishment of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter at Southwestern in 1994. (You can read more about many of the changes I’ve mentioned throughout this article by visiting the timeline of Southwestern’s history at: http://southwestern.edu/175/)

While I began this article with the epigraph by Heraclitus, I would suggest that the French proverb Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose—the more things change, the more they stay the same—would have been equally appropriate. Change is always counterbalanced by continuity. Change is but one constant. Among those that remain, three stand out.

First and foremost, our central focus has never wavered. That focus is upon our students. Indeed the bulk of the changes noted above have happened in pursuit of “engaging minds and transforming lives.” This demands constant attention to what is most effective in providing a top-quality liberal arts education. New buildings, expansion of programs, involving students in research, encouraging international education, introducing and refining Paideia, requiring capstones in all majors—all of these are aimed at providing the best undergraduate experience for our students.

Second, Southwestern is a place where we aim high and encourage our students to do so as well. We have lofty expectations for our students, for our colleagues and for our future. In the mid-80s we were ranked the number one regional liberal arts school by U.S. News & World Report. When the Carnegie Foundation changed our categorization to a national liberal arts institution, we set our sights on being a model for other liberal arts institutions and moving into the top ranks of national liberal arts colleges. That focus remains today and will help to chart our path in the years ahead.

Finally, Southwestern has always been a caring community of students, faculty, staff and alumni. As the times change, each cohort of students can tell different stories about how that community nurtured them and helped them grow. Some might describe how Ellsworth Peterson (professor emeritus of music) invited them over to his house to listen to music. Others would recount how Vicente Villa (professor emeritus of biology) called them at their dorm or apartment if they overslept and were missing from his 8 a.m. class. Still others would tell how Ella Sedwick asked, “What day is it?” as they entered the Commons, and elbow bumped them as they said “It’s Friday!” … or how an incomparable set of colleagues on the staff and faculty and an amazing set of students and alumni have made this an extremely rewarding place in which to spend a career.

There is no doubt that by almost any measure we are a much stronger institution than when I arrived at 1904 Paige Street in 1986. As I look to the future, I see Southwestern continuing to change and evolve. I am confident that those changes mean that someone writing 30 years from now will likewise conclude that Southwestern is stronger than it was in 2015.

The 21st century is a time of many challenges for higher education. As we emerge from the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression, families are faced with higher and higher costs for a four-year degree. Voices from a number of quarters question the value of a liberal arts education. Southwestern is poised to continue to provide examples of how and why a liberal arts education is precisely the key to successfully navigating the oceans of uncertainty we face in the decades ahead.


[1]  Thanks to Barbara Jean and Jim Hunt in the Provost’s Office for providing me with a copy of this catalog, and to Julie Cowley for providing me with some data useful in preparing this article. Thanks to Trey Buchanan in Institutional Research for providing me with data on change over time, and thanks to Christine Vasquez for her advice regarding where to search for data. I am also indebted to both Dirk Early and David Gaines for their helpful feedback on an early draft of this article.
[2]  In both years there were part-time or visiting faculty members, adding two part-time and one full-time visiting artist to the 1985 list, and two part-time and two full-time non-tenured and/or visiting positions this year.
[3]  The student headcount in the fall of 1980 was 980; by 1990 it was 1221.
[4]  While we were at that rate for a number of years, it is slightly lower than that today.

munt

 

As I drove past the Georgetown exit on I-35 between my home in San Antonio and Waco, where I was working on my master’s degree at Baylor University, I never dreamed that the institution that would be truly transformational for me was just a couple of miles to the east of the interstate.

It was almost 40 years ago that I set foot on the campus of Southwestern University. To my good fortune, Title IX was just becoming a factor on college campuses and many institutions were looking to start women’s athletic programs. Southwestern offered me a job at the very glamorous salary of $9,500 which, to a graduate student on food stamps, sounded really exciting! I had coached women’s tennis, basketball and volleyball at Baylor, and started at Southwestern as Head Volleyball and Head Women’s Tennis Coach with the faculty rank of Instructor. I never dreamed that 40 years later I would be the Director of Athletics for a department that would field 20 sports and almost 500 student-athletes.

I came into a department of all males, two of whom—Tex “Doc” Kassen and Coach Jim Mallon—became lifelong friends and mentors, as well as legendary Pirate coaches. Back then, we had limited facilities. In fact, my opening match as Volleyball Coach was against the defending National Small College Champion, and my practice facility—West Gym—had a floor that was so warped it had 8 inch waves in it! West Gym has long since been replaced by the beautiful Olin Building; just one of the many changes I was to witness in my career at Southwestern.

I feel blessed to have watched a total transformation of our beautiful campus: The remodeling of Mood Hall; the demolition of The Commons, known for its circular dining hall and great late night breakfasts featuring battling (faculty) pancake chefs Jesse Purdy, Bob Morgan and Stephanie Fabritius, and the construction of a new student center called the McCombs Campus Center; the building of the Lord Residential Center; the initial renovation of Fondren-Jones Science Building and now the construction of an exciting new science building; several renovations of the old “Ad Building” as it became the Cullen Building; renovations to the Fine Arts Building including the challenges of putting a new roof on “The FAB;” and the building of the Studio Arts Center on the east side of campus.

I have memories of many of us watching in amazement as the old Health Clinic was relocated on campus; few of us had ever seen a building on wheels! I was sorry to see the old Religious Activities Center, affectionately known as “The RAC,” removed to make way for the construction of the Olin Building and renovations to the Chapel. With the demolition of West Gym, we also saw the end of our only outdoor swimming pool where I taught swimming to a class that included famous comedian Bill Engvall. The Sid Richardson Physical Education Center was later renovated to the Corbin J. Robertson Center and included our first indoor swimming pool. Few remember Inner Campus Drive that is now our beautiful Academic Mall. I came to work one day via Inner Campus Drive and when I left work that evening the road was shut down in preparation for its transformation. I watched the building of the new Tennis Center and Rockwell Field being moved 100 feet east to make room for Southwestern Blvd. The old Kurth-Landrum Golf Course slowly slipped to a 6-hole course (one had to play it three times around to get in 18 holes) as land was needed for soccer, lacrosse, softball and football fields, plus the first track in the history of the University.

The growth of our campus facilities mirrors the growth of the University. In my early years, enrollment was approximately 950 full-time students as compared to 1,500+ students now. While our SAT and ACT scores have enjoyed a comparable growth pattern, the vast majority of our current students are similar in so many respects to those of the past—intelligent, ambitious, caring and active, but many still are poor spellers. The advantage this generation has is that: (1) they have computers and (2) those computers have spell check!

Likewise, the faculty over the years have remained similar in many ways: committed to a strong academic environment, truly caring about their students, and still trying to find the best type of governance system for the University. As our new governance plan began to take shape this year, I realized that it is the third or fourth iteration of University governance I have experienced during my tenure at Southwestern. Each has reflected the growth of the campus as a community; most recently the inclusion of and respect for student and staff voices.

There are so many types of milestones in a career that has spanned almost 40 years. Obviously, the physical changes to campus are important reference points, but then there are so many other markers. In writing this piece I reflected back on how world events such as 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, the Challenger Disaster, and the Gulf Wars impacted our campus.

Time can also be divided by University presidencies, of which I have experienced four. I began my career under Durwood Fleming, followed by Roy Shilling, then Jake Schrum, and now Edward Burger. I have always valued the strength and vision that a president brings to a campus, and I believe that in holding that position there is a sacred trust to keep making our University ever better.

When I came to Southwestern almost 40 years ago I planned to stay five years and then move on. Obviously, that didn’t happen, the reason being that the wonderful evolution of our University has kept me fully invested each and every year, and keeps me energized about our future. Knowing how well we have done with our past gives me the confidence of how well we will do with our future.

bratton

 

You can imagine that in the 70 years since I arrived on the Southwestern campus from Robstown, Texas, I have seen a lot of change, much of it from a very personal vantage point.

As a student, I worked hard academically. I came in as a religious education major, but I took piano, too. My music teachers kept encouraging me to be a music major but I stuck with religious education…until I had to take chemistry for my major. I did not understand it at all; after the first class, I went straight to the office of Miss Pearl Neas’ (the registrar) and changed my major to music. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in music.

I was on campus when the Navy was still here; that was a great time for the girls! There was a Navy Chorus directed by Fred Bigelow, and I was their accompanist—it was 50 guys and me! We traveled for performances and I had to have a “chaperone,” so I took my roommate Martha Jane “Mud” Williams Heard ’49. Three of my four roommates are still alive and we keep in touch.

I joined Phi Mu sorority (sadly, the chapter was disbanded in 1984). I lived in Laura Kuykendall Hall. When the Navy came, Mood Hall wasn’t good enough for the sailors, so they swapped with us. I won’t tell all that we did, but we did go out sometimes…”just to the kitchen to get food.”

One of the best things I was involved in was the opening of the Negro Fine Arts School. President J.N.R. Score “…created an environment at Southwestern in which a few dedicated teachers and students felt free to develop a Negro Fine Arts School that would, under a future president, produce the first African American student to enter the regular baccalaureate program at Southwestern.” [1]

I was one of three Southwestern piano students and our professor, Iola Bowden Chambers, who “conceived a plan to use their new piano skills to teach some children who did not have an opportunity to take piano lessons. The inspiration to teach came from the piano pedagogy class; the inspiration to teach black children came from a Christian Education class taught by Dr. B.F. Jackson. The musical connection with the black community came from Iola Bowden…” [2]

As a music major, I was one of the piano teachers at the school. Years ago, I told Martha Mitton Allen, professor emeritus of history, “It was wonderful to be able to use your skills that you were learning first hand. It was like practice teaching, except there was another dimension to it. The dimension was caring more for the children than you cared for your practice teaching.” [2]

After graduation, I married Morris Bratton ’47, who was a Southwestern football player. He joined the V12 program in 1943 and played in both Sun Bowls in ’43 and ’44. He gets a lot of recognition for football, especially now that it’s back, but it was the least of all the wonderful things he did.

I played piano for the church where Morris was a pastor and taught piano so I could pay for a housekeeper. Then, in 1963, we heard President Kennedy speak in San Antonio the day before he was assassinated. He had said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” and I was inspired to teach school. I got a job teaching all Spanish-speaking students. It was the hardest but most fun year of teaching I ever had.

Over the years, we moved around Texas, around the country, and even the world when Morris was working for the Peace Corps. We spent 18 years in Washington, D.C. before coming back to Texas. When my mother turned 90, she said, “If you don’t retire next year and come back here, you needn’t come.” So, we retired and came back to Texas. Our friends and family in D.C. gave a scholarship in the Bratton name to Southwestern and we were able to help several students come to our beloved alma mater.

Not long after that, I was asked be on the Alumni Board. As President of that Board, I was also a member of the Board of Trustees at the end of Roy Shilling’s tenure. I worked hard to show that I accepted everyone; I joined EBONY, I went to events, and all around worked hard to integrate campus. I was passionate about the things we worked on, like gender and race equality. When we were hiring new faculty and staff, I would ask, “Don’t you have any women or people of color applying for these positions?” People say I ruled with a “velvet hammer.”

Another thing I helped with was choosing the University’s core values. It’s the strength of those core values that I believe will take Southwestern successfully into the future. I think they make us unique, in that not every school has that kind of view of itself.

I was also on the search committee that chose Jake Schrum ’68, as our 14th president. How fortunate we were to have an alumnus like Jake to lead us for 13 years.

I see that things are better today and am confident that they will continue to get even better. I have great faith in the younger generation, but I believe they need to step forward right away. In my time, I was a gung ho leader, working to get our school, our state, and our country to be more compassionate, understanding and accepting. Our students are this way—willing to stand for what they believe. It’s not easy, but that’s what it takes to affect change.

Right now, I believe we are living in a crack between what was and what is to be. To be on the cutting edge of creativity is really important, and Southwestern is there. We have to prepare people to think in a new way. I see Southwestern doing just that, especially through things like the King Creativity projects and the Paideia curriculum.

I love “my” university – Southwestern. The education I received has enabled me to live an exciting and meaningful life. My professors became my friends and mentors and that is still happening today between faculty and students. I am proud to be an alumna of this wonderful university, which is enabling students to live creatively in a new age.


[1]  To Survive and Excel: The Story of Southwestern University 1840-2000, William B. Jones, Georgetown, Texas: CS Graphics, 2006
[2]  The Gracious Gift: The Negro Fine Arts School 1946-1966, Martha Mitten Allen, Georgetown, Texas: Heritage Printing, 2003.


Story by Kristina Moore

Photography by Lance Holt

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1 comment

  1. Steven E. Self

    I enjoyed your article, Ed. I can’t believe it’s been nearly 30 years. Glad to have been there when you got your start at S.U.!

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