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Final candidate offers big ideas on diversity to students honors director position

Professor Dawn Dietrich, candidate for the honors program director position, addresses students and selections committee members in the SMATE building on Thursday, Apr. 9. // Photo by Jared Rusk
Professor Dawn Dietrich, candidate for the honors program director position, addresses students and selections committee members in the SMATE building on Thursday, Apr. 9. // Photo by Jared Rusk

Professor Dawn Dietrich brought some big ideas to her presentation for the student honors director selection committee on Thursday, Apr. 9.

Dietrich is the third and final candidate for the honors program director position which is being vacated by the retirement of Professor George Mariz. She sees increasing student diversity in the honors program as a priority.

“From my perspective the biggest issue right now is diversity,” Dietrich said. “I think the diversity in the program has to at least mirror the diversity we have on campus.”

To achieve this Dietrich proposes a reimaging of the honors admissions process that would take in to account a variety of personal and experiential factors.

“There is no way that by using SAT scores and GPAs that we get a sense of all the talented students coming from high schools,” Dietrich said.

Many high schools don’t have the budget to offer advanced placement classes and some students may not have had a stable home or access to tutoring or extra-curricular activities, Dietrich said. Instead of simply measuring the academic success of incoming students, Dietrich suggests working closely with the admissions department to evaluate leadership qualities and creativity. She even suggests changing Western’s admissions process to include the submission of a personal video in addition to a written essay.

“There are many forms of excellence that aren’t captured by test scores,” Dietrich said. “Sometimes we’re not measuring the right stuff to get at the most talented students.”

For Dietrich, setting honors students up for success in the 21st century job market is imperative. That means shaping students into well-rounded problem solvers and independent thinkers.

“We know that high school honors students are responsible, high-achieving, skilled at testing and self-motivated,” Dietrich said. “What’s been interesting in recent research that’s come out is that many of these high performing kids are also grade-obsessed, risk-averse, over-programmed and stressed out.”

In order to round out these potential quirks in high achieving honors students Dietrich proposes a holistic learning program that encourages quality over quantity, problem solving over memorization, life management skills and academic risk taking.

She is also a proponent for a new form of curriculum design that is a variation of the science, technology, engineering and math system known as STEM. Dietrich’s system, known as STEAM, adds the arts and humanities into the mix in order to prepare students for a job market in which communication, presentation and conceptualization are increasingly important.

Drew Falabella, a sophomore honors student and student honors board secretary was impressed by the scope of Dietrich’s vision.

“I personally thought that she had some creative thoughts,” Falabella said. “I will say though that the current program does have its strengths too and while she is willing to put everything under review, which is good, I’m not sure that going in with the intent to change right away would be a good idea.”

Dietrich has taught English at Western Washington University for 23 years and has served as the director of Western’s English graduate program. She currently sits on the Pickford Film Center Board of Directors, directs Western’s freshman reading program, Western Reads, and specializes in teaching courses in modern and post-modern literature, film and new media.

The fourth candidate for the honors director position, David Patrick, has resigned his application.

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