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Whitworth president prepares students for complex world

Scott McQuilkin's career has been centered at Whitworth. Photo courtesy of Whitworth University


By Mary Stamp

Scott McQuilkin, Whitworth University's president since January 2022, appreciates leading a school with a diverse student body that prepares students to live in a complex changing world.

The diversity of students on the campus has increased so that in the 2023-24 academic year, 32 percent of the students self-identified as being from diverse racial and ethnic populations. In addition, about 50 percent of incoming classes have been BIPOC, first-generation or international students, he said.

"Increased diversity brings challenges and opportunities," said Scott, aware that "we can always do more to create a place where all students feel welcome."

Students, many of whom are from Spokane, come to Whitworth looking for a quality education that will make them employable. Beyond academics, the goal is to prepare students to live in a diverse world. Whitworth's study abroad programs in more than 60 countries also build cross-cultural awareness.

To promote justice, diversity, equity and inclusion, faculty and staff keep aware of institutional culture, policies and practices so diverse communities can flourish and students can develop cultural competency that will be useful in the world, he pointed out.

"Our role is to help students feel like Whitworth is their home, a place where they are seen, loved, known and valued," he said. "Families want these things for their students.

"We currently have a 10:1 student to faculty ratio. Roughly 10 percent of our faculty are persons of color, Scott said. "Whitworth has been challenged in recruiting and retaining faculty of color in a region that is predominantly white."

So, Whitworth stresses training and programming for faculty and staff, and funds programs in student life and campus ministry to build intercultural competencies.

"We need to be attuned in our search process to what biases we bring to that process," he said.

Because Whitworth is a Christian university, our faculty are connected to a breadth of churches—Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Mennonite, Catholic, Four Square, ecumenical and nondenominational.

"Our ongoing intention is to help students grow spiritually and lead relational lives attentive to the way we are with one another and with people different from us," Scott said.

Students are Christian and non-Christian.

"We offer a place where we desire that everyone flourishes," he said.

Although tuition, room and board are expensive, a large number of students have Pell grants and Washington college grants.

"We provide substantial and generous institutional financial aid and work to remove barriers to access. We also have many opportunities for students to have on-campus jobs to help defray costs," Scott said.

In June 2023, the board approved an institutional statement to add sexual orientation to the protected class list for employees.

Whitworth has a Statement on Statements, noting why it makes few statements at a time that there is much demand for the university to make public statements and take stances on different issues of the world.

"During my tenure as president, I have issued only four  of what I would define as institutional statements," he said.

"We added sexual orientation as a protected class in employment. Whitworth has no doubt had gay and lesbian staff members at the institution for many years," he said.

Whitworth is facing the same headwinds as other institutions of higher education with fewer high school graduates interested in going to college.

With the high cost of a university education, Scott said it is important to promote education as an investment.

"The pandemic caused more young people to decide not to go to college or to take a gap year," he said.

Another development has been the increased need for counseling for students suffering from mental health challenges.

"We seek to help students become who they are meant to be, developing their minds and hearts, combining faith and reason, and curiosity and convictions," Scott said.

"We equip students to enter the workforce, community service, family and faith communities," he continued. "That means equipping them relationally, intellectually and spiritually to move into the many different communities they will occupy."

Scott said many graduates go on to do further studies, enter financial firms, become teachers, join nonprofits and more—the full gamut of vocations available.

Most elementary, middle and high schools in Spokane have Whitworth graduates among their teachers, principals and superintendents.

"The Inland Northwest relies on Whitworth to train and equip teachers," he said.

"Our challenge is to help shape students' minds and hearts in the short time they are here," he said.

"I appreciate our focus on education of mind and heart to equip students to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity, combining faith and learning," he said.

In 1980, Scott came to Whitworth University as a student interested in being an engineer. He left planning to be a high school math teacher and coach.

The coach role materialized when he was 22 and was hired in 1985 as Whitworth's head baseball coach. After six years, he went to Pennsylvania State University for doctoral studies in sport history.

He returned to teach Whitworth's core curriculum on Christian and Jewish traditions for 10 years. Then, he was athletic director for 14 years.

From Scott's involvement on faculty committees, in the fall of 2009, Bill Robinson, who was then president of Whitworth, asked him to be vice president of institutional advancement. Scott served 12 years until he became interim president for seven months and then was appointed president.

Scott's father had a 48-year career as a sales manager with J.M. Smucker Co., so his family moved often, living in Cleveland, Ohio, Salinas and Danville, Calif., and then Bellevue, Wash.

While his father traveled, his mother was chauffeur, tutor, disciplinarian and counselor. His family attended church until they left Cleveland.

When he first came to Whitworth, he attended First Presbyterian Church but since returning from Pennsylvania, he and his family have attended Whitworth Presbyterian where he was an elder and Sunday school teacher.

Scott's wife, Janice, is a first-generation Norwegian American whose family first settled in Brooklyn, N.Y. In 1978, they moved to Sandpoint. She earned a degree in English literature at Whitworth, a master's degree in literature from Eastern Washington University and was a first-grade teacher at Midway Elementary School in the Mead School District until retiring a year ago to perform the tasks of a president's spouse.

Their three grown children are Whitworth graduates. Morgan teaches kindergarten at Regal Elementary School. Kelsey is a nurse practitioner, living in Bend, Ore. Tyler is a pastor in Bend.

"Although I did not aspire to be Whitworth president, there is no place I would rather serve," Scott said.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May 2024