Located just off the Pacific coast of central California and nestled at the base of the Santa Ynez Mountains, a small Christian college is making an outsized impact. Westmont College, fostering a close-knit community of around 1,300 students, is merely a stone’s throw from the busy and bustling city of Santa Barbara. Whether students are up early watching the sunrise from Butterfly Beach, or exploring one of the many cultural and artistic festivals held downtown, a new adventure is always around the corner. The institution’s 111-acre campus is a small imprint on the great state of California, but its principles and sense of community sets it apart from the rest.
As a nondenominational, Christian institution, Westmont combines a rigorous academic schedule with intimate class sizes. Students are provided with opportunities to not only grow as professionals, but also as followers of Christ. Westmont holds the motto of Christus primatum teneus, meaning “Christ holding preeminence.” Aiming to not only sharpen minds, but also cultivate character, Westmont strives to equip students with useful tools to be successful in their careers and in life. Its mission statement encourages inspiring conversations and upholds the belief that living in community maximizes students’ ability to deeply experience a Christian, liberal arts curriculum. Through an all-encompassing approach to life, Westmont demonstrates the powerful connection between faith and vocation in the pursuit of a diversified and engaging educational experience.
In addition to excellent academics, Westmont establishes itself as a leader in environmental protection. Adopting a series of “Green Initiatives,” the staff and students at Westmont implement a series of practices to help keep their campus eco-friendly. This includes high-efficiency lighting, waterless urinals, organic gardening, and incentives for employees using alternative modes of transportation. Furthermore, 90 of the 111 acres of Westmont College remains as landscaping or open space.
These initiatives not only protect the environment, but also keep the campus looking beautiful and vibrant. Amanda Sparkman, associate professor of biology, described for us the captivating landscape of Westmont college: “We have a beautiful wooded campus, all kinds of both cultivated and native plants. We have oak woodland, in our ravines we have the ocean that we can see right from our campus and the Channel Islands right beyond. Even though we’re developed, we are still part of this urban wild interface where many species thrive. It is a really beautiful and exciting place.”
Westmont has gained national recognition for its environmental efforts. In 2011, the U.S. Green Building Council certified four new Westmont buildings as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold. The school was recognized for its incorporation of water efficient landscape and native plants, restoration of natural habitats, accumulation of storm water, and overall reduction in light pollution.
One of the school’s important initiatives is the introduction of an Environmental Studies minor. The minor, created by the school’s professors, helps students in their exploration of important global issues in contemporary society. Students are given the ability to analyze and debate real-world environmental problems and develop a better understanding of their roles in stewarding the Earth.
“We are hoping to really use it as a way to catalyze more treatment of environmental issues in our curriculum at large for all students. It is so fundamental for the Christian faith, to first of all, celebrate creation, and I think Environmental Studies is very interesting to see the world outside that we depend on, and that nourishes us, both physically and spiritually,” says Sparkman, the chair of the Environmental Studies developmental committee.
“There are a lot of questions about how we balance the needs that humans have with the needs of the rest of the planet. In some ways, when we’re harming the planet, we’re harming ourselves, and we need to be thinking about both the future of humans on this planet, as well as the future of other species. There is so much richness in the Christian tradition to foster that kind of sensibility. We have a God who, throughout the Psalms, is tending to creation. He is sustaining it, he is loving it and caring for it. And then we have in Genesis, the mandate to care for the Earth. I think it should come very naturally to Christians to be concerned about these things, and to really get into some of the tricky bits of figuring out how to do that.”
Westmont students take full advantage of what they learn in the classroom and actively apply it elsewhere. The Garden Club, a popular student-run sustainability group, is highly active at Westmont. The club provides hands-on opportunities for students to learn about sustainability and make their own contributions through eco-friendly practices. The Garden Club teaches students valuable information, such as soil science and native ecology, in addition to giving students the chance to grow vegetables in the community garden. Sparkman says the garden “became a place where classes would come and learn about food systems and contemplate creation. We have even had groups in the community come in that have different health challenges. I know one woman told the garden manager that she had not felt so at peace in years”.
Brooklyn Nash, a student at Westmont College and president of the Garden Club, explained the importance of the garden and how it serves to benefit all students and staff: “I think it is one of the students’ favorite clubs on campus because it is something that they normally do not get to do. Getting your hands on the soil and getting plants in your hands, it is this incredible feeling, it generates the same amount of dopamine as falling in love. When you are doing school all day and studying, and your mind is completely jammed, and then you get to go into the garden and it all leaves and you get to smell the fresh air, I think that is really important. When you are working with nature that has another worldly essence to it.”
The garden serves as a place of community and fellowship for students at Westmont, while also serving as a place to grow deeper in faith. Nash says, “For me personally, God’s love shines most brightly in nature and there is nowhere that I feel it more strongly. When we are having a really hard day in the garden there is just something that really comes through, there is another feeling that you get that you are not only contributing to your community, but you are contributing to the planet as a whole, which is God’s ultimate creation, God’s ultimate love, and you are contributing to that body of love. I felt that so many different times, I am doing something right, I am providing a place for these wild creatures to be able to have a happy life. Every time the Garden Club meets, everybody leaves so happy and filled with love.”
Glorifying God by caring for the Earth He created is the heart of Westmont College’s vision. Whether it is through learning in the classroom, or getting your hands dirty in the garden, there is always an opportunity to do good there.