Emily Swart is an Interdisciplinary Studies major from Salem, Ore., the two focuses of her major being humanities and social science. As an outstanding non-traditional graduate, we interviewed Swart on her most memorable experiences here, as well as her takeaways from college as a whole.
Why did you choose WOU?
I come from a long line of proud WOU alums. My uncle played football here in the OCE era and had an incredible professional career as a high school football coach in Oregon. My aunt followed him here out of love, and of course loved her time here and also became a teacher. Another uncle of mine attended WOSC and has the coolest vintage OCE/WOSC collectables. I suppose it was sort of in my blood from the beginning. However, the first time I set foot on campus, I knew it was my home. I came from a large high school, and the small campus felt refreshing. I remember attending my first men’s basketball game my freshman year and just loving it! I loved how so many of the students that attended with me were first generation college students. It is an incredible thing to watch someone change the trajectory of their own family with your own eyes. I love that about WOU.
What has been your most memorable class?
My most memorable class will always be Conflict Management with Dr. Bakkus. It was unlike any other class I took while here at WOU. In addition to being unique, it was incredibly valuable. I learned a lot about myself during the course of the class. (Some things are not so great…) To really take the time to sit down and analyze how you deal with conflict, what your strengths and weaknesses are when in conflict, how to improve, and importantly, not fear conflict itself was so interesting. [It] has served me greatly in my personal and professional life. Plus, Dr. Bakkus is a gem.
What have some of your extracurriculars been?
As I have been attending WOU as a student, I have also worked full-time as a WOU employee. I am the Annual Giving Coordinator for the WOU Foundation on campus. My experience was incredibly unique, not only have I been a student, but I have been working actively on behalf of the WOU Foundation to raise money for WOU students. While sitting next to all of you in class, I got to witness first-hand how incredibly special, unique, and hardworking you are. You drove me to want to serve you better, more, and with the same heart you showed me every day. WOU students are the driving force behind every single fundraising initiative I have ever done, because I have been inspired directly by each one of you in class. And I want to tell your story to alums and friends of the university. I believe your stories are important to tell. I believe you are the most special student body in Oregon.
Who stands out from your time at WOU?
I have had so many mentors and professors that have helped me on my journey. Each of them have contributed something to my experience at WOU that was incredibly meaningful in its own way. Dr. Leanne Merrill silenced my fear of mathematics and was the perfect blend of supporting me while pushing me to overcome anxiety and fear I had around math. Dr. Sriram Khe challenged me on more than one occasion to not only express my opinions, but critically evaluate them and then support them with meaningful examples. Professor Jones opened up the Criminal Justice world to me in a profound way. I never thought I’d be as passionate on prison reform as I’ve become though the CJ department. Dr. Murphy was integral in helping me navigate my steps after graduation and spent an incredible amount of time just “talking it through.” And finally, Dr. Pederson allowed me to create an Independent Studies course that combined my passion for body positivity and group fitness. However, these are just a few examples; there are many more mentors and professors that are so dear to me, I could go on and on.
What is your favorite building on campus? Why?
My friends and colleagues will know this in an instant–Campbell Hall, of course! (I should say the Cottage where my office is–it’s a close second.) However, Campbell Hall is truly the most beautiful building on campus. I think aside from its rich history and gorgeous architecture, the thing I love about it is how it perfectly unites WOU alums from all different generations and eras. We all know it, love it, and never get tired of looking at it in person or in print. I also have a personal affinity and connection to the building. The steeple of the hall fell off in the Columbus Day Storm on October 12th! Although it was in the 60s, that is my birthday day! In a weird way, I think October 12th ties me to Campbell Hall and campus.
What will you miss the most about WOU?
Well, I get to stay as an employee! But as a student, there are so many things. I’ll miss the excitement of the first day of fall term, I’ll miss office hours with some of the most incredible professors and people I’ve ever had in my life. I think more than anything, I’ll miss the relationships that were born from a student-professor perspective. In my opinion, that is the essence of Western Oregon University: the ability to forge meaningful relationships with your professors that oftentimes extend beyond academia. I’ll really miss chats with Dr. Khe, my advisor. He is just a brilliant mind, and every time I left his office, I felt like I could conquer the world.
What do you love most about the major/minors you completed?
The Interdisciplinary Degree is so important for students like me. I could never decide on a degree because I liked everything! And I’d set down a track and then change my mind. This degree gave me the flexibility to discover new passions. I never thought I’d take a Criminal Justice class–it turns out I took many of them within my focus. I found a passion for prison reform and female offenders. But I also loved Communication courses and even Geography. This degree allowed me to simply be myself, to be someone who likes everything and is just genuinely curious. It is so valuable!
What is the biggest lesson you have learned throughout your time here?
It is never too late to finish what you start, finish better than you started, change an ending, or do it your way. I am a non-traditional student. I left campus initially due to health concerns, and then of course life happened. Work, children, etc. took over. I never thought I would receive a college degree. I had just accepted that it wasn’t in the cards for me. When I began working here in 2013, I still didn’t go back. It wasn’t until a few years later I finally did. WOU has taught me that you are never too old to finish something you’ve started. You are never done learning. I’ll never count myself “out” again. WOU has taught me that my journey is special, it’s valid, and it’s not over.