By Julie Kuehnel ’69, Ph.D.
I first came to California Lutheran College in the late 1960s as a 17-year-old freshman. Then, after five years of graduate school at University of Texas and four years as a research psychologist at UCLA, I returned in 1975 as a faculty member in the Psychology Department and never left.
Cal Lutheran has changed from my student days. When I was a student, girls had to wear dresses until 6 p.m., boys and girls could only visit each other’s dorm rooms from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, and the dorm curfew was 10 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. The curfew was enforced with random bed checks.
All these rules just challenged us to spend time and ingenuity finding ways around them – like climbing out our dorm windows after curfew, even though most of us didn’t have cars and consequently had no place to go. At the time, breaking the rules was the point in itself.
CLU has changed in many substantial and positive ways. The old rules don’t apply now. Our student body has been enriched by becoming more diverse – ethnically, racially and culturally. Our classrooms are no longer converted chicken coops, but are “smart classrooms” with technology available at our fingertips.
However, the core values of Cal Lutheran have not changed. Our mission is still to educate and empower students both in and outside the classroom. Faculty members are here to teach students, and hopefully excite them, about subject matter and mentor them to achieve their academic and career goals.
This is also still a place where students can be empowered to make a difference in the microcosm that is CLU. For example, a few years ago students excited by what they had learned in a Holocaust literature course put together a daylong series of speakers and panels featuring concentration camp survivors and soldiers who freed them. CLU is a place where you can learn to lead and make things happen.
It is also still a place where you can broaden and enrich yourself by becoming involved in a variety of activities. I remember Jim, who came to Cal Lutheran from Alabama. He was the first student from his high school to go on to college. He majored in political science and wanted to become a lawyer. But he also sang in the choir, acted in school plays and got involved in student government, becoming student body president. He went on to Stanford Law School and is now a federal judge. Last I heard, he was still singing in a choir and acting in community theater.
Although Cal Lutheran has changed in some ways, it remains a place where faculty members focus all their resources into providing students with endless opportunities to try new things, expand their knowledge and become empowered to make a difference. Graduates can leave with the tools and confidence to realize their potential and live lives of significance. But, for this to happen, students must accept the University’s invitation to learn and to grow.
One thing is for sure – students will change while at CLU. How they change involves the choices they make. Take me for example. Partway into my first semester, I began ditching most of my classes and leaving papers and studying until the night before due dates and tests. I ended up with a 1.24 GPA and a less-than-friendly letter from the dean informing me that I was on academic probation.
I made changes. I learned time-management skills from a professor. I chose to attend classes and to engage myself in readings and class discussions. I took a required general education course and found something that I loved – psychology. I also found a mentor in Dr. Baranski, the Psychology Department chair. He encouraged me to get a Ph.D., which led me to a career I love and where I like to think I sometimes make a difference, helping others live lives of significance.
Cross-cultural research by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman has found some common virtues to creating a life of significance. They include the development of knowledge and wisdom, courage, humanity and justice. And that is exactly what CLU helps students to do. That hasn’t changed since the beginning.
Julie (Menzies) Kuehnel graduated from CLU in 1969 with a degree in psychology. She is Chair of the Psychology Department and Coordinator of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division. As recipient of the 2010 President’s Award for Teaching Excellence, she was the keynote speaker at Opening Academic Convocation. This article is taken from her speech.