Think Big leads to Rethink Smart

Contact: Erin Flynn

More than a year ago, WMU began an introspective process called Think Big to examine WMU's distinctive strengths as an institution of higher learning and, most importantly, determine how best to further  fortify these qualities to advance our students.

After extensive engagement with current students, alumni, faculty, staff and market research of prospective Broncos, we are leaning in to WMU's identity as a university that is highly responsive to student needs for purpose, well-being and career.

To that end, here are some of the strategies in the offing:

  • Offering unrivaled flexibility for students to discover and align their purpose with career goals, including flexibility to change majors as their interests evolve.
  • Strengthening and restructuring academic advising so that as students follow their interests, abilities and experiences, they stay on track for timely graduation.
    • Blurring the lines between school and work by engaging students in experience-based learning, including through internships, volunteering or any of the numerous WMU enterprises that partner with businesses, nonprofits and other organizations seeking to tap student talent. Every year, students, no matter their discipline, can have an applied experience for their resume.

Kendall Owens shows off her tap skills in front of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, where she works as a nurse.

  • A renewed, more intensive focus on wellness—students' mental, physical and academic well-being. Coupled with preparing students for career, perhaps the most special thing about WMU is helping students find a deeper meaning and a better way of thinking. It’s what we call Rethink Smart.

Rethink Smart understands that being smart is an “A” on an assignment. But at Western, it's more than that. It’s using one's smarts to pursue a bolder way of thinking, leading to a bigger way of being. It’s knowing one's “why” and striving to achieve it always and in all ways. WMU is proud to prepare students from around the globe for a life well-lived by helping them to pursue, thrive and prosper in their everyday living. That's smart.

Pursuing Your Purpose

The great beauty of Think Big was the process was not an exercise in recreating WMU but rather embracing and then bolstering what this institution authentically does well. The evidence is found in student and alumni experiences.

Can college, for instance, prepare you for a career and help you develop your purpose?

“Absolutely,” says Kendall Owens.

She says WMU helped her find her purpose while pursuing two distinct degrees—nursing and dance. Today, she works as a nurse in a surgical intensive care unit. And when she’s not caring for patients, she’s caring for youth. Owens founded a nonprofit in 2017 called the New Generation Fine Arts Foundation. It focuses on making the arts more accessible to minorities and young artists in metro Detroit who have developmental disabilities or mental health concerns. That's smart.

Prepared for Opportunity

Joseph Backe scored an internship at Edgewater Automation with the help of his rugby coach.

Career preparation can come from anywhere—even on a rugby team.

Engineering student and rugby player Joseph Backe cultivated his skills in math and science courses in high school, taking every available class related to engineering. He also competed in rugby.

When it came time to look at colleges, Backe searched for a place where he could continue to develop both of his passions. He found that home at WMU, winning a prestigious Medallion Scholarship.

The relationships he’s built, both in the classroom and on the rugby pitch, are helping him reach his goals.

“I never thought rugby would help me in engineering, but one of my coaches on the team actually got me my internship,” says Backe, who has spent summers working at Edgewater Automation. And the best part? He led WMU’s rugby team to its first-ever win in the MAC Championship.

“I went on college visits before Western, but as soon as I came here, I knew this is where I wanted to be. It’s a big school but not too big, and it just feels like you have a better opportunity to succeed and thrive in this environment.”