by Rebecca Murdock ’11

I came to La Sierra University on a volleyball scholarship in the summer of 2007. I still remember pulling up to Angwin Hall and, with the help of my parents, unloading all of the Target dorm accessories we had bought, along with a bed cover, refrigerator, and plenty of snacks to “make sure I never went hungry” during my first year in college. The Riverside sun was blazing down, and everything was hot and sticky, but I remember thinking how beautiful the palm trees looked on campus and feeling lucky that I had a palm tree right outside my new dorm window.

The campus was mostly empty, except for the fall season athletes who had arrived early for boot camp—the soccer guys, the soccer girls, and us, the volleyball girls. We began to form a sort of suffering cohort that would nod knowingly to each other in the cafeteria when we came to lunch with ice packs, slight limps, or muscles so sore that sitting down required the help of a teammate or two.

However, boot camp paid off and by the time school started, we were tan, toned, and operating like Swiss machinery. We knew where everything was on campus, had routine two-a-day practices going, had campus jobs, and were helping the new kids unpack their cars full of Target dorm accessories.

Rebecca (Barcelo) Murdoch with friends in the South Hall Honors Dorm

When it came time to sign up for Freshman classes, I remember my advisor asking me whether I wanted to be part of the Honors Program. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s a program with smaller-sized classes, more rigorous interdisciplinary work, and a student community that can board in South Hall. You qualify with your GPA if you’d like to apply.” I had gotten good grades in high school, and came from a family of professors, but as she spoke, I imagined kids in preppy blazers and plaid pants, secluded from the rest of the student population, talking about nerd things. I thought about my sports crew and what they might think about students like that. “Uh…no, that’s okay,” I responded. “I think I’ll stick to the regular classes—the ones that everyone else is taking.”

Rebecca (Barcelo) Murdoch

As the school year progressed, however, I began to notice that university life was a little different than high school had been. There wasn’t really a need to “fit in” to one category anymore. Some of the religion students were also going on science trips. Some of the business students were into astronomy. And some of the athletes were even part of the Honors Program!  “Yea, it’s great, you should check it out,” my friend Meagan told me one day during evening practice. “But what if it’s too hard?” I asked, setting her the ball. “You can handle it, it’ll challenge you,” she responded, spiking the ball into the back corner of the gym. 

Encouraged by my teammates, I joined the Honors Program toward the end of my Freshman year at La Sierra, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I began to pick up classes like “Religious Understandings,” with Professor John Jones, in which we examined personal spirituality and interfaith relationships while also visiting local synagogues, mosques, and temples. Another was “Science and the Future,” which not only addressed scientific developments, but also took into account their ethical and philosophical repercussions. Most notably, I took the class “Global Cultures in Context” which led to a study tour of Istanbul, Ankara, Konya, and Cappadocia in the country of Turkey to understand the political, economic, and cultural crossroads between the East and the West.

Rebecca (Barcelo) Murdoch

My world was broadened in ways I never would have previously imagined. 

To this day, I credit the Honors Program for teaching me that learning doesn’t have to be confined to the classroom, and can be even more effective when it is interdisciplinary; for pushing me to be to embrace critical thinking and problem-solving with creative, compassionate solutions; and for teaching me the incredible value of communal learning, while gifting me with some of the best friends of my college career.