A self-professed book nerd, former Whitworth psychology and French double-major Noelle (Giffin) Wiersma, ’90, was destined for a life that embodies and champions the value of a liberal arts education. After earning her master’s degree in clinical psychology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and marrying her husband, Tim, ’89, Wiersma returned to Whitworth in 2000 to teach psychology. Her subsequent influence on campus has been widespread.
As a dedicated researcher, Wiersma enjoys the variety and stimulation of working on multiple research projects at once. The topics on which she has presented and co-presented with students at national conferences showcase an intriguing mix of disciplines, from exploring how mental illness and its treatment are represented in film to secondary traumatic stress responses among photojournalists and news reporters. Regarding the latter, she said, “I began the project, along with two students, after I was awakened by nightmares one night after watching news footage of Hurricane Katrina. It got me wondering how those who record these events in words and capture these stories in images might be affected by their exposure to such traumatic events, as indirect as that exposure might be.”
Wiersma has also published an impressive list of articles, in scholarly journals, that focus on her interests in counseling and psychotherapy, particularly related to trauma and college-student development issues; sexual abuse and its effects on victims and their partners; qualitative research methods; and women’s issues.
As a faculty member, Wiersma has served as faculty president and chair of the psychology department. On multiple occasions, students voted her a most influential professor. In 2012, after a nationwide search, Whitworth appointed her the inaugural dean of the university’s new College of Arts & Sciences, which supports the general education of undergraduate students and Whitworth’s interdisciplinary programs, including U.S. cultural studies, women’s & gender studies, and the Core worldview program.
Part of Wiersma’s role is to promote an enhanced understanding of the intersection of the liberal arts and sciences and the reasons why they are vital today. Shortly after the CAS launched, she wrote, “…a liberal arts education pays big dividends in life’s most important outcomes: the exercise of analytic and critical thinking, the cultivation of creativity and imagination, the development of moral and ethical character, the promotion of just and fulfilling human relationships, the stewardship of the earth and her resources, the ability to communicate in clear and inspiring ways, the capacity to discover one’s vocation as life unfolds and the world changes.
“Think of the educational and life outcomes that we believe to be associated with the study of the liberal arts and sciences, but think of them in a more integrated way. Think of them, in particular, in light of Whitworth’s Christian mission: these outcomes comprise our individual and collective response to God, demonstrate our commitment to Christ, and represent our determination to use all of our intellectual and other gifts to understand and redeem the world, even when that is extraordinarily challenging.”