Great Leaders: Julie and Joel Westra

Why did you choose Honors?

Both high-achieving students, he a National Merit Scholar and she a National Achievement Scholar, Dr. Joel (’98, Political Science) and Julie Glasco Westra (’02, History) chose the Honors College for different reasons. Joel wanted the experience of attending a large university in a major city, but also realized the distinct advantages that a residential liberal arts college could offer. “The Honors College enabled me to combine the advantages and experiences of both types of institutions, which made it very appealing to me,” he says. Joel & Julie & Jude Westra

Julie felt the pull to leave Houston for college, but decided to visit the University of Houston as part of her tour of the major Texas schools. She attended a recruitment weekend and her decisive moment came after hearing Dr. Estess speak. ”He spoke about the amazing things the Honors College could offer us as students, but what impressed me the most was how many Honors alumni went on to further their education post graduation and their acceptance at excellent schools and programs,”  Julie remembers.

How did the Honors College prepare you to become a great alumni leader?

Both Westras acknowledge the impact Honors had—inside and outside of the classroom. "My Honors courses demanded careful reading, vigorous analysis, and clear expression, both in writing and in speaking," Joel says. "Honors faculty and fellow students demonstrated excellence in scholarship and character, fostered a deep love of learning, and encouraged me to develop the knowledge, skills, and virtues I needed to develop as an individual, a citizen, and a professional scholar.”

Julie agrees. "The Honors College fostered my natural curiosity. It made me challenge opinions and gave me the tools to argue points, and even to switch sides mid-argument, and strengthened my desire to go to law school," she says. Honors also took Julie away from the classroom: "The trips I took with Honors expanded my world and allowed me to travel out of Texas and meet new people, it gave me the travel bug that I still have today."

What was the most profound take away that has resonated throughout the years?

Life-long friendships and the discussion and debate of the fundamental questions of humanity have guided both Joel and Julie post graduation. Julie says, “While I was at UH, I joined the Greek system, but even to this day the Honors College played a more defining role—I established deep ties and deep connections with a group of like-minded peers.”

Joel frequently finds himself revisiting the texts he read and the discussions he had while a student in the Honors College. Says Joel, “The fundamental questions that have fascinated and perplexed both ancients and moderns, such as those pertaining to the role of the state, the norms of friendship and communal association, the demands of morality and justice, and the very nature of human beings, continuously manifest themselves in new ways, both in my daily interactions with friends and colleagues and in my daily reading of national and global news.”

What's your favorite Honors memory?

Joel and Julie both remarked that it is hard to pinpoint one moment in Honors that stood out, but both touched on the importance of the relationships they made with fellow students and faculty in their time at the College. Julie remembers in particular a moment in an upper-level American literature seminar class with Dr. Monroe that defined what the Honors College is to her. It was a small, intensive, focused and creative group with a high-caliber professor who had a vested interest in his pupils and a relationship that no 200-seat auditorium could create. Says Juile, “I selected the law school I went to with a small student-to-teacher ratio because of my experience with Honors.”

About the Westras

Dr. Joel Westra

After receiving a B.A. in political science, Joel went on to complete a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he teaches courses in the international relations curriculum. Joel’s teaching and research focus primarily on questions pertaining to the legitimation and restraint of military force within the international system. He and his wife Julie enjoy renovating their historic American foursquare home, cooking and dining, and experiencing the joy of life with their son, Jude.

Julie Westra

After receiving my B.A. at Houston, I completed my J.D. at the University of Iowa College of Law. I am currently Associate Legal Counsel at Priority Health, an insurance company based in Michigan. This is an exciting time to be a part of the health care industry. I'm happy to be an active participant in our community along with my husband Joel, and son Jude.