Soders Establish New Honors Scholarships

March 3, 2022

Soders Establish New Honors Scholarships

$1 million gift creates the Professor Roger and Jane Soder Honors Equity Scholarship, supporting Washington state students who shape the future of democracy.

Portrait of the Soders
Jane and Roger Soder at an outdoor event, December 2021

University of Washington Professor Emeritus Roger Soder believes strongly in the value of learning communities. He believes that students should engage in complex learning that requires them to be deeply introspective — to resist quick and simple answers. He believes students who develop lifelong humanistic skills and critical perspectives will shape the future of democracy.

Higher education spaces, as Soder teaches his Honors students, are “places that can provide a critical vocabulary and a critical place to stand, a place to not only talk about the emperor’s lack of clothes, but whether we need an emperor to begin with,” said Izaiha Ellis, a McNair scholar who graduated with College Honors in 2020.

Soder and his spouse Jane, have established the Professor Roger and Jane Soder Equity Scholarship fund. Their $1 million pledge will create permanent support for Honors students who are Washington state residents of high potential and financial need, and who have a demonstrated commitment to diversity and equity. The first scholarships will be awarded in autumn quarter 2022.

“Jane and I are building this fund to recognize the great work that Honors is already doing here,” said Soder, professor emeritus in the UW College of Education who has taught Honors classes for 15 years. “I have faith that those who will come after will continue to do what is right for the students and improve society in the process.”

Not all students have the resources to take full advantage of the UW Honors Program which brings together undergraduate students and faculty from across the Seattle campus for small, interdisciplinary classes, experiential learning, research and critical reflection.

“I’ve had Honors students holding down two jobs,” he explained, recalling the story of an Honors student who regularly worked the 4 p.m. to midnight nursing shift while enrolled full time in college. One day she rushed up to him in the hall and apologized profusely for missing class. When her shift ended at midnight, her replacement never showed up.

“She had worked from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next day and slept through her alarm. And she says, ‘What do I have to do to make it up?’ And I said: ‘Absolutely nothing.'” She missed class, Soder said, because she was out there doing the care for society that’s at the core of his courses. 

“When students receive our equity scholarships,” said Honors adviser and instructor Claire Grant, “their financial burdens are eased. Those same scholars choose to step into leadership, mentoring, service and other student support roles with a strong conviction to uplift others along with them. These scholars are evidence that our world will be better for it.”

For Wintana Eyob, an Interdisciplinary Honors student from Everett who is pursuing a degree in Informatics, her scholarship meant she didn’t have to worry about paying tuition.

“I was able to balance a couple of leadership positions while being a full-time student and a part-time employee,” said Eyob, who serves on Honors’ intersectional equity and justice workgroup and is a peer educator

The Soders’ gift puts into action what Soder himself has taught his students for years. 

“He teaches us that it is imperative for us to observe with critical eyes, and choose for ourselves what we want our systems to be,” Ellis said. “And, equally as important, what we want our roles to be within those systems we choose to uphold in our communities. His words and teachings still inform how I engage with the systems I find myself in, always remembering to pinpoint what those systems are there for, and whether or not we, those within, are being given a fair deal.”

A passage near the end of Soder’s most recent book, Sustaining a Free Society, illustrates how knowing that someone, even a stranger, cares can contribute to a free society. In it, Soder sits on a chopping block at the edge of his driveway after working in his yard on a hot day. A woman driving past in her car stops and rolls down the window. “Are you okay?” she asks him. “I’m fine, but thanks for checking” he answers. “No problem,” she tells him later. “I just wanted to be sure.”

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