Putting Her Fears Aside

COML Alumnu, Rebekah Willhite with a stack of her textbooks

July 26, 2023
Jenna Turner ('16) | Graduate Enrollment Management

Rebekah Willhite rekindled her passion for speech communication following a free online class through Harvard and wanted even more. She decided that despite the challenges of going back to school while working full time, she wanted to pursue her master’s in communication and found Gonzaga’s online M.A. in Communication and Leadership (COML) program. Willhite liked that Gonzaga did not require the GRE or GMAT, but because of concerns about being a student with dyslexia, she wanted to be sure Gonzaga was a good fit, so she took advantage of an option to take a class before enrolling.

“I’ve never been afraid of hard work, but I think throughout my career I’ve asked, is this as far as my dyslexia is going to let me go? So, the non-matriculated felt like a safe way to start,” said Willhite.

Willhite was at a crossroads in her professional life, unsure if she wanted to continue in her current career or make a change. She says COML helped her decide.

“I started with Women Communication and Leadership with Dr. Cunningham, and it felt like pieces of the puzzle were finally connecting for me as a woman who wanted a seat at the table, and that just felt natural.”

A second non matriculated course, Communication, Teaching and Pedagogy sealed the deal for Willhite, and she enrolled in the program with the intention of changing her career path.

“I kind of set a goal to be a high school history teacher and 35 years later, I am now a teacher thanks to Dr. Cunningham,” said Willhite.

Willhite pursued COML’s College Teaching of Communication concentration and is now an adjunct professor and works at a high school where she supports students with learning disabilities.

“I really try to think through my systems. My structure is to ensure that I’m following the inclusive pedagogy that we learn about,” said Willhite.

Willhite gained even more insight as a teaching assistant working with Professor Shlossberg in that same course.

“We did this great exercise where he graded the assignments, but then I graded them as well and then we sat and talked about our grading and why we graded individuals a certain way. That time will shape who I become as a teacher. I’m grateful for those insightful conversations that I was able to have,” said Willhite.

Willhite combined her personal experience with dyslexia and her passion for teaching to write a textbook tackling disability rights for her capstone project which she is currently working to get published. She also continues to use her personal and academic experience to support her students in the way she was supported through the COML program.

“I think one thing I hit on a lot about my experience at Gonzaga is that I never had a professor saying no. I always felt that they said some version of ‘that’s a really unique idea, build upon that.’ And that is something I’m very mindful of when I work with students. It’s really empowering to not be told no,” said Willhite.

Willhite feels Gonzaga’s faculty supported her and empowered her to pursue her dreams. She now uses their example to do the same for her students, leaving them with a simple but powerful message on her desk.

“Follow your dreams. Set goals. Do the work. You will not regret it.”


*Non-matriculated courses are available. Talk to an admission specialist about your options.