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Edward Taylor and Thaisa Way: Bus tour brings Washington state into focus

To ride a bus across the state of Washington is to take a seat next to someone new, slow the journey down, and witness how people live, how things grow, how things are built. To see Washington is to see beautiful cities, mountains, farmland, beaches, rainforests, water and desert – all in one state.

Every year, faculty from around the world join the University of Washington, a public institution of higher education and research. They arrive sometimes knowing about Seattle as a technology hub; maybe they recognize Mount Rainier from photographs, have eaten a Washington apple or enjoyed a Washington Merlot.

But to serve our state and its people, our faculty need to know more about it. So every fall UW leaders invite new faculty to board a bus and take a journey. The road trip is designed to introduce them to the complex geography and landscapes, the multiple industries and organizations, and the diverse people and cultures of Washington. During this five-day trip, faculty from the UW’s three campuses hear, see and sometimes even taste our state’s wonders.

We board the bus at the Burke Museum, where we begin by acknowledging the Coast Salish peoples of this land, the land which touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations. Then, we head to Olympia, the capital, where the state comes together through our government. We visit Mount St. Helens, drive along the Columbia River, and tour the Grand Coulee Dam – places that have come to define this state and our heritage. At the Yakima Farm Workers’ Clinic, a wheat farm, and the WSU Wine Science Center we learn how farmers, scientists, clinicians and engineers as well as universities are contributing to our health and well-being. At Hanford we hear about efforts to clean the land and to preserve a remarkable place where rivers converge – a collaboration of government, community and universities.

The road winds through dozens of school districts from Vancouver to Mabton, from Okanogan to Darrington. These are the places from which more than 74 percent of our students come. We visit Heritage University and Nespelem Middle School to listen to teachers and to learn about efforts in local schools and colleges to strengthen our partnerships in education. In Spokane, we meet and welcome incoming Huskies from local high schools and Spokane Community College, one of the UW’s 34 community college partners throughout the state. This web of educational institutions builds a stronger future for all of us; we know that the road that led our undergrads to UW may well lead many of them back home again.

Perhaps now more than ever, it is critical that we revert to time-honored ways of learning, seeing and connecting. What we see is not that which divides us as a state, but that which makes us whole. It is an opportunity to hear about the ways in which communities are working with their schools to improve workforce training and nurture human talent; to see the advanced technology that is necessary to be a successful cherry farmer; to see how leaders in forest industries are stewarding public lands, how rural doctors are serving their communities in ways far beyond their training as physicians, and how clean technology is contributing to economies in practical ways – far beyond the green ideals of Seattle. A recent Pew Research report noted that while there remain differences in the opinions among rural, suburban and urban communities, we are equally committed to place; we tend to stay near family; and we seek to build the communities in which we live. From Forks to Pullman, from Walla Walla to Mazama, from the North Cascades to the Palouse, we all want stronger and more resilient communities where our children can continue to thrive.

This road trip is a beginning for the new faculty on the bus. We are a curious group, driven to build opportunities for learning, so we hope that the tour and the conversations will be the beginning of partnerships between faculty and communities across the state. And we hope that this is a chance to remind all of us of the importance of listening, looking and learning together.

Edward Taylor is vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the University of Washington. Thaisa Way is a professor and chair of the Faculty Senate at UW.


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