Guest Opinions

An education road trip around Washington state

Fresh off of graduation ceremonies, but before next year’s classes are fully prepped, new faculty and librarians from the University of Washington will take to the road.

Some of our fellow travelers will be new to Washington, unsure of what to expect. Others grew up here and studied elsewhere only to return to begin their careers in Seattle, Tacoma, Yakima or Bothell.

What we have in common is that this week we will board a bus and travel together across the state of Washington for five days, a school bus of sorts. Our purpose is to better understand the place where we teach, do research, serve and live. As one traveler from last year noted “I knew the state too little. This way (by bus) it seemed great.”

We begin our bus tour on the Seattle campus at Mary Gates Hall, a place for teaching, student learning and support. This is where students orient and connect. Thus, we start where many of our students start.

From here, we can view Rainier Vista, an introduction to the landscape of Washington and the Pacific Northwest. We ground ourselves here in a space that was once home to Coast Salish tribes and today provides a shared space for students, faculty, and staff from around the world

Along the way, we will visit the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic in Toppenish and Heritage University, then go on to visit Two Mountain Winery in Zillah. On Tuesday, our second overnight stop is in Richland, the center of the state, and on Wednesday morning we will see the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO at Hanford.

It’s important that we visit the Tri-City area because this region sends more than 400 students to the UW each year — about 100 of whom have been eligible for the Husky Promise, which ensures the cost of tuition and fees are covered for low-income students.

We travel this road because 75 percent of our students are from Washington and our region, and many will remain here when they graduate. Our work is intimately connected to the inhabitants, structures, values and ideas that make us who we are.

To be sure, the human and geographic diversity of our region is awe-inspiring.

The five-day trip is concise and intentional. We listen to farmers who nurture and grow Granny Smith Apples in Brewster, Washington. Apples from this farm will be baked into pies in local homes and will make their way through deep water ports that end up in school lunches in Shanghai.

We will learn that — although different in size, scope and location — Evergreen State College, Heritage College in Toppenish, Spokane Falls Community College, and Gonzaga University are all in the same vocation: advancing knowledge and educating people to be intelligent, down-to-earth, brave, and decent citizens of our state and in our world.

We are truly in this together.

We learn from legislators in Olympia and Spokane that government matters and their understanding of and support for education matters. Along the way we will make note that hardware store in Centralia, the community in Grant County who helped our marching band last November, the feed store in Yakima, the Western wear store along the route and the Boeing plant in Everett are all connected and have a purpose.

Democracy is not only a form of government; it is a way of living, participating and belonging.

As we travel the roads of Washington, the beauty of our state will take our breath away. Lake Washington, Mount Saint Helen’s, the Gorge, Grand Coulee Dam, the wheat fields that line I-90. Majestic Mount Rainier will humble the brainiest among us.

We will be reminded of our place among myriad creatures in a vast ecosystem of beings that includes rainbow trout, quail, whitetail deer, diminutive lichens, giant Palouse earthworms, deer-ferns — all of which help check our human view of the world.

Upon our return from our journey we should be grateful, humble, a bit more learned, and above all — connected. And we will be in awe of the rich and mystifying state in which we are so fortunate to work and live.

Ed Taylor is vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs at the University of Washington. Thaisa Way is an urban and landscape historian at UW.

  Comments