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UW Bothell grows partnerships beyond classroom

LYNNWOOD — A resident of of YWCA’s Pathways for Women shelter, transitional housing for homeless women and families, voluntarily adopted the site’s communal garden.

She weeds and waters with special attention paid to the lilies. After years of homelessness, she is cultivating roots, and her gardening education was partially inspired by University of Washington Bothell nursing students.

The university is planting seeds of change in classrooms and the wider community. Many disciplines — such as nursing, education and environmental sciences — partner students with organizations for project-based learning. Outside collaborators represent nonprofits, industry, local governments and more.

“The mission is to impact and enhance student learning through mutually beneficial relationships with community partners,” says Kara Adams, interim director, UW Bothell’s Office of Community-Based Learning and Research.

Connections are often arranged by instructors, but organizations are increasingly approaching UW Bothell seeking opportunities. Often, alumni who benefited from similar experiences want to offer the same to current students.

“For many of the mentors, it’s an opportunity to give back. They care about their professions and want to encourage others to consider their fields, too,” Adams says. “They often tell us that it’s energizing for them, too. It reminds them why they enjoy their work.”

Nora Karena, YWCA’s director of Housing Services, graduated with a master’s degree in cultural studies from UW Bothell in 2014. Knowing firsthand the caliber of instruction, she is enthusiastic to work with UW Bothell’s School of Nursing. Nursing students focus time helping clients at Trinity Place and Pathways for Women, an emergency shelter and transitional housing site.

“We rely on community partners to provide enriching, valuable life skills that we generally don’t have the resources to offer ourselves,” Karena says. “The nursing students do community training around public health issues from child safety to nutrition, reproductive health, stress management, nutrition, cooking and gardening.”

The experience is part of the School of Nursing’s “Partners in Community Health” class that centers on nursing outreach to marginalized populations based on factors such as economics and cultural barriers.

Mo West, part-time lecturer in UW Bothell’s School of Nursing and Health Studies, launched her class partnership with Karena and the YWCA in 2012.

Her participating students are already registered nurses seeking further education via a bachelor’s degree. They all have experience in hospital settings, but the community aspect opens their eyes to new needs.

“You have to deconstruct the ivory tower,” West says. “To make our communities stronger and fully promote health and prevention, it’s crucial to immerse yourself in the community’s needs. We have to walk alongside one another and learn together.”

Students gain hands-on experience, but hosting institutions also benefit. Adams cites organizations as being able to increase work capacity. Projects are pursued and completed that otherwise wouldn’t happen due to staffing or budget constraints. Students often bring to the table cutting-edge research, methods and analysis. It also creates an employment pipeline matching qualified, future graduates to potential jobs.

Megan Dunn graduated from UW Bothell in 2013 with a master’s degree in policy studies. One of her classes partnered with Snohomish County PUD to analyze programming for low-income residents — how effective was it and were there more efficient approaches? Her group ultimately presented findings and recommendations to PUD leadership.

“It allowed us to put our learning into practice with real-world implications. I think that made us want to work even harder,” Dunn says. “I definitely gained experience with public speaking and time management. We had to balance the assignment timeline with the real-world timeframe of PUD.

PUD has partnered with two student cohorts. The other project analyzed a proposal of PUD internally switching to a biannual budget system. Students researched utility institutions, conducted interviews and analyzed costs and legal impacts.

“It’s a win-win situation,” says Sarah Amos Bond, budget and financial planning manager, Snohomish County PUD. “The students learn about policy and we get the benefit of getting work done while taking some of the load off our staff.”

For both projects, Bond was impressed by the high caliber of work. She is a 1997 UW Bothell graduate with a master’s degree from the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. She frequently encourages colleagues to consider hiring UW Bothell graduates based on both the positive collaborations as well as general reputation.

Dunn now works as the program director at Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides and employs her learning on a daily basis. In additional to professional expertise, the experience also made a personal impression.

“I live in Everett and read that PUD put some of our recommendations into practice, which was really exciting.” Dunn says.

At this time, there is not a uniform, university-wide program, but Adams hopes for more classes to implement connected learning opportunities. It’s not only a success on paper, but inspiring real-world relationships.

“I was formerly a homeless youth myself,” Karena says. “It’s an amazing thing anytime we can lift people’s sights towards education. The student themselves are role models because many of them have overcome obstacles, too. It’s always valuable to put people in touch so they get to know each other in real ways.”