Big birthday for UW Bothell: 25 years and counting

BOTHELL — It was 25 years ago that the University of Washington Bothell received its charter and a tiny campus was established in a rented space at the Canyon Creek office park.

Many of today’s students weren’t born when their predecessors were listening to lectures inside those original cramped quarters.

That first campus boasted just one degree: liberal studies. Now there are more than 40 degrees, options and certificates with more planned for the future.

UW Bothell Chancellor Bjong Wolf Yeigh, the third chancellor in the school’s history who came aboard a year ago, said what impresses him most about the college is the focus on students and student engagement.

“We are not only the fastest growing campus in the state of Washington or the Pacific Northwest … we are the fourth fastest growing campus in the U.S.,” Yeigh said.

These statistics, based on six-year national enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics, are all the more impressive because the UW Bothell nearly wasn’t founded at all.

It was a handful of dedicated advocates who pushed for a branch of the venerable institution to be built at the juncture of Snohomish and King counties.

Support for the project was lukewarm at best, with many people doubting the campus would attract any students with the main campus in Seattle so close at hand.

“The campus was by no means an accepted institution at the beginning,” said Alan Wood, one of the founding faculty members. “Almost every year there were legislators who wanted to close down the new campus, and their comments were given wide publicity.

“UW Tacoma was more secure because it had a major metropolitan area solidly behind it, whereas UW Bothell did not,” Wood said.

But the founding faculty members — 13 in all — were so inspired by the opportunity to be in at the beginning of what could someday be a major university that they were willing to sign their contracts for the job and accept the chance that the venture may fail, he said.

The organization of the campus took time and it wasn’t until August 1990 that Wood and his colleagues were able to sit down and talk curriculum.

They had just a month and a half to create the entire academic structure and curriculum for the new university.

Wood, who still teaches history at the college, likened the frenetic experience to designing and building a raft while whitewater rafting.

“We did the entire curriculum in one weekend just by going to a whiteboard and putting down the courses we wanted to teach,” he remembered.

For the founding staff, the first academic year was characterized by many 14-hour days, meetings and problem-solving on the run in order to serve 126 students. In 2013-14, more than 4,600 students were enrolled at the college.

In 1992, the first official commencement was held. It honored just 26 students — considerably fewer than the more than 1,600 who received degrees last year.

UW Bothell had a somewhat different vision in those early days as well.

Those first students had an interdisciplinary program that exposed them to a variety of fields of study rather than a single focus.

It soon was discovered that some potential students were put off UW Bothell due to lack of more specific majors.

Big expectations also were put on the campus because of the affiliation with the UW in Seattle. As a result, the school became more disciplinary and began to add majors. Local industry and community demands for professional programs also helped change the shape of the curriculum.

“Business is a popular and heavily demanded major here at UW Bothell and we are adding this fall a new degree program in accounting,” Yeigh said. “The Nursing and Health Sciences programs have been very popular but also very needed.”

One of the school’s strongest programs helps registered nurses who have a completed associate degrees obtain a bachelor’s of science in nursing.

Some of these health science programs are offered in downtown Everett in partnership with the University Center at the Everett Community College campus.

From recently added graduate programs in cyber security to soon-to-launch programs in chemistry, mechanical engineering and computer engineering, UW Bothell is exceeding the academic growth of most other universities yet the campus, no longer located in a business park, remains modest in size.

The national square-foot-per-student average at a university is 200. In Washington, most schools are above 100 square feet per student.

“At UW Bothell, we are 79 square feet per student,” Yeigh said. “We’re very compact and obviously we need more space.

“But we also are rounding out the student experience overall — not just the academic experience but student life.”

The school has some recent additions to its footprint.

A student sports and recreational facility was dedicated in 2012 and construction is now complete on Discovery Hall, which will be home to science, technology, engineering and math programs in the fall.

Moving forward, Yeigh hopes to expand the residential and student life facilities to give the student body a greater overall student experience. The school broke ground for a new student activity center in July.

UW Bothell has come a long way in 25 years. It has been quite a rollercoaster ride for Wood, but he is pleased with what he and his colleagues have accomplished and how they kept the core of their vision intact.

“I have been enormously impressed and inspired over the years by the commitment of the staff and faculty on this campus to the welfare of students,” Wood said. “That is marvelous in itself, of course, and a lot of institutions say that about themselves, but here it goes much deeper than that.”

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