Comment: UW sending new professors on a bus tour of state

Before they begin teaching UW students, the professors will get to know where their students come from.

By Hilary Godwin and Ed Taylor / For The Herald

Twenty-seven students will take their seat in rows facing the front.

Their classes will be in-person, delivered by instructors from various fields — geography, ecology, indigenous culture, public health, history and more — all they’ll be taught in classrooms across Washington.

These are not your typical classes or your typical students. They are the newest professors to join the University of Washington’s campuses in Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma, and for five days this June, these professors will become students, traveling by bus across the state to learn about the state that the majority of UW students come from.

The group will board the bus at the Burke Museum in Seattle, our state’s museum of natural history and culture. They’ll learn about the fragile ecosystems in fresh waters of Lake Washington and how they connect to Puget Sound. And they’ll discuss the people, music, industries and demographics of Seattle and King County.

The bus will drive to Tacoma for a tour of the port, then to Olympia to meet with elected officials and learn about state government. A stop near Mount St. Helens — adjusted to accommodate the recent landslide, itself a lesson on Washington’s ever-changing landscapes — will focus on the epic eruption and its lingering effects. The bus will then follow the Columbia River before making its way to the Yakima Farm Workers’ Clinic in Toppenish for a lesson on how community clinics promote residents’ health and well-being. Next the class will move to Heritage University, one of our state’s private universities, where we’ll focus on the work and values our institutions share.

Day three, the traveling classroom will cross the sagebrush landscape. In a sign that Huskies and Cougars can always find common ground, the class will stop to learn about viticulture at the Washington State University Wine Science Center. Then at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) Hanford, scientists will explain how they listen for the faint sounds of gravitational waves from the most energetic events in the universe. Returning their gaze to the earth, the professors will experience first-hand the rich agricultural heritage of our state as they follow the Columbia River north to Quincy, then east to a wheat farm near Ritzville.

In Spokane, these new UW professors will welcome incoming Huskies from local high schools and Spokane’s community colleges — the latter just two of the UW’s 34 community college partners throughout the state. The group will learn how the UW School of Medicine and Gonzaga are educating the next generation of doctors and health professionals through a new building in Spokane.

From there, the roaming classroom will head to the Colville Reservation, where the newest inhabitants of this region will meet the ancestors of the first peoples to call these lands home. They will meet with and learn from tribal leaders and pay respect to elders past and present. Finally, the bus will wind its way through the northern Cascades, where we’ll breathe the fresh mountain air and give thanks for being part of this incredible network of communities and landscapes, and for the opportunity to be guests on these beautiful lands.

The final leg of the trip, through Snohomish County, with its diversity of industry and stunning natural beauty.

We will be alongside these new professors every step of the way. Together, through this trip, and the connections it will form, we will all move outside our own experiences, biases and prejudices. We will open ourselves to perspectives different from our own. We will learn how the UW is both the University of Washington and the University for Washington; working for every community, every student.

And when these professors are back on campus and step into their classrooms for the first day of classes this fall, they do so with an even better appreciation of what makes our state — and our students — so special.

Hilary Godwin is dean of the UW School of Public Health and professor in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences, with expertise in interdisciplinary collaborative research and leadership in environmental health.

Ed Taylor is vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs and professor of education in the College of Education at the University of Washington.

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