Connecting with the Life of the State

Last June, on the Monday morning after Commencement, 35 UW faculty members and I boarded a tour bus for a five-day trip around the state. All of us were relative newcomers-we'd been here three years or less-and the trip was designed as a kind of course on the state of Washington.

Our tour stops included Microsoft, Boeing, a Wenatchee fruit orchard, Grand Coulee, the Yakama Nation, a Farm Workers Clinic, the Wind River Canopy Crane in Gifford Pinchot National Forest, and the Port of Tacoma. We slept in Leavenworth, Spokane, Yakima, and Skamania. We crossed the Cascades (twice), the Columbia, the eastern wheat fields. We talked to people everywhere, including state legislators in Spokane and a group of new UW students and their parents at a "Welcome to Washington" event sponsored by the Alumni Association.

The trip was memorable for all of us, I believe, and certainly for me. Though I'd already done a fair amount of traveling around the state, I learned still more this time about Washington's amazingly varied terrain, people, work, and issues. Better yet, I got to watch the excitement and curiosity of 35 young faculty members as they made their own discoveries. Representing fields from philosophy to environmental science, from Japanese to pathology, from mechanical engineering to history, from pediatrics to paper science, the tour group brought an amazing range of perspectives to bear on the common experience.

The goal, of course, was to help these smart, engaged, lively people become even better at what they do. To make them better teachers, we wanted to give them a deeper and more vivid sense of where their students come from. And we wanted them to see the wide array of opportunities for research and service-to understand how their own interests and expertise could connect with the life of the state.

So they learned firsthand, in the field, about UW involvement in aerospace research, in forestry and fisheries issues, in improving rural health care, in nuclear-waste cleanup, and of course in education. They also learned, from the warmth of the welcome we received everywhere, how highly the UW's contributions are valued. I think the trip really brought to life, for these new faculty, the notion of a broad, working partnership between the University of Washington and the state of Washington.

For me, it also reinforced the paradox at the heart of our relationship to the state: while Washington is the laboratory and the beneficiary of much of our work, the University is valuable to the state precisely because our sights and our ambitions reach well beyond its borders. Only by competing in the national and international arena-for faculty members, for research funds, for awards and distinctions of all kinds-can we serve the state at the highest level.

This message was implicit all along the tour route. At Microsoft, we heard how important UW research collaborations and students had been to the company's phenomenal success. Not coincidentally, the UW has had a top-ten computer science program ever since national ratings in this field began. At the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, we heard how much the medical staff there relied on a whole network of connections with the UW medical school. Again, not coincidentally, the UW has the highest-ranked program in rural medicine in the nation.

Now we are gearing up for the second annual Faculty Field Tour, departing campus this June 14. I'm already looking forward to another round of discoveries and new acquaintances. The tour route is somewhat different this year (see map), but the goals are the same. If you live along the route, wave as we roll by!

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