Office of the President

May 3, 2016

Foster Pepper’s ‘Wine, Women & What’s Happening’ keynote address  

University of Washington

anamari-cauce[Each year, Pacific Northwest law firm Foster Pepper hosts “Wine, Women and What’s Happening,” an event that brings together a diverse group of women leaders from around the community and across different industries. This year, President Cauce delivered the keynote address. Remarks as prepared for delivery.]

Hello everyone. I want to start by thanking all of you for your support of the UW. I know we have alumnae here, we have parents and family members of our students – and as taxpayers and friends, you are all a part of the UW family, part of what makes our university a one of the world’s great public universities, so thank you. The University of Washington is your university and we’re proud to serve you.

And a big thank you, Judy, for that kind introduction. As a former teacher, you understand how important education is to building a healthy, thriving society. And as a graduate of the UW School of Law, we are so proud to claim you as one of our own. Your work for non-profit and charitable organizations has helped improve life for people in the Puget Sound Region, especially women, and I’m honored by your invitation to speak here today.

This may be the first time I’m meeting some of you, and since you asked me to, I thought I would begin with a little bit of my own story. Since I became the “official” president of the University of Washington last October, I’ve said that if you held up pictures of all the UW presidents in history, even a 2-year-old could point out the one who’s not quite from central casting. I’m proud of the many “firsts” I represent, and I’m also proud to have been an internal candidate, because the UW and Seattle are my home.

I came to the UW in 1986 to teach in the psychology department as a clinical psychologist. I was new to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, and, to be honest, I didn’t really expect to stay here forever. But a funny thing happened – I fell in love with this place. It seemed to me to be a place where you could do big things.  And it is!  I see that over and over at the UW, and the accomplishments of all of you in his room are also a testament to achievements of this community.

This place, the Puget Sound, was like nowhere I had ever lived – the mountains that seemed to rise from the sea; the forces of nature everywhere. The unlimited possibilities to reach and create – it inspired me then and it inspires me today.

You may have heard I was born into a family that fled from Cuba to Miami when I was a toddler. My parents, like many immigrants, were educated people forced to take factory jobs to support their children. And though they had little money, what they did have was optimism and a belief that education was the key to a better life.

That belief sustained and fueled me through my education and eventually led to, not just a career, but a calling as an educator. I went to college with the help of scholarships and I’m profoundly grateful for the sacrifices my parents made that have allowed me to stand here today. It’s why ensuring students have access to excellent education has been and continues to be a priority for me. And it’s what drives me – every day – to make this world a better place.

How does this translate into my leadership at the University of Washington? It means the crucial work we do on behalf of both Access and Excellence is deeply personal to me.

The UW provides access to an outstanding education to more than 40,000 students on three campuses and thousands more through online programs. Washington students are our priority and we are educating and preparing the young people of our region in record numbers, particularly those students who are from modest means and underrepresented groups. I’m so proud that fully a third of our students are the first in their families to attend college. We admit students without consideration of financial means and, thanks to the Husky Promise, ,low-income students who enroll at the UW will have support — nearly 32% of our Washington students – those who need our support the most — pay no tuition at all.

You’ll never hear me brag about the rise in the average entering SAT score or GPA of our incoming freshmen. Our goal is to admit the most students who will do the most good for the world. It’s to attract and welcome innovators and big thinkers, who bring uncommon perspectives and a drive to do. Because innovation is what we do very well at the UW – you don’t even have to take my word for it: Reuters has ranked the UW as the most innovative public university IN THE WORLD.

Now innovation comes from the other half of the equation which is EXCELLENCE. The UW’s impact on our students’ lives and on the vitality of our region and the world is made possible by decades of investment in academic excellence at all levels. Our research impact is well known – name pretty much any issue you are concerned about – national security, heart disease, your child’s learning patterns or the transportation problems in our region – and I can promise you that UW faculty and students are influencing that issue positively. What is perhaps less well known is the incredible teaching – and teachers – that also impact our students every day as faculty and students work together in the Husky Experience. More than 8,000 students participate in hands-on research with top faculty in their fields. Thousands of students embark on internships and service trips annually. I like to say this is a place where we take motivated students of modest means, expand their vistas and launch them into the stratosphere – where they do remarkable, world-changing things.

Now, when I talk about innovation at the UW, I’m talking about inclusive innovation – new ideas, new jobs, new companies created to tackle the challenges that face our city, our region and our world. Innovation that considers not just how we can “disrupt” but also who is being disrupted and how innovation can contribute to the public good.

Which brings me one of the major priorities for the UW that I discussed publicly for the first time yesterday.

I believe that one of – if not the biggest ways the UW can innovate in the service of public good is to put our collective talents to work improving the health and well-being of people here in the Pacific Northwest and all over the world. Yesterday, I invited our community to join in developing a new vision to put our collective excellence to good use. I shared the first steps for establishing a 25-year vision for how the UW, together with the incredible organizations and people in this region, can take work to better people’s lives by deepening our commitment to what we are calling Population Health. Like the Race & Equity Initiative the UW launched last year to combat racism and promote equity and diversity on our campuses, this vision of Population Health is about improving lives and tackling hard problems. And, not coincidentally, many of those problems are interrelated with issues of race and equity.

So, on the heels of yesterday’s talk, I’m very pleased to have the chance to share a bit about that vision with you today, because as I look around this room, I see a lot of leaders invested in the success and well-being of this community, and we need powerful people – powerful women! – to join us in making the vision of transforming public health a reality.

Seattle is one of the world’s great cities. It’s a boom town, and it may seem as if wealth and happiness are plentiful. But for many people in our city and region, the boom has passed them by, or worse, made their lives harder and more tenuous.

Many people in our city and region – our neighbors – face daily trials that are largely invisible to the world. Their children may go to underfunded or declining schools, and they may arrive at those schools hungry or malnourished. They themselves may be facing violence, drugs, or disease, and often they can’t afford to miss work to take care of a sick child or get treatment for themselves when they need it.

They may face racism and discrimination, and find themselves trapped in a multi-generation cycle of poverty. Right here in Seattle, a distance of a few miles can mean a difference in life expectancy of more than a decade. Ours is a city of opportunity, yes. But that opportunity is too often determined not by how hard you work, but by where you were born.

So what do we mean by population health? It includes more than just the absence of disease, though that’s important. Our University plays a crucial role in discovering new treatments and cures for a wide range of diseases and conditions, from emerging diseases like Zika to age-old maladies like cancer. Couple that with our work in developing countries, and the more than $275 million in charity care provided here at home by UW Medicine, and it’s clear that – with your support – our University plays an essential role in helping people live longer, happier lives here and all around the world.

Yet, there are many conditions intertwined with physical and mental health: from nutrition and education, to pollution and issues of equity. And there are many ways one can fall – or be pushed – into poverty. By identifying and addressing the causes and impacts of a broad swath of well-being indicators for populations of people – from neighborhoods to countries – we have an opportunity to truly impact health in profound ways. We have an opportunity to improve the population health of the world.

Amplifying that opportunity is the fact that, here in the Puget Sound region, there are more than 130 organizations working on population and global health. From the Gates Foundation and PATH, to organizations focusing on individual nations or specific maladies, there are few places on Earth with more opportunities for collaboration and collective impact than right here. As a global hub for computing and information technology, we have at our disposal more talent and computing power than has ever before been assembled. Big data, for example, allows us to expose and understand patterns, enabling us to diagnose – and treat – not just individuals, but entire cities – even nations.

So how do we, together, shape and implement a vision for our region over the next two and a half decades?

We start by expanding our commitment to reducing health disparities here and around the globe. Your place of birth should not determine your lifespan. Your skin color should never predestine you to greater suffering.

This vision continues with a determination to increase global security by tackling the challenges of environmental sustainability. Some of the effects of climate change cannot be forestalled, so we must also study ways to improve resilience, especially in those communities – poor communities – most likely to be harmed. And we must strive to address the social and economic inequities that make communities poor in the first place.

We will also seek to inspire the next generation of decision-makers, who will drive health policy with strong evidence and even stronger convictions. We will create new paths for students to pursue careers in population health, building synergies within the wide range of disciplines that can contribute. And we of course want these students to learn from the world’s most outstanding faculty, so we will add to the global leaders who already call the UW home.

Together, they will team up with leaders and collaborators from the communities who have the most to gain from the democratization of health evidence, unlocking the power of data for the benefit of ALL. We have in our pockets more computing power than could ever before have been imagined – let’s encourage people to use it for something more than Snapchat (or Tinder).

I believe there is no region and no university better poised to lead us toward solutions than the Puget Sound region and the University of Washington. I believe everyone in this room (and many outside of it) can contribute to the success of this vision, so that together, we can help people around the world, and right here at home, lead healthier, safer, happier and more fulfilling lives.

That’s what inspires me as a scholar. It’s what motivates me as president. And it’s what drives me as a citizen of this community and of this world.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to visit with you tonight. I look forward to meeting those of you I haven’t met yet, and to working with all of you on this and on a range of other priorities for your University and our community. And I‘m happy to answer your questions.