Undergraduate Academic Affairs
October 31, 2011
Dear UAA Alumni and Friends
With the growth in undergraduate tuition and the complexity of the moment that we live in, this is a remarkable and noteworthy time to be dedicated to the education and preparation of undergraduate students for the 21st century. I was reminded of this at Freshman Convocation, our ceremonial welcoming of freshmen to the University of Washington. Hec Ed was full of new Huskies and their families—it was an inspiring moment kicking off a new stage in the lives of these students, beginning the celebration of the UW’s 150th anniversary, and introducing our new president, Michael K. Young, to the newest members of our community. Following the ceremony, I had the opportunity to shake hands with students from all over the globe. Despite—and perhaps because of—the challenges our community faces, it was an exuberant, exciting, and invigorating start to the quarter.
UAA Alumni: What are you doing now? How have your undergraduate experiences impacted your current work? Tell us about it by emailing UAAalum@uw.edu and we’ll include it in the Alumnotes section of this e-newsletter.
This quarter, I am teaching a Freshman Interest Group class with Honors Program Director Jim Clauss in which we examine transformation through varied texts including Virgil’s Aeneid, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and a beautiful book of poems called The Bled by Frances McCue. Each week, we sit down with 20 of our freshmen and get an up close look at why we speak of our students as being so talented and diverse. I was compelled by a student from Rainier Beach connecting Aeneas’s personal transformation to her own thoughts about her personhood as she transitions into the UW. Listening to a young man from Bellevue and a young woman from Taiwan talk about these texts and what it means to understand transformation and heroism in both a classic and contemporary sense gave me an up close look at what it means to build an intellectual and social community around issues that matter in the world. The closer I look, the more profound I find our students to be.
As I reflect on these and other UW undergraduates and the journeys they are embarking upon—some of quite epic proportions—I am reminded of William Cronon’s essay, “Only Connect,” in which he discusses the purpose of a liberal arts education as that of “nurtur[ing] the growth of human talent in the service of human freedom.” He concludes that “In the act of making us free, [education] also binds us to the communities that gave us our freedom in the first place; it makes us responsible to those communities in ways that limit our freedom. In the end, it turns out that liberty is not about thinking or saying or doing whatever we want. It is about exercising our freedom in such a way as to make a difference in the world and make a difference for more than just ourselves.”
This freedom relates to the kind of commitment the UW makes to the public: that we will educate young people well; that we will enact and engage the values of integrity, truth, and discovery. At some level, these values are really about the formation of relationships. They are lived out in classrooms, in the research process, in mentorship and advising, and through service to the community.
And we see the embodiment of this work in our alumni, which you’ll learn about in this issue of our e-newsletter. Best-selling novelist David Guterson is deeply involved in his community. Several alumni are teachers, one of our most noble professions, and share their insights from a variety of classrooms. Hear 2007 CNN Hero and UW alumnus Peter Kithene talk about how the relationships he formed here inspired him to continue the work of bringing healthcare to his home village in Kenya. At the end of the day, all these endeavors are ultimately about the shaping of human lives in service to improving the world that we live in.
So while this is a challenging moment for our University and community, and while we may at times feel burdened by budget cuts and a sense of scarcity, the well of student and alumni talent never runs dry and it is from there that we draw inspiration.
Vice Provost and Dean