Understanding the Past, Looking Forward to the Future
By Thaddeus R. Kleckley (IAS '10)
Founding Faculty Provide Insight at 20 Year Milestone
The University of Washington Bothell stands on its own as a shining beacon for interdisciplinary education, and this academic tradition all started 20 years ago with 13 motivated founding faculty and a vision for the future.
To gain a better understanding of the history of UW Bothell, we turn to a few of the founding faculty that still provide a guiding influence on the campus. Alan Wood, JoLynn Edwards and Dan Jacoby are three of the original faculty. Below is some insight into their experience of the past and hopes for the future.
Thaddeus R. Kleckley: Starting a new university must have been very exciting. What originally brought you to UW Bothell?
Dan Jacoby: Well, I think it was exciting because it was an experiment in education. When we first came to the campus there were only 13 of us from all different disciplines, so the idea of doing something collaborative, something that crossed all boundaries and pushed out of our small boxes was very exciting.
JoLynn Edwards: To start a new university from scratch is very rare in the United States, and so this opportunity to begin again – to use the best models and best practices in our heads from our undergraduate and graduate training, that stood behind my motivation to apply.
Alan Wood: I think there are a couple of levels in which we can answer this question. I think the first way is the simplest – I needed a job. I wanted to stay in the area. The second level of the question, which I feel is more interesting, is why the campus was founded. My original hope was that we could become kind of like a Skunk Works for the University of Washington Seattle. That is to say, we could be an experimental place where new ideas and innovative ways of teaching could be explored.
Thaddeus R. Kleckley: UW Bothell is known for its interdisciplinary approach to education. How did you as founding faculty determine this direction?
Dan Jacoby: Well in part it was determined for us because we were a small institution; there were a small number of us hired, with a necessity to spread us around, so we couldn’t do something traditional. The people who set up our curriculum originally thought about a different way to teach the subjects that they wanted to teach, and that gave us a lot of ideas and opportunities. We pretty quickly dismantled their original ideas and put in our own.
JoLynn Edwards: The 13 of us got in a room, two months before we were to open the school and got to know each other very fast with all day sessions. We compared notes as to what we could teach right off to get a sort of running start. We tried to develop a curriculum that not only played to our strengths, but moved across the curriculum to create synergy between courses… It was that initial trust together, learning to listen to one another and then building these classes, always with the student in mind that inspired us.
Alan Wood: Another way of looking at it is that the world is kind of full of messy, interdisciplinary problems, and so our challenge was developing a curriculum to instruct our students to deal with real world problems which are interdisciplinary in their nature – social, political and economic factors all mixed up together in kind of a stew… A student I had once said: “The reason I came to the University of Washington Bothell was because in a normal disciplinary framework, you are given one tool to deal with life’s problems – and that tool could be chemistry or biophysics... but at the Bothell campus, I feel like I’ve been given a full toolbox. I’m much more flexible. I can deal with all sorts of different problems, which makes me more attractive to employers – especially if I can read, write, and think critically”. We want to train students to deal with very specific problems so they can get a job – but we also want to train them for the future, which requires a holistic approach. It’s a tremendous challenge.
Thaddeus R. Kleckley: This university is constantly growing. What moments stand out to you as being most pivotal to our growth and success?
Alan Wood: That’s a good question. Looking back over the last 20 years, the most pivotal moment was the formation in the 1980’s – the whole notion of branch campuses bringing the University to students. The second pivotal moment was the decision to create interdisciplinary campuses that are autonomous from the main campus. I think that I have come to appreciate most over the past 20 years the sense of community that has been engendered by the administrators, the staff and faculty. All of them have been really focused on the interests of students. I have really been struck by that. We have created a community that respects each other even in spite of disagreement. That sense of community is a valuable phenomenon.
Dan Jacoby: Well, I think there are two moments that come to my mind. One of them was kind of a negative moment. There used to be only one program on campus – the Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences (IAS), then we added on Education and Nursing, then we had to address the question on how to deal with Business. There was a moment when the IAS faculty was thinking of trying to run Business through our own program. Ultimately, I don’t remember if we or somebody else made the decision for us, but there was a realization that Business needed to be in its own home. Probably one of the best decisions we ever made. It would have been very hard to do a Business Program within IAS; I think it left our department with the freedom to do some of the things that we needed to do.
The second moment that I believe is very critical was when we moved to accept first-year students in the programs. That was also a controversial moment… but I believe that this will, in the long run, be the best decision we ever made.
JoLynn Edwards: Originally we were supposed to start; I don’t remember now, nine programs at once, including Engineering and Health Sciences and all sorts of things. But of course, it turned out to be more expensive to start two campuses in Bothell and Tacoma so we only ended up with Liberal Studies (later renamed IAS). Had we remained the 12 or 13 faculty we would have died on the vine. But, fortunately within two years they brought on Nursing and Education, so we had more faculty colleagues. The next year brought Business and then a few years later we brought in Computing & Software Systems. So it wasn’t the same few faculty members that had to do everything. We had colleagues across programs into the professional world that could help shoulder the burden. Even then, I think we were ten years ago pretty shaky, but bringing on the freshman and sophomore students was the deciding factor for us to stay successful.
Thaddeus R. Kleckley: What do you foresee the next 20 years to be like at UW Bothell?
JoLynn Edwards: Well, I imagine we won’t stay small. If we are going to stay at the center of the campus we’ll be in competition with liberal arts colleges in the state and elsewhere. I imagine it will be like having a liberal arts college embedded in a greater university. This would be great, we would have, or I hope we would have, more interdisciplinary offerings so the students can see the connections between the disciplines across the curriculum… UW Bothell will be a different place in 20 years.
Alan Wood: That’s a really big question. I think we are trying to prepare students for a future that we ourselves do not foresee. That involves a need to focus on technology, and a need to understand how students are going to prepare for the future as well. The metaphor that I’ve used for this campus still applies after 20 years – we’re trying to do whitewater rafting while still trying to build the raft. I originally thought that we’d be fully mature 20 years later, but now I think it’s going to be another 30 years in the future.
Dan Jacoby: Now as we start to grow, I can see us more as a full-service institution, with more campus life, more individual programs that respond to specific needs. But I think there is a sense that we’ve already positioned ourselves as leaders in interdisciplinary studies, and I think we’ll retain that, but also combine some of our more traditional programs with new directions that haven’t been played out on other campuses. So I’m looking forward to innovation on our campus.