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Prompt 4 – If you could tell one story about your time here at UWT, what would it be?
UW Tacoma was not my first choice school. I applied to 7 different universities, with my number one choice being the University of Washington Seattle campus. I received all my acceptances to the other six universities by mid-February, but I knew I still had to wait to hear from UW Seattle by mid-March. When my rejection letter came in, I examined my other six choices and chose UW Tacoma because of its affordability, closeness to home, and the fact that my best friend had accepted her place here. I am so thankful that I chose to be a student here as it was one of the best decisions of my life. I am a proud UW Tacoma student and I am so grateful for all of the opportunities and blessings I have received throughout my time here.
I don’t have a singular story about my time here, but I’ve had so many great experiences. One story that comes to mind is a time when I met with my academic advisor, Arlyn Palomo, and after planning my classes for the next few quarters, we ended up meeting for 40 more minutes to talk about our experiences as Filipino-Americans. I think that this just sums up what a great and gratifying experience it is to go to an institution where there are people who are there to guide you who look like you and can share similar stories with you. The ability to see yourself within the faculty and staff and to see that diversity is amazing. And I love UW Tacoma for this very fact. That not only is our student population unique and diverse, but that we are also striving to copy this in our faculty and staff. Other great experiences are the ones where I pushed myself to be involved with the campus like at the involvement fairs, block party, and the annual OSCARS.
In addition to students, staff and faculty sitting for interviews, we also had several who responded to one of several story prompts on our website. Below is one such story, posted in June by UW Tacoma student, Stacey Fernandez.
Prompt 1 – If you could attribute your success to one teacher or person at UWT, who would it be and why? What would you say to them if you were given the opportunity?
“Getting to university was such a long, painful, and difficult journey for me. I arrived at UWT in the Autumn of 2018 filled with hope, joy, and a deep passion for social work. It did not take long for those feelings to vanish and be replaced with fear, a sense of not belonging, and despair. With a combination of those feelings and with the messages I received, I contemplated leaving UWT. I would never imagine that by enrolling in one literature class, that it would absolutely change my life. In Winter quarter I walked into Dr. Deirdre Raynor’s class and she changed my life. For the first time I felt a sense of belonging. The kindness, empathy, love, intelligence, and care that she radiated to the students was new and refreshing to me. Her genuine character and honest behavior made me realize there were individuals on this campus that I could trust. I finally felt safe and valued. I know that if I would not have enrolled in her class I would have left this campus. Thank you, Dr. Raynor! You helped me in a time when others dismissed me, and I will complete my degree thanks to you. I will forever cherish Dr. Raynor’s kindness, support, and the wisdom she shared with me.”
Stacey’s story assures us all that one person truly can have a profound impact on the future and success of another person.
We recently had the opportunity to interview Ella Lucente, a senior studying Politics, Philosophy, and Economics with a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies. When she’s not in classes, Ella is the Editor-in-Chief of the The Ledger, Editor-in-Chief of UW Odyssey the Online Platform, President of the ACLU UWT Chapter, and interns with the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center. While it may seem like Lucente is the poster-story for success in college, she has overcome a lot in order to get to where she is today, and none of it would have been possible without the help and guidance of her mentor, Dr. Caroline West.
When Lucente first transferred to UWT she was studying Arts, Media, and Culture. After taking Dr. West’s course on Family Violence as an elective, Lucente quickly realized that this major was not something she was truly passionate about. Lucente decided to meet with Dr. West to discuss her fears about her major and the impact it would have on her future career; when she realized that Lucente’s true passions were for the legal system, law, and advocacy, Dr. West encouraged her to work towards becoming an advocate for those who need legal assistance – she also strongly encouraged Lucente to enroll in her trilogy of classes (Family Violence, Sexual Violence, and Sexual Deviance).
Shortly after this conversation, Lucente changed her major to Politics, Philosophy, and Economics. Believing that law school would quickly be in her future, Lucente made great efforts towards becoming more involved on campus so that she could present a strong resume and application. Knowing that her current position as an opinion-columnist for The Ledger would pave the path towards becoming the next Editor-in-Chief, she decided to pursue her passion for writing by joining Odyssey as a Content Creator; she also joined the Pre-Law Society where she was quickly elected Secretary, and she applied for a position on the Student Activities Fee Committee (SAFC) along with several internship opportunities.
Things were going incredibly well for Lucente until she was faced with several health problems that greatly impacted her ability to work and take classes. While her professors and her advisor at The Ledger were more than willing to work with her, she had to resign her position as Secretary for the Pre-Law Society. After several weeks of recovery Lucente was able to resume her responsibilities but discovered that not only was she not able to return to her position as Secretary, but she was also denied the SAFC position and her internship. She described that say as heartbreaking and devastating, but also humbling because it helped her realize that she was not invincible and that she would need to work harder to achieve her goals.
With the help, guidance, and encouragement of Dr. West, Lucente was able to turn the “no’s” into “yes’s” and find hope and success in the face of rejection. From there she found the courage to become the Editor-in-Chief of the Odyssey and The Ledger, she applied for an internship with the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center with a recommendation from Dr. West, and she created her own club to combat civil rights issues on campus (ACLU UWT Chapter). Lucente truly believes that Dr. West had played a crucial role in her success at UW and is grateful for her guidance and encouragement:
“Dr. West helped me find hope. When I lost everything, I found resources here. I found Dr. West, who helped me get those resources. I was trying to find an internship; I got a lot of fails, and then she gave me the one that’s really helped the most. So, I think without her I don’t think I’d be where I am not. She gave me the courage to really step up and own myself, because I was super insecure: I didn’t want to apply anywhere, I didn’t want to do Editor-in-Chief of The Ledger, I was scared. I was scared to do Editor-in-Chief of Odyssey- it’s intimidating. And she pushed me to keep going.She’s probably one of my biggest support on campus. She’s incredible. She changed my life for the better.”
Reflecting on her experiences at UWT over the past year, Lucente made the comment that “not every story is ‘oohh you get a lot of success’ – you know, you get a lot of trials and errors” which is something that many of us know to be true through our own experiences. UWT is brimming with professors like Dr. West, who are willing to help us find the resources we need to be successful, even when are facing trials and rejection.
When we asked Lucente to describe UW Tacoma in a single word, she replied “Hopeful. There is no other word to describe it.This is the place where I found everything. I found hope here, this was my hope. And I love UWT. A lot.”
Evelyn Shankus (Evy) currently teaches 300 and 400-level Business Management courses as a Senior Lecturer in the Milgard School of Business. But she also takes students on Global Study Abroad trips, oversees the business interns, and works with the Academic Policy and Curriculum Committee. She was initially hired in March 1995 to teach 300 and 400-level business classes through a unique program known as the “2+2 Program,” which came about through a partnership between the University of Washington Tacoma and Olympic College as a way to offer UW courses in Kitsap County. After only two quarters of teaching in the 2+2, Shankus was brought in to teach those same classes at UW Tacoma.
Not many of us remember the beginning years before campus was built and classes were taught in the nearby Perkins Building, but Shankus experienced those years first hand.
“We would teach in offices. It was just a handful of students, and it was literally an office. It was so weird. It felt more like campfire stories. There was no chalkboard, there wasn’t a projector. It was just people, not many people in a room.”
Within the span of a few years the campus experienced dramatic changes that Shankus was fortunate enough to experience.
During the interview, we asked Shankus to describe UW Tacoma in one word, and the word she chose was transformational. “In a million years, you would have never imagined how transformative this campus has been to this region and this area. I love that it just created this whole beautiful opportunity to grow small businesses, and be a place where people gather, and just watching the old buildings come back to life, one at a time, I mean, what more can you ask–to have that kind of profound effect on an area.”
For Shankus, one of the things that sets UW Tacoma apart from other universities is how much it has changed from its early beginnings. “It was very much populated by homeless people. The Mission was downtown, and it was a troubling sort of place.” She remembers it as an area where you couldn’t walk to your car alone, and she recalled finding syringes on campus because of the profound drug problems in the area.
Beyond the physical and community changes over the last two plus decades, there have also been changes to the academic programs since Shankus was hired, particularly in the Milgard program. “It wasn’t Milgard for quite a while, so I remember that as a big transition too. That’s probably been about 15 years now. It’s grown a lot, but I think it has stayed true to its original vision. It’s always been very grounded in the management of people, and that hasn’t changed; the school has changed, but it hasn’t.” This idea is something we have heard on numerous occasions over the course of the project – continuity in the face of change.
Towards the end of the interview, we deviated from the theme of transformation and change, and shifted towards the attitude and atmosphere of our campus:
“The University is truly a reflection of the community in which it does its work. This isn’t an Ivory Tower – this is a place where people come together, that they see themselves everywhere they look. It’s an extremely diverse, and welcoming, and kind, and safe place. And I love that about here. I just feel like everybody is here, on the same page, for the same reason – it’s to help each other. You don’t get that everywhere, and that’s why I’ve stayed all this time. Something that’s never changed is everybody is here because they really believe in what we are doing. The students are one of us, they are very much the core of why we’re here, and they’re just like us. We are very inclusive, very reflective, and very egalitarian in the sense that everybody is welcomed.”
Sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine the roots of our campus and really understand where we come from as a campus community; not every campus or every university has had such a profound impact on the surrounding area and culture, but UW Tacoma has. Evelyn Shankus has had the incredible opportunity to not only see those roots first hand, but also see many of the changes that have made this campus what it is today. “I feel very fortunate to have been part of that evolution,” she added. “The macro-level evolution is my favorite memory of UW Tacoma.”
This summer, we had the opportunity to interview Zvon Casanova, a 2016 UW Tacoma Alumni who currently works as the Program Assistant for the Department of Student Engagement in the University Y Student Center. When we asked him to describe UW Tacoma using one word, he said, “I would say dynamic. That’s the very first word that comes to my mind.” As he described his experiences here at UWT and reflected on his time here, the word “dynamic” was repeated and expanded.
One of the things Casanova reflected on during his interview were the many changes he has seen since first becoming a student here in 2012. “I came here at a really awesome time because the YMCA wasn’t built yet, and I think the Joy Building was just built at the time. It’s just amazing to see how dynamic this campus is and how much it’s grown since.” And this growth has not just occurred on the campus itself but has even spread into the surrounding city of Tacoma. “The population is growing,” he noted. “You’re getting all of these folks coming from multiple areas and regions. I’m in Tacoma back and forth enough these past few years to really see how dynamic and diverse it’s gotten.” This is a sentiment that has been expressed regularly and consistently over the course of this project – Tacoma is changing, and UW Tacoma has played a pivotal role in those changes.
When we asked him about his experiences studying Communications, he explained how the interdisciplinarity of his courses contributed to the dynamic nature of the campus as a whole and provided an incredibly well-rounded education.
“The subjects you learn about are multi-faceted. You hear these multiple perspectives from the students, as well as faculty, and then the staff that you connect with. It’s like a diverse intellectual mindset from each person, especially if they are coming from different universities or institutions, and you really get to take that perspective in account with the stuff that you’re learning inside the classroom. So, I would say my education here was very expensive. Even up until today as a staff…I’m learning from so many folks from other institutions and hearing their experiences with their education and what they learned. It’s still stimulating. It really motivates you to learn more. It really opens your mind.”
Casanova believes the dynamic nature of this campus extends beyond the classroom and into the extra-curricular aspects of UW Tacoma. At one point, he shared with us his passion for encouraging students to be actively involved on campus – a passion which began during his New Student Orientation when he attended a workshop on student involvement, which was led by the Dean of Students, Ed Mirecki.
During his freshman year Casanova’s peer advisors from Orientation encouraged him to become involved with the Student Activities Board, and they provided him with other resources and ways to be involved on campus. It was their dedication and passion for involvement that led Casanova to become a peer advisor himself the following year. “It was definitely a great experience. You connect with so many folks and you build such strong relationships with the folks here on campus.The people I connected with through all these years at UW, they were able to challenge me to come out of my comfort zone and really be more than who I am.”
For Casanova, being involved on campus provides the opportunity to form connections and create relationships with people who you may not get the opportunity to interact with on a day-to-day basis. He strongly encourages every student to explore different RSOs and opportunities on campus, to “challenge yourself to really broaden your world and your network – to get involved with all these organizations. Just take time, a couple minutes, to stop by and connect with folks, because it can start with a simple ‘hi,’ but you never know where it might take you.”
Given how dynamic and ever-changing UW Tacoma is, Casanova is curious to see what the future holds for the campus and its students. “You know, it makes you wonder how the campus is going to grow and how it’s going to tailor itself to that growth around campus. I do hope for the best with Tacoma and its legacy and the students.” He reflected briefly on Commencement and how profound and bittersweet it was to see the future generations, the future leaders, go across the stage knowing who they are, what they’re passionate about, and the impact they want to make on the world. “I’m curious to see how the next 5-7 years go.”
Zvon Casanova was right to describe UW Tacoma as dynamic. We are a campus that is full of energy and new ideas, constantly changing, diverse, and progressive. We are dynamic in our academic and extra-curricular programs, and we strive for change and diversity in everything we do.
Some of the stories that we’ve collected as part of this project have come to us through interviews and others have come by way of responses to writing prompts. Below is a creative piece that was shared with us by Dani Combs, a 2019 UW Tacoma graduate. We loved it and wanted to share it alongside all of the other amazing UW Tacoma stories we’ve collected.
What does community mean to me?
What is “Community”
Well, define for me, if you will,
-”Did you do the reading?”
-”Sorry I’m late, I couldn’t find parking!”
-”I’ll watch you walk to your car”
-”Text me when you get home!”
-”No negativity here!”
-”What happens when we graduate?”
-”Want some cookies? I stressed baked.”
-”Want a bite?”
“I can’t, I’m on a diet. Do you?!”
“I can’t, my diet!”
Now, tell me, if you would be so kind,
Where is your “community?”
For Rachel and Haiden
Below is a story written for the April kick-off for our storytelling project:
“Although there are so many people who have had an influence in my life over the 8 years I’ve spent on the UW Tacoma campus—including faculty like Nicole who was not even one of my professors but encouraged me in my educational goals and let me know she cared about me as a person; there were advisers, librarians, and TLC staff who helped me re-learn the ropes of academia after a VERY long time away from college; and fellow students who, even though most were easily half my age, became colleagues and forever friends.
Although we don’t have enough time tonight for me to tell you about all of them, I can, however, point to three people without whom I would not be standing here today.
I arrived on this campus for the first time in 2011, for what was supposed to be an information session for prospective students. But that meeting ended up a conversation between Karin Dalesky and me—just the two of us in a room full of empty desks on the main floor of WCG. The session had been cancelled or moved to another day—I was never sure which—but either way, I was the only person who showed up.
But Karin still came down from her office to talk to me.
Perching herself on the sill of a window overlooking the courthouse on Pac Ave, Karin spent nearly an hour telling me about the campus and answering my questions about my program. When I left that day, I knew I’d found the place I wanted to be. If people on this campus were willing to go out of their way to accommodate a person who showed up on the wrong day, I had a feeling I just might fit in.
I wouldn’t be here today without Karin.
The second person who had a big impact on my time as a UW Tacoma student was Divya McMillin.
I first met Divya during an interview for Global Honors after I’d read about the program online and decided to apply. But gaining entrance to the program required a face-to-face interview, so I came down to campus and nervously sat in a tiny office with Divya and then-program coordinator Linda Gilbert, hoping to convince them I was a worthy candidate.
Wonder of wonders, in spite of my nerves and occasionally stumbled answers to their questions, I was admitted, and thus began a two year adventure that stretched my thinking, challenged my understanding of the world I thought I knew, and set me on the road to an internship at an international conference in Munich, a study abroad trip to Rome, a senior thesis that 6 years later is still among the top downloads on the Digital Commons, and my first thoughts of someday attending graduate school. And behind all of those things was Divya’s encouragement and support. Although as a non-traditional student, I thought that things like study abroad trips and internships were only for the young, Divya not only pointed me in the direction of opportunities that she felt I could benefit from but gave me the push I needed to reach for them. She agreed to become my thesis advisor, and then pushed me to write the best paper I’ve written to date. She also wrote one of the glowing recommendations that got me into graduate school.
I wouldn’t be here today without Divya.
The third person who has made a big difference in my educational journey is Anna Salyer. My first memory of Anna is at new student orientation in September of 2011. A tiny lady with long white hair and a blinding smile, she almost glows in the spotlight of my memory as she stands at the front of a room filled with computers (the Science building, I think), walking a brand-new UWT students through the process of signing into the online library system for the first time. I met Anna again a few months later as she sat at the research desk. I had come for help in figuring out how to find the sources I needed for a paper, and her familiar face eased my nerves a bit. Her patience with my questions not only led me to the sources I needed to be successful in that paper—but through many projects that followed, including the paper that won me a UW library research award, my senior thesis, and a slew of graduate school papers. Anna’s assistance and wonderful letter of recommendation also helped me win a graduate research award, but most important, it’s brought me someone who has become a valued friend and colleague.
I wouldn’t be here today without Anna.
As a UWTacoma alumni and a current staff member, I think about these three people—and all the rest who have had a major impact on my life over the last 8 years—and I hope that one day, other students will be able to tell similar stories about me. I hope they’ll remember me as willing to listen and answer questions. I hope they’ll remember me as interested in their papers or projects. I hope they’ll say that my extension of friendship made a difference in their lives.
That they wouldn’t be here today without me.
Then, and only then, will I know that all I received here at UW Tacoma has been passed on, and I will have succeeded in what I set out to do.
April 24, 2019