“I normally start my morning with coffee and trying to get ready like everybody else,” says Heather Rawley.
Then comes the question of how to get to campus. She considers a few different options. Carpool? Bus? Or, her personal favorite: bike. A little over a year ago she wouldn’t have considered these choices, like most people she would have just driven her car, “I would never have taken the bus, now I’m like, ‘Ahh, the bus!’ I hate driving.”
If not for her time at UW Tacoma, she imagines she would still be inclined to choose driving. Rawley majors in environmental studies, with a specific focus on alternative transportation. Along with her academic interests, her community involvement with groups focused on sustainability and accessible transportation has played a role in transforming her from habitually driving 45 minutes to work everyday, to someone that feels guilty when she starts her car. But, the biggest element of change for her was simple, being given a bicycle, a gesture that led her to realize her calling: helping others through civic engagement.
Before coming to UW Tacoma, Rawley lived in her native Fortville, Indiana, which she describes with two words: corn and flat. It’s a small town, which she noted has its drawbacks, but it truly showed her the importance of community. She recalls that diversity was sparse and not something which was especially valued. When she moved to Washington two years ago after completing her associate's degree she fell in love with Tacoma and its people.
Rawley quickly branched out, made many friends, and became involved in UWT on the Go, a club which promotes alternative forms of transportation. Eventually, a faculty mentor of hers, Dr. Jim Gawel, gave her a bike—a fixer-upper, but a bike. She took it to Second Cycle, a community bike repair and educational space and she started volunteering there. “Second Cycle is a place where people end up when they need help,” she said. The organization offered her many teachable moments. She saw the reality that not only are alternative forms of transportation essential to the health of the planet, but also to that of a community. Not everyone has a car, not everyone can afford a car, not everyone wants a car. She saw a need for the many individuals who had no alternatives but “alternative” transportation to have access to reliable and efficient methods of transit.
Rawley is a go-getter. When she sees what she wants to do, she dives in. This year she took the reins as president of UWT on the Go, she joined the campus sustainability committee, and she also took up a part-time job doing marketing for women’s cycling group Velofemmes. “I want to live in place where bikes are welcome” she said. Through her many forms of advocacy, Rawley ultimately wants to steer the community towards one of equal accessibility for anyone.
Rawley could not be more grateful to be the person she has grown into here. “I was this country girl who was born and raised in the corn fields,” she said. “UW Tacoma and this state led me to be me.” She has planted roots here, “Tacoma is my home now; eventually I want to hold public office. I want to show people that just because I have a nose piercing and tattoos doesn’t mean I am uneducated and unworthy of being in a professional space.” Of her many goals, her primary one is to help anyone she meets to understand that they have the power to effect change, through using their own voices, and to know that “doing a number of low-impact things can make high-impact changes.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org