Most 18-year-olds are afraid of in-class presentations. But in February, UW Tacoma freshman Dain Yoshizumi spoke in front of the Washington State House Education Committee.
Wearing his UW Tacoma pin, Yoshizumi shared his high school experience, talking about how he struggled to connect with his teachers and felt pigeonholed as an Asian student, until he was inspired by his Filipino Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) teacher.
“I’m not just Asian – I’m a Japanese-Filipino-Spanish first-generation college student,” he said to the committee. “One characteristic does not define an individual.”
Now Yoshizumi is a passionate advocate for a more nuanced representation of student identities in public schools. He helps manage the social media campaign for All Students Count Act and volunteers at events and organizations like the Wing Luke Museum, all while working part-time and attending UW Tacoma full time.
“I want to go into the community and help advocate,” says Yoshizumi. He hopes to use his business knowledge to “go beyond what’s expected.”
Yoshizumi is applying business skills he is learning at UW Tacoma to support a cause. And he is gaining these leadership skills as a college freshman – part of the first cohort of 29 freshmen accepted directly into the Milgard School of Business at UW Tacoma.
The Inaugural Class
Milgard is the first academic unit on campus to directly accept freshmen. In the traditional pathway, lower-level students can take business classes, but need to apply to the school as sophomores to major in business administration.
Milgard will continue to accept students through this pathway, but the Freshman Direct Admissions program will offer a group of focused students the chance to get involved as leaders earlier and learn as a cohort. All accepted UW Tacoma students who choose business as their intended major are considered for the program, and a select group receive offers, based on their past performance and potential.
The program is part of the Milgard School’s work to curate and maintain a strong student experience. As the Milgard School grows, “We want to be active recipients of growth,” says Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Programs Altaf Merchant. “We want to grow, but we (also) … want the quality of student experience to stay (high).”
“We are delighted to welcome our first cohort of Freshman Direct Admissions students. This program is a key part of Milgard’s continuing work to attract and grow exceptional student leaders and give students from the South Sound and beyond a world-class education,” says Shahrokh Saudagaran, professor and Gary E. and James A. Milgard endowed dean, who has lunch with the freshmen every quarter.
A Promising Crew
The first class of students is already diving into life in the Dougan building. “They are very academically rigorous (and) very engaged,” notes Joe Lawless, who has all 29 students in his freshman leadership course. They’re “bright, exciting people,” agrees Merchant.
“We really wanted a well-rounded group, and I think we have done that this year,” says Milgard School of Business Program Administrator Trish Zander. “We have a lot of diversity” in both student background and interest, she says.
The Chance to Lead
Students admitted as freshmen have more time to get involved and grow as leaders, as they are not yet engrossed in trying to finish graduation requirements and secure post-graduation plans. When he first was recruiting for the program, Lawless remembers thinking, “Wow, what an opportunity to really get these freshmen engaged as leaders…. An opportunity for the school, but also an opportunity for them.”
A key part of the program is the freshman leadership seminar taught by Lawless during winter quarter, which gives the students a chance to consider and develop leadership skills early-on.
“The course is designed as more experiential leadership learning than theoretical,” says Lawless. He is taking students on a hike in Point Defiance Park. “There are a lot of leadership analogies when you’re trying to move 29 people from Point A to Point B,” Lawless explains.
Lawless also brought in Tacoma Poet Laureate Lucas Smiraldo as the class considered a complex question: What does good leadership look like? Students acted their interpretations out, sparking discussion among the class.
“I saw (this class) as a huge opportunity to really challenge them and give them permission to try things out, make things happen,” Lawless says.
Freshmen from the cohort are also getting involved around the school and campus.
Yoshizumi took part in the Milgard School of Business Student Case Competition. “I came in blazing, and I was so excited to do the case competition,” he says. Yoshizumi admits he made rookie mistakes, but the older students on his team took the opportunity to mentor him. The case competition “opened up my mind to seeing that there’s a lot of ways to tackle a problem,” Yoshizumi says. “I’m excited to do it next year.”
“Since, the school year has begun, I have participated in many Milgard School functions that, if I had not been in the program, I would definitely not have gone to,” says Meiling Sproger, from Des Moines. “The Freshman Direct program has given me opportunities to try out different roles of leadership.” Sproger volunteered as a timekeeper for the case competition and has spoken at Milgard recruiting events.
In the Community
Many students also come in with community projects and aspirations. Guy Maughan, a freshman from Bonney Lake, developed and co-owns a family-run clothing store in Sumner called My Closet Envy. He hopes to use his education to help him expand the store to several locations.
“With my schooling, I want to be able to apply tricks of the trade to the expansion,” he says. “With my degree in business administration, I believe I can accomplish my plans of growing my business.”
These students have also gotten involved in volunteer opportunities off campus. At the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the freshmen were one of the largest volunteer groups, and “stood out as leaders that day,” says Zander.
A Team of Leaders
Key to the Freshman Direct Admissions experience is the cohort model. “We want to build a cohort, a community… a group of students who grow in the system together,” says Merchant. Because many of the students choose to go to UW Tacoma in part because they can continue to live at home, it can be a challenge to build community. Yet, Merchant says, “What we’ve heard so far is that students really like the interactions” they get from the cohort model.
Usually when Lawless assigns a group project, “You can hear the collective moan,” he says. But when he assigned his leadership class a project that could either be done individually or in groups, many of them chose to work as a team. “I’ve heard from a lot of them that they really want to develop friendships…. I’ve seen that start to evolve,” Lawless says.
“I immediately formed friends within the group as we have classes together. Being that we’re all business-minded, we have a lot in common and bring out the best in each other,” says Maughan.
“(The cohort) fosters a great sense of community,” Sproger agrees.
A Good Fit
Many students in the first cohort chose UW Tacoma because of the value it offered. The Milgard School awarded approximately $90,000 in renewable scholarships to this first cohort, all of whom received some aid. Additionally, many were able to continue to live with their families while attending UW Tacoma, as almost all of the students are from the South Sound. In many cases, these factors made all the difference in the student’s ability to get a UW education.
Many also chose to come to UW Tacoma because of its smaller size. For one, a small school “better-enables them to establish leadership,” says Zander. Students also cite the accessibility of UW Tacoma professors as a big factor.
“UW Tacoma beat, hands down, all my other options. They were all good schools, but in my eyes, UWT was the place I knew I would feel at home, away from home,” says Sproger. “On the UW Tacoma campus, I saw small classes where the teachers got to know their students, friendly peers, and a variety of unique learning strategies.” She was particularly impressed by the passion, enthusiasm and accessibility of Milgard faculty.
Freshman from Olympia Kate Drohman agrees. “Every lunch with the dean of the Milgard School of Business and conversation with faculty and staff has been impactful. Not every student in a large institution has access to these opportunities.”
The Class of 2019
Currently, the Milgard School is in the process of admitting the next freshman cohort. Most applications have come in, but “we’ll continue to evaluate applications” through March, says Zander.
Milgard faculty and staff will continue to monitor and develop the program. “They (the freshmen) are very motivated, full of energy. We have to make sure they enjoy the experience,” says Merchant.
So far, though, the program is exceeding expectations. “Knowing that this (cohort) is happy and thriving, I feel really good about how we made our choices,” Zander says.
Students are enthusiastic about the program so far. “The University of Washington has a great international reputation, but I am glad I came to the Tacoma campus, which offers smaller class sizes, engaging professors and a committed staff,” says Drohman. “It has been extremely beneficial to be in a group of disciplined students guided by considerate leaders at UW Tacoma.”
 Watch Yoshizumi at http://www.tvw.org/scripts/iframe_video.php?eventID=2015020131&start=3660
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org