Linda Hurley Ishem: Woman with two lives had to start over at 41

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Urban Studies Senior Lecturer Linda Ishem had an extensive career in banking and community development. Then she was in a terrible car accident. Tacoma Weekly reports on how she remade her life.

It is entirely possible to learn from and work with Linda Ishem at UW Tacoma without ever knowing of the unthinkable event that marks a divide in her life.

Students, faculty colleagues and staff know her to be indefatigable, committed, passionate, a deep thinker and devoted to her students and the community. Her accomplishments while at UW Tacoma so clearly illuminate this university's urban-serving mission that one imagines her as some kind of keystone or wellspring.

Ishem is a senior lecturer in Urban Studies, and also serves as assistant to the Chancellor for community engagement.

So it comes as a surprise to some to read a recent profile of Ishem that appeared in Tacoma Weekly. The story, written by the Weekly's Larry LaRue, notes Ishem's early career as a banker in Chicago, and how, in the early 1990s, she became the director of Pierce County's Department of Community Development.

Then, on April 13, 1995, the unthinkable happened.

As LaRue reports, " 'At Center and Mullen Street, I was t-boned by a van,' Ishem said. 'It hit me on the driver’s side and completely flipped over my Toyota Camry—one of the many things I learned from reading the paramedic and witness reports. I don't remember anything.' ”

Read the Tacoma Weekly profile for the story of Ishem's recovery, her retooling with a PhD from UW's School of Social Work, and her coming to UW Tacoma in 2006.

Urban Studies Director Ali Modarres says that Ishem embodies the UW Tacoma mission. "She truly understands that our commitment to social justice is embedded within our educational process. She believes that knowledge is boundless, and that interaction with students is an effective way of building an ecology of learning that goes beyond the confines of a classroom." Modarres notes that Ishem spends a significant amount of time meeting with students. "By the way," he says, "many of these students are not Urban Studies majors. They just find interacting with her empowering."

Lisa Hoffman, professor of Urban Studies and a colleague of Ishem's, says that "Linda is very skilled at developing and running community-engaged learning opportunities for her students." JW Harrington, another Urban Studies colleague, seconds that notion: "Linda is crucial for the links that Urban Studies and UW Tacoma maintain with many community-based organizations and issues." Both Hoffman and Harrrington cite Ishem's devotion to her students, describing her as "incredibly dedicated" (Hoffman) and noting that "she loves our students" (Harrington).

Ishem received UW Tacoma's inaugural Community Engagement Award in 2013.

Written by: 
John Burkhardt / January 12, 2017
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or