There’s a role for our college as WSU plans take off in Everett

(cross posted from my dean's blog)

I didn’t expect to spend the Thursday before the Independence Day holiday traveling to Western Washington. Especially not in a four-seater charter plane out of Pullman-Moscow International in the company of President Elson S. Floyd and Murrow College Dean Larry Pintak. But when the university president invites you to a meeting and offers you a ride …

When we landed at Paine Field, our plane was dwarfed by Boeing jets stacked up, awaiting insignia painting for many countries around the world. From there, we drove to three meetings with stakeholders in WSU’s initiative to operate the present University Center in Everett, starting in 2014.

We met in the lovely new convention center in Everett’s harbor area, joined by several other WSU deans and partner institution officials. Also present was WSU Spokane Chancellor Brian Pitcher, whose Riverpoint campus is seen as a model for what WSU’s effort in Everett could become.

WSU’s first order of business in Everett will be to establish mechanical and electrical engineering programs, modeled on what we already offer in Bremerton. The programs will involve a clinical faculty member, distance education via video, and summer study in Pullman. But the stakeholders in Everett — including the mayor, Chamber of Commerce representatives, and state legislators — also want programs in nursing, media arts and, importantly, education. At the meeting, I shared my eagerness for the College of Education to provide educational opportunities to local school administrators, and to teachers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Western Washington University has traditionally provided education course work in Everett, and I look forward to working with them.

President Floyd said it is premature to think of Everett as being the fifth WSU campus. For now, we are exploring the opportunity and learning how we can collaborate. An advisory board and planning committee are already at work.

I am proud that the College of Education is so well represented in the leadership of this initiative. Paul Pitre of our Vancouver faculty will oversee WSU’s developments at Everett in the coming year. Joan Kingrey, our academic director in Spokane, led the discussions at the Everett meeting. And President Floyd has his faculty appointment in our college.

Our plane took off from Paine Field just before 5 p.m. I rode shotgun. Heading east, we flew above a blanket of clouds over the Cascades, with Mount Rainier peeking above that, off the right wing. A half hour later, I could see in the distance lush green fields, and Kamiak and Steptoe buttes. It was thrilling to see Pullman edge closer as we sped home. It was a fun and inspiring day.

A short conversation with a teacher in Florida

I was playing softball in the old guys league again. The last few days there has been a very good player in his 40s playing as well. He is a teacher, so I guess he has the summer off.

Sitting wait for my turn at bat, I heard the following conversation:

Teacher: my students never heard of the great ones, like Dick Groat or Roberto Clement. (These are old famous baseball players.)

Teacher: Things are different nowadays. When I was a kid I knew the names of the old guys like Phil Rizzuto and Mickey Mantle. (These are even older baseball players.)

Other Player: Are you kidding? These days kids don’t know who George Washington was.

Teacher: I gave a test last year to my social studies class. I asked them “Who discovered the Dominican Republic?” There were four choices, one was Christopher Columbus, and another was Sammy Sosa. Would you believe that many of them thought it was Sammy Sosa! (A famous baseball player who is from the Dominican Republic, at least I think he is.)

I walked over to the teacher and quietly mentioned that no one discovered the Dominican Republic since it is a country and countries are founded, not discovered, and I doubted that any of his choices has founded that country.

What I didn’t say was that Sammy Sosa was a better answer since at least he had been in the Dominican Republic.

This is not a column blaming teachers. I am simply concerned that our multiple choice test-driven society has reduced our conception of knowledge to random facts about nothing. It is so bad that even teachers have no clue what they are asking any more because they too were taught in this way.