From the Dean: Timely and Timeless
What’s in a number? The number “150” takes on new meaning for both the University of Washington and the College of Arts and Sciences this year. Founded in 1861 on ten acres of land in downtown Seattle, both the University and the College are observing their 150th anniversary. It is a period of celebration and reflection in which we look backward and forward, embracing our past as we embark upon our future.
Dean Ana Mari Cauce
The College’s mission has always been to discover, preserve, and transmit fundamental knowledge in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. For generations, Arts and Sciences has served as the foundation for what has become an internationally renowned university. Then as now, we take pride in our unique educational role, providing coursework to virtually every freshman on the UW-Seattle campus. We not only produce about 70% of all the bachelor degrees, we also provide about half the coursework for students who will graduate in other UW schools and colleges, whether it be the School of Business, College of Engineering, or College of the Environment.
We take this charge to provide foundations very seriously. We need engineers strongly grounded in the fundamentals of mathematics and lawyers aware of the philosophical underpinnings for theories of social justice. And whether they be engineers or lawyers, musicians, geologists, physicians or physicists, we need educated citizens who can communicate well, know the history of our great nation, and understand its place in a volatile world made smaller by technology. We need creative thinkers who appreciate the arts, poetry, and literature. We prepare our students to earn a living, but also to lead a rich and engaged life.
Our scholarship is foundational as well. While the questions we ask in the College of Arts and Sciences are more often guided by curiosity than practical concerns, history has proven that our human imagination points us in important directions. “Why?” leads to “How?” We would not have pharmaceuticals without chemistry, bioengineering without biology, policy without political science, or effective foreign aid or global health interventions without an understanding of world cultures and world languages.
"...in a world where tomorrow's most important, and
profitable, careers can only be guessed at today,
breadth, and flexibility of our curriculum is as
useful today as
it was 150 years ago."
In the past, the leap from the lab to applications has often taken decades, with coincidence, chance, and serendipity as the key intermediaries. Today, basic researchers in our College often work side-by-side with colleagues doing more applied work in Engineering and Medicine. In these last two years we’ve made three joint hires between Physics and Engineering. In addition, we work closely with the UW’s Center for Commercialization (C4C), which systematically works with our faculty to propel their work out of the lab and into people’s lives. This year, C4C’s first class of Presidential Entrepreneurial Faculty Fellows includes two of our faculty, one a chemist whose work may one day lead to earlier detection of tumor cells, the other a musician whose work may lead to a more sensitive tonearm suited for high-end audiophiles. As we did 150 years ago, we nurture curiosity and creativity, but we now make sure the resulting discoveries make their way into our problem-solving toolkit as rapidly as possible, making the world a better place.
Because of our commitment to knowledge for its own sake, and to a broad-based approach to education, the career paths for our students are not always straightforward or obvious. Indeed, we not only offer, but require, courses that are unlikely to directly translate into vocational skills. Some believe the future lies in eliminating such requirements so that students can earn their degrees more quickly. But in a world where tomorrow’s most important, and potentially profitable, careers can only be guessed at today, the diversity, breadth, and flexibility of our curriculum is as useful today as it was 150 years ago.
During the first week of class, a mother, hoping her child would graduate in three years so she could quickly move on to medical school, asked me, “Why does she need to take all those electives? She writes fine. Why does she need to take English? She took that in high school.” It made me think of my own mother, who occasionally lost patience with my academic wandering. A decade ago, in the last days of summer, I sat by her bedside. She was struggling mightily to recover from her second stroke and I struggled mightily with a decision I knew allowed no room for second thoughts or second guesses. Her doctor, a published poet, sat beside me and asked me to tell him about my mother. I told him I most missed her dancing and her laughing. I envied the easy way she swayed her hips, and her natural sense of rhythm and melody, and the way her laughter transformed her whole body. My decision was clear. No hesitations, no doubts—courtesy of a doctor with a scientist’s mind, a surgeon’s hands, and a poet’s heart.
What’s in a number? Memories of yesterday that will provide us strength tomorrow, and the need to stay timely without forgetting to honor that which is timeless.
Return to Table of Contents, November 2011 issue