Lisa GraumlichThose of us on UW campus have noticed the Be Boundless tagline emerge all over the grounds during recent months. It’s everywhere – purple wristbands and huge bus banners. Taglines like this don’t simply emerge from a quick engagement with a marketing firm. For the past year, UW did research, taking a good, hard look at what people value about their experiences here. Boundless emerged as the word that captures how people experience that intersection of personal opportunity and societal impact that, in the end, makes you feel that you can a make a difference in the world.

Personally, I like “boundless” because it captures my own experiences going way back to the 1980s when I was a Ph.D. student in the then College of Forest Resources. I came to UW eager to understand the emerging issue of global climate change and in particular how it would impact mountain ecosystems. The personal opportunities offered by UW were indeed boundless: an engaged CFR faculty coupled with expertise across the campus in atmospheric and earth sciences. The Quaternary Research Center was a hotbed of interdisciplinary inquiry where the big “so what?” questions were debated at weekly seminars where graduate students were always welcome.

More recently, I have used the Be Boundless tagline as a lens to view the work of our College. Where are we embodying the optimism and determination that propels us to take actions to create a better world? This month’s Dean’s letter would be extremely long if I described the many, many ways we manifest the Be Boundless spirit. Instead, I want to call out a particular boundless moment I witnessed last month because it afforded me an “aha!” moment. Boundlessness is as much about social process as it is about our scholarly work. It is found when we seize emerging, less conventional opportunities.

Here’s what that less conventional opportunity looked like. Several of our scientists participated in the Arctic Encounter Symposium 2015 organized last month by the UW Law School. The Symposium’s goal was to challenge a very broad range of participants to tackle the shared interests and concerns of the United States and the global community regarding changes in the Arctic. When I walked into the Symposium I knew I was not at a normal science meeting. I did not need to read the participant list to recognize the formal attire of industry leaders and high level policy makers, the impeccable military bearing of senior officers, and the presence of regional stakeholders, many wearing traditional Native dress.

On the final day, Dr. Jody Deming (Professor, School of Oceanography and Director of the Future of Ice Initiative) moderated a panel discussion called “Our Rapidly Changing Arctic: The Current Status and Continuing Need for Science-informed Policy.” The panelists represented some of UW’s leading scholars: Dr. Jamie Morison (APL Polar Science Center), Dr. Ian Joughin (APL Polar Science Center; Affiliate Professor, Earth and Space Sciences), Dr. Tom Leschine (Professor, School of Marine & Environmental Affairs and Adjunct Professor, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences) and Dr. George Hunt (Professor, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences). Jody had quietly confided to me that she was concerned that talking about science during the last session of the last day of the Symposium might not draw many people. On the contrary, non-scientists were there in force and dominated the questions for the panelists.

Afterwards, Jody reflected that our scientists contributed significantly to the conversation at the Symposium by demonstrating to key leaders that we are ready partners in building an interface for science and decision making in the Arctic. Associate Dean Bruce Nelson (Professor, Earth and Space Sciences) noted that at most conferences and meetings, discussions between scientists and policy makers are still not occurring in a substantive way—they each go to their own breakout sessions. The session led by UW scientists broke that mold by creating dialogue between the scientists and non-scientists alike.

Boundlessness is not just a tagline. It happens when we communicate with people and groups who are not part of our normal sphere of influence and may be just outside of our comfort zone. In the end, this is a very human experience that requires both confidence and humility. For all of you who manifest the UW boundlessness, I thank you for what you do. And, I am curious as to what boundlessness means to you. How do you cross boundaries in your work?


Lisa Graumlich
Dean, College of the Environment
Virginia and Prentice Bloedel Professor