Dean Lisa Graumlich
Dean Lisa J. Graumlich

Experiential education is more than a trendy buzz word for us in the College of the Environment. When students learn through direct experience they gain not only knowledge and skills, but also a deeper understanding of how to apply those skills in a real world context.

The fact that we strive to provide students with a broad range of experiential opportunities—on campus, in the field, and in various professional settings—is part of what makes us special. It’s part of the College’s signature.

For example, Environmental StudiesLeah Litwak spent hours at urban, suburban, and rural farmers markets studying barriers to implementing food assistance programs. It turns out that vendors have too few opportunities for training and can have trouble remembering how to work with the many different food assistance currencies. As part of her Senior Capstone project, Leah identified steps that would make it easier for markets to work with food assistance programs and even created a Market Currency Guide for vendors.

The School of Marine and Environmental AffairsNeal McMillin has traveled the globe to examine tidal energy projects—how and why they’re successful in some places, and what shortcomings contribute to their failures elsewhere. He wants to be a linchpin in this emerging field, someone who can coordinate between policy makers, stakeholders, engineers, and conservationists to keep projects moving forward.

In Charles Nittrouer’s “Rivers and Beaches” class, undergraduate and graduate students from across the University of Washington explore what forms and shapes the Earth’s surfaces by following the path of the Nisqually River from Mt. Rainier to the Salish Sea. The course culminates in a daylong cruise on the College’s flagship research vessel, the R/V Thomas G. Thompson—an unforgettable and formative educational experience for all aboard.

Lastly, UW alumna Susan Harris spent a quarter studying everything from orcas to algae on the shores of San Juan Island at the College’s Friday Harbor Laboratories. After classroom lectures, her class went straight into FHL’s labs and dove deeper into specific topics, then headed outside for hands-on exploration of the marine systems they’d studied.

These experiences are not the exception to the rule. They are the rule. And as a consequence, our students propel themselves into meaningful work once they’ve graduated from the UW.

After graduating in June, Leah Litwak will continue working to bridge the gap between vendors and customers as the assistant market manager at the Carnation Farmers Market, and Neal McMillin hopes to put his broad understanding of tidal energy to work in energy policy. Susan Harris worked on a tender vessel in the Gulf of Alaska after graduation. She’s back at the UW now, as a lab assistant for the UW Fish Collection.

We focus on the student experience because it’s the right thing to do for learning. It turns out it’s the right thing to do for moving science forward, too. So much of the work we do is acutely tied to the real world. How can you learn about the environment if you’re not out in it?

This time of year, we celebrate all of the College’s graduates—the UW class of 2016. As they prepare to head out the door, we’re also reflecting on what the future holds for them.

Whatever it is, it’ll be bright because of what they learned—and experienced—here.

Lisa graumlich signature
Lisa J. Graumlich
Dean, College of the Environment
Virginia and Prentice Bloedel Professor