Deborah Kelley/University of Washington
Dean Lisa J. Graumlich outlines several goals for the 2016-2017 academic year, inspired by Sarah Reichard, for the College of the Environment.

Dedicated to the memory of Sarah Reichard

I spend September anticipating the start of the academic year. The UW’s undergraduates have returned, and we welcomed the class of 2020 — 6,500 students strong! — at Convocation on September 25. Graduate and professional students are back too, reemerging from summers in the field, behind the lab bench or at the computer. As our community transitions from fall festivities to classes, we’re setting goals for 2016-2017.

I have several goals for the College on my mind. Front and center is focusing our efforts to immerse others in the curiosity, exploration and excitement that drive scientific inquiry.

Those who know me well aren’t surprised that I am thinking about public engagement. Public engagement amplifies the impact of our work; it invites the broader community to share in the joy of discovery and, we hope, hunger to learn more. It remains one of my highest priorities as dean and is also on my mind as I reflect on the passing of our beloved UW Botanic Gardens director, Sarah Reichard. Among our College’s passionate cadre of researchers, Sarah lived a life of engagement. Through her work, she reminds us all that engagement done well is an act of love, of courage, of passion.

Here’s what I learned from Sarah that guides my thinking about the College’s future:

Engagement opens up access to knowledge. Our scholarship is world renowned.

The College’s faculty and staff produced more earth science research than any other institution in the world in 2015 — that’s peer-reviewed, influential, robust science. We have a lot to share, and it’s important to do so not as impersonal purveyors of knowledge but as open, enthusiastic storytellers who welcome others to ask questions, steer conversations and make connections between their lives and our research.

Engagement is a creative process, and creativity is paramount.

Study upon study from disciplines across the academic spectrum find that people engage with knowledge when there’s a clear connection to their lives and values. Data do not speak the way that stories do. Statistics by themselves do not sing. Sarah brought plant science to life by making it relevant to people: she created wild, beautiful spaces for children to explore through the Fiddleheads pre-K program; she filled the Arboretum with art and music.

Like Sarah, many of our researchers find new ways to expand the reach of their work: Aquatic and Fishery Sciences’ Kristin Laidre cultivates environmental awareness by collaborating with artists to create stunningly beautiful depictions of her field sites in Greenland. The next time you take Link light rail from UW Station, check out the wonderful interpretation of its geologically inspired wall art from Earth and Space Sciences’ Alison Duvall. Oceanography’s Rick Rupan and Fritz Stahr sparked the creativity of middle school students to come up with new approaches to building an underwater submersible, and six years later their design won first place in an international competition.

Engagement is respectful, often polite, and, at times, quite fierce.

Sarah was a fierce protector of plants and people. Through her work as the founder and director of Rare Care, she cultivated a community of plant ambassadors who will carry on her legacy of preserving rare and endangered Northwest plants by identifying their last refuges for management agencies. We sometimes shy away from strong words in academia, but fierce we are. Earth and Space Sciences’ John Vidale is undaunted as his team works to break down barriers to protect people from earthquakes. Aquatic and Fishery Sciences’ Ray Hilborn and André Punt put their reputation on the line to bring the best science to bear on contentious issues of fisheries management. Jerry Franklin, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, is world renowned for his tireless efforts to promote a balance between the need to actively manage forests to improve forest health and at the same time conserve our most precious ecosystems.

As we begin the new academic year, let’s resolve to continue in Sarah’s footsteps. In the lab, classroom, field and office, let’s use our passion for science to inspire greater engagement with Earth’s mysteries and challenges. I can think of no better way to honor her legacy.

Lisa graumlich signature

Lisa J. Graumlich
Dean, College of the Environment
Mary Laird Wood Professor