Welcome back Welcome back Welcome back

In-person classes and a new U District await students returning to campus this fall.

By Jon Marmor | September 2021

In a few weeks, all three University of Washington campuses could be buzzing with excitement just like they do every September. Students are coming back for the start of fall quarter, University Book Store will become a hum of activity as everyone from fresh-faced freshmen to graduate students load up on what they’ll need for their studies. UW Housing and Food Services dorms look to be full up with kids getting to know each other. And the University District, with its great-smelling eateries and second-hand stores will be drawing a steady stream of customers.

Since March 2020, we learned new words—coronavirus, pandemic, remote learning, PPE—as we learned to deal with a world with COVID-19.

But here we are, on the cusp of having 1,800 undergraduate classes being taught in person. Thirty-five thousand employees are getting ready to work on campus again. Husky sports venues are planning to reopen, while 16 libraries on three campuses and one island expect to be open for business. The HUB might again host all sorts of members from the UW community who pop in for a burger or slice of pizza.

But before we focus too much on fall quarter, Husky football and the UW Alumni Association’s Dawg Dash, let’s take a moment to thank UW Medicine and all the other UW colleges, schools, departments, units, faculty, clinicians, nurses and students that played (and still play) a monumental role in leading the world’s response to SARS-CoV-2. From the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose leaders were quoted pretty much every day by the world’s media, to the researchers who worked tirelessly to devise COVID testing and develop vaccines, to the physicians, nurses, social workers and hospital staff who treated the sick and worked relentlessly to keep the rest of us safe, the world wouldn’t be where we are without you. Bless you.

Beyond life on campus, everyone coming back will be encountering some big changes in the U District.

We also are grateful to the thousands of faculty who had to pivot on a moment’s notice to learn how to teach classes remotely, and the behind-the-scenes UW Libraries staff who were instrumental in helping develop curricula and the ways faculty could deliver classes to students far and wide. And the IT people and the staff who cleaned all of the UW facilities … you get the picture.

Some challenges remain for fall quarter. “The Undergraduate Student Success team recognizes that the student experience during the pandemic has been varied and overwhelming,” says Emilie Vrbancic, an undergraduate experience librarian. “We’re honored to continue to support students’ needs and eager to welcome them back to the libraries—whether that’s online or in person. We’re excited to build on our online events from last year and add in hybrid and in-person options for new and returning students.” Keep in mind that in a pre-pandemic typical year, Odegaard Undergraduate Library would have around 1.5 million visits per year. However, 2021 won’t be a typical year in terms of visits, as a valid Husky Card is required for entry.

Beyond life on campus, everyone coming back will be encountering some big changes in the U District. In fact, you might not completely recognize the place. On Oct. 2—three days after fall quarter starts—Sound Transit is opening three light rail stations, including one on Brooklyn Avenue N.E. across from the UW Tower. (The two other new stations are in the Roosevelt and Northgate neighborhoods). Light rail will open up a whole new way of life. We won’t need our cars as much. No need to walk to all the way down to Husky Stadium for a football game or volleyball match inside Hec Edmundson Pavilion or to use the IMA. Just hop on light rail and there you are.

But light rail is just the start. New outdoor eating areas have set up shop on side streets along the Ave to allow for social distancing while attracting new customers in the district. “We are energizing the neighborhood,” says Don Blakeney, executive director of The U District Partnership. Blakeney, who was a senior leader in the Downtown Seattle Association before coming to the U District, is pumped about what’s new. “We will have new murals on buildings, banners and tree lights on the Ave, as well as flower baskets. And we are providing technical assistance to small businesses looking to adapt their business models or experiment with outdoor dining. It’s very exciting.”

Busy is another way to describe the new U District. All you have to do is look up to see the growing number of cranes dotting the skyline. Twenty towers are beginning to rise from the ground, making room for over 7,000 new residents, nearly a million square feet of office space and lots of street retail. This is in addition to the 69-acre west campus expansion that will include 19 new development sites.

Speaking of busy, one place that is eager to get back to its old, busy self is the beloved University Book Store, the oldest and largest independent book store in the state of Washington. “Students bring excitement,” says CEO Louise Little, ’81, who has seen plenty in her 40 years at the book store. Adds chief operating officer Trevor Peterson, who has been with the store “only” 23 years: “This past year was a challenge but we looked for the silver lining when we had to adjust our business. We love the student body. They are polite, accepting and gracious. They brought out the best in people.”

That’s a common feeling, a big reason why we can’t wait to see all three campuses alive with students again. “We can’t wait to welcome students with open arms,” says Maggie Fonseca, director of the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center. “We know the ECC is not the first place people will see since we are a few blocks off campus. But we are like a home away from home for students of color and those from other underrepresented minority communities.” And speaking of excitement, the ECC is going to host a 50th anniversary kickoff block party on Sept. 30 in honor of next year’s big anniversary.

All three campuses are ready to welcome everyone back, from the gorgeous wetlands at UW Bothell to UW Tacoma’s charming old-school, red-brick buildings in the heart of downtown, to the Union Bay Natural Area behind Husky Stadium and Drumheller Fountain and Red Square and the Quad. We can’t wait.

Photo by Anil Kapahi

Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center

When the UW’s Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center opened in 1971, it was the first facility of its kind in the nation. It’s hard to believe it is about to turn 50 years old, and no place on campus is as beloved. “We are really excited to reintroduce the Samuel E. Kelly Ethnic Cultural Center to our students because it is like a home away from home for them,” says ECC Director Maggie Fonseca, pictured here with junior Calen Garrett. “This is a place to be who you are.”

Photo by Anil Kapahi

Wow to UW Bothell’s North Creek Wetland

UW Bothell and Cascadia College’s shared campus is home to one of the largest and most complex floodplain restorations in the state of Washington. The sustainable, functioning ecosystem spans 58 acres and is set within an urban watershed. It also serves as a living laboratory for faculty and students. Beyond that, it is a spectacular place to find some peace and quiet in nature; you won’t believe you are just minutes from civilization.

Photos by Anil Kapahi

Welcome back to UW Libraries

As we all know, the UW’s incredible library system is the backbone of the University. Even when everyone moved to remote learning, the libraries worked as hard as ever to ensure faculty, students and the community could access what they needed to teach classes and learn. How valuable are the libraries? Get a load of this: they answered 16,500 questions via the 24/7 AskUs Chat service last year, according to undergraduate experience librarian Emilie Vrbancic (at left above).

Electra Enslow (at right above), director of clinical research and data services for UW Health Sciences Library, says her library’s website and libguides get more than 2 million visits every year. And that is not including the future HSEB Library, which will connect UW health sciences students and staff with the most current evidence-based research literature and health impact data and health data statistics.

And Jessica Albano (center), librarian for communications studies and news as well as head librarian for government publications, maps, microforms and newspapers, can’t wait for school to begin. “I honestly don’t know how many students I help, but I can say that I wish I could reach more. Students may not realize that they have a UW librarian who specializes in their major that is ready and willing to help them.” She goes on: “A big difference this year is that I will offer research help in the traditional ways, in-person, email or visit to the physical classrooms and through Zoom.”

Welcome to a whole new U District

Don Blakeney has a smile on his face, and why not? The director of The U District Partnership has been hard at work coordinating efforts with local businesses and the University to create a lively, accommodating business district for local residents, students, faculty, alumni and everyone else who loves to see what the district has in store.

University Book Store is waiting for you!

Who doesn’t love University Book Store? We can thank Chief Operating Officer Trevor Peterson and CEO Louise Little, ’81, for making it such a warm, welcoming place to buy textbooks, find the newest novel or load up on Husky apparel. They weren’t fazed by the challenges of the pandemic, and the bookstore is itching to be the busy, lively, engaging place it has always been.

Photo by Anil Kapahi

History and style: UW Tacoma rises

The stylish red-brick buildings of UW Tacoma offer a charming, supportive environment for learning on this renowned urban-serving campus. A downtown fixture since it opened in 1990, UW Tacoma’s mix of refurbished warehouses and new construction blends in perfectly with the rest of what downtown Tacoma has to offer.