First freshmen blaze a trail at UW Bothell and UW Tacoma

Surviving your first year of college is always an experience — especially if you are in the first freshman class ever admitted to your campus.

When Brian Neal’s dad came home from Fort Lewis, the high school senior knew something was wrong. President Bush had been talking about a build-up of troops in Iraq. Now his dad, an Army command sergeant major, told the family that it looked like his unit was going to be sent there.

Growing up in a military family, Neal understood his dad’s obligations. But now Neal’s own plans for the future were in doubt. A student at Tacoma’s Foss High School, Neal had visited the UW’s Seattle campus several times. In sixth grade he was part of a program serving under-represented students in mathematics, engineering and science, and it got him excited about college. He had every intention of being a freshman in Seattle—until his dad delivered the sobering news.

Now Neal wanted stay with his mother and brother during his dad’s absence. When he told his high school counselor that he would have to give up on the University of Washington, the counselor had some surprising news. The UW’s Tacoma campus was opening its doors to its first freshman class in the fall. Neal could have both worlds: he could attend the University of Washington and stay with his family.

“I didn’t even know it was here,” Neal says of UWT. “I came down and I fell in love with it.”


UW Bothell’s library reading room. Photo by Brian DalBalcon.

Alan Li was a standout at Shorewood High School north of Seattle. Even though he was from out of state, the University of California campuses at Santa Barbara and at Santa Cruz accepted him. He was excited to take a tour of both campuses, but once he got to California, something was not right.

Li was comfortable with the size of his high school and thrived in the small classes where everyone knew each other. The UC campuses were beautiful, but they also sprawled across hundreds of acres. “To me there was a lost atmosphere,” Li recalls. “The campuses seemed so huge. You don’t get to know a lot of people.”

He knew right then he did not want to attend a mega-university. But where could he find a more intimate college experience? He found out that UW Bothell was starting its first freshman class, and suddenly California lost all its charm.

Li liked the idea of being a UWB pioneer. “It’s one of the reasons I came here. The ability to make a difference and to help grow the campus—and myself—was a tremendous opportunity.”


Lynetta Gray was cruising the Web at home. Her family had just moved to Tacoma and she was finishing her senior year at Franklin Pierce High School. She was tired of moving and wanted to stay within commuting distance of her home. She started playing around with FastWeb, a college search site that she found on the Internet.

“I put in the miles I wanted to commute and pushed the search button. Up came the University of Washington, Tacoma. So I enrolled. I didn’t even know that we were going to be the first freshman class until I got here!” she says.

UW Bothell freshmen Alan Li and Xheni Diko. Photo by Kathy Sauber.

For every college student, the freshman experience is a transformation. But Neal, Li, Gray and 320 other students also transformed the University of Washington last fall by being members of the first freshman classes ever admitted to the UW’s regional campuses in Bothell and Tacoma.

Seattle campus alumni are often confused about their new siblings to the north and south of Montlake. They may assume that UW Bothell and UW Tacoma are carbon copies of the main campus, but they would be wrong.

Until the fall of 2006, the two campuses served only juniors, seniors and graduate students. It was a model that the state created when it launched two UW regional campuses and three WSU regional campuses in 1990. The new schools were supposed to serve students who couldn’t afford to go away to school or who were working. These students may have started at a community college—or may have taken some time off after beginning their college studies—and now needed to finish their degrees.

Fifteen years later, the campuses were ready for the next step in their evolution. While UWT and UWB successfully graduated more than 15,000 alumni since they were founded, the state of Washington was not living up to its promise of a college education for qualified citizens.

In fact, the state sat near the bottom of all 50 states offering four-year degrees. On a per capita basis, it ranked 46th in the nation in the number of adults working toward a bachelor’s degree at a public university or college in 2005 (see “Growing Pains,” March 2005).

To make up for the lack of local college graduates, the state imported them from across the nation. “That only works if you want students from California and Michigan to get the high-paying jobs while the sons and daughters of Washington are out washing cars,” President Mark A. Emmert, ’75, said at the time.

Lawmakers and higher education leaders agreed. There needed to be more access to a four-year degree in the state of Washington. Fortunately, much of the infrastructure was already in place at the five regional campuses. These campuses would not give up their main mission of serving “placebound” students such as community college transfers. But under the proposal, they became four-year institutions, offering another option for in-state high school seniors looking for a college experience.

At the end of the 2005 legislative session, the state funded freshman classes for UW Bothell, UW Tacoma and WSU Vancouver. The schools had only 16 months to hire faculty, create new courses and recruit these fresh faces.


Beth Kalikoff should be in panic mode. The word came down that the state funded space for about 175 freshmen at UWT. Now the associate vice chancellor for academic affairs had less than 16 months to prepare for them.

“It was nowhere near the time we really needed,” she says. “It was hardly enough time to sneeze.”

The writing professor had the credentials to get it done. Winner of a 2005 Distinguished Teaching Award, Kalikoff had been on the Tacoma campus for 12 years. Now she had to get ready for a surge of 18-year-olds by creating new courses and helping to hire new faculty. What’s more, both she and her colleagues at UWB were under the gun to create a “cohort” model for freshman education.

Instead of presenting the new students with a menu of courses, both campuses decided on a prix-fixe model — students would be in groups that took many of their courses together throughout the year. The courses would be interdisciplinary in nature and taught by two faculty members from contrasting disciplines.

UWT created courses like “Everybody Eats: Food in the Landscape,” taught by a political scientist and a marine ecologist, and “Splitting Atoms to the End of the World,” a course on energy issues and the environment taught by a composition teacher and an environmental scientist.

To the north in Bothell, similar freshman core courses included “Origins,” team-taught by a computer scientist and a nursing professor, which covered the beginnings of computers, the U.S. health care system—and the universe.

The whole idea behind these courses was to create learning communities out of the raw material of new freshmen. “We don’t have a residential campus,” says Gray Kochhar-Lindgren, UWB’s director of freshmen programs. “We have to find other ways of building a community.”

It wasn’t just about making friends, however. “We were well aware of the national research. Students who learn in cohorts have higher academic achievement, lower attrition rates and greater student satisfaction,” adds Kalikoff.  But would the same national results turn up in the Bothell and Tacoma experiments?


UW Tacoma at sunset. Photo by Brian DalBalcon.

Frankly, college scared Elsie Nicholl. The Puyallup High School senior heard horror stories about the coursework. The stress “is going to eat you up alive and you’d better be prepared,” she recalls. Her high school teachers told her, “Your professors aren’t even going to want to know your name.”

Her cousin had already attended UW Tacoma as a transfer student and gave it high marks. The thought of being part of the first freshman class was intriguing. So she decided to live at home and commute, which would relieve some of the stress. Still, on the first day of classes, she told herself she’d have to be a ruthless student. “I have to suck it up and deal with it. My professors aren’t going to care,” she whispered.

“So I go to class the first day and the professor comes in and says, ‘I want to get to know you all. Let’s start on a first-name basis,’ ” she says. “I had to laugh. Everything my high school teachers told me was not true.”

In Monroe, Xheni Diko also wanted to stay close to home. She enjoyed her high school experience but was resigned to commuting every day to the Seattle campus. It was going to take 45 minutes to an hour one way. She hadn’t started yet, and she was already worried about making her shift at the Keg restaurant, where she worked.

UW Tacoma freshmen (from left) Lynetta Gray, Monica Kayastha, Elsie Nicholl and Brian Neal. Photo by Kathy Sauber. UW Tacoma photo by Ray Quero.

Then her parents told her that UWB was starting its first freshman class. “They saw it in the newspaper. My dad was super excited,” she says. Diko didn’t even bother applying to the Seattle campus. “Let’s try that one first and see what happens,” she told herself.

For both Nicholl and Diko, adapting to college was easier thanks to the class size. “When I talk to other college students, this is so small. My chemistry class has only 15 kids. Some other colleges have 400. The difference is amazing,” Diko says. One of her friends from high school attended a much larger university and dropped out. “She couldn’t handle the big classes.”

The idea of taking several classes together with the same set of students appealed to both of them. Nicholl took a course that covered music from the Harlem Renaissance to hip-hop and found it fascinating. There was a lot of bonding going on. “The friends I made in my first classes here are still my friends today,” says Diko.

But Lynetta Gray found the cohort system too confining at UWT. “I didn’t want to be assigned to core classes. It was like being in high school again,” she says.

Kalikoff, the UWT associate vice chancellor, says many freshmen complained that the core classes were not relevant to their majors. “We didn’t do as good a job as we could have explaining what general education is,” she says. “Part of the college experience is learning in a range of fields. It’s part of being a well-rounded person in the 21st century.”

Having the core classes was successful,” adds Kochhar-Lindgren, the UWB curriculum director. “Students had to be trained on a college level to learn what it means to be a university student.” Both campuses will continue the cohort system with the second batch of freshmen starting Sept. 26.


Monica Kayastha was frustrated. She couldn’t wait to get out of her home in Kent and go away to college. But Seattle University rejected her and she was on the waiting list for the UW’s Seattle campus.

“I wanted to move out of the house so bad. I wanted to be a real freshman, you know, ‘party hearty,’ ” Kayastha says.

The UW sent her a letter pointing out that the Tacoma campus was starting a freshman program. She didn’t like the uncertainty of the waiting list, so she took a chance on UWT. But she told herself that she would transfer out as soon as she could.

“It was a good thing I came here. It keeps you out of trouble. All my priorities changed. I want to have small class sizes. I want to have a good g.p.a. I came to college to have a good education because I have high goals in life,” she says. “I’m having fun while fulfilling everything that I need to get done.”

Part of that fun, she says, was creating the Freshman Event Dawgs, a group that helped promote social events such as Hollywood Nights, where UWT students dress up as their favorite celebrity. The best costume wins a grand prize. Kayastha became so engaged that she will be the director of recreation and entertainment for the UWT Student Activities Board this year.

Now that the first year is over, both the faculty and the students are amazed at their achievements. Kochhar-Lindgren says UWB faculty now come up to him and tell him it is a miracle that it all came together. But he says he knew it would work from the beginning. “What a great opportunity this was. At how many schools can you start something from scratch?” he asks.

Both schools are tracking their retention rates for sophomore year and so far the trends look good. UWB is expecting an 87 percent retention rate and UWT is looking at 82 percent. For four-year public schools in the state, the average is 81 percent.

We are tracking them carefully,” Kochhar-Lindgren says. “Some have gone to community college, the Seattle campus, Western Washington University, Oregon. A few just were not successful.”

Looking back, the student pioneers at Bothell and Tacoma say they can hardly believe that they made it. “It was amazing. I’m sad that it’s over,” says UWB’s Diko. “It was crazy, it was stressful. Now I know what my strengths and weaknesses are.”

Li, also at UWB, called his first year surprising. “I did not expect it to be so full. You have all the freedom in the world to go in depth on one subject.”

UWT student Neal calls his nine months “fun, exciting, educational. It was like a new beginning to life.” What’s more, his dad has stayed at home despite the military buildup in Iraq.

Kayastha, the UWT student who was once determined to transfer out, is overjoyed to be staying. “It was exciting, it was motivational, it was uplifting knowing that I can make a difference,” she says. “Now I know that I can be a leader.”

Northern exposure

Just a year from now, the University of Washington hopes to start a new campus that currently doesn’t have a site, any faculty or even a name.

In the state budget passed last April, the Legislature told the UW and the Office of Financial Management (OFM) to plan for a new regional campus in the Snohomish, Island or Skagit county area. Lawmakers included the goal of offering some programs in September 2008.

It’s a very tall order, which is why President Mark A. Emmert, ’75, asked UW President Emeritus Lee Huntsman to lead the effort with Executive Vice Provost Ana Mari Cauce.

For years, civic leaders in Snohomish County complained that it was the most populous county in the nation without a four-year college. “Finally, their time has come,” says Huntsman.

While there was some controversy over whether a new campus should be a stand-alone poly-technical university or a part of the UW, when the law was signed by the governor, the UW was put in charge of the planning and execution.

Now Huntsman and Cauce are leading a 16-member task force that has a Nov. 15 deadline for sketching out possible academic programs. The task force is also working with OFM and the NBBJ architectural firm, which was hired to recommend three possible sites for a permanent campus and where a temporary campus might go.

Several communities are lobbying for the new campus, expecting an economic bonanza. But Huntsman warns that site selection “is not a contest of economics or political strength. The only contest is over where can we find the site that is best for the students.”

Who these new “UW North” students are is yet to be seen. While the task force is still considering the academic vision, the outline is already coming into focus, says Huntsman. There will be two “doors” to enter the campus—either as a traditional freshman or as a transfer student at the junior/senior level.

For its first year, Huntsman sees the campus offering a limited number of programs at the upper-division level. “My guess is that we will have freshmen coming before too long, tightly coupled with offerings from the local community colleges. There is talk of a joint admissions process,” he says. The temporary campus should have enough room for 250 students, although Huntsman doesn’t think it will be at that capacity when it opens next year.

The president emeritus sees UW North as offering a liberal arts education plus an emphasis on professional areas such as engineering, business, education and the health sciences. “It would be a campus with terrific teaching and faculty who advance the professional practice within their fields,” he says. There could be internships, co-ops and expanded team projects with intense faculty participation. “It’s going to take a lot of investment from the local community—business, governments, non-profits, health care—to pull it off,” Huntsman adds.

Asked to predict what UW North might be like 20 years from now, Huntsman doesn’t hesitate. “It’s going to be a campus with an array of liberal arts majors. It’s going to have a great deal of strength in professional areas. It will have state-of-the-art teaching and a deep involvement in the world of the professions.”

Not your everyday graduates

UW Bothell and UW Tacoma opened their doors in 1990. Here’s what has happened to a few of their pioneering students nearly two decades years later.

UW Tacoma pioneers

Lori D. Banaszak, ’92, ’03, is vice president for instruction at Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, where she was previously division dean for Health and Human Services.

Michael R. Boyte, ’91, is an engineering technician/applications developer for Boeing and founder of, a provider of “boutique” pocket protectors.

Pat McCarthy, ’92, has served since 2003 as Pierce County auditor, heading the departments of recording, licensing and elections. She previously was deputy auditor and served 12 years on the Tacoma School Board.

John Wickham, ’92, ’96, graduated from the UW School of Law in 1996 and practices out of his own law office in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Formerly a letter carrier, Wickham now works exclusively with family law and estate planning issues in San Juan County.

UW Bothell pioneers

Vicki Austin, ’92, is an educator and consultant and founder of Austin Consulting and Hull and Austin, Inc.

Vicki Opsata, ’95, is a Qantas Airways resident manager working collaboratively with Boeing on plans for the 787 Dreamliner. She also serves as president of the Northshore Performing Arts Center Foundation.

Sue Ambler, ’97, is the president/CEO of the Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County. Ambler has 27 years experience in public and private industry throughout the greater Puget Sound area.

Tom Goos, ’98, is the owner of Image Source, a Kirkland merchandising agency with clients as varied as Microsoft, Nintendo of America, Oberto Sausage and the King County Library System. He is also a partner with former Seattle Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez at Branded Solutions.