I have already talked about an elite Ivy League university in the northeast (Harvard), a flagship public university in the midwest heartland (Iowa), and a highly internationalized private university in the southwest (Southern California).
Today I thought I’d travel up the Pacific coast to the northwest edge of our lower 48 States, and talk about the very highly regarded University of Washington.
Founded in 1861 before the Washington Territory entered the Union as a State, the University of Washington (a.k.a. Washington, UW, or UDub) is one of the oldest tertiary education institutions on the West Coast of the United States as well as one of the finest research universities in the world.
Located in Seattle, Washington, the school has a large and influential footprint with more than 500 buildings (ranging from stone-and-brick gothic classics to award-winning contemporary gems) containing more than 20 million square feet of educational space. In addition to the main Seattle campus, UW has satellite campuses in nearby Tacoma and Bothell.
In 1909 the University was used as the site for that year’s world fair. The structures built specifically for the fair were afterward converted to educational use, and the old fairgrounds are now the center of the main campus.
The UW landscape is breathtakingly beautiful. Iconic 14,500-foot (4,400 m) high Mt. Rainier soars in the distance, glowing with color at sunrise and sunset. There are spacious quadrangles, gardens, and other large green spaces, in places filled with cherry trees which burst with clouds of pink and white each spring.
The University contains 30,000 undergrads, more than 12,000 graduate and professional students, and more than 3,800 faculty members. Notwithstanding the extensive research activities of the professors, the school maintains an average 13:1 student-to-faculty ratio in classes, allowing for close student/teacher interaction.
The University of Washington is a public school, like the University of Iowa. As is customary with schools of this type, UW offers discounted tuition for students from the State of Washington. (As a result, Washingtonians make up nearly 80% of the student body, but there are also large numbers of international students.) Overall, 58% of all incoming freshmen receive significant financial assistance.
The University comprises 16 colleges and schools offering hundreds of different degree programs. Many of those programs are highly ranked nationally and internationally. Overall, Washington consistently places in the top 20 universities in the United States. Times Higher Education ranked it 25th in the world, and this year UW placed 13th in the world in the Leiden Ranking published by Leiden University of the Netherlands.
The University’s current faculty includes 6 Nobel Prize laureates, 2 Pulitzer Prize winners, a recipient of the Fields Medal (considered the highest honor a mathematician can receive), 15 MacArthur Fellows, National Book Award winners, hundreds of other prize winners, and large numbers of members of prestigious academic societies.
UW is particularly well known for the extensive and highly regarded research conducted by its professors and students. Since 1974 the University has consistently received the largest amount of federal research funding among public schools, and it ranks second in the nation in funding received when private and public schools are considered together.
To give you a sense of the research commitment at the University, more than US$1 billion was spent on scientific research in the last full year for which I could access data. Also noteworthy, the University hosts ResearchChannel, the only television station in the United States (and perhaps anywhere) dedicated solely to broadcasting research findings by academic institutions and scientific organizations.
UW is an avid partner in R&D efforts. For example, in 2009, Lamborgini formalized an agreement with the University to create a research center where students and faculty can perform tests on composite parts for the iconic automobile manufacturer. The National Science Foundation is partnering with UW in establishing an engineering research center to study the integration of technology with the human neural system.
If you are interested in nursing, you definitely should look at Washington, which in 1945 established the first university-level nursing program in the United States. Since 1984 the UW School of Nursing has been consistently ranked 1st in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.
Just over 99% of the School of Nursing’s tenured faculty hold doctorate degrees. Nursing students can specialize in one of three separate departments – Biobehavioral Nursing and Health Systems, Family and Child Nursing, and Psychosocial and Community Health.
UW’s School of Social Work is also very highly regarded, ranking 3rd in the United States. The school has had a reputation since 1970 for conducting ground-breaking research, and it devotes more than US$ 3 million annually to scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships.
The instinct toward public service runs deep at UW, and students and alumni engage in volunteer activity in exceptionally high numbers. For example, Washington students are disproportionately represented in the Peace Corps. In 2011 there were 110 UW students in the Peace Corps, second only to the University of Colorado at Boulder (with 112).
UW’s Foster School of Business is the second oldest business school on the West Coast and is widely known for the quality of its faculty research. Foster’s professors are ranked #1 for research productivity in business administration and #8 in marketing. The School is partnering with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on global health research and projects.
I’ll note just one other of UW’s many academic programs. The Evans School of Public Affairs is ranked 9th overall out of 266 schools of public affairs by News & World Report, and 4th among such programs at public universities. The School is particularly well-known for its offerings in non-profit management and environmental policy management.
UDub’s distinguished alumni include Kenny G, both of Bill Gates’ parents, Pixar co-founder Loren Carpenter, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, action star Bruce Lee, actors Kyle MacLachlan and Anna Faris, Jeopardy win-streak champion Ken Jennings, several astronauts including Michael Anderson of Space Shuttle Columbia, and legendary test pilot and aerodynamicist Scott Crossfield.
For those who have not yet graduated, Washington, like other American universities, hosts a plethora of extra-curricular activities in which students can participate. There are more than 850 different student organizations covering a broad range of intellectual, social, cultural, political, and recreational interests, plus approximately 50 Greek fraternities or sororities.
Washington competes in the Pac 12 conference of Division I-A of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The University has a history of highly competitive teams in various sports, with particular success in football, basketball, and rowing. There are well-regarded men’s and women’s rugby teams.
UW crew men have claimed 46 national titles plus 15 gold, 2 silver, and 5 bronze medals in Olympic competition. UW women rowers have won 10 national titles and 2 Olympic golds. In recent years the University has also won national championships in softball, women’s volleyball, golf, and athletics.
The University’s motto is Lux Sit, a poorly constructed and somewhat ambiguous Latin phrase generously translated as “Let There Be Light.” The official colors, selected by student vote in 1892, are purple and gold. Pitched debate over choice of colors resolved when a dramatic reading of a poem by Lord Bryon swayed student opinion:
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.
Vivid imagery and martial pride also swayed students in selecting the University’s fight song, Bow Down to Washington. Written as an entry in a competition held in 1915, BDW is quite often slightly revised to add selected profanities, witty insults, and surgical calumnies directed at particular opposing teams.
The University’s students originally referred to themselves as Sun Dodgers, in honor of Seattle’s occasionally rainy weather. University athletic officials tried to change the nickname to the Vikings, but students rebelled and forced a vote. The winning option in the poll, the “Huskies,” has been UDub ‘s nickname since 1922. A student costumed as Harry the Husky attends sports events, and a real Alaskan Malamute leads the football team onto the field before games.
In terms of sports traditions, Huskies are avid tailgate partiers. Because Husky Stadium is built on the shore of Lake Washington, though, UW tailgating takes place on boats out on the water rather than on the tailgates of pick-up trucks or utility vehicles in the parking lot of the stadium. It’s a very cool twist on an iconic American sports tradition.
Also, UDub – along, I should add, with certain others — lays claim to creating ”The Wave,” the famous stadium tradition of rowdy fans simulating a rippling wave around the stands. According to Husky legend, graduate Robb Weller and band director Bill Bissel launched the first-ever Wave in October of 1981 during a pitched football battle against Stanford University.
The University has two institutional rivalries of note. One is with nearby Washington State University. Relatively friendly, the U/State rivalry boosts athletic competition between the two schools to fierce levels, culminating in the Apple Cup football match each year to claim State-wide bragging rights.
The Husky’s other rivalry is with the University of Oregon, and it’s not a friendly one. Oregon claims that Washington administrators engaged in political subterfuge to deprive the Oregon football team of a chance to play in the 1948 Rose Bowl game. Oregon has not forgotten the alleged injustice, and Washington resents the allegation. One particularly notable eruption occurred in 1962 when Washington fans vaulted onto the field and tackled an Oregon receiver just before he could score the winning touchdown in the closing minutes of the game.
The University of Washington sits at the edge of the city of Seattle on a narrow isthmus between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, within a dynamic metropolitan area of 3.4 million people. When students are not hitting the books, they can access tremendous numbers of recreational, cultural, and entertainment options just a short walk, bicycle ride, or commute away.
For those drawn to the performing arts, Seattle is the birthplace of grunge … and then there’s Bumbershoot, one of America’s largest music festivals … dynamic alternative and other live music scenes that have spawned the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Modest Mouse, and Death Cab for Cutie … worldclass opera, symphony, and ballet companies … numerous chamber ensembles … championship spoken word slammers … and several film festivals.
Other cultural offerings include Native American festivals and pow-wows … the highly regarded Seattle Art Museum … several other art and history museums … outdoor art parks … The Bite, an annual food festival that draws more than 450,000 tasters … Pike Place Market, home of the original Starbucks … and historical excursions including my favorite, the Seattle Underground Tour of the remains of the old city on top of which modern Seattle was built after the Great Fire of 1889.
For outdoorsy folks, Seattle’s environs are a paradise. The rain forests, snow fields, and glaciers of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic Mountains lie just to the west. The towering volcanoes of the Cascade Range, including Mt. Rainier, lie just to the east. There are camping, skiing, hiking, climbing, kayaking, sailing, and adventure sports opportunities year-round. Men’s Fitness magazine named Seattle the fittest city in the United States because of all the outdoor activities available to — and regularly engaged in by — its residents.
Seattle, though, is not just about fun. The metro area has a dynamic economy driven by technology firms, aerospace companies, and innovative entrepreneurs. Among the major enterprises headquartered there are Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, Boeing, Starbucks, Nintendo of America, and Valve Corporation. It’s a great place to intern over the summer, get your first job, immerse yourself in a 21st Century economy, or even start your own company.
That’s just a brief snapshot of Seattle based on what caught my eye when I visited. For a more comprehensive view of the city’s cultural diversity, special attractions, and hidden pleasures, as well as for advice on planning a trip, please check out Seattle’s official website.
For more information about the University of Washington and how to apply, please visit its main website or graduate programs page. As always, please feel free to contact the Embassy’s Educational Adviser, Drew Dumas, at DumasAG@state.gov.
And of course, stay tuned. The next installment in my university series two weeks from now will highlight Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts powerhouse of just 1,500 students in my original home State of Pennsylvania. It’s a very different kind of school from the four that I have already profiled, and I bet it’s just the kind of place that some of you are looking for.
If you would like me to focus on a particular institution or academic program after that, just let me know. I have already adjusted the series line-up to respond to reader feedback, suggestions, and questions, and I’m happy to continue to do so as we proceed.