WWU solicits community input on higher ed needs

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 8/8/18

 When Western Washington University asked what the higher education needs of the Olympic Peninsula are, the community came together to offer their considered responses.The Cotton Building in Port …

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WWU solicits community input on higher ed needs


 When Western Washington University asked what the higher education needs of the Olympic Peninsula are, the community came together to offer their considered responses.

The Cotton Building in Port Townsend proved to be a packed house on the morning of July 26, as Ray Thompson, of MGT Consulting, solicited input from local merchants, educators, elected officials and other area residents.

Among those who spoke up at the meeting, a few points of consensus were how Jefferson County's aging population and shortfall of family-wage jobs make it difficult to retain younger residents, as does its relative dearth of continuing education training resources, especially in more blue-collar industries.

Thompson agreed the trades remain hard to fill, even though many of their jobs pay more than so-called white-collar occupations, but he also acknowledged Western Washington University tends not to specialize in those types of industrial fields.

When other attendees noted the pre-existing presence of the Port Townsend Maritime Science Center and the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, Thompson speculated aloud about the possibility of Western partnering with one or more community colleges in the region to provide programs.

Port Townsend City Councilwoman Michelle Sandoval recalled visions of Fort Worden as serving as a common ground for a number of such higher educational schools, when she and Mayor Deborah Stinson had met with representatives of Olympic College.

Thompson responded by noting many courses have a built-in periodicity of need, such that a certain location would only be able to fill classes on such a subject once every couple of years or so.

When another audience member suggested catering to a different demographic, by playing up Port Townsend as a haven for the liberal arts and so-called “soft skills,” Townsend agreed that many employers have also found a paucity of job applicants who possess such soft-skills, from how to communicate with others, to how to access information.

Such skills were touted by the questioner as a potential boon to the community's hospitality and retain service industries.

The next attendee to speak cited “the huge array of expertise in this town” as a potential resource for mentorship of students, regardless of which higher learning institutions those students choose to enter.

Thompson seemed receptive to this suggestion as well, describing the area's retirees as “a vast talent pool,” just waiting to be tapped.

Port Townsend School District Superintendent John Polm steered the conversation back toward focusing on technical training, and referred to his own meetings with the president of Peninsula College on the subject.

“We have students who go to university, and then decide, 'Oh, this is not for me,'” Polm said, echoing the call for a more intermediate level of education.

Thompson was reminded of a student he met in Georgia, “who went away to university, but found it totally intimidating and couldn't function.”

Melody Sky Eisler, director of the Port Townsend Library, seconded the suggestion that colleges and universities could sustain “brick-and mortar presences” by collaborating with Port Townsend's “rich community” of potential mentors.

“We need to get these kids to rethink rural success,” Eisler said. “It doesn't just mean moving away.”

“The turnout for this meeting is a testament to that,” Thompson said.


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