Western, community collaborate in many ways

By Bruce Shepard
President of Western Washington University

Communities support universities that support communities. That is a saying I have always thought very relevant to town-gown relations. Western and the local community support each other in so many ways. And these partnerships make us all stronger.

Often, I am surprised that some folks don’t know how involved Western is with the community, and how deeply involved the community is with Western.

Western is one of the two top employers in Whatcom County, providing long-term stability to the labor force. Western’s economic impact on the region alone of our 15,000 students and nearly 2,000 faculty and staff is enormous. Figures suggest that as much as $275 million enters the local economy annually.

Many individuals and businesses moving to Whatcom County cite the presence of an excellent university as an important reason for relocating here. And this area is such a great place to live that our graduates often stay here. Nearly a quarter of Whatcom County residents with bachelor’s degrees are Western alumni. That quality of life here also is a tremendous asset for the university in recruiting students, faculty and staff.

The university’s impact on the region is wide-ranging and includes helping local businesses through the efforts of the Small Business Development Center and the Center for Economic Vitality, both part of our College of Business and Economics. In 2010, the CEV counseled more than 400 Whatcom County business clients on a range of needs, creating or saving more than 200 jobs and producing more than $13 million in local investment. Since its inception in 1996, the CEV has provided one-on-one business counseling to more than 5,000 local entrepreneurs and sparked more than $180 million in new local investments.

Local businesses, nonprofit agencies and residents reach out to Western as good neighbors in many positive ways — such as providing internships, service-learning and work experience to our students, critically important as they move forward in their chosen careers.

At the October 2010 Washington-BC Summit meeting between Premier Campbell and Gov. Gregoire, of the seven border-related topics discussed, five were supported with data and analysis provided by research undertaken by Western’s Border Policy Research Institute an effort to help solve cross-border trade issues.

The university provides athletic and cultural events that can be accessed by all. The College of Fine and Performing Arts brings the arts to life for children in grades K-12 through free matinee performances held in Western’s professional venue spaces. In 2010-2011, this series offered eight performances and hosted 4,868 participants.

Each fall more than 800 fifth graders from local schools tour campus for Compass 2 Campus, a program designed to increase access to higher education by providing an opportunity for fifth grade students from traditionally underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds in Whatcom and Skagit counties to be mentored by university students. More than 900 Western students mentor these children in their schools.

Since the late 1970s, Western’s Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic has offered a range of services to community members, including comprehensive diagnosis and therapy in language, speech and hearing for adults, adolescents, young children and infants. hology Department’s Counseling Training Clinicprovides free, confidential counseling to community members.

Our students provide hundreds of thousands of hours of volunteer service to local nonprofits. Western’s quarterly blood drives among the most successful in the entire Puget Sound.

These are just a few of the many ways Western and the community work together as partners and neighbors. The university values its role being a good steward of place. Can we do more? Absolutely! My expectation is that new partnerships not yet envisioned will be fostered and the effective collaborations we have already forged with Bellingham and Whatcom County will only grow stronger.

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