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Friday, June 19, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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UW Faculty Hit The Road -- Bus Tour Around State Offers Professors Fresh Insight About Their Students And State As Well As Opportunities To Collaborate On Research Ideas

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Shelly Eversley spoke excitedly over the beat of Yakama ceremonial drums. This was, after all, an epiphany for her.

"Now I know exactly where I need to focus my energy: educating kids about how to write their (university) admissions essay," said the assistant professor of 20th Century American literature, after speaking with a tribal elder and young Yakamas about their difficulties in getting access to college.

Linda Chalker-Scott, an associate professor of ecosystem sciences, encountered the spirit somewhere between Wenatchee and Spokane. After hearing farmers talk about their troubles with low yields, pesticides and bad markets, she has decided to show them how to grow new crops and to use natural ways of controlling pests, without chemicals.

Suresh Kotha, an assistant professor of management and organization, found his revelation near the Tri-Cities after a conversation with an engineering colleague. Now he knows whom to call for advice on how satellites talk with each other, an important part of his research on new uses of the Internet.

All received their new-found insight from an unusual source - a bus chartered by the University of Washington to ferry 35 faculty members around the state for five days. The tour was financed by independent funds from the university.

The University Field Bus Tour will return to Seattle today for a barbecue at UW President Richard McCormick's house. The shared meal will conclude a 1,000-mile trip through large cities and small towns that is receiving raves from participants.

The trip included visits to Everett, Leavenworth, Wenatchee, Spokane, the Tri-Cities, Yakima and Tacoma. Faculty got to see orchards, migrant clinics, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants and airplane factories. They saw the Cascades and the Palouse, the Columbia River and the deserts of Eastern Washington.

McCormick said he proposed the tour as a way to give new UW faculty better insight about their students and about their new home. McCormick also wanted to show the people of Washington that the UW serves the entire state, not just Seattle or the Puget Sound area.

Indirectly, the tour also was about giving some new faculty members from different fields a chance to get to know each other better and perhaps find new ideas for research.

Throw in a few days of good weather, hospitable towns, politicians and TV news crews, a few rounds of Woody Guthrie's "Roll on Columbia," and what you have is a successful trek, according to participants.

"I'm not from the West Coast, so this has been very enlightening," said Mark Campbell, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics. "It's nice to see where my students come from."

"I made so many educational contacts in the past 10 minutes alone," said Paul LePore, an assistant professor of sociology, after meeting with education officials at the Yakama Nation. "I'm really looking forward to some hands-on work with them."

McCormick declared the trip an achievement: "It's been better than I expected, and my expectations were very high."

The trip included some surprises.

A dinner in Spokane with Republican senators James West of Spokane, and Eugene Prince of Thornton, led to an extended grilling of West by members of the faculty, upset at what they perceived as the poor funding of higher education by the state.

A trip to a Washington Public Power Supply System nuclear plant came, by sheer coincidence, shortly after a mishap at the plant had forced operators to shut it down. A welder accidentally cut a water pipe leading to the fire-control system, which qualified as an "unusual incident" at the plant.

On the second day of the tour, a problem with the bus toilet filled the vehicle with the smell of sewage for a few hours. Two faculty members were inadvertently left behind during a tour of Spokane.

Faculty said they particularly enjoyed their contacts with real people and the knowledge that came from seeing things in person.

"It's shocking," said Efthimis Efthimiadis, an associate professor of library and information science, after a tour of the Yakima Migrant Farm Workers' Clinic and a presentation on the health problems faced by rural workers. "I didn't realize the state of rural health was so poor."

Some found much insight about the relationship - or lack of it - between the UW and many of the state's communities.

"What they tell us says something about what they think about us," said Thomas Richardson, assistant professor of statistics.

As the trip drew to a close, faculty members joked and shared stories with each other in a way that some said would never happen at the university, where traditionally people from different fields seldom work together or socialize.

And some thought that was the greatest achievement of five days on the road.

"If this trip achieved nothing else, it bonded this group together," said Michelle Simon, an assistant professor of pediatrics.

Roberto Sanchez's phone message number is 206-464-8522. His e-mail address is: rsan-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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