There’s a lot to like about George Bridges, who is now half way through his first year as president of The Evergreen State College. The former Whitman College president replaced a popular, effective Evergreen leader in Thomas “Les” Purce, who retired mid-year after a long career.
In a very good move that we think state legislators will appreciate, Bridges says he plans no new state budget requests in his inaugural year.
Bridges said in a meeting last month with our editorial board that he instead plans to thank the Legislature – which starts a new session on Monday in Olympia – for extra money it provided in the 2015-17 biennial budget.
Bridges also says he wants the university to be more effective in the way it guides new students into Evergreen’s unique programs. He is using some money the Legislature provided to beef up the advising division so that students are prepared for Evergreen’s interdisciplinary programs, which often require more self-directed learning than students have had.
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Some students are not ready for this, or they get into programs that didn’t suit them, according to Bridges.
Evergreen programs are often taught by a team of teachers for three to nine months and they embraced interdisciplinary themes that cross traditional academic disciplines and mimic the problem-solving demands of the modern world. Evergreen lets in most students who apply, unlike Whitman, the expensive private school Bridges recently led in Walla Walla. At the same time, Evergreen can be very rigorous academically and a lot of responsibility can fall on the student.
We think that Bridge’s focus on using last year’s legislative appropriation to improve student success will be music to the ears of budget writers. They face unrelenting challenges over how to pay for K-12 schools, prisons, mental health care and forest fire management.
What he’s seen so far, Bridges says, is a good faculty, a great campus and a college culture that he’d like to see get more interactive with the Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater communities it serves. This could mean getting more people from town to spend time at campus social and cultural events, and more college events in town.
Bridges was quick to move in at the west Olympia home the college has owned for years for its president; he is the first in many years to do so. He has met informally with groups of students he wants to feel welcomed at Evergreen, and he’s met faculty and done other outreach – freely handing out his cell phone number.
He also wants to build relationships with the business community and get the word out everywhere about Evergreen’s innovations in teaching.
That’s not all Bridges has in mind. He also hopes to champion Evergreen’s reputation as an education innovator and see it raise more funds through its foundation and growing network of alumni who are becoming financially able to give back to their college.
Bridges clearly loves his new job. We wish him and Evergreen luck and great success in the coming year.