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Archives: May, 2013


In the Spotlight: Dr. Jill Purdy

Dr. Jill Purdy

Dr. Jill Purdy

Dr. Jill Purdy didn’t expect a steady stream of temp gigs to pave the way for a career spent studying – and teaching about – businesses and organizations. But, as she spent time in various administrative and secretarial jobs throughout high school and college, she found herself fascinated by the collage of workplace cultures she encountered. “It was like being an anthropologist discovering a new society,” she said.

Spurred in part by those experiences, Purdy earned a Ph.D. in Business Administration from Pennsylvania State University in 1994 and joined the University of Washington Tacoma’s Milgard School of Business that same year. Purdy, an associate professor of management, researches and teaches about organization theory, negotiation, conflict resolution and more.

When Purdy started at UWT, she couldn’t have imagined the sea changes that would shake the business world and provide steady streams of real-world lessons to share in the classroom. At the time, Enron wasn’t yet a household name or symbol of corporate greed; sustainability wasn’t a strategy for attracting new customers; and a widespread recession hadn’t yet shaken the foundations of the global economy. “We’ve had a little bit of culture change of what we expect and what we want from businesses,” she said. “There’s a different level of accountability, and I think people are paying a little more attention to it.”

Purdy chalks a lot of that change up to the Internet; consumers no longer have to rely on journalists for breaking news about companies, she said. Instead, social media and easily accessible public records made it easy for consumers to see if companies are faithfully representing their brands and living up to their mission. She points to the Red Cross as a prime example; in the days and weeks after Hurricane Katrina, the organization came under fire when it was discovered that donations didn’t always go toward those impacted by the storm. “I don’t think anybody would have been aware of that 25 years ago or paid much attention to it,” Purdy said. “The tools you use to pay attention are different now.”

She also looks at Seattle-based companies who think differently about philanthropy, environmental causes and social responsibility in an era when so much information is readily accessible. She praises Starbucks for ensuring that coffee growers in Costa Rica aren’t being exploited and that the coffee supply chains are being ethically sourced. “It’s become an expectation of doing business at that high level,” Purdy said. “People care about it; investors care about it; and it’s expected. It’s simply a norm.”

Purdy draws on these case studies for classroom lessons on management, board governance, and more. Many of these lessons resonate with students, she said, because they’ve grown up with the changes and have seen them develop first-hand. She also tries to tailor her lessons for students who might not start their own company or enter the business world. “You never know what you’re going to be doing, so you should be teaching things that apply in a lot of circumstances,” Purdy said. Her negotiation and conflict resolution class has helped students foster better personal relationships – even with in-laws, she said.

Outside of the classroom, Purdy is currently studying and researching benefit corporations, which promote positive environmental and ethical practices. The companies, Purdy explains, aren’t necessarily driven by high profits, but rather by the chance to help the environment, ensure the business is being run in an ethical way, and easily share that information with consumers. “It’s like being on the ground floor of a big social change and watching as it unfolds, as opposed to watching it in history,” Purdy said.

And, whether in the classroom or while studying a new generation of social entrepreneurship, Purdy finds herself curious by the same questions she asked as a temp: “Why is it things work out one way here, but they work differently at a different place?” she wonders. “We’re learning so much and getting so much information, we’ll have to see where it takes us.”

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The Long-lasting History of Disposability: Recapping ‘Plastics Unwrapped’

"Plastics Unwrapped"

“Plastics Unwrapped”

Early in our tour of “Plastics Unwrapped,” the latest exhibit at the Burke Museum, my date and I turned a corner and found ourselves face-to-face with a wall adorned with 1,500 clear water bottles. The empty bottles took up every square inch of the surface, save for where a small sign explained their significance: The massive display represented the number of water bottles used every second in the United States.

That was just one of the many unbelievable visuals we encountered as part of the latest event in the Arts Dawg series. The Arts Dawg event may be over, but “Plastics Unwrapped” presents stunning statistics and memorable visuals through May 27 at the Burke Museum.

I met Jenna, my date for the evening, about the time the museum opened its doors to Arts Dawg patrons; we got to know each other while exploring the Burke’s numerous exhibits. The conversation came easily – so much so, we missed the first few minutes of the tour offered by “Plastics Unwrapped” exhibit developer Ruth Pelz – an Arts Dawg exclusive opportunity.

Early on, the half-hour tour shed light on the history of plastic and the unlikely genesis of the exhibit; Pelz said she and other exhibit planners were inspired by a Burke Museum exhibit on coffee. That discussion led the group to think about other seemingly ordinary items that deserved a brighter spotlight. Elsewhere in the tour, Pelz discussed the chemistry behind various forms of plastic, examined the material’s rise in modern culture, and talked about its use in all walks of life today.

Pelz didn’t hold back in describing the negative impacts plastic have on our society. We learned that it can take up to 400 years for plastics to decompose, and we stood next to a 170-pound tower of electronics waste – representing the volume of electronics discarded every second in the United States.

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Pelz talked about how plastic has revolutionized modern medicine and showed off a pair of prosthetic legs made possible by plastic. And tips on reducing plastic use were sprinkled throughout the exhibit.

Pelz stuck around after the tour to answer any lingering questions as most of us scattered to explore the exhibit on our own. Jenna and I marveled at a 12-year-old iPod on display, scoped out a collection of environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastics (including a set of bamboo eating utensils), marveled at a rain coat made from sea mammal innards, and gleefully played with some of the plastic toys on display. With the unusual items and eye-popping statistics, we lost ourselves in learning about a material that had seemed so unremarkable just two hours earlier. Before we knew it, the Arts Dawg staff started cleaning the museum and folding up the tables, ending our exploration. Jenna’s only complaint of the evening? She hadn’t known about the exhibit earlier.

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Arts Dawg Preview: Unwrapping ‘Plastics’

(Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum)

(Photo courtesy of the Burke Museum)

Plastic is an inescapable part of everyday life. It’s in the phone, tablet or computer you’re reading this on. The water bottle you lug to the gym is probably plastic. Even the toothbrush you used this morning is made from the ubiquitous material.

It’s a wonderful invention that made many of our modern marvels possible, but it comes at a cost: Plastic is difficult to recycle, doesn’t biodegrade, and contains chemicals that can poison marine life when not properly disposed.

Both sides of that discussion are represented at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture’s latest exhibit, Plastics Unwrapped. The exhibit, which examines the past, present, and future of plastics, runs through May 27; Arts Dawg patrons will get an up-close look at the exhibit, along with remarks from exhibit developer Ruth Pelz, on May 16.

The exhibit starts with the history of plastics and brings to life a piece of pre-World War II Americana by showcasing objects made before plastics took hold in manufacturing. Some of the more puzzling objects on display include a jar coated with pitch to hold water, a hat made from cedar bark, and a rain coat made from sea mammal innards. (Yes, really. “It’s beautiful,” Pelz said.)

From there, “Plastics Unwrapped” uses video, sculpture, text, and more to examine how plastics have taken hold over the past 70 years, how various types of plastics are made, and what happens after we throw them away.

The uglier side of plastics is certainly given its due: One sculpture made from water bottles shows how many are used every second at the University of Washington, and another sculpture shows how many plastic bags are used every quarter-second in the United States. It also explores the challenge of recycling plastics. “You can’t just dump all these plastics together and come out with a water bottle,” Pelz said.

It’s easy to demonize the seedier aspects of plastic; after all, Seattle banned grocery stores from offering plastic bags in July 2012. But the exhibit looks at how plastics helped our culture, especially modern medicine. “You just can’t imagine a glass tube IV,” Pelz said.

The exhibit ends on a hopeful note, offering examples of how companies are altering their practices to use less plastic and sharing with visitors the various ways they can reduce their plastic use. “I hope people will understand that we do have choices to make about how we use plastic, and that they’ll be inspired to use them more responsibly,” Pelz said. “We have to rethink our relationship with plastics.”

If You Go

What: Arts Dawg event in conjunction with “Plastics Unwrapped.” The event includes remarks from exhibit developer Ruth Pelz, a tour of the exhibit, wine, and light appetizers.

Where: Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, 17th Ave NE and NE 45th St., Seattle

When: Thursday, May 16, 2013, 6-8 p.m.

Cost: $8.

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Get a taste of Asia in Red Square at the UW Night Market

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

A traditional night market in Keelung, Taiwan. Photo from “Beef No Guy.”

Night markets are a staple of Taiwanese culture. Popping up as the sun goes down, night markets provide cheap eats, consumer goods and entertainment late into the night all over Taiwan and further abroad. Usually held outdoors, night markets frequently take over busy daytime thoroughfares.

Since 2001, the Taiwanese Student Association has been bringing this slice of Taiwanese culture to campus for one night each year. The TSA’s UW Night Market has grown every year, beginning in the HUB ballroom, then moving to the HUB lawn and then to Red Square. Last year’s market drew over 5,000 attendees to partake in Taiwanese snacks, watch bands and traditional performers, and to play games of chance and skill. People come in from all over the region to attend. Some even drive down from Vancouver, B.C.!

This year’s night market, sponsored in part by the UWAA, promises to be the biggest one yet. I had a chat with Ted Chen, one of the student organizers, and he enthused about the menu (“Over 100 items from 13 vendors!”), the entertainment (two UW alumni, known as “The Fung Brothers,” will share the stage with Filipino-American music phenom Joseph Vincent as special guests), and the games (“You can actually win these!”). The food is a particular point of pride for Chen, who pointed out the traditional night market staples—popcorn chicken, bubble tea and stinky tofu—that will be on offer, as well as harder-to-find Taiwanese specialties like Hakka cuisine, baked pastries and Taiwanese sausages.

The UW Night Market is open to the public. It starts at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 11 and will close around 10:30. Campus parking is free after noon on Saturdays. The UWAA is proud to be supporting a vibrant campus life; why don’t you stop by and check it out?

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Where ‘Western’ is merely a state of mind: Recapping “Once Upon a Time 6x in the West”

Once Upon a Time 6x in the West

“Indian” (Ben Phillips) offers Lil (Sylvia Kowalski) medicine in the first act of UW Drama’s production of “Once Upon A Time 6X In The West” at the Jones Playhouse Theatre. (UW Daily–Photo by Andrew Tat)

What do a down-on-his-luck American Indian impersonator, beer pong, and “The Wizard of Oz” have in common?

They’re all a part of the theatrical menagerie that is the School of Drama’s “Once Upon a Time 6x in the West,” the latest entry in the Arts Dawg series. Though difficult to follow at times, “Once Upon a Time” provided a memorable experience for both myself and Tara, my date for the evening.

Tara and I met 45 minutes before the pre-show reception, getting to know each other over iced teas at Cafe Solstice. The conversation flowed freely as we discussed our respective careers and the uniqueness of this dating series before heading to the evening’s pre-show reception in Parrington Hall.

Settled in with wine, fruit, cheese and crackers, we listened as “Once Upon a Time” director Jeffrey Fracé explained the genesis of the production and decoded the wildly disparate styles we would encounter. Tara would later say that this discussion helped her understand what to expect and prepared her for the variety of styles throughout the two-and-a-half-hour play.

Fracé and crew adapted an original script, “The Story of Little Horse,” for the production. The resulting story follows Lil, an orphan who’s kidnapped and eventually raised in an Old West brothel; the story culminates on Lil’s 13th birthday, when she’s faced with the choice of embracing the bordello life or escaping for something better.

Then again, that’s like saying “Pulp Fiction” is about a boxer or “The Dark Knight” is about a guy in a bat costume. Throughout the production, “Once Upon a Time” reflected its story through the styles of six iconic stage directors, with each act adopting a look and feel unlike any of the others. The first act, for instance, started with a minimalist stage design inspired by English director Peter Brook, who strove to emphasize the actor’s performance over design elements surrounding the action; the set consisted of roughly a dozen bamboo sticks and little else. The fifth act, meanwhile, paid homage to The Wooster Group, a New York City-based experimental theater company, with video projections, disaffected speech, bright lights, and frenetic choreography.

I had little time to make sense of the action as “Once Upon a Time” hopscotched from one style to the next. The sheer spectacle, extreme variation, and occasional musical numbers sometimes distracted from the story; in fact, the actress portraying Lil (Sylvia Kowalski) broke the fourth wall completely at one point, inviting audience members to play the roles of crucial characters — including herself — before talking about a bike ride she had taken earlier that day.

No matter. The unpredictability made for a memorable performance.

That said, I don’t know that it was an ideal first date; an early rape scene, in particular, would have been cringe-worthy even if I wasn’t inches away from someone I’d met only two hours earlier. To her credit, Tara was a good sport, laughing along with the absurdity of the production and making an excellent point after the cast took its final bow: “Once Upon a Time” gave us plenty to talk about afterward.

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