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Category Archives: In the Spotlight


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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In the Spotlight: John Castle and Creating a Company

John Castle

John Castle

Every year, Creating a Company, as the course is dubbed, becomes less a class than a crash course in entrepreneurship. Groups of eager students team up, form a company, apply for a $1,000-$2,000 loan from the Foster School of Business, and spend the next few months hawking their product or service to the wider world.

Past companies have sold goods ranging from Husky apparel to glass jars of cake mix; other companies have launched art galleries and driven students to the mountain passes for a day on the slopes. (Read below for photos and memories of some of the course’s most memorable products.)

At the heart of it all is lecturer John Castle, who has taught the class for the past 12 years – and who will retire at year’s end.

In 2001, Castle had stepped down as CEO from Cantametrix, a music software company he helped found, when a neighbor and former UW professor approached him about inheriting the Creating a Company course. With more than 40 years of business acumen, Castle didn’t lack experience: Before joining the UW, he had served as CEO of Hamilton-Thorn, a medical electronics and diagnostics company; cofounded Seragen, a biotechnology company; and was a partner in Washington Biotechnology Funding, a seed venture capital fund specializing in medical technologies.

Since then, he’s drawn on that extensive experience as would-be CEOS have created and developed dozens of companies. Castle’s only rule in approving companies and dispersing loans is “Do no harm,” meaning that students can’t, say, promote underage drinking by selling shot glasses to fraternities and sororities on campus. (This actually happened.)

When the class ends, students return any profits to the Foster School and can buy their company for $1 to keep it going. Few companies have outlived their academic years, but Castle knows the experience will remain long after grades are posted. “Whether or not they learn how to do it well, they will learn whether or not they want to start their own business.” Castle said. “This is as realistic of an experience of entrepreneurship as we can make it.”

Read on for a look back at some of the most memorable products and services offered by students during Castle’s tenure.

Read more…

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Teaching the art of storytelling, online and off

Florangela Davila (photo credit Conrado Tapado)

Florangela Davila (photo credit Conrado Tapado)

Part-time lecturer Florangela Davila spent nearly 20 years in journalism before coming to the UW, but she knows that most of her students won’t wind up as newspaper reporters. Instead, Davila’s students are more likely to express an interest in public relations, event planning, and nonprofit work.

But Davila argues that the art of storytelling knows no professional boundaries, and the importance of telling a good tale is at the heart of her courses, which have covered multimedia storytelling, diversity in reporting, writing for mass communication, and interviewing.

Davila, who teaches in the Department of Communication, brings storytelling experience in a variety of media to every class. She earned her Masters in Science in Journalism from Columbia University in 1992, covered a variety of beats for The Seattle Times between 1994 and 2008, and has freelanced for KPLU, KCTS, and NPR. “What I always stress is how the skills journalists practice – and have practiced – are very applicable to other industries,” she said. “You need to be able to write. You need to be able to fact-check and be credible. You need to know which sources to trust.”

Davila, mindful of the changing times, shows students how to use the latest technologies and trends to tell powerful stories. She encourages her multimedia storytelling students to shoot video, record audio, and take notes with their iPhones, for example. She also works with students to make new technologies like Twitter less overwhelming and more accessible. “I’ve been there, and I’ve done that,” she said. “I think I’m able to sympathize and empathize with my students.”

Davila hopes that her lessons transcend new technologies, though. She preaches the fundamentals of telling a good story – “What is a story? Whose story are you going to tell? What are the facts?” she asks her students – and trains them to keep an open mind as new tools become available. “There’s always technology,” she said. “There are other ways to tell stories.”

But that storytelling acumen won’t come without experience, she said. Wanna-be writers should start a blog, and amateur filmmakers should make videos whenever possible, Davila recommends. Even flyers for campus events or club newsletters demonstrate experience and skill to would-be employers. “There’s nothing stopping you,” she tells students. “You should be creating.”

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In the Spotlight: Ron Smith

Ronald E. Smith [1]Coming out of high school, Ron Smith thought he was destined for a career in journalism. He enrolled at Marquette with visions of becoming a sports writer. But, midway through that first year, Smith dumped a tray of printer ink in a typography class, ruining his clothes in the process. “This isn’t exactly what I expected,” he remembered thinking.

The next day, looking for a new line of study, Smith asked a friend on the bus about his major. The psychology major talked up his program, leading Smith to take an Introduction to Psychology course. “Almost from the first day, I said ‘This is for me.’ I found my passion,” Smith said.

That was 1959. Smith started at the UW a decade later and has remained busy ever since. In the 40 years since, he’s helped UW student-athletes improve performance, worked with professional athletes, and mentored countless students as a Professor of Psychology and the department’s Director of Clinical Training. It’s that dedication that led one student to nominate Smith for a profile in this space.

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In the Spotlight: Ia Dübois

It was deep budget cuts during a recession that led to one of Ia Dübois’ most enduring classes at the University of Washington.

Not long after starting with the UW in 1992, Dübois brainstormed with a colleague about how to bring more students into classes in the Department of Scandinavian Studies, a part of the College of Arts & Sciences. “What is selling?” Dübois remembers her colleague asking. “Well, sex,” she replied, half-jokingly. That planted the seed for “Sexuality in Scandinavia: Myth and Reality,” which has since become Dübois’ most popular class.

It started with about 45 students that first term in the mid-90s, but “Sexuality in Scandinavia” has grown over the years, reaching 235 students for fall quarter. Throughout the term, Dübois compares and contrasts laws and legislation regarding sexuality in a handful of Scandinavian countries. “It’s a wonderful thing, to teach the differences between the Scandinavian countries, because each country has a different value system,” Dübois said.

She tries to bridge the cultural divide by screening documentaries on subjects with which students might have only a passing familiarity or faint understanding. Those films touch on subjects such as homosexuality, prostitution and trafficking — and how they impact life in Scandinavia. She hopes that students connect those issues to what happens in their own communities. “I really see our teaching as not only the facts, but also to teach the students to become good citizens,” Dübois said.

Dübois, who is a senior lecturer and undergraduate adviser today, also tries to educate students about legal developments and media portrayals that may have informed their own thoughts on sexuality. “I don’t want you to change your mind,” Dübois tells students each quarter. “But, be aware of what is forming your opinion.”

Dübois remains busy outside of the classroom, as well. In October she attended a conference put on by the Association of Swedish Teachers and Researchers in America. It was the kind of eye-opening experience that keeps Dübois motivated after 20 years at the UW. “To be in an environment where you are exposed to really new research, new thinkers, and new interpretations of literature and of culture, I still have to pinch myself at times,” Dübois said.

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In the Spotlight: Phillip Thurtle

Phillip Thurtle

Phillip Thurtle

It’s not often that a molecular immunologist feels like their career isn’t challenging enough. But that’s exactly where Phillip Thurtle found himself in the early 1990s. “I found myself, as a practicing scientist, really only thinking about one amino acid and one molecule,” Thurtle said. “I wanted my intellectual world to be much larger.”

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In the Spotlight: Prof. Peter May

Peter May

Professor Peter May encourages students to participate in the real-world political process.

As the chair of UW’s political science department, Peter May understands the importance of education continuing outside the classroom walls. It’s why he’s been closely involved with—and a vocal champion of—the department’s internship programs since joining the UW 33 years ago. In that time, interns to pass through the UW have included King County Executive Dow Constantine, radio host John Carlson, and Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell. “All different political stripes,” he proudly notes.

As far as May’s concerned, education doesn’t end after each quarter; in his eyes, it’s just beginning.

It’s that commitment to students and his active interest in real-world experiences that led one former student to nominate May for a feature in this space.

Owing to his duties as department chair, May isn’t slated to teach this year. But he’s long been a champion of students taking their education outside of classroom walls; “broader educational experience” is a favorite phrase. Strengthening the department’s internship program is one way of accomplishing that. Elsewhere, he encourages students to sign up for campaigns and service learning programs. “The reality is, one doesn’t get a job these days based on a political science degree,” he said. “They get a job based on what kinds of experiences they’ve had.”

Time spent in class, however, remains critically important to May. He works with faculty to ensure a positive experience for students raised on laptops and smartphones. He accomplishes that by encouraging interaction (even in large lecture halls), angling for better communication through chat rooms and online courses, and developing analytical skills that come with new technology (evaluating websites, for instance). “One needs to think more creatively about interactive and multimedia kinds of things,” he said. “That’s part of the modern world, and I think, for the most part, our faculty and TAs have embraced that and have done well with that.”

May acknowledges that the faltering economy has taken its toll on the political science department but remains upbeat. He encourages faculty to apply for grants and fellowships, holds seminars and community discussions, and helps provide seed funding for research and travel to special events. “We’re building something,” he said. “You’re not building it in the old way – hiring more faculty, getting more state funds coming in, building new buildings, and things like that. You’re building it through the collective energy of our faculty and our graduate students.”

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