Dean’s message: February 2023

Dean Dori Borjesson standing outside Bustad Hall on the WSU campus.
Monkey in a tree and chewing on a small branch and some leaves.

High winds in the Palouse and cold. So very different from last week when I relaxed on a 75-degree open-air veranda overlooking Karura forest in Nairobi, Kenya. Did I mention the monkeys? Yes, I just returned from my second trip to East Africa to engage with our global health program. We were joined by President Kirk Schultz and first lady Dr. Noel Schulz.

University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor Kiama and WSU President Kirk Schultz plant a tree at the Wangari Maathai Institute, University of Nairobi.

Our Africa-based programs were inspired by a few people wanting to drive meaningful change. For me, there was one person who stood out on this trip—Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist, winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize, and the first woman in East Africa to earn a PhD. There is space in Karura forest named after her. There is an Institute at the University of Nairobi named after her. Each of us in WSU leadership had the honor of planting a tree on the grounds of this Institute during our visit. During her lifetime, in trying to drive change for women and protection for the environment, she was imprisoned, ostracized, impoverished, and threatened. She persisted. One person, meaningful change. 

As a university, we have been thinking more and more about what it means to have an international footprint. The depth and breadth of our programs in East Africa provide a strong pathway to pursue program building and partnerships in new areas, including engineering, agriculture, and social sciences. We re-signed an MOU with the University of Nairobi and we made progress on our goal to have a joint PhD program between WSU and the University of Nairobi. Importantly, the president and first lady saw firsthand the impact our faculty members, trainees, and staff are having on global public health issues that impact people and animals. As I wrote last month, seeing is believing. It was a powerful and positive trip.

So why this story? As a college, we have some new people, new programs, new ideas. As we look toward being more inclusive, or adopting new models for clinical care or piloting new models for education and outreach across colleges and campuses, how do we inspire people to thoughtfully engage and not retract or resist? How do we create a culture of belonging? And how do we bring our best selves to the table when there is resistance? We focus on One Community, One College. and the common good.