By Joe Smillie
Peninsula Daily News
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“I believe there's a certain inevitability of that happening here some day,” Councilman Ken Hays said.
Along with Hays, community activist Pat Johansen and Dr. Gary Smith, a recent Sequim resident with a history of involvement in higher education, have formed the Sequim Institute for Higher Learning Futures.
The three have been meeting for several months about recruiting higher education, Hays said.
“We feel like we're at a crossroads here,” he said.
They are in the process of forming a registered nonprofit, and Hays said they have made progress in opening discussions with those institutions.
“We have a couple of higher education facilities coming to visit Sequim, through Gary and his contacts,” Hays said.
The group's efforts received unanimous endorsement from the City Council on Monday.
Smith has worked for 40 years in bringing higher education to rural communities.
He said he's spoken with Western Washington University in Bellingham, Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon and Prescott College, in Prescott, Ariz., about the possibility of bringing classes to Sequim.
Smith said he wants to bring baccalaureate-level classes to Sequim for those who want to finish bachelor's degrees or earn toward master's-level certificates in the community.
“Our aspiration here is not to buy 40 acres and build Old Main,” Smith said. “We want to build this in a community model, in an innovative and creative way.”
He noted that the programs would ideally differ from those offered by Peninsula College in Port Angeles.
“I'm not in any way looking to duplicate or replace what Peninsula College does here,” he said.
“They're doing what community colleges do. And that's great.”
Western offers master's-level courses in environmental science and environmental studies at Peninsula College.
“I know they do some things, Huxley College at Peninsula College,” Smith said. “There's much more they could do.”
He pointed to Western's Academy for Lifelong Learning program as something that could work well in Sequim.
The program brings experts in to teach citizens or those who want to learn more deeply about subjects in college-level classes.
“I think Sequim could serve as a model,” he said.
Councilman Erik Erichsen pointed to Washington State University's campus in the Tri-Cities.
A retired worker at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Erichsen said the campus began as a “tent city” in which experts were brought in to teach workers how to transition from producing nuclear materials to cleaning them up as the production complex was decommissioned.
He pointed to the Battelle Marine Science Laboratory in Sequim as a similar situation in which the company could be helped by having more higher education training opportunities for its workers.
Smith said he has meetings scheduled with other higher learning officials in coming weeks.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Joe Smillie can be reached at 360-681-2390, ext. 5052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.