The Evergreen State College’s Tacoma Program Gains Permanent Home

May 5, 2016

May 21 Event Celebrates Student Work and Long-Term Commitment to Tacoma

Tacoma (Wash.) Aging infrastructure, agent orange and elementary school interventions represent a small fraction of the topics students from The Evergreen State College’s Tacoma Program have tackled this year. Exploring the theme of “Resilience,” the Evergreen students will present their work in an interactive setting during Spring Fair on Saturday, May 21. The event will kick-off at 12:30 p.m. with a dedication and ribbon cutting celebrating the purchase of a permanent home for the program. Student presentations will follow from 1-4 p.m. Evergreen’s Tacoma Program is located at 1210 6th Avenue.

Resilience is an appropriate theme for the Olympia-based college’s Tacoma Program, located in the Hilltop neighborhood.  Started in the 1970s by Evergreen faculty members Maxine Mimms and Betsy Diffendal, the college’s Tacoma classes were originally held in the homes of the two educators. The program moved around in the 80s and 90s, but found a home in its current building at 1210 6th Avenue in 2001, where it continued to serve a core group of older, mid-career students, many of them working parents.

This year’s Spring Fair brings an added cause for celebration: Evergreen’s recent purchase of the 6th Avenue building. Mimms and Evergreen President George Bridges will host the ribbon cutting at 12:30 p.m. Student presentations will follow.   

Evergreen’s transition to ownership of the building is significant, according to Bridges. “The purchase reflects Evergreen’s long and continuing commitment to serving our students in Tacoma and the Tacoma community,” he said.

Over the last two years, the college has worked with the building’s owner, the late Kurtis Mayer and his family, to complete the building’s purchase, a $12.5 million investment in serving the higher education needs of Tacoma and Pierce County.  Evergreen is financing the building using state-authorized bonds that it will pay back, turning former rental payments for the same property into mortgage payments.

Evergreen’s Tacoma Program provides full-time upper division coursework for community college transfers and working adults with prior college experience equivalent to junior standing. It embraces the same interdisciplinary teaching methods used by the Olympia campus, including an emphasis on civic engagement. Its motto is “Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve.”

Local developer Kurtis Mayer originally helped design the building’s interior for this educational purpose, including an open main hall and glass doors on the faculty offices. “This is a place where many people who didn’t think they were college-bound realized they belong in higher education,” said Olga Inglebritson, the Tacoma Program director and a program alumna.

John Hurley, Evergreen’s Vice President of Finance and Administration, said the Mayer family made the lengthy process of getting legislative approval to buy the building much smoother. “The Mayers stuck with us and worked with us for over two years to achieve the purchase,” said Hurley. Kurtis Mayer, a German Jewish Holocaust survivor who became a prominent Tacoma businessman and citizen until he passed away in 2012, believed deeply in the American Dream. According to Hurley, “he was committed to the service mission of the Tacoma Program, to social justice and ethics. He was a principled man.”

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The Evergreen State College’s Tacoma Program fills an important niche in the regional effort to spur college participation and success. Its roughly 200-member student body is 66 percent female and 65 percent people of color with an average age of 38. The program also draws from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, creating a welcoming environment for veterans and active military, and it boasts an 89% student retention rate.