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Originally published Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 4:06 PM

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A strong voice for WSU’s Puget Sound presence

WSU North Puget Sound in Everett, a new name and new chancellor to fan the flames for the research university’s opportunities.


Times editorial columnist

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Wildfire season starts on April 15, the same day Bob Drewel begins a one-year term as interim chancellor of the coming Washington State University North Puget Sound at Everett.

A coincidence? Perhaps.

Drewel is a gifted public administrator, with a burning passion for the opportunities created by education. He will stoke Washington State University’s growing role and presence in North Snohomish, and Island and Skagit counties.

This is all familiar territory for Drewel, who barely gave retirement a medium hello after he stepped down in December from a decade as executive director of Puget Sound Regional Council. Before that, he served three terms as Snohomish County executive.

His roots in education include eight years as president and chief executive of Everett Community College, from 1984 to 1992, before the 12-year county gig.

In July, WSU assumes responsibility of the University Center, an amalgamation of six public universities and one private college on the ECC campus. The Legislature’s intent many years ago was to create a mix of choices and opportunities for regional students closer to home.

The transition to WSU North Puget Sound was put in play by the Legislature in 2011. Last year, the school’s governing board approved spending $10 million for new office and classroom space on the Everett campus for WSU programs.

Seeing this come together is a bit of a marvel, even if WSU’s engineering expertise is a natural fit with the ongoing training and talent needs of Boeing.

Creating a presence for WSU among academic competitors has been fraught with institutional tensions about violated turf and budgetary threats, all within the maelstrom of the Great Recession.

Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson worked hard to bring WSU to the Puget Sound region, and WSU President Elson Floyd pointed the vast resources of his research university toward the region.

I am reminded of a 2011 session Floyd hosted at the Port of Everett’s Waterfront Center. He met, thanked, cajoled and inspired local lawmakers who had helped make the future happen.

Drewel’s role is to oversee the transition, and sustain the basic goal of ensuring underserved students have a choice of institutions, and that schools serve their needs.

Talking to Drewel about his new post — or actually, listening to Drewel evangelize on behalf of education — is inspiring because of the breadth of his vision.

He not only sees the bigger picture about quality education and employment opportunities, but he also understands value-added impacts on quality of life. Elements that attract and retain a skilled workforce.

Boeing is always looking for mechanical and engineering skills, but Drewel knows the company needs financial and administrative talent.

Several years ago, Drewel helped lead a survey of what the region needed to thrive. The result was a 106-page report in 2012 that laid out five foundations for growth and prosperity.

They included: business climate, entrepreneurship and innovation, infrastructure, and quality of life. No. 1 on the list was education and workforce development.

Strategy 1.1: Increase higher-education enrollment capacity for degrees in high demand by established and growing industries.

Prominent on the to-do list: “Identify skills needed for high demand, non-STEM occupations in the maritime, aerospace, tourism and visitors, and transportation and logistics clusters.”

Raise a glass to WSU’s viticulture program. A lush economic varietal for the state.

Drewel said the findings of Prosperity Partnership clicked for business leaders who might initially have been attuned only to transportation and infrastructure improvements.

Drewel does indeed see the big picture. He recently visited the Oso mudslide, and talked with Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin and others about recovery, and rebuilding and diversifying the area’s economy.

WSU’s glowing presence in North Snohomish, and Island and Skagit counties is excellent news. Tapping Drewel to fan the flames makes sense.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is ldickie@seattletimes.com



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