Three years ago, Mandeep Tumber and Victoria Dunn were part of a milestone when they joined the inaugural class of freshmen at the University of Washington Tacoma.
The pair made history again Friday, becoming the first in their class to earn bachelor’s degrees from the UWT.
The women were among some 700 graduates picking up diplomas Friday at the UWT’s graduation in the Tacoma Dome. All told, the university conferred 977 undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the law in 2005 authorizing the downtown Tacoma campus to convert to a four-year institution. As Friday’s commencement speaker, the governor noted Tumber and Dunn’s accomplishment and asked the two to stand.
The smiling pair happily obliged, and basked in the crowd’s applause.
Later, Gregoire told all of the graduates, “As uncertain as the world seems right now, I couldn’t be more optimistic for this class and your future. … My optimism is based on you and the people of this state and nation.”
Among the other “firsts” and notable individuals at the graduation:
• The first graduates from the university’s Institute of Technology Computer Engineering and Systems program.
• Jean-Paul Willynck, the first UW Tacoma student member of the UW Board of Regents.
• Spanaway resident Wemba-Koy Okonda, who along with his wife fled a bloody revolution in the Democratic Republic of Congo 12 years ago to give his children a better life. Okonda worked overtime to support his eight children while attending college classes.
The UWT, which opened in 1990, initially offered upper-division and graduate courses to accommodate transfer students and local residents who wanted to earn graduate degrees.
In fall 2006 it welcomed its first class of freshmen, allowing students to spend their entire four years of undergraduate study in Tacoma. That year, 187 freshmen enrolled; 86 still attend, said UWT spokeswoman Beth Luce.
The retention rate is about average compared to similar urban universities of its size, Luce said. She added that many class members transferred to the UW Seattle or UW Bothell.
Under the traditional college timeline, Tumber and Dunn would have completed their degrees with the rest of their classmates next spring.
But Dunn started with a year’s worth of college credits, thanks to the Running Start program that allows students to earn high school and college credits at a community or technical college. Dunn graduated from Rogers High School in Puyallup in 2006.
Tumber, who took a couple of similar dual-credit courses at Kentridge High School in Kent, sped ahead at the UWT by taking a full load of classes each quarter and in summer school.
Both women earned degrees in interdisciplinary arts and sciences. Dunn, 20, whose degree concentration was communications, plans to work in public relations or marketing in the Bay Area of California. She already holds a promotions job at a Bellevue radio station.
Tumber, 21, took psychology for her concentration. She plans to begin work on a doctorate in clinical psychology this fall at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in California.
The two each lived with their parents while attending the UWT.
“It’s significantly more cost-effective than going to UW Seattle or an out-of-state school,” Dunn said. “I love Tacoma. I grew up in Puyallup, but Tacoma has always been a second home for me.”
While Dunn wanted to attend the UWT, that wasn’t initially the case with Tumber. She wasn’t accepted at her first college choice, the UW Seattle, but her sister talked her into looking southward.
Tumber ended up liking the small classes and faculty so much that she remained at the UWT, even though she could have transferred to the main UW campus.
A camraderie formed among the first class of freshmen, who were organized into “core cohorts” to take classes together their first year, Dunn said.
Attending the UWT threw Tumber into an entirely new mix of ages and backgrounds. She met military veterans who’d served in Iraq, people in their 30s and 40s who’d been married and divorced, and students her own age.
“I got to grow up with a lot of people,” she said.
It’s an ocean away from her native land of Punjab state, India. Tumber’s family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 7. Her father had to drop out of middle school to earn money for his family when his father died.
Her parents and three siblings have all attained U.S. citizenship, but she will be the first to attend graduate school.
The family has returned to India for visits – but not her.
“I never wanted to miss school,” Tumber said. “I’ve always loved school.”
Debby Abe: 253-597-8694