University of Washington Tacoma marks 15 years of success in technology education

In just 15 years, the University of Washington Tacoma’s Institute of Technology has become an integral part of the downtown campus that draws faculty from all over the world.

At almost 700 students, the institute accounts for 20 percent of the school’s enrollment. It has hired 20 new faculty members since 2012, including people from Japan, Belgium and Brazil who were drawn to another faculty member’s groundbreaking work in data mining.

And just last December, a guest columnist wrote in the Seattle Times about the state’s need to create a technology institute — the author seemingly unaware of the fact that the state created just that, and it’s thriving in Tacoma.

Despite the institute’s exponential growth, “we need visibility,” said Rob Friedman, the institute’s director. “Attention to tech stops at south Seattle.”

Friedman laid out the institute’s successes and plans Friday at a lunch to celebrate 15 years since the computer science seed was planted at UWT. More than two dozen people, many former advisory board members, attended.

What started as a computer and software program in 1999 with 30 students now has almost 700, and three general labs, six teaching and research labs, one center for data science, and one center for information assurance and cybersecurity, which relocated to Tacoma from the UW’s main campus in Seattle.

In the next two years, the school plans to offer five more degree plans that focus on engineering to fulfill its mission to be a polytechnic school.

A group of students who soon will graduate with degrees in information technology from UWT said Friday that the Tacoma campus has changed their lives. Despite its growth, the relatively small size has given the students access to their professors and a direct line to the working world.

Dan Massie, who retired from the Army after 22 years, chose Tacoma because it offered a flexible schedule that included night classes.

Scott Shaffer left a career in professional kickboxing so he could develop skills to help him run his own business.

And Olivia Corliss said everyone at the institute, alumni included, cares about each student’s success.

“The brotherhood and sisterhood is really strong,” she said.