"We are UWTacoma" storytelling

December 23, 2019

Tim Bostelle: “Private School Education, Public School Cost”

Last spring, we had the opportunity to speak with Tim Bostelle, the head of IT for the UW Tacoma Library since 2001. Bostelle was a student here in the early ‘90s when he studied Liberal Studies (now Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences), worked as a student employee in both the computer lab and the Library, and was the founding Art Editor of the on-campus literary magazine, Tahoma West. 

One of the things that drew Bostelle to UW Tacoma was the university’s motto: “private school education at a public school cost.” During his time as both student and staff member, Bostelle has seen UW Tacoma truly embrace this motto in many of its practices and endeavors. 

Bostelle reflected on the “push” in the early 90s towards digital education, which focused more on the cost-savings associated with decreased classroom use, decreased need for student services, and the money being saved by using digital resources, and how he experienced this push first-hand as a student at UW Tacoma. 

“This was like the first version of that. It was downtown in the old Perkins Building. It was four floors of a single building: there was a library floor, there was an admin floor, and then there were classrooms. That was it! And your teachers didn’t really have rooms to meet for office hours. The TLC was the Writing Center at the time, and it was a dude in a room. The computer lab, I think, was eight computers.” 

Without a doubt, UW Tacoma has experienced many changes over the years, but it has  remained focused on providing a world-class education while striving to maintain its small-town roots. 

“I do, as the kids say, “Big Up” our school now. I really think that we have some fantastic programs, and we have grown from a very small regional school, to a small school that has a wide range of talent for a variety of programs. I think our nursing program is fantastic. Our education program is fantastic. The IT department here is absolutely booming. We are doing a lot of things that you would find in a bigger school, here at a smaller school. I think that you as a student are going to have a lot more time with your professors, a lot more time after class and stuff like that with a really exciting group – a community of people. I really love the educational aspects of this school, the faculty and the staff here, the TLC and the Library.” 

While he admits that some of these opportunities aren’t commonly thought of as “groundbreaking,” they are still firsts for our campus and our students. One example of this is the first-ever Hack-a-thon at UW Tacoma, of which Bostelle was a founding member. He says, “It’s a lot of work, but that’s the kind of thing that you might have a difficult time getting into at a larger school like UW Seattle, because the competition to get in is so great.” He also mentioned the creation of Tahoma West, which started out as a small group of students who responded to a flyer posted on a cork board. “Back then, UW Tacoma was really small, so if somebody put a flyer on a cork board, on the only floor that had tables and chairs that wasn’t a classroom, everybody saw it. Maybe that’s really the beauty of what I loved about UW Tacoma – it was, it has, it’s still got this small-town feel.” 

One of the recurring themes in his interview was how this small-town feel allows us to create exactly what we need, which makes us an entirely separate entity from UW Seattle. “In a big institution like UW Seattle, you would very rarely see a university have the flexibility to do what we are able to do here.” A perfect example of this is the collaboration between the TLC and the Library, whose staff members have adapted the mentality of “We are gonna make this work. We are just gonna have to be flexible.” But this flexibility and collaboration allows staff members to create within spaces and have ideas approved and implemented fairly quickly. “You have that sort of flexibility, and then we learn very quickly to build flexibility into whatever it is that we end up creating in the end.” 

One of the phrases Bostelle used during his interview, “You don’t change Tacoma, Tacoma changes you,” seems to really highlight how different UW Tacoma is from other universities and institutions. He argues that while Tacoma has changed dramatically since the addition of the University, at its core it is still Tacoma. 

“It’s still 100% downtown Tacoma. It has changed, we’ve got art museums all around, it’s a vibrant community, but it’s still very Tacoma. It’s a working-class town. I absolutely feel like Tacoma is it’s own thing, and it’s not going to bow to pressure from Seattle, no matter how many of them move down here. They’re going to have to figure out how Tacoma works, not the other way around, because it has a very strong personality. I think that Tacoma has really changed the way that the University of Washington works. It is a University of Washington school, but it is very much UW Tacoma, not UW Seattle. And it shouldn’t be. It’s its own thing.”

Throughout his time at UW Tacoma, Tim Bostelle has seen a wide variety of changes, yet he still feels that the University itself embraces it’s early motto, “private school education at a public school cost.” He has seen and experienced first-hand how UW Tacoma strives to create leaders and innovators through its educational programs and opportunities, and how it strives to provide a world-class education for every student while still creating a close-knit community with a small-town feel.

~Rachel Howe