Honors Huskies celebrate Dr. Jerry Baldasty

UW's retiring provost named 2018 Distinguished Honors Alumni

April 17, 2018

Honors Huskies celebrate Dr. Jerry Baldasty

Purple to the core

In recognition of his fierce commitment to the University of Washington as a place of self-discovery and deeply meaningful undergraduate education, the Honors Program is pleased to announce Dr. Gerald (Jerry) Baldasty as our 2018 Distinguished Honors Alumnus.

This annual award, established in 2015, celebrates UW alumni who earned Bachelor’s degrees with honors and who inspire students to dream big, ask hard questions and contribute to their communities.

Finding himself at UW

In the fall of 1968, Jerry Baldasty left his working-class home in Spokane to begin his new life at the University of Washington (UW). Baldasty still remembers how unsure he felt that first day on campus: “I was here to get a bachelor’s degree,” he explains. “I knew that kind of thing was important, though I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do with it.”

Baldasty arrived at UW with a pragmatic goal: to graduate college so that he could enter a profession. Now, in the final months as provost of his alma mater, Dr. Baldasty smiles, recalling how he first realized he could build a career from his own insatiable curiosity.

“I received a valuable education as an undergraduate at UW — from my mentors, teachers and classes. And Honors was a significant influence. Through my Honors experience, I discovered something that had never occurred to me: that I could pursue a lifelong career in academia — one that included writing, researching and teaching about topics that fascinated me and others.”

That discovery led Baldasty to a life of purpose, spent researching and teaching the continuing relevance of the history of journalism in contemporary life, helping hundreds of thousands of Huskies develop the skills and confidence to take creative risks, think critically and pursue new ideas and unexpected opportunities with vigor and excitement.

Baldasty has spent nearly 50 years learning at — and contributing to —  the University of Washington. Between 1968-1972, he earned his bachelor’s degree with Honors in communications. He spent the next two years earning his master’s in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Baldasty chose UW a second time whilst pursuing his Ph.D. in communications. After earning that degree in 1978, he landed his first teaching position in the UW Department of Communications.

Since then, Baldasty has worked tirelessly “to instill a love of learning in the students I have been honored to teach.” Unsurprisingly, Baldasty received the UW Distinguished Teaching Award in 2000, a testament to his inspirational curriculum and passion for inquiry.

Asking the right questions

While co-teaching an Interdisciplinary Honors course in 2001 and 2002 with Dr. Kari Tupper (Women’s Studies and Comparative History of Ideas), Baldasty noticed how students majoring in subjects like physics, engineering and computer science prompted discussions that would never have happened in a class filled with journalism majors. The diversity of perspectives expanded his own understanding of the subject and challenged him to teach differently in the process. “Asking questions is how we learn,” Baldasty explains, years later. “Honors is special because it encourages students to ask questions all the time, about everything. There is great value in knowing how to ask the right questions.”

As he wrote and taught at UW, Baldasty continued advocating for opportunities within higher education to transform individual lives and shape societies. He accepted increasing responsibilities as chair of his department (2002 – 2008), dean and vice provost of the UW Graduate School (2008 – 2012), senior vice provost for Academic and Student Affairs (2012 – 2015) and then in 2016 as UW provost and executive vice provost (having served as interim from March 2015 to May 2016).

This progression of service expanded Baldasty’s impact beyond the students in his classes to embrace leadership for the entire University. His initiatives have helped to transform how students navigate UW, as he invites them to think collaboratively about their education from the moment they decide to become Huskies.

Enter the “Husky Experience”

Baldasty’s 2005 report about the UW undergraduate experience was instrumental in the development of what is now commonly known as the Husky Experience. As a cohesive set of university-wide programs, this initiative links academic passion and community participation to life and career. “[University of Washington president] Ana Mari [Cauce] and I both considered UW to be one of the best-kept secrets in higher education,” Baldasty explained. “We wanted students to understand right from the start what is possible for them here as an undergrad and to recognize and value the kind of learning that happens beyond the classroom.”

Students leaders involved in the selection process for the award recognized the important role Dr. Baldasty has played in their own success as UW undergrads, most evident in the Husky Experience. President’s Medalist Siena Traverso, who expects to earn her Bachelor’s degree this spring with Interdisciplinary Honors in Early Childhood and Family Studies, explained: “Being introduced to the Husky Experience as a first-quarter first-year helped me to frame college life beyond my major and academics. It showed me that I would need to engage with diverse communities, take care of myself personally, step out of my comfort zone into leadership positions and participate in meaningful service. As a senior, I see how those activities led to many of my richest experiences. Looking through this lens from the beginning of my college career allowed me to prioritize these meaningful opportunities from day one.”

Siena’s sentiments were echoed by Kendall Horan, a senior English major pursuing College Honors: “The Husky Experience is everything I needed and didn’t realize I wanted from my time in college. I think many of us expect nothing but academia from higher education, but Dr Baldasty’s ideas about what college should and can actually be validate the wealth of experiences you find outside of class and bring life into balance with academics. The people I’ve met at UW are at least as important as the curricular contents of my studies. Dr Baldasty’s emphasis on holistic learning has been a very powerful mindset for me these past four years, and will continue to lend valuable perspective to the decisions I make throughout my life.”

Looking forward

Baldasty retires in June from his appointment as UW provost and executive vice provost. He’ll be co-teaching a communications seminar this fall in Leon, Spain, and is undecided about his plans for the future.

Joining the ranks of distinguished Honors alumni wasn’t something Baldasty was expecting, though he acknowledged the Husky Experience as “a huge undertaking” and credited the hard work and talent of colleagues with much of its apparent success. He was touched by the recognition, saying: “It brings me such joy to hear that it has mattered to our students.”

Past Distinguished Honors Alumni Award winners include former WA Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge (2016) and WA State Solicitor General Noah Purcell (2017). All distinguished Honors alumni exemplify our understanding of citizenship to include acts of leadership, service, care, and contribution.

Baldasty will accept his award at Honors’ Celebration of Distinction on June 8, 2018.

Learn about past Distinguished Honors Alumni, plus how (and why) to nominate a UW Honors alum for our annual award HERE.