Whatcom exhibit featured at Old City Hall

By Eric Hermosada

In celebration of Whatcom Community College’s 50th anniversary, an exhibit was made in downtown Bellingham at the Old City Hall.
On April 15, and 26, tours were curated by Bob Winters, who taught English at Whatcom in 1985, is the Chair of the Arts and Humanities Division and 50th Anniversary Ambassador.

During the tour, Winters said how, to him, the college was more of a thought rather than an idea.
“If this exhibit is about the college, it’s more of an exhibit about the story of the college’s growth from an idea to its realization and ultimately to the college that we know today,” Winters said.
The idea of Whatcom started and was pushed forward because of the Community College Act of 1967, the purpose of the act was to offer a post-high school education to everybody, no matter their background, at a reasonable cost. As a result, Community College District 21 was made.
Winters said that there was concern that Skagit Valley College would take the student population from the Bellingham area, so Community College District 21 was made.
However, there was no community college, nor was there any intention to build one, because the whole idea of creating District 21 was to provide a buffer to keep Skagit Valley College out by placing a boundary between community college districts.
When Whatcom was first founded, it became the “college with no walls.” That was what Whatcom became famous for in its early days.
“We had no money to build a school so we would rent or lease buildings, try and find instructors. If we could find a space and an instructor, we could attract some students,” Winters said.
Because there was no money to make a campus, the buildings were spread throughout the county.
Winters said, many of the first buildings that were used for classrooms were often old run-down buildings such as old supermarkets, furniture stores, and anywhere they could find space.
There was no centralized campus until 1983, when David Syre, President of Trillium corporation at the time, donated 5.93 acres to make the campus and started what is now the 72 acres of Whatcom.
In 1985, Whatcom had the oldest average student population in the state.
Many of the students had jobs previously, but were looking for a new line of work.
With the average age of the students being 33-34 years old.
Most students were parents that had a change in circumstances, whereas the student population is now mostly students looking to transfer to a four-year university.
The exhibit showed snapshots through the years of the college showing the first and only films that were used to teach a film class, and the first computers that were used at Whatcom compared to the new advancements currently happening at the college.
Whatcom is now one of the four colleges in the nation that has a CyberWatch West program.
Whatcom also has its first four-year degree, The Bachelor of Applied Science in IT networking.
The exhibit will be open until May 31 and shows how the “College with no walls” has progressed and evolved.

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