Huxley College of the Environment releases book, 'Green Fire,' chronicling its first 40 years

Western Today staff

Western Washington University’s Huxley College of the Environment will unveil “Green Fire: A History of Huxley College,” a chronicle of the pioneering institution’s first 40 groundbreaking years, June 11 at the Huxley graduation ceremony.

“The book’s profiles of 40 Huxley alumni is eloquent testimony to the college’s effectiveness and historic importance,” said William Dietrich, the book’s lead author and an assistant professor at the college. “They range from the director of SeaTac Airport to organic farmers, and from the man leading the world campaign to save Asian tigers to the woman who is the project director for the United Nations’ World at 7 Billion Project."

The full-color book is 185 pages, has nearly 170 photographs and illustrations, and involves contributions by nearly 20 writers, photographers, designers and editors. Most of the profiles were written by nine recent Western graduates, who worked with Dietrich as environmental journalism majors or on the college’s quarterly environmental magazine, The Planet.

“The book’s production illustrates the collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of Huxley that sets it apart from traditional academic departments,” Dietrich said. “Vital to its production was the partnership with Western’s Design program student Avela Grenier, who produced a brilliant design, and Design professor Kent Smith.”

The book was the brainchild of Huxley Development Director Manca Valum, who raised nearly $50,000 for the project, and Huxley Dean Bradley Smith.

“The book provides not just success stories, but useful lessons and observations gained from the last four decades,” Valum said. “It is beautiful, informational and inspirational. It reminds us of our past and challenges us to think about the future.”

Smith said the book illustrates why the college was founded and shows the continued need for the environmental stewards it produces.

“Forty years after the first students enrolled at Huxley College, the education we provide is as important as ever. The narrative and profiles in the book highlight past accomplishments and perhaps more importantly, point to increasing relevance of the college and our future alumni to the challenges we face as a global community,” Smith said.

Proceeds from the book will go to support student environmental journalism projects at the College. The three-year-long project comes to fruition at a time when Huxley’s environmental journalism major has been proposed to be suspended because of the state funding reductions to Western.

“I’m hoping the book’s success could help cement support to restore the major,” said Dietrich, who is retiring from WWU this spring to dedicate more time to his own writing.

The book includes a narrative history of the college from its contentious conception in the 1960s and first class in the fall of 1970. Included are an environmental timeline and 40 profiles that demonstrate Huxley’s success in graduating “environmental problem solvers.” The 40 were chosen to illustrate the diversity of approaches taken by Huxley’s nearly 4,000 alumni.

The book also has a profile of Thomas Henry Huxley, the British scientist who defended Darwin and was an outspoken proponent of a holistic approach to combining science to social issues. Huxley College’s similar approach has been controversial since its founding, but the cluster college has expanded its programs to Peninsula, Olympic and Everett Community colleges. It has produced global research, partnered with foreign countries, created several international programs for its students, contributed directly to regional planning, pollution monitoring, and environmental education, and won regional and national awards for its publications.

“This is A history, not THE history,” said Dietrich, a Pulitzer-winning journalist who has authored 15 non-fiction and fiction books. “Huxley has done too much to be fully captured in one book. This is not a vanity project, it’s a serious, self-critical look at the academic, political and environmental issues the college has struggled with since its beginning. I think it’s an important and inspiring history of an unusually dedicated group of people at a college that has had national educational significance.”

Former students who wrote for the book include James Andrews (Wenatchee), Kaylin Bettinger (Sammamish), Page Buono (Durango, Colo.), Devon Fredericksen (Olympia), Codi Hamblin (Mount Vernon), Jenny Rosa Lara (Bellingham), Oliver Lazenby (Fall City), Anne Maertens (Seattle), and Olivia Scalet (Edmonds). Photos were drawn from Huxley and Western archives as well as from alumni and students, including Avela Grenier (Bozeman, Mont.), Courtney Leake (Issaquah), Kaylin Bettinger, Devon Frederickson, and Mitch Olsen (McCleary). Jennifer Hahn, a Huxley graduate and Bellingham author, contributed a large number of photos.

A book presentation and signing of “Green Fire” will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 21 at Village Books in Bellingham, with a reception to follow.

The book will be available at Village Books and the WWU Bookstore by June 13; cost is $30. For more information, contact Manca Valum at (360) 650-6542 or manca.valum@wwu.edu.