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Bellingham
Sunday, April 5, 2020

Alumni city center opens

The Western Alumni Association has established a new presence in the downtown area of Bellingham with the Western City Center in the Herald Building.

After a soft opening in June, the space has been reworked to create an environment where students, alumni and the general public can discover new ways to become a part of the Western community.

“[The] Western City Center serves as a living room between Western and the downtown Bellingham community and vice-versa, it’s really a place where people can come in and connect with Western,”
Communications and Marketing Manager Mary Doherty said.

The WWU Alumni Association and Western Foundation recently opened a new office in the Bellingham Herald building on North State Street.// Photo by Daisey James
The WWU Alumni Association and Western Foundation recently opened a new office in the Bellingham Herald building on North State Street.// Photo by Daisey James

The new Western City Center offers an AS Bookstore kiosk, advice on how to better engage oneself with Western and a quiet place to study or get work done. The project is the result of a combined effort from the Western and the Alumni Association.

The office, which is staffed by nine Western alumni and 12 current students, will create events for current students, the general public and alumni throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The primary goals are outreach and welcoming to previous graduates, said Deborah DeWees, Executive Director of of WWU Alumni Association.

“Western really needed to come down and be amongst our population” DeWees said.

Whatcom County is home to more than 15,000 alumni, and nearly 40 local businesses are owned by alumni just in the Bellingham proper area, according to DeWees. Given these numbers, the Western Alumni Association felt the need to be more accessible, which led to the idea for the Western City Center.

Although it did not officially open until late September, the Western City Center has facilitated 14 events since July, taking place all around the Northwest. Sports games, museum visits and parties are all on the horizon, including a trip to Centurylink Field for nearly 300 students and alumni to watch the Seattle Sounders. While these events create an opportunity for alumni and students to connect, they also fund scholarships that are distributed during winter and spring quarters.

Event coordinating will be a big part of the center, but DeWees said there are a variety of ways they plan to connect the school. DeWees mentioned that the center wants to tap into the increasing popularity of alumni-based events, such as Back2Bellingham, a celebration for returning alumni to visit campus every May.

The other driving force behind outreach is the Student Alumni Association (SAA), an organization of alumni and students that provides a vehicle to get better involved in the local community. Members of the SAA receive service opportunities, discounts on local businesses and invites to special events, such as the upcoming “Ask an Alum” event on Nov. 4.

Proceeds from SAA memberships enable the Western City Center to fund more events, while also allowing the team to create more scholarship opportunities.

Tagen Garris, a transfer student in his third academic year, felt that having an increase in available staff that can connect students to others within Western’s organization would help those who are new to the university.

“That would be good, it would make transitioning a lot easier,” Garris said.

Although the City Center is only in its first few months, DeWees believes there’s an opportunity to create better connections between the school and the people.

“Western is only as strong as its alumni and student community,” DeWees said. “You take that away, and Western is not a strong university, and we want it to be strong, for the betterment not only of our student body, but for the betterment of Washington State and our nation.”

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