Woodring Well Wishes

Dear Woodring community, 

Please join us in sending our best wishes to our five faculty and staff members who will be leaving Western at the end of the academic year. 

Brett Coleman, Keith Hyatt, Victor Nolet, Karen Olstad, and Francisco Rios have a combined 63 years of irreplaceable experience between them, and their presence will be missed in Miller Hall. 

Scroll down to read a little more about each of them.

Brett Coleman

Brett Coleman, Ph.D.

How long have you worked at WWU, and in what role(s)?

Since fall of 2016 as assistant prof. in Health & Community Studies/Human Services

Future plans for the next stage of your life?

Joining the faculty of the social psychology program at Clark University

What is a Woodring or Western memory?

The first thing that comes to mind is Trump getting elected shortly after I arrived here. I remember students (and other people) being very confused and demoralized, but also defiant and resistant. As depressing as it was, the Trumpism was very useful for all kinds of lessons.

What advice would you give to us who are staying?

Protect your free time!

What is something you are glad you accomplished while in the college?

I involved a lot students in my research, and several of them developed an interest in research and scholarship they didn’t know they had. A some have even gone on to pursue grad school at least partially inspired by the experience. It was very gratifying to be able to provide that inspiration.

Keith Hyatt

Keith Hyatt, Ed.D.

How long have you worked at WWU, and in what role(s)?

I began working at Western in 2002 as an assistant professor in special education. I was tenured and promoted to associate professor in 2007 and promoted to professor in 2012. During that time, I had the opportunity to work in a variety of roles, some of which included: department chair, co-chair of the University Planning and Resource Council, representative to the Wolpow Institute, representative to the Disability Advisory Committee, and interim director of the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center. Of course, Western provided other opportunities, but I mention these because, to me, they illustrate the wide range of opportunities afforded faculty. Each has provided an opportunity for professional and personal growth.

Future plans for the next stage of your life?

I have more plans than I have time or money to complete. But here are a few priorities. I will be living in central Arizona and plan to spend more time outside in the sun and take longer and more frequent motorcycle rides around the country. In addition to riding in the US, I am in the initial planning stage of riding around Iceland and the Iberian Peninsula. I also plan to spend more time in Mexico, not in the expat resorts, but in the local communities.

Locally, I plan to increase my involvement with the Humanist Society of Greater Phoenix and will continue to work with agencies to develop opportunities for full inclusion of individuals with disabilities in schools and communities. I also have some hobbies that I want to devote time to – astronomy, woodworking, and piano.

What is a Woodring or Western memory?

A few years back, the Department of Special Education and Education Leadership collaborated with the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center to bring a Keith Jones, a well-known disability rights activist to campus. He met with students and faculty and held two speaking events. The student event was standing room only, including some standing in the hallway. The public event was also very well attended. He spoke passionately about the difficulties encountered by individuals with disabilities and highlighted the need for people with disabilities to be included in discussions of social justice. Thanks to the Ershigs for the financial support for this event.

I realize the question asked about “a” memory, “a” being singular. However, I have more to say. I also appreciated the opportunity to get to know and work with Noémi Ban. She was an exceptional person who, in spite of the hatred and murder she encountered during the Holocaust, continued to have a positive perspective on the goodness of humanity and the importance of enjoying live to the fullest.

Finally, I want to recognize the many great memories I have of working with my colleagues in the department. We worked diligently over the years to create a quality program grounded in research-based practices that focused on including students with disabilities in the regular education setting. While we can’t change the individual school systems, we can provide our students with some of the skills and understandings that will help them make differences in the schools and communities, thereby, changing the system.  

What advice would you give to us who are staying?

Take time for yourself and balance your professional responsibilities with your personal live. Maybe meditate or practice some yoga if those appeal to you. Don’t expect perfection of yourself but do your best. As one of my yoga instructors would tell me when I fell out of an asana, “It is yoga practice, not yoga perfect.”

What is something you are glad you accomplished while in the college?

I am interested in critical thinking and try to be a good skeptic. Being a skeptic is often misunderstood as being contrarian. However, that is not what skepticism is about; rather, skeptics seek evidence for proposals or practices and don’t simply take things on faith – even if it is something a skeptic really wants to be true.

With that as a lead-up, I am pleased to have published the first article in a professional publication that investigated the claims of a program called, Brain Gym. I discussed the pseudoscience behind the practice and lack of robust empirical support for this commercial program used in schools throughout the US. In fact, the paper was referenced in the U.K House of Commons when discussing the programs use in the nation’s schools.

I am also proud of my published manuscripts and textbook that focused on using the IEP to facilitate the inclusion of students with disabilities in the regular education classroom. While there may be times when a student must be removed in order to receive FAPE, the removals happen too often and too many students are removed despite the legal requirements and the research demonstrating the superiority of inclusive, general education placements to segregated settings.

Professor Victor Nolet

Victor Nolet, Ph.D.

How long have you worked at WWU, and in what role(s)?

24 years.  I was in the Special Education Department for four years and then became the director of the Woodring Applied Research and Development Center. I held that role for four years and then joined the Secondary Education Department where I have happily spent the rest of my career.

Future plans for the next stage of your life?

Last year, we bought a property near Lake Padden.  We had hoped to restore a small house on the property that was built in 1938, mostly out of salvage materials.  But the house was too far gone and instead we tore it down and built a new house on part of the existing foundation.  I still have a lot of little finish-up work projects to do on that. This summer, I plan to rebuild an outbuilding that I will use as a shop.  We also need to do a lot of landscaping and garden-building.  I’m truly looking forward to all of that work and then just enjoying being here.

I’m in the process of getting back into shape after a year of lockdown and construction work (and all the bad eating those entailed!).  I’m looking forward to lots of long walks, hikes, getting back on my bike and eventually getting back to the gym.

I’m also looking forward to more time for music and meditation. 

What is a Woodring or Western memory?

After nearly a quarter of a century, I have many, many (mostly fond!) memories of Woodring and Western.  Here are some that stand out and that will stay with me:

  • The food cart that used to show up on Red Square around 10:00 in the morning most days. 
  • The 2001 Nisqually quake, sitting in my office on the third floor.    
  • Noontime workouts in Carver.  
  • Funky Miller Hall before the renovation. The unlevel basement, circa 1967restroom, teaching in those little fishbowl seminar rooms. Too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter.
  • The Miller Hall renovation. A year of dust, noise, and cubicles (ugh!) 
  • The early days of campus sustainability initiatives. Fits and starts but eventually things took off.
  • Spring quarter on Red Square (haven’t we all missed that during COVID!?)
  • Commuting by bus, bike, and walking.  Sometimes the highlight of the day!
  • Engaging conversations with thoughtful, creative, caring people committed to making the world a better place. What a gift that this is part of our job every day!

What advice would you give to us who are staying?

  • My guess is that very few people, at the end of their life look back and say ‘I wish I had gone to more meetings!’
  • Most of the things that seem crucially important and urgent in academia probably are not as crucially important or urgent as we fool ourselves into thinking.
  • Kindness takes time and effort but it’s worth the investment.

What is something you are glad you accomplished while in the college?

  • I’ve had the opportunity to touch the lives of hundreds of people who are out in classrooms today, making a positive difference in the lives of children and youth.
  • Some pretty good articles and books
  • Not being too boring or too annoying (as far as I can tell 😊)
Karen Olstad

Karen Olstad

How long have you worked at WWU, and in what role(s)? I have been the Operations Manager at Woodring for five years. Prior to my time at Western I held leadership positions at public broadcasting stations at Washington State University, Alaska Public Media and The Ohio State University. I started my professional career 40 years ago as a Certified Public Accountant.

Future plans for the next stage of your life? Having more time for the things I enjoy such as reading, traveling, volunteering in the community, and visiting with my family and friends. I still won’t probably ever get around to organizing my recipes, photos, files, and closets but I’ll no longer have the excuse that I don’t have the time to do so.

What is a Woodring or Western memory? My favorite event at Western is the Opening Convocation in the fall and the Faculty/Staff Breakfast that precedes it. Fall is always a special time of new beginnings, and this is such a great way to celebrate as a campus community. I had never experienced anything like it until I came to Western. But I’ll probably most remember my time at Woodring for leaving work suddenly because of a global pandemic and working remotely for over a year.

What advice would you give to us who are staying? Working in higher education on a beautiful college campus is a privilege. We impact lives and make the world a better place. And we get to work with smart, dedicated people. Don’t ever lose sight of that or take it for granted.

What is something you are glad you accomplished while in the college? With the blessing of three different deans, I believe I made the college’s budget and finances more transparent and less mysterious to the faculty and staff. At least I hope I did.

Dr. Francisco Rios

Francisco Rios, Ph.D.

How long have you worked at WWU, and in what role(s)?

10 Years at Western. Dean for 6 Years (from 2011-1017), Professor of Secondary Ed, 4 Years.

Future plans for the next stage of your life?

Continued movement into community engaged work.  I’ll continue with some (academic/scholarly) writing projects (a joyful part of my work). Also I hope to do some travelling.

What is a Woodring or Western memory?

One of my most memorable days was when I served as Dean.  I had a meeting at the Office of the District Superintendent of the Mount Vernon Schools. Outside the office, was a huge banner (an infographic) that showed all the ways in which they were creating pathways for their students to higher education, both to Skagit Valley College and Western. Several Initiatives and projects from the Woodring College were prominent on this banner.  The banner was turned into a infographic, scaled to a regular sized paper (8.5 by 11), and mailed to every household in their district.  This was the school district’s initiative entirely. It was tangible evidence that the work of the College was having a significant impact on one of our local school districts. We did not have to tout our college’s efforts; they were touted for us!

What advice would you give to us who are staying?

We do this work to impact the current generations; but we also do this work to impact those who are yet to be born….and their children!  Recognize and realize the important work in which you are engaged, be intentional and purposeful, recognize our work as relational, and ground yourself in equity and justice. 

What is something you are glad you accomplished while in the college?

In my role as Dean for 6 years, the College hired 25 new faculty.  Of that number, 11 were U.S.-born ethnic/racial minorities and an additional 2 were international faculty members.  That means over 50% of our new hires in those years were from minoritized communities.  Diversifying the faculty is something I’m so glad we accomplished…and they will have a continuing impact for many years in the College.