Highline celebrates 55th anniversary

By Olivia Sullivan - Staff Reporter

Although Highline is a two-year college, a few people have decided to stay for more than 30 years.

Several faculty and staff members have built long careers at Highline and still work at the college today.

Highline College was founded in 1961 and was the first community college in King County.  

With 17,000 students at Highline and a picturesque 80-acre campus, it is hard to believe Highline began as a 14-portable campus with less than 400 students.  

While over the years students have graduated and trends have changed, one thing remains constant – Highline's community of staff, faculty, administration, and students is the reason people want to stay around the campus for decades, long-time faculty say.

"The particular staff and faculty community is very supportive," said Linda Quick, the senior secretary of the Pure & Applied Sciences Division. "I shouldn't say more than the UW [staff] but I can because I'm a WSU graduate."

Quick graduated from Washington State University in 1973 with a teaching degree. She worked at the University of Washington school of public health and community medicine until 1976, then she started working at Highline.

"I came to Highline is '76 and I've been here ever since," she said. "I've always said the flexibility one is offered and that you're working with supportive colleagues has been the drawing card."

For 40 years, Quick has been a secretary for Highline faculty and administration.

"When I started, we were support personnel for the faculty," she said. "We did all their tests and each quarter at finals time, that consisted of probably 75 to 80 exams on a mimeograph machine. Literally we were putting in 12 to 14 hour days to get everything done in time."

After years of doing most things by hand, the introduction of computers was a huge leap forward.

"In the late '80s, we had computers, so then faculty shifted the focus to doing their own course materials," Quick said. "We [the secretaries] started changing our focus to more of administrative and division kind of responsibilities."

The first copier on campus was in Building 6, she said. There was one copier for the entire campus until the mid-nineties.

"The early copiers did nothing but make single sided copies – no staples, no back-to-back. That was still all manually processed," Quick said. "In terms of how things have progressed, certainly from the electric typewriter to the computer to copiers … it's made an impact in the sense that faculty do most of their own course material and they have websites now, which was certainly not the case [in the past]."

The technological advances also allowed classes to reach more students.

"We started with all face-to-face classes," she said. "Hybrids were not even introduced until the late '90s to early 2000s."

Highline used to have several technical programs offered on campus, she said.

"We had machining and welding in Building 16 and we had a diving technology program, which was at the current MaST facility," Quick said. "We had printing which was sustained That was the only technical program not eradicated in the early '90s. We had manufacturing engineering technology and computerized drafting."

Students in the manufacturing program often got hired by Boeing immediately after graduating from Highline, she said. Many of the deep sea diving students were employed by oil companies to do offshore work.

Over the years, the campus has expanded to more than 30 buildings.

"The MaST facility has been rebuilt twice," Quick said. "We're unique in that regard. I think outside of the University of Washington we are the only facility that has the opportunity to offer classes in a marine environment like that."

Along with the expansion of campus structures, the college also serves a much larger and more diverse population than ever before.

"[My favorite thing is] probably moving forward and providing opportunities to a more diverse population," Quick said. "The student interaction is probably what I enjoy the most."

Math professor Allan Walton says students are one of his favorite part of the Highline experience.

"The thing I enjoy most is walking into the classroom," Walton said. "The increase in diversity has certainly affected what goes on on-campus, and I think in a good way. Our campus is all the better for it."

Highline is the starting place for many refugees and the student body population is often a reflection of what is going on in current events, he said.

"It's been interesting to see the different waves of change; you can trace [the student body population] to what's going on in the world," Walton said.

In 2003 amidst the Iraqi war, the number of Iraqi students on campus increased. Similar to when the Soviet Union fell in 1991, there was an influx of Russian students, Walton said.

"The complexion of the student body has changed," he said. "When I started in 1981, I'm guessing half to two-thirds of my class would've been Caucasian, and now, I just counted in my eight a.m. Class, out of 27 students, nine of them were Caucasian and a big mix of other ethnicities."

Walton has been teaching full-time at Highline for 35 years as of this fall. He graduated from the University of Oregon and earned his master's degree at the University of Virginia.

Over the years, Highline has been awarded as the most diverse community college in the state. Aside from the diversity, the campus surroundings are also unbeatable.

"One of the nice constants is that [Highline] is still a gorgeous campus," Walton said. "If you visit some of the other colleges in the state, Highline really sticks out. We've got a great view, the groundskeepers do a great job of keeping it pretty. That hasn't changed."

Businesses along Pacific Highway have changed over the years though, Walton said.

"When I first came here in the early '80s, there was a drive-in movie theater across the corner, where Lowe's is now," He said. "You could watch part of the movie when you stopped at a stoplight on your way home."

The social atmosphere is just as great as the physical, Walton said.

"It's a nice place to work. The admin gives a lot of responsibility to faculty. They're very supportive," Walton said. "My colleagues in the Math Department in particular have been great to work with."

The Highline administration has had the biggest effect on all of the faculty overall, Walton said.

"One of the nicest things that's happened here is the arrival of people like Dr. Jack Bermingham and Jeff Wagnitz," Walton said. "They've had a really big effect. Yes, there's new buildings and the student population is changing, and we notice those things, but one of the most profound things in my time here is that the campus has become a really good place to work. It was good when I got here because of people like Jack, Jeff, Sue Williamson and so on."

Even on a departmental level, support is a common theme throughout Highline, said art Professor Bob Stahl.

"When I taught continuing education, [the department chairmen] would let me teach what I wanted to teach," Stahl said. "That flexibility was nice."

Stahl has taught at Highline for nearly 40 years. The University of Washington grad earned two undergraduate degrees in history and philosophy. Stahl then went to Lousiana State University for his master's degree in artistry.

"This is the end of my 40th year," he said. "I'd like to teach a few more."

Thanks to Highline's support, Stahl has had the opportunity to teach classes in mythology and philosophy, and he was also given the freedom to present lectures about his own photography.

"The people I've had as my bosses in this department are great," Stahl said. "It used to be Jim Gardiner, now it's Tammi Hilton and she's been very good about being flexible on my hours I teach and very supportive of all her faculty members."

The people at Highline make his long travels to work worth the trip, Stahl said.

"I commute 80 miles round-trip twice a week to get here," he said. "To justify that long commute, it's been the faculty people I've taught with and the students I've had,

"I've had more Running Start students than ever before and they tend to keep you young in mind and in spirit and in heart," he said. "I think a major change has been the number of international students you see form all over the world, a lot of diversity. That's been a major change since the '70s."

Before students settle down in a place where they plan to make their career, Stahl says to make sure the work is satisfying to your soul.

"Take as much school as you can before you have to go out in the real world," he said. "Find your passion as early as you can and stick with it, don't be pushed aside by setbacks. That's what's kept me in teaching. Find something that engages your spirit and is a lifelong passion."

Virg Staiger found his passion is Highline. Staiger, the former communications director at Highline, retired in 2006 after spending nearly five decades with the college.

"I worked for every president Highline has ever had," Staiger said.

For the last 50 years, Staiger has been a part of the Highline community. He graduated from Highline in 1966 and began working at the college in 1975.

"After I graduated from Highline, I went to the University [of Washington]," Staiger said. "Then I was drafted into the army and deployed to Vietnam."

After he came back from the war, Staiger went to finish his degree at UW and has been at Highline since the college's beginning.

"[The biggest difference over the years has] been the diversity, the size, and the cost," he said. "Cost and diversity are the two biggest things that changed. When I was there we had less than 1,300 students. The minorities were almost none; they were mainly athletes and a few foreign exchange students."

A major change has been the college's operations as well, he said.

"Technology wise, I can remember when the president of the college decided it was better to get some of those desktop computers and learn how to get on a computer," Staiger said. "It progressed so rapidly. "

Highline was ahead of many other schools when it came to technological advancements and computers, Staiger said.

"One desktop weighed about 40 pounds," he said. "Highline had one of the big computers… it did the computer cards and registration. Highline was one of the first colleges to get into that."

The bachelor's degree in cybersecurity Highline offers is proof of how far the college has progressed, he said.

"Computers are fantastic," he said. "I'm still not caught up where I should be. Social media is unreal. I always look at kids and see them looking at their phone instead of talking, and I catch myself doing that sometimes, too."

The college will always be much more than just a place of higher education, Staiger said.

"I really think the campus reflects the community," he said. "It's a wonderful second chance for people. I couldn't afford university at the time so [Highline] was a life-changer and a life-saver. It allows you to spend time at not such a pricey cost. It gave me the will to succeed [as a student]. It really changed my life."

Staiger was shocked at the class sizes when he transferred to UW.

"We have fantastic professors," he said. "It really came to life when I had my first class at the UW and in one undergraduate class, I was sitting among 300 people. My largest class at Highline was probably 26."

The professors Staiger had also left a lasting impression, he said.

"I can still remember lectures from a few Highline professors," Staiger said. "They teach, that's why they're there."

Staiger has seen the campus evolve over the years.

"Facility wise, the student center [was my favorite addition] because when I was student body president, we had a pretty tiny two-story building. And the library was a great addition, too."

As for the future, Highline's development is only going to make the college better, he says.

"I think a more future thing that will benefit the college is the light rail," he said. "It'll be very interesting to see the international student center, too."

It is the faces of Highline that make the experience what it is, he said.

"It's just the people," Staiger said. "As a student, I moved in Seattle area from a small town in South Dakota, so [the diversity] was a straight-up culture shock. It really extended my opportunity to see different people and cultures. Highline starts a lot of careers for all kinds of people."

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