Winter 2014

With Us


Message from the Dean

Dear Alumni and Friends,

New Year’s Eve, always a time for reflection. I looked back and saw the accomplishments of our faculty, alumni, and students. You will see in the profiles here how they use classroom studies as a foundation for success in the real world. I know you will be as encouraged as I am about the future.

Marie Wong’s Community Design Workshop seamlessly merges the academic world with the working world for the good of the community. Environmental Studies students Brett Harding, a senior, and Kristi Nakata, junior, found rewarding work in the Center of Environmental Justice and Sustainability, housed in the world’s most green office building. Alumni David Wilbrecht balances the needs of his community with the needs of all Americans  as the city manager in Blaine, the third busiest U.S.-Canada border crossing.  Film Studies recent graduates Ben Anderson and Sawyer Purman took their knowledge and followed their passion into the world of work by forming a film production company.

These students, faculty, and alumni represent our college’s commitment to building on the strengths of a liberal arts education that leads to real world achievements. I am sincerely grateful to you who have enabled us to fulfill our mission. Through your continued support, we can continue to be the place where mind meets the world for the common good.

David V. Powers

Program Profile: Ghost Signs and the Community Design Workshop

It may sound like a Halloween assignment, but photographing and researching ghost signs in Seattle’s Pioneer Square and Chinatown-International District neighborhoods was the task for students in Professor Marie Wong’s Community Design Workshop.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, businesses advertised products and services by painting large signs on the exterior walls of buildings. Decades later, many signs had faded, been painted over, or were hidden by new construction, thus the name “ghost signs.”

These signs provide important historical information about the commerce, business development, and evolution of urban life in the city. The sign painters themselves were part of the growing commerce of the Pacific Northwest. In 1901 they had formed a union, Local 435, Sign, Scene & Pictorial Painters, with 15 members. The union grew to several hundred by 1951.

The City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods was the client. Students in Professor Marie Wong’s Community Design Workshop were the planning consultants charged with providing information to guide the city as it considers policy development to address the architectural and urban artifacts known as ghost signs.

“The class was organized as an urban planning studio,” Wong said. “In most universities, this type of workshop would be housed in an architecture or urban planning program only for students in those disciplines. Here it’s known as service learning and is open to students of all majors.”

The class divided itself into two project groups, complete with project managers, editors, graphic coordinators, policy analysts, and researchers. By the end of the 10-week quarter, the 23 students had conducted a physical inventory of the signs and established criteria for evaluating their conditions. They researched preservation policies in American, Canadian, and British cities and restoration practices. They could found scouring the Pioneer Square and Chinatown-International District neighborhoods, photographing, videotaping, and ranking the conditions of the signs. In addition, they had delved into archives to find out as much as they could about the signs, the commercial enterprises they represented, and the artists who painted them.

The term ended with a 397-page report and a formal presentation to the Department of Neighborhoods, members of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, Chinatown-International District, local architects, developers, and sign painters, and others.

“Our students shone during the presentation,” Wong said. “They were thorough and professional, and our clients were extremely pleased. Since the presentation, we have heard from local developers interested in incorporating “new” ghost signs and from other cities that are considering adoption of preservation and restoration policies.”

Copies of the full report are available from Professor Wong.

Wong, who holds a doctorate in urban design and planning and over 30 years of practical experience, teaches the Community Design Workshop every spring.

“From year-to-year, I never know what project will be tackled in advance,” she said. “We may work for a city department, a nonprofit, or a development company. Each project has practical implications and is not a theoretical exercise. The students should see the value of their contribution in making Seattle a better city so I select projects of meaning with the goals of the client organization and student service in mind.”

In 2012, Wong’s students received Honorable Mention for their project, “Seattle Prism Light Reconnaissance Study,” from the Washington Chapter of the American Planning Association.

Watch the video: Take a glimpse into Seattle’s historic ghost signs and learn more about the Community Design Workshop.

Student Profiles: Kristi Nakata & Brett Harding

For Environmental Studies students Brett Harding ‘14 and Kristi Nakata ‘15, landing a job in the Center of Environmental Justice and Sustainability (CEJS) took all their classroom learning to a new dimension. CEJS is housed in the six-story, 50,000 sq. ft. Bullitt Center, the world’s most green office building. Just blocks from campus, the building features windows that open and close automatically depending on the temperature, solar panels, and recycled water.

“Being in a building with composting toilets is amazing,” said Nakata, a junior. “Just seeing what can be done to treat water and waste on site in such an urban environment brings home the possibilities in environmental studies.”

As a sophomore, Nakata went to rural Nicaragua with a group of students led by Environmental Studies Professor Felipe Martinho. They worked with the villagers in Dario on clean water and sanitation practices and saw first-hand the value of self-sustaining environmental practices.

“Sustainable development in the tropics is a tool to get people out of poverty as well as protecting the environment,” Nakata said. “The social justice component is real.”

During her summer internship at CEJS, Nakata conducted research for SU’s Sustainability Manager Karen Price, created videos and wrote articles about urban sustainability, and participated in an environmental justice program that included leaders from the EPA, Earth Ministry, and the nonprofit sector.

Harding, a senior, has been summers working on environmental projects analyzing data on cost and energy consumption from solar panels used by the Oakland School District. No stranger to talking about exciting environmental practices that change the way people live and work, he promoted recycling efforts with Waste Management in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties. He is spending this year leading tours of the Bullitt Center, event planning, web design, and marketing.

Harding enjoys talking with visitors who come to see the technological advances that promote sustainability.

“The Bullitt Center shows that people can step up for meaningful change,” he said.

In addition to conducting building tours, Harding assists faculty and staff preparing for the international conference “Just Sustainability: Hope for the Commons,” set for next summer. Staff and administrators from Jesuit universities and institutions are expected to join with community groups, scholars, and nonprofit organizations focused on environmental justice and sustainability.

“Seattle is a forward-thinking city that is in front of the curve when it comes to the environment,” Harding said. “Only in Seattle would you expect to have a program like the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability in a building like the Bullitt Center.”

Alumni Profile: David Wilbrecht, '89

David Wilbrecht, MPA ’89, Blaine City Manager.

Blaine, Washington, a city of 5,000 people, is bounded by Puget Sound to the west, the Cascades to the east, and Canada to the north. As the third largest US-Canada border crossing, City Manager Dave Wilbrecht, MPA ’89, not only serves the community but serves the people of the United States.

“We work hand-in-hand with federal agencies,” Wilbrecht said from his office in downtown Blaine. “We have more federal law enforcement here, and we work with them on the national agenda. We also have a local agenda like every other city.”

Wilbrecht came to Blaine in July 2013 after a varied career in both private and public sectors, including taking a city manager’s job for a community in bankruptcy. He started his career in public service as a group counselor for Snohomish County, WA. He advanced his career in various city positions to qualify for his first management position as the operations manager for the Parks and Recreation Department in Redmond, WA. After seven years, he decided to get his Master’s in Public Administration at Seattle University.

“I began interacting with more and more elected officials and city executives as my career developed. I looked at what they had done, and almost everyone had graduate degrees,” he recalled. “I knew I needed more than a bachelor’s degree and decided to get a master’s, and the Seattle University program was the best fit for someone working and with a young family.”

Wilbrecht did not advance his career in public service immediately after earning his degree. Realizing that many people in government did not have private sector experience or understood business needs, he went to work for GTE in its information systems program and then real estate development. Within five years and gaining the experience he wanted, he was back in public service, taking the position of Deputy Director of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services in the City of Federal Way, Washington.

Since then, Wilbrecht rose to the top of his field. As County Administrative Officer of Mono County, California, he worked with the Board of Supervisors on a major reorganization of county government. Then, as Town Manager of Mammoth Lakes, California, he pulled the town out of bankruptcy and reduced its $42 million financial obligation to $29.5 million.

Although Blaine experienced the effects of the national recession in 2008-09, former City Manager Gary Tomsic had guided the city well, and unlike Mammoth Lakes, Wilbrecht inherited a community that had weathered difficult times.

“People don’t realize that Blaine’s economy includes a vibrant manufacturing sector,” he emphasized. “Canadian companies have expanded to Blaine to expand into the American market -- everything from eyeglasses to peanut butter – without having border or customs issues.”

Fedex and UPS trucks are frequent sights in Blaine, mainly because Canadians drive to Blaine to pick up packages. Those parcel deliveries generate a major source of income for the city.

“Blaine has become a hub for cross-border transactions. Rather than have items delayed in customs at the international border, Canadians will have their products drop-shipped here where sales taxes are charged. The sales tax from those shipments supports a large part of our $5 million budget.” he explained.

Although Wilbrecht clearly enjoys the community and takes full advantage of the natural beauty and outdoor activities of the Northwest, he is focused on growing the economy. When the city closed its small airport, the 27-acre parcel became ripe for redevelopment.

“Every city manager suffers from demanding and expanding needs with limited resources,” he said. “We have to figure out how to balance those needs with resources. Developing the airport land, improving and stabilizing the budget, enhancing downtown investment, and bringing in living wage jobs are my top priorities. Working in small communities, dealing with budgets and working on complex projects, that’s what I enjoy best about my job.”

Watch the video: See and hear from David Wilbrecht about his new position as City Manager of Blaine Washington and why he chose Seattle University's MPA graduate degree program to advance his career.

Recent Grads: Ben Anderson & Sawyer Purman

The GoPro was made for recent Film Studies grads Sawyer Purman ‘12 and Ben Anderson ’13. Whether snowboarding down Mt. St. Helens or skateboarding around town, this dynamic duo of videographer and film editor create exciting videos. They joined forces as Altrac Productions and quickly moved into the realm of music videos.

Anderson and Purman began making films together while still students. Originally from Massachusetts, Anderson received a scholarship and planned to major in economics. He had an “epiphany” in his sophomore year after taking a film studies class with Professor Mike Attie. Wisconsinite Purman was pre-law, with dual majors in political science and photography.  He credits photography Prof. Claire Garoutte for “nudging” him into a commercial direction.  With the help of Mike Attie, who got them work after school and had up-to-the-minute technology, and Lindy Boustedt, a documentary filmmaker, their collaboration took off.

“We met Lindy in the Media Center,” Anderson said. “It was a chance encounter that really got us started.”

“She was a guiding light,” Purman added, “always there whenever we had a question or needed someone to jump a fence.”

Boustedt, a documentary filmmaker, had been on staff in the Advancement Office. She now manages the Film and Family Homelessness Project in the college’s Center for Strategic Communications.

Anderson and Purman made their first rap music video for Luck-One in Portland, Oregon, with 31,000 views to date (Link: Right before Purman graduated in May 2012, they filmed “Stronger: Children’s Hospital” on Seattle Children’s hemoncology floor under the direction of Film Studies Prof. Mike Attie. That video has had more than 3.4 million views. (Link: They also collaborated on “Coda,” a film on time travel set in Seattle, which received “Best Short Film” in the student film competition.

As a junior and senior, Anderson took advantage of a position in the College of Arts and Sciences to get more experience. He produced “Catholicism and Sports” with Fr. Kelly (Link:, the Urban Farm, about an Environmental Studies project in Renton (Link:, and “The Making of Fefu,” a behind-the scenes look at the theatre program’s production of “Fefu and Her Friends.” (Link:

After graduating, Purman continued to work on music videos and enlist Anderson as video editor. Today, Purman and Anderson are the sole owners of the video production company Altrac; Purman is director of photography, and Anderson is director/editor. They travel throughout the Northwest in an RV loaded with photography, video, light, and sound equipment.

“We enjoy the challenges of shooting at night for a music video or recording a ski run down Mt. Baker,” Purman said.

Anderson, former economics student, was quick to add, “We don’t shy away from creating a wedding video either.”

Upcoming Events

Jan. 25:  SU Graduate Programs Open House

Jan. 31 – Feb 1: Jesuits in World History, symposium and teacher's workshop

Feb 12: Guest artist cello recital featuring Paul Wiancko

Feb 13: Catholic Heritage Lecture, with Jose Casanova, PhD, Professor, Department of Sociology, Georgetown, presenting: “The Church in a Global Pluralistic World: Challenges and Opportunities,” 7 p.m.

Feb. 28 – Mar. 2: Homecoming weekend

April 8: Al Mann Memorial Lecture with Professor Hugh Cagle, University of Utah, on "The Entanglements of Imperial Medicine: Three Lives in the Face of Death."

April 10: Catholic Heritage Lecture, with Catherine Cornille, PhD, Professor and Chair, Theology Department, Boston College, presenting: “Challenges for Interreligious Dialogue in the Church Today,” 7 p.m.

April 22: Alumni Awards Ceremony