CUSP Director Connects With Students On and Off Campus

Published: February 19, 2013

Around campus, UW Bothell professor Leslie Ashbaugh is known for leading an annual study abroad trip to Zambia where students explore issues of global economic development. But her point of pride is her ongoing relationships with all of her students. “What I love about working at UW Bothell is the opportunity to be creative in my teaching and the connections I make with students on campus who share similar interests,” she says.

The feelings are mutual. Ashbaugh won the 2012 Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award and has been named as director of the Center for University Studies and Programs (CUSP) for a five-year term. “It is a privilege to dedicate my leadership capacities and my commitment to undergraduate teaching to further the work that has been ongoing for the past seven years in our first-year and pre-major programming at UW Bothell.”

Ashbaugh joined UW Bothell as a lecturer in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences in 1998. She came with a social sciences background in political and economic anthropology and development in Zambia and the U.S.

Four years ago, Vice Chancellor Susan Jeffords advocated for increased study abroad experiences for UW Bothell students. That was when Ashbaugh jumped at the chance to organize her annual student trip to Zambia. “We finally made it in 2010 and now I do that every summer with a group of sixteen students for a month,” she says. “We spend ten days in the capitol city of Lusaka, ten days in a small town, and ten days in a rural village.”

The curriculum follows the USAID priorities for development in Zambia, which are health, education, the environment, and democracy. “I always take four students who are there to research each of those topics,” she says. Students not only complete a research project in their topic area while they are in Zambia, they also interact with global relief organizations in Seattle.

“The students I take with me are interested in going into nonprofit work,” she says. Her students investigate the missions and strategies of donor agencies and how well those match the needs and experiences of Zambians. “I am exposing them to what it means to be a respectful traveler and researcher,” she says. “I am doing a lot of that modeling for them, and then they see for themselves the disconnect sometimes between goals and strategies and then reality.”

On campus, Ashbaugh teaches classes relating to race, gender, and family systems. “I have been here a long time and my courses have developed along with my interests and have often been driven by student interests as well,” she says. She describes her teaching style as an organic one, where she provides the theoretical background in which a topic has been pursued and then her students conduct research based on their own interests.

“There is always a component in every class I teach of experiential learning that is based on a research topic that students have chosen for themselves” she says. “I provide a shared language for us to communicate with each other around the topic and then somewhere around the middle of the quarter they take off with their research, and I guide them.”

Students in her classes learn how to reflect on their lives and relate broader issues to their own experiences. “We are talking about very relevant, timely topics that relate to their lives.”

This personal connection with students is her great joy as a teacher. She says when she won the Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award, she received numerous emails from former students congratulating her and letting her know how much her classes meant to them. “For a teacher you couldn’t want anything more from a job,” she says.