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Staffers' Kids Choose the UW

Story by
Nancy Joseph

You’d think the children of longtime A&S staffers would chafe at the thought of attending the too-familiar University of Washington. And some do. But many welcome the opportunity. 

“In his application essay, my son said he always pictured himself going to school here, having visited me so many times through the years,” says Judy Davis, administrator for the Burke Museum, who has worked in various UW staff positions since 1974. 

A&S staff--and parents--Judy Davis, Cheryl Mathisen, and Don Atkinson (from left).

A&S staff--and parents--Judy Davis, Cheryl Mathisen, and Don Atkinson (from left). Media credit: Nancy Joseph

Cheryl Mathisen’s son also chose the UW, even though Mathisen, administrative assistant in the Department of English, encouraged him to consider other schools. “I wanted him to know that his options were open,” she says, “but he felt comfortable here.” She adds, “People always think that parents who work here get a deal on their children’s tuition. But we don’t.”

Mathisen’s son is a senior; Davis’ is a junior. Their UW-employed parents gain some new perspective on the University through their children’s experiences.

Davis was most surprised by her son’s ability to navigate the University despite its large size. “I thought he would find it big and overwhelming,” she says. “It was my perception that all freshmen classes are large, with students unable to know their professors. But he just jumped in with both feet and loved all the stimulation. I was amazed to find that he did get to know some of his professors and conversed with them on many topics.”

Don Atkinson, administrator in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences, was impressed even before his daughter stepped into her first class. “We were preparing to move her into the dorm, and 
I expected a zoo scene,” he recalls. “But it was so organized, with helpers arriving with carts.”

Atkinson’s daughter, who graduated in June with a B.S. in biology, considered other universities but chose the UW for financial reasons. The availability of research jobs was a bonus, giving her an opportunity to work with faculty. “That gave her contacts that helped when she applied to graduate schools,” says Atkinson.

Given these staff members’ many years at the University, did their children tap them for advice? 

Yeah, right.

“You have to hold yourself back not to meddle too much,” admits Davis. Adds Atkinson, “My daughter would occasionally come to me with various concerns, but she made all her own decisions.”

Mathisen was able to advise her son on one topic: becoming an English major. He decided to switch from business to English at the end of his sophomore year. “I had all the inside information for how to do that,” says Mathisen, who has worked in the English Department for 25 years.

She adds with a laugh, “He had all these options. To be in a big school like this, with all the choices for a major, and he ends up in his mom’s department.”