It was an eventful summer for CWU’s new president Jim Wohlpart and his wife, Sasha. In early June, the couple packed up their belongings, along with their two dogs, Annabelle and Leopold, and moved 1,663 miles from Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Ellensburg.
Since arriving, the Wohlparts have maintained an active calendar—participating in welcome back barbecues with CWU employees, attending the Board of Trustees summer retreat, sitting in on countless university planning sessions, meeting with alumni, faculty, staff, and students, visiting local government officials, and watching a few sporting events.
But despite their busy schedules, the new president and first lady have been able to settle in to their new home and even carve out some time to do a bit of exploring and hiking.
“What has been fascinating is the diversity of ecosystem in this region,” Sasha noted. “To go from a steep desert environment to these amazing mountains and then the humid, mild west side. It’s so awesome to have all of that within our immediate reach. We appreciate the kind of oasis that is Ellensburg.”
The president said he has been most impressed by how welcome he and his wife have been made to feel since relocating from the Midwest. He described it as “a feeling of being embraced. People have really embraced us and the fact that we’re here.”
“We have felt really welcomed in ways that make us feel like we came home,” Sasha added. “We really were intentional in thinking about where we might go next. We looked into not only the university but the region. We felt like we knew where we were coming and were excited and ready. It has not at all disappointed.”
Both said they were pleasantly surprised by the wealth of shopping and restaurants, and other entertainment and social opportunities available in Ellensburg.
“We were very happy where we were [at Northern Iowa University] and were not looking [for a new place to work],” the president said. “But we thought, if there was an opportunity, we would think about it. When we saw this opportunity, we really decided to explore just this, specifically.”
Wohlpart said a number of things about Central piqued the couple’s interest, including that it was a large, public university that provides access to higher education for a whole range of students who can’t, or won’t, attend large research institutions. They also liked that Central’s environment fosters the development of close relationships with faculty and staff.
Additionally, the president said they were attracted by the way faculty and staff help students understand their potential and encourage them to succeed once they leave the university.
“That mission of student engagement and student success is very attractive to me, especially for groups of students who wouldn’t necessarily have that access otherwise,” he said. “One of the things we like about this place is the diversity of political perspectives and the ability of people with different beliefs/backgrounds to come together and work together to advance the community, the region, and the institution.”
As for what he would like to bring to Central, Wohlpart believes there are three particularly pressing issues of our time, including climate change, racial injustice, and the fraying of American democracy. As a result, he is a strong advocate for student engagement and involvement, both of which he has seen a good deal of at CWU.
“We are very interested in transformative (relational) leadership and recognizing the way in which everything is interdependent. The way in which everything, everybody, every office has a place in elevating the good work of the institution,” the president said. “It’s not about us, ever. It’s about the institution always and the ways in which things are interconnected.
“I’m most excited about seeing the amazing work that happens here in transforming students’ lives and thinking about how we can do that work more intentionally, developmentally, strategically, so that we can take that work to the next level,” he continued. “In other words, we are a really good institution of higher education, so how can we be a great institution of higher education? How can we do it better and different? That’s exciting to me.”
Sasha said she is most looking forward to identifying where her skills and passions can best be applied to serving the university.
“That’s going to be exciting for me to see how I can fit in,” she said. “That’s about relationship building. So, this next year will really be about getting to know people, getting to know the programs, and assessing their needs.
“We look forward to seeing students and feeling the energy that comes with classes in session,” she added. “The feeling of enthusiasm for this place [from students, alumni, faculty, and staff] is contagious.” n
Jim Wohlpart previously served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Northern Iowa. He holds a PhD in English from the University of Tennessee, an MA in English from Colorado State University, and a BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Tennessee.
Sasha Wohlpart has an MS in environmental science and earned a BS in geology. She is the former vice president of the Cedar Falls Community School Board and has been active in a number of civic organizations, including the YWCA, the Cedar Falls Lions Club, and the Iowa Nineteenth Amendment Centennial Commemoration Organizing Committee.