Providing excellent educational services to a diverse community requires thinking outside the box to reach individuals who might not otherwise be touched by educational opportunities.

At the WSU Learning Center, Pierce County, at Salishan, providing education and learning assistance is all about innovation, creativity and stepping beyond the boundaries.

The only land-grant university entity in the United States located in a housing development, Salishan works chiefly with diverse and low-income individuals in the community to help them reach their educational goals through distance degree program resources, computer access and basic job skills classes.

Olga Fuste, program development coordinator for the Salishan Learning Center, said the uniqueness and diversity of Salishan not only contributes to the learning process but to the WSU climate as a whole.

“We have a wonderful canvas,” Fuste said. “We are the face of WSU.”

Eight languages
With eight dominant non-English languages represented at the center, Fuste said the language and cultural barriers can be difficult to maneuver, but they can provide everyone at the center with more opportunities to learn.

Individuals who have immigrated to the United States or have been granted asylum from their war-torn countries can enroll in classes. Training in basic computer skills, leadership and cross-cultural communication can help them make a smoother transition into the American culture and workforce.
“We put a great deal of energy into helping people become self-sufficient,” Fuste said.

Created in 1996, Salishan is one of 10 WSU Learning Centers launched to serve time- and place-bound adults by offering high-tech distance degree programs with the personal touch of on-site staff.

Though each center was tailored to fit the community it served, Salishan is notably unique. It is the only center in an urban setting and not housed within a community college or extension office.

Fuste said the independence and uniqueness of the center often require staff and students alike to rely on their own knowledge and experiences to engage each other and the community.

“We’re drawing our own road map,” she said.

New center
In keeping with its aim to best serve the community, Salishan has a new learning center in the works. The new center, which will be located a half-block away from the current location, is designed to provide optimum physical and educational benefits to the adult learning community.

The current center will be remodeled and used for wood workshops and other community activities.

Fuste said the new location, scheduled to be completed in 2008, will serve as the centerpiece of the neighborhood and provide an image of what Salishan stands for.

“It’s like a blank page,” Fuste said. “We can develop this story to help the community.”

Fuste encourages WSU faculty, especially those in research, to utilize the new center and surrounding neighborhood for collaborative or evaluative studies. By getting involved with the Salishan community, Fuste said, other pieces of the university can become more engaged while providing a dynamic opportunity for the center.

For more information about the Salishan Learning Center, visit http://learningcenters.wsu.edu/salishan/index.html.