'Dr. A' left his mark at Eastern Washington
Departing president reflects on his eight years on the job
He weathered the storm of the nation's worst recession and successfully piloted the Eastern Washington University ship through rough waters. The school now has record enrollment and national notoriety on many fronts.
Perhaps bigger yet, in the midst of serving as EWU's 25th president, Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo waged, and so far has won the personal battle with a deadly form of cancer.
Now it's time for Arévalo, and his wife, Nadine, to turn the pages on eight memorable years of life in Cheney and begin the retirement portion of their lives.
Officially off the job July 31 and replaced by Dr. Mary Cullinan, Arévalo has still been on the clock so-to-speak, helping the new president adjust to the job. As for that transition in administrations, "I think it's going pretty good," Arévalo said.
The Arévalos will soon relocate to just outside Kansas City, Kan., where they will be just a few miles, and minutes, away from their family, including beloved grandchildren.
"Dr. A," as he is affectionately known in circles far and wide - from those in the highest of places in business and government, to incoming freshmen who will pass through the pillars this coming September - reflected on his time at the helm.
He took the job April 1, 2006, and in the spring 2014 edition of "Eastern Magazine," spoke about how he viewed his first 100 days, and maybe how that impacted the rest of his time here.
Part of what he said back then seems to frame his EWU tenure. "I see a willingness to listen and doing thoughtful analysis as more important," than being "flamboyant and outspoken."
"I think one of the things I did when I first came here - is really do a survey of what Spokane and Eastern Washington sort of needed," Arévalo said. The answer was high tech, engineering, science and health sciences.
When Arevalo arrived, Eastern was still hanging its hat largely on the social sciences hook. "Now our biggest college is health, science and engineering," Arévalo said.
"That had begun when I came but it was developing real slow," Arévalo added.
Emphasizing those courses of study has served to raise the awareness of Eastern across the state. "When I first got here maybe 25 percent of our students were from Seattle, Tacoma and that area," Arévalo said. "Now we're up to close to 35 percent."
Eastern's popularity also hinges on its affordability.
"The difference between us (and) for example UW and WSU in tuition is about $5,000 a year," Arévalo said.
Add another $5,000 for housing and "You're looking at about $10,000 a year (more than EWU)," he said. "So if parents want to spent $40,000 less and get the same education they might want to think about Eastern."
Arévalo attributes being able to trim costs with the ability of the university to operate with lower overhead.
Much of Eastern's march onward, and upward, had come amidst what has been called "The Great Recession," which further slashed state funding for higher education. Arévalo said the school watched as $47 million was cut from the budget in a four-year period.
"It's not easy to make (that) up and still stay alive," Arévalo said. "And we still grew 36 percent during that period."
Eastern, long known as a commuter school because of its close proximity to Spokane, has also changed that dynamic under Arévalo.
"A larger portion of our kids stay here," Arévalo said. Eastern adjusted to that with the addition of its newest residence hall "Snyamncut, which is Salish for "place of gathering" - bringing to seven the student housing facilities at Eastern.
"We look like this coming year, we'll be packed, which is a nice problem to have," Arévalo said.
That is a far cry from the time 30 years ago when it was suggested Eastern and Washington State University merge.
"It's changed quite a bit and quite frankly Eastern's also turned into a university that's recognized statewide; has a presence statewide," Arévalo said. Besides having some 2,700 students in downtown Spokane, there are another 700 in Bellevue, another 100 each in Everett and Vancouver, Wash. plus some in Longview and Yakima.
While academics have pushed Eastern's prominence across the state under Arévalo's watch, athletics really put the school in the spotlight in 2010 with their Football Championship Subdivision title.
"Eastern athletics, I think, has reached a new plateau in terms of being not only successful but helping the university grow its visibility," Arévalo said. "This game on the (Aug.) 23rd (versus Sam Houston State University), because it's on ESPN, could be in about 120 million homes; people are going to know where Cheney is."
Although there is much for Arévalo to reminisce about, the sense of community involvement will be missed greatly.
"I think what I'm going to miss the most is being able to assist folks by being able to get our faculty engaged in projects in the community," Arévalo said. For the Arévalos, much of their civic engagement came at the Cheney Food Bank.
As for the cancer, "I'm doing well, I'm past that magic five years of being cancer free," Arévalo quickly, and proudly said.
Paul Delaney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.