The University of Washington Study Tour, immediately prior to the W100 conference in Vancouver, proved a beneficial meeting of minds with higher education reputation leaders from around the world engaging with colleagues from one of the leading US public institutions.

UW is an impressive institution in many ways, not least through the clear expression of its brand, focused around a vision to be the greatest public university in the world measured by impact.

That focus on making a difference is a key part of the brand promise of the institution; not unusual perhaps for world-leading universities these days. But UW articulates this very clearly through its role in serving the state of Washington as a public university (1/3 of UG students are the first in their family to attend university), whilst excelling in key research areas such as public health, sustainability and community engagement.

The UW teams focused on reputation, under the leadership of Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Mary Gresch, have an impressive record of bringing the brand to life and engaging colleagues throughout a complex and devolved organisation in its effective delivery. This was evidenced on the campus tour, undertaken in a fleet of golf buggies, where the purple brand colour and prominent W logo provide a unifying theme.

Several other factors strike you about the campus; its wonderful location to the north of the city centre with views on fine days to snow-capped Mount Rainer; Huskie Stadium, the 73,000 seater arena for college sports; and the preponderance of buildings named after Seattle business titans, notably Gates and Allen.

We were fortunate to be able to engage with a series of academic faculty in areas such as computer science, public health and engineering. Amongst the insights were the work of development of diagnostic devices based around mobile phones which are revolutionising healthcare in challenging environments; projects to address staff and student inequalities; and a rather scary look into the world of extremist social media influence.

Woven throughout the academic presentations was a clear link back to the institutional ethos, with a strong focus both on the impact of research and engagement with often under-represented communities.

On the 2nd day, after a wonderful evening spent at the iconic Ray’s Boathouse restaurant with amazing sunset views over Puget Sound and mountains, the W100 group visited the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a new collaborative project with Microsoft and Tsinghua University.

GIX showcases effectively UW’s leadership in innovation (rated #1 public university by Reuters), and its commitment to global partnerships. The core initial offer of GIX, which opened in 2017, is an innovative Masters in, which uses an impressive Make Space to allow it cohort of mostly international students to develop products.

The W100 group was thrilled to hear directly from a number of students who have built innovative approaches to solving problems in the world of agriculture, public safety and online beauty. The commitment and enthusiasm of the UW students was a reminder of the core role of universities in giving people the opportunity to develop and

The visit finished with a discussion session allowing W00 universities to share their experiences of bringing differentiation to life in their own institutions. Discussions ranged from the challenges of delivering and communicating interdisciplinary research, to the more practical ways in which to deliver effective video content.

The high-quality programme put on by UW, including the chance to engage with faculty and students & the impressive campus, was matched by the generosity of Mary Gresch and colleagues in sharing their challenges as well as successes. The exchanging of experiences between the hosts and the visitors is central to the Study Tour concept, and UW colleagues remarked how beneficial the engagement with colleagues from around the world was for them.