August 15, 2013

Polly Olsen (’94) has been named the recipient of the 2013 Vice President for Minority Affairs and Vice Provost for Diversity Award for Community Building. Olsen is the director of community relations and development for theIndigenous Wellness Research Institute, a nationally-recognized School of Social Work-affiliated center dedicated to reducing health disparities among indigenous people. The award recognizes a University of Washington student, staff member, faculty member, or community organization whose efforts toward positive change on campus have resulted in multicultural community building.

The award will be presented on Saturday, Oct. 26 at the 19th Annual Multicultural Alumni Partnership (MAP) Bridging the Gap Breakfast at the Husky Union Building. The breakfast kicks off the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity’s annual homecoming event for alumni of color and friends of diversity.

In her congratulatory letter, UW Vice President for Minority Affairs and Vice Provost for Diversity Sheila Edwards Lange described Olsen’s work as an advocate, liaison, facilitator, educator and leader on and off the UW campus as manifesting “multicultural community building at its finest.”

Olsen has been an instrumental team-member in the development of Intellectual House, a longhouse-style space on the University’s Seattle campus where Native American students, faculty, staff and others can come together to support Native American student success at UW. A traditional site blessing was performed in 2009. Ground breaking is scheduled for 2014 with a building completion date of 2015.

Says Olsen: “This type of facility shows young Native Americans who come to campus that higher education is attainable. And it shows our elders that the next generation is continuing to work to create a thriving community.” Olsen’s effort to help Native American youth flourish has also been recognized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provides funds for IWRI’s Native Youth Enrichment Program, now in its second phase, which Olsen directs.

Olsen received a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology in 1994 from the University of Washington. Prior to the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, Olsen worked at UW School of Medicine’s Native American Center of Excellence. She is a member of the Yakama Tribe--the largest Native American tribe in Washington state. She also holds volunteer positions as president of the board of directors for the Seattle Indian Health Board and as a member of the Native American committee, American Diabetes Association, and serves on the board of directors for the Discuren Charitable Foundation.

Previous award winners include Seattle Fandango Project (2012), Cynthia del Rosario (UW Information School, 2011), Ja-Anana Elliot (Foster School of Business, 2010), Dr. Michelle Habell-Pallan (Department of Women Studies, 2009), Michael Verchot (Foster School of Business, 2008), Carolyn Chow (School of Nursing, 2007), Dr. Gino Aisenberg (School of Social Work, 2006), and Dr. Sheila Edwards Lange (Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, 2005).

Photo credit: Anil Kapahi