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It has taken more than two decades, but the University of Washington’s Bothell campus has finally reached the size and prominence its founders thought it would achieve much sooner.

Now the fastest-growing campus and the largest branch campus in Washington, it has hired a new chancellor with Ivy League credentials, and 29 new tenure-track faculty.

Workers are halfway through construction on a $68 million science and math building that will open in a year. The school has also reorganized and expanded its technology offerings under a new school, the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Sports fields for intramural games have opened next to the site’s extensive wetlands, and students are planning a new student-activities center they’ll share with Cascadia Community College students, whose campus is on the same site.

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In fact, the UW Bothell school is growing so fast that it shares a problem with the main campus in Seattle — it is having to turn qualified students away from high-demand programs such as electrical engineering and computer science.

“We’re bursting at the seams here,” said Bjong “Wolf” Yeigh, the new chancellor of the college, who took over from longtime chancellor Kenyon Chan this fall.

Campus beginnings

UW Bothell is one of five branch campuses state lawmakers created in 1989, when they feared that a demographic bubble — the children of the baby-boom generation — would put a tremendous squeeze on state colleges and universities.

The Legislature approved a plan for the UW to open two campuses, in Bothell and Tacoma, and for Washington State University to run three others, in Vancouver, Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

But the student boom didn’t materialize, and enrollment at the branch campuses grew much more slowly than planners had projected. The Bothell campus, now with 4,500 students, was expected to hit an enrollment of 5,000 by 2010.

Former state legislator Ken Jacobsen, who served from 1983 to 2010, thinks three factors contributed to slow growth: The projections were inaccurate; state funding allowed for only minimal growth; and the state didn’t foresee the growth of for-profit colleges, which wooed away some students.

A few other factors also contributed, said UW Bothell Vice Chancellor Richard Penney: an agreement with the city of Bothell constrained growth while the Highway 522 offramp was completed, and the school did not accept first-year students until 2006.

In the early years, the school also offered few options. “They didn’t have enough students and professors to offer a diverse program,” said Terry Sweeney, vice president of global clinical affairs at Philips Healthcare, who serves on UW Bothell’s STEM advisory board.

Today, the Bothell branch offers more than 30 degrees, including three that launched this year: a master’s in cybersecurity engineering, and undergraduate degrees in health studies and mathematics.

“I think it’s been quietly transforming,” said Mary Jesse, another member of the STEM advisory board and the founder and CEO of Ivycorp, a Redmond technology company. “Some people will be surprised, I think, at the significance the UW Bothell will have at creating a really strong and solid workforce in Washington.”

New chancellor

Yeigh, 48, came to the UW Bothell after serving for five years as president of the State University of New York Institute of Technology at Utica/Rome.

He’s also an active researcher who does mathematical and computer modeling; one of his recent simulations involved creating mathematical models to simulate a train derailment.

Born in Korea, Yeigh grew up in Arlington, Va., and served in the U.S. Navy during the first Persian Gulf War, where he earned the nickname Wolf.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering science from Dartmouth, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford and a master’s and doctorate in civil engineering and operations research from Princeton.

One of UW Bothell’s strengths, he said, is its diversity. About half the student enrollment is minority. Two-thirds receive some form of financial aid, half are the first in their families to go to college, and 92 percent are Washington residents.

Bothell has used its small size to create many cross-disciplinary programs. For example, it offers an undergraduate degree in law, economics and public policy that ties interrelated subjects into one major.

But its big focus in recent years has been expanding STEM fields because of the high demand for those degrees. Last year, it turned away 63 qualified students — 25 in electrical engineering and 38 in computer science and software.

“There’s a lot of need in our immediate area, and a lot of student demand, so we’re trying to accommodate them as fast as we can go,” said Elaine Scott, dean of the School of STEM.

Scott said the school is making use of the many companies on the Eastside, tying the training UW Bothell offers to industry needs. For example, electrical-engineering majors must do an industry-sponsored project in their senior year, and those relationships often help students get a job when they graduate.

“What we’ve heard from industry is that our students come well prepared,” she said.

Students say the small size means they are also able to develop close connections with their professors. “My professors know me by name — we get coffee sometimes,” said Tal Singh, who is president of the Associated Students of the UW Bothell and is majoring in business management and marketing.

Eleanor Wort, a junior majoring in computing-software systems, started her college career at WSU but transferred because she wanted to live near Seattle.

“It’s a great degree, and it’s the same UW diploma,” Wort said.

Commuter campus

For students, one of the challenges is creating a sense of community on a campus that’s bordered on one side by wetlands and freeway, and on the other side by a single-family neighborhood. The campus is near the intersection of Interstate 405 and Highway 522, and used to be farmland.

Downtown Bothell isn’t far away — just a 10-minute walk from campus — but there’s no clear route to get there, although one is in the works. And until recently, a berm separated two of the school’s main buildings.

Contractors are now building a plaza where students can gather between classes.

“The students are working to create a place where you want to stay all day,” said UW Bothell spokeswoman Laura Mansfield.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or On Twitter @katherinelong.

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