News & Events


February 10, 2016

Community Relations Director Polly Olsen Leaves IWRI

Polly3Polly Olsen (Yakama Nation) recently departed from the University of Washington after nearly 20 years of dedicated service. She is now Executive Director for the Association of American Indian Physicians in Oklahoma City. During her time at the UW, she served in leadership positions such as Director of the UW Native American Center of Excellence in the School of Medicine (2001-2007) and Community Relations Director for the Indigenous Wellness Research Institute, National Center of Excellence (IWRI, 2007-2015).
In 2007, she joined IWRI—a budding research center focused on reducing and, ultimately, eliminating health disparities in American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) populations. As IWRI grew in size and outreach, she served as Community Relations Director, overseeing outreach initiatives for IWRI as well as managing the K-12 educational programs pipeline. She has also functioned as a liaison between Tribal and Indigenous communities, organizations and academic institutions, facilitating conversations between people who share similar goals but different approaches. She served as leader-advisor on traditional and cultural protocols, enhancing IWRI’s and the UW’s collaborations in the areas of higher education, research, and community partnership-building with Indigenous communities.
Her work focused on K-12+ education pipeline initiatives that aim to increase the number of Indigenous youth completing higher education and seeking careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In addition, she has worked tirelessly in support of our students, creating a culturally relevant, safe space for AIAN students, staff and faculty in their professional pursuits.
Her passion was (and continues to be) focused on native youth and elders. In 2013, in collaboration with Dr. Jordan Lewis, she started the Elders in Residence Program and also oversaw the Elders Committee for the UWs wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House. She has served as PI or Co-PI on a number of research and training projects at IWRI including directing the K-12 pipeline as part of the Research, Training and Education Core with the Native Youth Enrichment Program, the Growing Our Own Project and the UW Medicine Center for Genomic and Healthcare Equality Training Program. She continues to be a leader working on addressing the needs of AIAN communities in the areas of health disparities, improved access to higher education and STEM career paths as well as cultural and identity empowerment in tribal and academic communities.
The IWRI family, the larger UW community, and our local tribal communities will miss Polly and wish her well in this next exciting endeavor of her professional career.