Clover Park Technical College strives to change students’ lives through workforce training and preparation, but often students meet lifelong friends and sometimes even meet their future spouse. For Geoff and Tara Waits, that’s exactly what happened.
Geoff and Tara came to Clover Park in the late 1980s, each pursuing a new path after previous college experiences hadn’t worked out. Geoff had moved to the area from Yakima and enrolled in the Architectural Engineering Design program, while Tara grew up in Tacoma and decided to pursue Interior Design.
“I’d looked for an artistic program, something I could make into a career,” Tara said.
Just as they are now, the two programs were located across the hall from each other on the second floor of Building 19. The setting was perfect for the traditional romantic comedy “meet-cute,” and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Tara volunteered to work the popcorn machine at an open house event, and some popcorn stuck to her shoe. Naturally, Geoff walked up and offered two romantic words: “That’s gross.”
Tara offered a snarky response, which led to a brief sarcastic exchange between the two. That served as their introduction. As they saw each other on campus, they began to talk and develop a friendship. Geoff was in a different relationship at the time, but once that ended they started hanging out and developing a relationship of their own.
“I loved architecture and design and art, and he had the same interests,” Tara said. “I was doing my best with my son, and he was great with kids. He wasn’t necessarily my type, but my type hadn’t worked out. I just felt that he was the right person, and the more I got to know him, the more I could tell that he was.”
Nearly 30 years later, the two have been married 28 years. Geoff interned for an architect while studying at Clover Park, worked for 15 years for BMC, and has spent nearly a decade working sales for The Truss Company. Tara spent 11 years with Elite Remodeling and has been with Phase II since 2011. Both stayed in contact with their programs at CPTC and offered tours and networking opportunities.
“We try to help anywhere we can, whenever they would call up and say they needed help with something,” Tara said.
About 10 years ago, they each joined their respective program’s advisory committees. Now they serve an active role in helping ensure current and future students receive the latest training to prepare for industry.
“That’s what our advisory board meetings are about – what are we doing and what do we need to change to help these students better succeed,” Tara said. “The way they connect the community and professionals with the students and expose them to that is key. They’re constantly developing new and different ways to stimulate and prepare them and create a better generation that will do great things.”
Both continue to praise their experience at Clover Park and the work the college continues to do.
“It’s a more hands-on, tighter environment with more focused instruction,” Geoff said. “You have access to professionals you can network with, and it’s a great education. That’s the big thing for me – you can see it, touch it, and feel it. It’s real.”
The couple returned to campus in the fall to participate in the beam signing for the new John W. Walstrum Center for Advanced Manufacturing Technology Building. Even though the new building won’t house either of their programs, they wanted to contribute to the college’s development.
“We do whatever we can to support CPTC,” Tara said. “This is where we started. We really believe in cultivating the growth of this school. We have a passion for this school.”
From “That’s gross” to nearly three decades of marriage, Geoff and Tara Waits have come a long way since their studies on the second floor of Building 19. For these two, Clover Park provided far more than the career training they were seeking. It introduced each to the love of their life.
“We love each other more now than when we met,” Tara said. “We’ve been through a lot of things that life’s thrown at us. We have three boys; we’ve had career changes, job losses, family challenges and stuff. We have such a great life, and this is where it started. It’s meaningful to us in that way.”