Academic Affairs

RICHLAND, Wash. – The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation will donate $1 million to the Washington State University Viticulture & Enology Program, the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest. Announced at the annual Auction of Washington Wines Gala on Aug. 19 in Woodinville, Wash., the donation will be dedicated to teaching labs and facilities as well as scholarships for viticulture and enology students. 

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center

Half of the $1 million donation will support the build-out of the Life Science Teaching Laboratory at the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center, http://wine.wsu.edu/wine-center — a state-of-the-art facility that is one of the most technologically advanced wine science centers in the world and attracts exceptional researchers and students — on the WSU Tri-Cities campus in Richland, Wash. The remainder will fund viticulture and enology student scholarships, $100,000 every year for five years. In recognition of the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation’s gift, the atrium of the Wine Science Center will be named in their honor: The Wine Spectator Atrium.

Wine Spectator, http://www.winespectator.com, is a print and online publication, with approximately 3 million readers worldwide. It examines the world of wine from the vineyard to the table, exploring wine’s role in contemporary culture and providing expert reviews.

“We are elated to have the support of such a pre-eminent authority on wine,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation’s generous donation is an investment in the WSU viticulture and enology program and showcases the caliber of research work that is at the forefront of our Drive to 25,”

“Washington State University has demonstrated a leadership position in wine education in the United States, and we are therefore proud to recognize the university’s high achievement with our commitment,” said Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher, Wine Spectator.

Washington wines are recognized for their quality and value, evident through data published by Wine Spectator magazine. For the past six years, Wine Spectator has rated more Washington wines 90 points or higher and at a lower average price than any other wine-producing region in the world.

WSU’s viticulture and enology program, http://wine.wsu.edu/wine-center,  is a comprehensive education and research program that prepares students for successful careers in the wine industry and supports the needs of the region’s winemakers and grape growers. Multidisciplinary, science-based, and hands-on, the viticulture and enology program offers students technical, scientific, and practical experience in every aspect of the grape-growing and winemaking process.

 

Media contact:

Marta Coursey, director, WSU CAHNRS Communications, 509-335-2806 marta.coursey@wsu.edu

Kaury Balcom, WSU Viticulture & Enology, 509-572-5540, kaury.balcom@wsu.edu

Lori Rosen, Wine Spectator, 212-255-8910, lori@rosengrouppr.com

RICHLAND, Wash. – Five local freshman at Washington State University Tri-Cities are among the university’s latest class of STEM Scholars.

As part of earning the distinction, where STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the students are honored with a $8,400 per year scholarship and will join the university’s STEM Learning Community. The community consists of a cohort of students that pursue a range of extracurricular opportunities and activities in the STEM fields.

WSU Tri-Cities STEM Scholars – (from left) Louis Theriault, Aaron Engebretson, Jared Johnson, Destiny Ledesma and Diamond Madden

The students awarded include:

  • Aaron Engebretson – Liberty Christian High School
  • Jared Johnson – Richland High School
  • Destiny Ledesma – Hanford High School
  • Diamond Madden – Southridge High School
  • Louis Theriault – Mid-Columbia Partnership

In order to be eligible for the program, students must have a minimum high school grade-point average of 3.75 based on a 4.0-scale, officially pursue a STEM-based major available at WSU Tri-Cities, be enrolled as a full-time student at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as actively participate in STEM Learning Community activities offered through the campus. Undergraduate majors eligible include: civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental sciences, general biological science, general mathematics and general physical sciences.

“The students selected display an incredible work-ethic and strong potential for careers in the STEM fields,” WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young said. “We’re excited to offer them a variety of resources to propel them into their respective STEM majors, which will encourage them to lead their fellow students within those majors, pursue prominent research at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as inspire future students to follow in their footsteps.”

Kate McAteer, WSU Tri-Cities assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs, said the research component of the experience will provide the students with a solid foundation for their academic futures.

“These STEM Scholars have the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research right from the beginning of their academic careers,” she said. “It provides them with an early start on building a solid foundation of skills required to be successful scientists and engineers.”

Aaron Engebretson

Aaron Engebretson

Engebretson

Engebretson plans to major in engineering. In high school, he served as class president during his senior year and was his class valedictorian. He was a member of Key Club where he served as the vice president of the club. He received the Northwest Nazarene Bridge Academy Scholar Award for taking 15 or more college credits while in high school and maintaining a 3.5 or higher GPA. He also received the Essence of Liberty Scholarship from Liberty Christian School. He hopes to one-day join Engineers Without Borders, which works with developing countries to find solutions for water supply, sanitation, agriculture and civil works. He also hopes to explore research in nuclear science while attending WSU Tri-Cities.

“The STEM Scholars program is very important to me,” he said. “It will surround me with fellow students that are driven, intelligent and interested in STEM … STEM careers are on the forefront of modern-day advancements and research. From the future of cars, to the future of modern medicine, STEM Careers provide solutions to a variety of different problems and challenges.”

Johnson

Jared Johnson

Jared Johnson

Johnson plans to major in electrical engineering. He is currently finishing his associate’s degree through Columbia Basin College’s running start program where he continues to receive high honors and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. At Richland High School, he earned Summa Cum Laude. Additionally, Johnson gives back to the community through his role with the National Honor Society, as well as helping with Second Harvest food distribution, tutoring high school math and assisting with various elementary school functions. He said he is looking forward to exploring the variety of research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities.

“With a STEM education, there will be many job opportunities and career advancements,” he said. “STEM subjects have always been interesting to me in school. WSU Tri-Cities provides a wonderful university experience, while still having small classrooms for personalized education. WSU Tri-Cities is also a high-ranking STEM university.”

Destiny Ledesma

Destiny Ledesma

Ledesma

Ledesma plans to major in biology. In high school, she participated in the running start program at WSU Tri-Cities, in addition to serving as her class senator during her junior and senior years. It is with that role that she and her fellow peers brought back the “Every 15 Minutes Program,” a two-day event that sheds light on drinking and driving. Ledesma also gives back to the community by volunteering every year with the Tri-Cities Union Gospel Mission where she makes dinner boxes for the homeless with her family. She also volunteers at the Tri-Cities Water Follies, where she has served in various roles throughout the last few years. She hopes to attend medical school and pursue either a career as a reconstructive surgeon or dermatologist. She looks forward to pursuing research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as getting involved with campus student government.

“It’s been such an honor and a blessing to have been able to receive such a prestigious scholarship,” she said. “I have been truly blessed with this opportunity to further my education … It will help prepare me to take on professional life after college and into the workforce. This program has truly changed my life.”

Madden

Diamond Madden

Diamond Madden

Madden plans to major in the physical sciences, with possibly an emphasis in chemistry. She earned 38 credits from Central Washington University’s running start program while she played softball, basketball and track and field for Southridge High School. Additionally, she played cello, violin and piano with the school’s orchestra, served in the school debate club, worked part-time for Tropical Sno and participated in the school’s Ignite program, which helps incoming freshmen transition to high school. She also volunteers occasionally with a local food bank. She hopes to pursue a career as a research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which has been a dream of hers for years.

“Words can’t even describe how much the STEM Scholars program means to me and my family,” she said. “Being the second youngest of seven children in a single-income family, this gives me the assurance that I can continue and complete my education for a degree in the sciences … I believe WSU is a remarkable college, with Tri-Cities being the perfect location for me and given the fact that the university partners with PNNL.”

Louis Theriault

Louis Theriault

Theriault

Theriault plans to major in civil engineering. In high school, as a home-schooled student, he participated in the WSU Tri-Cities running start program, which is what helped him decide on attending WSU Tri-Cities for his undergraduate degree. Over the years, he volunteered to help the Academy of Children’s theater put on its summer camps, helped at his home school program’s “Camp Invention” and continues to serve as a camp counselor for numerous camps, including for the upcoming STEM Camps at WSU Tri-Cities this July. He hopes to participate in WSU’s engineering study abroad opportunity at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences while earning his undergraduate degree at WSU Tri-Cities. After graduation, he hopes to serve as a civil engineer, working possibly around the United States or for an international engineering firm.

“The STEM Scholars Award means the world to me,” he said. “I didn’t believe that I would be one of the chosen people when I signed up. It is going to help me pay for almost all of my college and help me save money for my future … I want to pursue a career in the STEM fields because I want to be able to make a difference in the world.”

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – Jonah Firestone, an education professor at Washington State University Tri-Cities, knows that technology is the future of education, which is why he is researching the use of virtual and augmented reality as tools for not only the general classroom, but specifically with special education in the kindergarten through 12th-grade setting.

Virtual reality in the classroom

A student tries out a virtual reality headset as part of research being completed by Jonah Firestone, a professor of education at WSU Tri-Cities. Firestone will complete a study on how the technology may be used in special education.

“With regular video games, you’re looking at a flat screen,” he said. “But with virtual reality, you wear a head set and you can look all around. It’s a 360-degree view up and down and you can see this complete world around you. As kids get more used to using this type of technology and as the price goes down, schools are going to start adopting these because you can now send an entire classroom on a field trip to The Louvre without leaving the classroom.”

Firestone said for subjects like science and history, teachers rely on textbook and stationary images to give students a picture of what they’re talking about as it is expensive to take students to laboratories and settings that are referenced in those lessons. With virtual and augmented reality, however, teachers can bring those settings and projects to the students in the virtual sphere.

“We can use this technology to put children and adults into complete virtual worlds where they can be a cell in the human body, or students can do experiments in physics and chemistry that they couldn’t normally safely do in the classroom setting,” he said. “You can then repeat those over and over again.”

Overcoming learning disabilities

Firestone said virtual and augmented reality have different purposes, but both can be applied as additional tools in the classroom, which could help students who struggle with traditional learning methods.

“We used to talk about this thing called learning theories where certain people were characterized as different types of learners, but that’s not really true,” he said. “We all learn in a variety of different ways. But with the more modes in which we learn, whether it be oral, visual or tactile, the more we’re readily going to learn.”

Virtual reality controllers

Controllers for the HTC Vive virtual reality technology.

Some students may have problems processing information that is given to them orally, or students may have visual disabilities where they have difficulty processing static information like documents with lots of text, he said. Students also may have issues holding their attention for an extended period of time.

“So what virtual and augmented reality do is reinforce learning in ways that helps from a variety of different vectors,” he said. “And realistically, strategies used in special education are good practices for any education setting. We can translate what we learn about these tools into the general classroom setting, as well.”

With virtual reality, students wear a head set where it provides them with a complete 360-degree view of a setting or project that the students can interact with. With augmented reality, students use a device like a tablet or a headset where the device projects an image into the real-world setting. Firestone said a good example of augmented reality is Pokemon Go, where the image of a Pokemon is projected through a screen into the real world.

“We’ve all taken classes where we’ve aced the class, but we have no idea what we’ve learned,” he said. “What we want to accomplish with virtual and augmented reality is a more organic method of learning. This organic method of learning is accomplished through learning by doing.”

Research results so far

Firestone worked with Don McMahon on the WSU Pullman campus to run a study with special education students at the college level who studied bones and skeletons using augmented reality with the help of iPad Minis. They compared what the students learned and absorbed with augmented reality to what they learned and observed from textbooks and the team got great results.

Firestone is now taking that research a step further by applying the same tools to kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms.

Students test out virtual reality

A group of students test out virtual reality headsets. WSU Tri-Cities professor Jonah Firestone will complete a study on how the technology may be used in special education.

“College kids are great, but I am very much interested in how these technologies can be applied to the k-12 setting,” he said. “What we’re currently doing is taking this same process and we’re modifying it for fifth-graders. Then, we’re going to modify it for middle school and high school.”

Firestone said he is using augmented reality to supplement different school lessons, including science where students observe and learn about the human body.

“Imagine looking at a picture of a femur, but with augmented reality, not only do you see a picture of a femur, but it has a voice that defines it for you and then shows you where it is on the human body,” he said.

Firestone is also looking into using virtual reality to immerse the kindergarten through 12th-grade students in an underwater experience called “The Blue.”

“It’s an underwater application where you see whales and you’re in a reef,” he said. “I’m then comparing that to the same information that the students glean from a text.”

Firestone said he’s had great results with the technology so far and that blending the virtual experiences with what students are presented with in a textbook is a winning combination.

“There is no one magic solution for learning, but the more things we can put together, the more kids are going to end up learning,” he said.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities signed a memorandum of understanding today to partner with Vanwest College from Vancouver, British Columbia, and Mahasarakham University from Talat, Thailand, for a language and cultural exchange program that will benefit students from each of the three campuses and countries.

Christ Meiers, WSU Tri-Cities vice chancellor of enrollment management and student services, and Nitiphong Songsrirote, dean of the Mahasarakham University Business School, sign an MOU for a language and cultural exchange partnership.

The purpose of the partnership is to deliver programs that promote academics and cultural understanding between the three institutions and countries associated. VanWest will be responsible for delivering an English as a second language program, academic workshops and sightseeing at its campus. WSU Tri-Cities will be responsible for cultural exchange activities at its campus, which may include select lectures and presentations, tours and friendship exchange meetings with local organizations. The Mahasarakham University will be responsible for facilitating study abroad opportunities for WSU Tri-Cities students.

“This is a valuable experience both for our students and from those students from Thailand and British Columbia,” said Chris Meiers, WSU Tri-Cities vice chancellor of enrollment management and student services. “The students will benefit from the language exploration and competency experiences at VanWest and at Mahasarakham, in addition to learning about the cultural components, networking and more through WSU Tri-Cities and the regional community.”

Administrators from Mahasarakham University said they were excited to be partnering with both WSU Tri-Cities and Vanwest College.

(Left to right) Yujin Song, VanWest admission and marketing manager; Yawittha Daroth, Mahasarakham student; Mullika Yothikha, Mahasarakham student; and Kornuma Laphanuphat, Mahasarakham international affairs officer.

“Coming to Canada and the United States is a great experience for us,” said Pornlapas Suwannarat, associate dean for research and international affairs at Mahasarakham University. “We are hopeful for a fruitful collaboration to take place between VanWest and Washington State University Tri-Cities.”

A group of students and administrators from VanWest College and Mahasarakham University spent the last couple of days learning about the educational and business opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities, touring the Tri-Cities region, as well as networking with local businesses.

“It’s been a fun and enlightening past few days for all institutions,” Meiers said. “We have a lot to share and learn from one another. We’re excited about this partnership and the educational and cultural opportunities that will enrich the student experience for all three institutions and countries.”

RICHLAND, Wash. – A team from Washington State University recently took home top honors in the research poster competition at the Worldwide Distilled Spirits Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, for research on a technique typically used to evaluate the characteristics of wine.

To determine the characteristics and compounds in wine, researchers combine a wine sample with a mixture of water and octanol, which is a fatty alcohol. As a result, different compounds from the wine separate and enter into two phases: octanol and water. The relative separation of the compounds into the two phases is known as the beverage’s hydrophobicity.

These two phases are then analyzed using mass spectrometry, a sophisticated technique that identifies the individual compounds within those phases. The identified compounds can help determine the astringency, or mouth feel, of the wine as well as the color and other sensory factors.

Wine scientists expand applications

WSU distilled spirits evaluation research team
Jim Harbertson, Caroline Merrell and Tom Collins (l-r) display some of their major findings in distilled spirit analysis application.

The WSU Tri-Cities team, which consisted of wine science postdoctoral researcher Caroline Merrell, associate professor of enology Jim Harbertson, and assistant professor of wine science Tom Collins, decided to analyze distilled spirits using the same process.

“It started off as ‘let’s see what happens when we apply this technique to a product other than wine,’” Collins said. “Spirits make sense for this analysis not only because of their similarities to wine, but also their differences. We expected to extract different things from the barrels for spirits than for wine, and I think we clearly see that with our findings.”

A measurement in wine is used primarily to evaluate phenolic composition, Harbertson said. The phenolic composition, derived from the grapes and barrels, affects the taste, color and mouthfeel of wine.

“But in spirits, the phenolics are only derived from the barrel, so the process provides an interesting piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Whiskey, tequila, rum, cognac

In their research, team members examined a range of distilled spirits including American whiskey (bourbon), Scotch whiskey, Irish whiskey, tequila, rum, cognac and Armagnac. The barrel type used in the aging process for these spirits significantly impacted the identified compounds, Merrell said.

“For instance, all the bourbons separated out together as part of the statistical analysis,” she said. “Bourbon is made in new, heavily charred barrels. Because bourbons use newly charred barrels, there is more extraction of different phenolic and flavor compounds during aging. All the other spirit types age in previously used barrels, which have already had substantial amounts of phenolic and flavor compounds extracted.”

Barrel selection insights

Their initial research shows the importance of barrel selection in making distilled spirits. The hope is that it will give the industry more tools for making alcohol, Merrell said.

“Our research gives the industry more insight into the effects of barrel selection for different types of spirits,” Collins said. “We had a fair amount of interest from distilleries after the presentation, and we look forward to opportunities to collaborate and explore these effects in more detail.”

The team hopes to expand their research beyond commercially available products. The plan is to acquire distillation equipment at the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center to prepare, develop and analyze their own spirits.

To his knowledge, this is the first time anyone has used the hydrophobicity technique to examine the components of distilled spirits, Collins said.

 

Media Contacts:

RICHLAND, Wash. – David Isley, a recent Washington State University Tri-Cities alumnus (education, ‘17), received a rare opportunity in his beginnings as a teacher this year — the opportunity to student teach with his own first-grade teacher.

Janelle Rehberg (right) and David Isley

Janelle Rehberg (right) and David Isley

At WSU Tri-Cities, students are required to complete a number of volunteer hours in a classroom setting before being admitted into the undergraduate education degree program. Isley decided to seek out his own first-grade teacher, Janelle Rehberg, to complete his volunteer work at Cottonwood Elementary School. After the experience, Rehberg invited Isley to complete his student teaching in her classroom during his senior year at WSU Tri-Cities.

“We hit it off right away, although it did take him a long time to get him to call me Janelle, instead of Mrs. Rehberg,” she said with a laugh. “David is a natural in the classroom. He’s great with the kids and it’s obvious that he loves teaching.”

Rehberg said she has never heard of another teacher and former student working together years later as a mentor and mentee in student teaching.

“It really is rare, but that made it all the more special,” she said.

From student to teacher

As a first-grade student, Rehberg said she never imagined Isley would become a teacher. Isley was an outgoing, passionate young student who had a passion for science and dinosaurs, she said.

“I would have thought he’d go on to be a scientist,” she said.

Isley said even to this day, he still thinks dinosaurs are the greatest, but instead of studying their history as a career, he plans on using them to educate a new generation of students.

“I’m excited to introduce them to my own students,” he said. “I do plan to feature dinosaurs in some of my lessons.”

Since his own days as first-grade student, Isley said the grade level has seen a lot of changes. For one, technology has advanced rapidly, and students use iPads, advanced computers and more to complete their work, innovate and create, he said. Rehberg said students are also expected to know a lot more.

“When I was in the first-grade, we learned the alphabet,” Rehberg said. “Now, that is usually learned in Preschool before they get to kindergarten. From the public’s point of view, I’m not sure people realize the amazing achievements of young little kids these days. Every generation seems to move along more rapidly than the previous one. The reading performance of today’s first graders is impressive.”

Isley said he’s up to the challenge for educating the talented youngsters.

“I’m excited to jump in and work with these amazing kids,” he said. “One of the best things I’ve learned from Janelle is that you have to know your kids and meet them where they are. That’s something I plan to use in my own career as a teacher. That, and you have to make learning fun.”

Foundational learning for use in the real-world

Isley said he appreciates that WSU Tri-Cities requires so much real-world work in the classroom, as that’s the business that teachers are in – working with children and inspiring in them a passion for knowledge.

“Being able to apply what I’ve learned through my professors and textbooks at WSU to the real-world setting in the elementary school classrooms is invaluable,” he said. Rehberg agreed.

“You don’t learn nearly as much as when you are right here in the trenches,” she said. “That first-hand experience is the best.”

Looking toward the future, Isley said he plans to take what he learned through both his coursework and professors at WSU Tri-Cities, and what he learned from Rehberg, to educate a whole new generation of students.

Isley recently accepted a kindergarten teaching position at Washington Elementary School in the Kennewick School District. He’ll also have a piece of Rehberg in his future classroom to remember his student teaching experience with his first-grade teacher, mentor and now colleague. Rehberg said she made a giant sculpted dinosaur for a class project and plans to give it to David to hang in his future classroom.

“It really has all come full-circle,” Isley said.

Rehberg said she’ll miss Isley teaching alongside in her classroom, but that she’s excited for his future.

“Since I had David in my classroom, I’ve missed him terribly,” she said. “I loved having David student teach in my class. But I know he’ll be successful wherever he goes.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

It may be two years before Washington State University Tri-Cities has Elson S. Floyd Medical School students based on its campus, but Farion Williams, the new associate dean of medicine for the Tri-Cities campus, is already ramping up for the students who will study in the mid-Columbia region for their final two years of the WSU medical program.

“The Tri-Cities is in a very unique position in Washington state, with its variety of health care providers and professionals, its opportunities with organizations like the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and its potential for providing rural healthcare in eastern Washington and underrepresented communities,” Williams said. “I’m excited to be a part of getting the new Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine up and running, and I’m excited to join the team at WSU Tri-Cities.”

Farion Williams - WSU Tri-Cities associate medical dean

Farion Williams – WSU Tri-Cities associate medical dean

Williams, who begins his new role on June 26, plans to spend his first weeks on the job identifying and training faculty and helping to establish the curriculum, as well as meeting with local physicians and representatives from different medical providers to gain an understanding of the health care climate in the region.

“The Tri-Cities is a new community for me, so I look forward to meeting with the physicians and medical providers and understanding the different hospitals in the community,” he said.

A graduate of the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, Williams completed his residency training at the University of Kansas Medical Center where he served as the program’s chief resident in his final year. He began his first practice through the University of Texas Medical Branch in Dickinson, Texas. Following his time at UTMB, he became the associate residency director for family medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, and most recently served at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, where he held many roles – including residency program director and assistant dean for graduate medical education.

Williams’ medical resume includes extensive experience serving and developing programs for rural and underserved populations – a focus he looks forward to continuing at WSU.

“The mission of Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine is really important because there are many communities that lack resources for health care, and when their access is limited, their care is limited,” he said. “Once students have opportunities to train in rural communities, they are more likely to want to practice in rural communities, which is why it’s crucial that we establish those opportunities here in Washington state. I think it is very forward-thinking that WSU is focusing their program to help address this issue.”

In addition to his work stateside, Williams hopes to offer a study abroad opportunity that he has been a part of for several years at the University of Illinois. Through the program, medical students travel to Christian Medical College in India where they provide medical care, work with the local physicians and learn about how the health care system works within the country.

“The study abroad program gives students an opportunity to experience the healthcare systems in another country, how health care is delivered, how different national policies affect the way healthcare is delivered, and how the populations are different,” he said. “Students see that a lot of good can be done with limited resources and develop a perspective of compassion and empathy for people.”

Williams worked with the department of family medicine faculty at the medical college in India to help them gain accreditation for their residency program through the Medical Council of India in March 2017.

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

The United States power grid is connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines to provide electricity to more than 300 million people. But as the saying goes, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Yousu Chen – PNNL

With the increase of renewable energy sources, the growth of the increasingly complex system and increases in terrorist threats, engineers have to come up with new methods to protect the power grid.

Yousu Chen (WSU Tri-Cities MS, environmental engineering), staff research engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is using high-performance computing techniques to safeguard the electrical grid against potential threats and outages.

“The power grid is the largest man-made machine in the world,” he said. “It is the most important infrastructure, and we need it daily for almost all of our daily activities. I’m always eager to know what I can do in this fast-growing area to solve new problems.”

During his time as a student at WSU Tri-Cities, Chen got his first internship at PNNL. He also learned skills in simulation and modeling that have proven invaluable to his career.

He has been involved in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, increasing opportunities for current students.

Solving problems before they happen

Chen‘s work focuses primarily on modern computing techniques that both simulate potential hazards and provide ways for monitoring information within the grid. Through the advancement of high-performing computing techniques, he and his team at PNNL are developing simulations to predict and combat problems before they occur.

Chen’s computing systems utilize complex algorithms to measure power flow, identify potential problem areas, simulate possible outcomes if there were to be an outage or a catastrophic event, as well as provide solutions in how to deal with those potential problem areas.Power pole

“For example, if we want to evaluate the impact of newer smart grid technologies on the power grid, we use our simulation techniques to prepare for the event before we apply those new technologies to the grid,” he said. “Using our simulation, we could determine how that issue would impact the grid, and as a result, how we can prevent that from occurring.”

Chen said he and his team are always developing newer computing techniques to run simulations at a faster rate, which will be crucial in the event of a major outage or disruption.

“Some systems will take minutes, depending on the system, to run a limited number of contingencies,” he said. “My code is able to run 1 million contingencies in less than 30 seconds. That is a major achievement.”

With all of the data generated through advanced computing methods, Chen and his team are also always looking take the massive data caches and efficiently turn them into something usable and visual.

“Because high-performance computing systems can create a lot of data, it is challenging to digest that data in the short-term,” he said. “We develop advanced visualization tools, which allow us to view that data in real time and provide a quick response for potential events.”

Giving back to the future of engineering

Even though Chen has achieved much in his career as an engineer, he has used his position to increase opportunities for disseminating knowledge of his field into the community, as well as create pathways for other students to follow in his footsteps.

Chen realized early in his higher education career just how valuable mentorship and extracurricular learning experiences could be to his own growth as an engineer. In addition to utilizing university resources to connect him with an internship at PNNL, he also sought advice for how to improve his resume, his interview skills and more through the university’s career development center. After landing a full-time position of his own at PNNL, he wanted to keep paying forward what he learned, using his connections in engineering and computer science to provide resources and mentoring to aspiring engineering students.

Chen has since volunteered his time through a variety of capacities for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He serves as chair for the IEEE’s distinguished lecture program and formerly served as the regional representative of the IEEE Power & Energy Society and the regional chair for the IEEE Power Energy Society’s scholarship plus program. He also serves as the editor for two professional journals where he helps edit and review articles for publication pertaining to the smart grid.

As a result of his efforts, Chen was recently awarded the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Leadership Award for the contributions he has made to IEEE activities and the leadership he’s displayed through IEEE at the local, regional and national levels. In a congratulatory letter, Wai-Choong Wong, vice president of the member and geographic activities at IEEE, stated that Chen has set a great example in carrying forward the goals and objectives of the IEEE MGA board.

Chen said he is grateful for all he learned in his education at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as what he has been able to accomplish since then by means of his work at PNNL, as well as through his involvement with the IEEE.

“These opportunities changed my life,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to accomplish a lot in my career as an engineer and I believe it is my responsibility to not only increase the capabilities of the power grid, but to also increase the potential for the world’s future engineers who will solve many of these energy-related problems.”

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – A team from Washington State University Tri-Cities took home the Wells Fargo “CleanTech” Big Picture prize during the University of Washington’s Business Plan Competition this week.

With the award, the team, which includes Libing Zhang, a recent doctoral alumna, and Manuel Seubert and Taylor Pate, who are master’s in business administration students, was presented with a $5,000 check.

UW Business Plan Competition – May 2017

“We believe that we performed very well,” Zhang said. “We received extremely positive feedback regarding our business plan and presentation. Each team had a great product and were very convincing. We felt fortunate to be a part of it all.”

The UW Business Plan Competition has awarded more than $1.3 million dollars in seed funding to more than 165 student teams in its 20-year history. The competition started with 82 teams, which was then reduced to 36 teams for the investment round. The teams were then narrowed to the “sweet 16,” which competed this week in Seattle.

The WSU Tri-Cities team presented the process of taking lignin — a waste product in the cellulosic ethanol biorefineries and the pulping process — one of the most abundant renewable carbon sources on earth, and turning it into an environmentally friendly, cheap jet fuel. The process could potentially reduce the carbon emissions for commercial airlines. The technology was developed by professor Bin Yang’s lab in the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory.

The competition featured a 15-minute presentation by each team to judges including University of Washington faculty, investors and local business owners and leaders. The teams then participated in a question and answer session with the panel of professionals.

“It is a great accomplishment and is really a tribute to the research that made it all possible,” Seubert said about the team’s success in the competition. “Our goal as a company is to implement this technology within the aviation industry and reduce global carbon emissions.”

The team has been accepted into the Cascadia CleanTech accelerator program, which is a 14-week program that delivers mentorship, curriculum, connections and funding opportunities designed specifically for early-stage cleantech startups. The goal of the program is to accelerate startup businesses.

“We are optimistic that we can finalize a partnership with Washington State University for this technology,” Pate said. “There is a significant amount of momentum behind Lignin Biojet and we hope to carry that forward as we move into the next phase of the company’s growth.”

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – Sam Barnes may have another semester before graduating from Washington State University Tri-Cities, but he already achieved his dream of starting his own business.

While he completed his college education, Barnes worked first as a marketer beginning in Nov. 2013 and then as an office manager for American Family Insurance.

Sam Barnes - business administration student

Sam Barnes, WSU Tri-Cities business administration student, stands outside his branch office for American Family Insurance.

Barnes uses what he learned in many of his business, finance and other related courses at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as the networking connections he made through the university, to excel with his own branch office for American Family Insurance in Kennewick, Wash.

“I think I always wanted to be a business owner,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be in management in some form. As I went through college, I realized that this was what I was meant to be doing. WSU Tri-Cities really helped me get there.”

“When I started, I had no intentions to have an agency, but as things worked out, it has turned into the perfect opportunity,” he said. “I love it and I’m really happy with how everything worked out.”

Barnes worked at an internship at another organization he secured through connections at WSU Tri-Cities this spring when he received the call asking if he would be interested in owning and operating his own branch office. He decided to make the leap and opened his office in one of the company’s fastest turnaround times on record– all while he completed his course final exams this month.

Barnes said if it wasn’t for some of the skills and theories he learned at WSU Tri-Cities, he doesn’t think he could have been as successful as he has been in the past month since opening the office.

“I used the concepts we learned about in a finance class to build out cash flows for my business, I’m using what I learned from my accounting class in meeting with my accountant and I’ve readily used what I’ve learned about business law and business ethics for the management of my business and the hiring process,” he said. “It’s been great to take what I learned from WSU and apply it to the real world.”

Barnes said his favorite part about his business education at WSU Tri-Cities was that it was intertwined with world-class organizations and industry standards.

“WSU Tri-Cities is really good at helping students get a job and getting them connected to real-world opportunities,” he said. “Everything about this campus is about plugging you in somewhere. They helped me get an internship before I came here to American Family. It’s a crucial part of the college experience, in my opinion, and something that they do better than most universities.”

Now, Barnes said he is excited to see where his business takes him in his next stages in life. He graduates this fall with his bachelor’s from WSU Tri-Cities.

“I think anyone can successfully open their own business if they are willing to put their mind to it and are willing to take the leap,” he said. “I think I’ve found what I want to do forever, which is be a business owner. The freedom you have and the pride in what you do is incredible. It’s the most rewarding experience.”