Academic Affairs

By Maegan Murray

Wine is a $2 billion industry in Washington state, but many students will not be exposed to the science behind the field as a possible career option until they reach college. Thanks to the Partners in Science program, however, one high school teacher had the opportunity to shadow and complete research alongside a renowned wine science researcher and professor at Washington State University Tri-Cities – the science behind the experience, of which, he is now introducing to his high school students.

Fred Burke, science teacher at Chiawana High School, sets up equipment for a smoke taint trial at the WSU Prosser Research Extension vineyards. He was paired with Tom Collins, assistant professor of wine science at WSU Tri-Cities, to complete wine research the last two summers at WSU Tri-Cities as part of the Partners in Science program.

Fred Burke, a teacher at Chiawana High School, had the opportunity to shadow and complete research with Tom Collins, wine science researcher and assistant professor of wine science at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

“This experience has allowed me to show my students how the nature of science is more than what they experience through a text book and allow them to experience the techniques and capabilities of it in a real-world setting,” Burke said. “It has not only allowed me to participate in research that will have an impact in the wine industry today, but it also it makes doing science a lot more fun for my students.”

Through the Partners in Science program, which is supported by a $15,000 grant from the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, high school teachers are paired with a university professor in their field and the pair spends two consecutive summers completing research. During the end of each summer experience, the teachers prepare a presentation on their research and how they plan to implement what they learn into their classroom setting. The university professors also get the value of an additional hand in the lab and in the high school teacher’s second summer, an experienced lab researcher to help with their studies.

As part of his research experience, Burke worked with Collins to characterize wine grape varieties using sophisticated research techniques known as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. For the techniques, the researchers use devices that allow researchers to look into the intricate chemical and other properties of each type of grape for classification and categorization. Burke also had the chance to work with Collins to start a study analyzing the impact of wildfire smoke on wine grapes, which could hinder the taste and overall quality of the wine.

Tom Collins, assistant professor of wine science at WSU Tri-Cities, prepares smoking equipment for a smoke taint trial to evaluate the effect of smoke on wine grapes at the WSU Prosser Research Extension vineyards.

“Both projects are relevant to the classes we’re teaching,” Burke said. “In environmental science, we’re able to look at how the smoke impacts not only the wine grapes, but also the chemical components and properties of the wine.”

The study of the impact of wildfire smoke on wine captured the interest of the Washington wine industry, with Collins stating that since they announced they were completing the research, he gets calls throughout the year on updates for the research, results they’ve tabulated and generally how they can protect wine grapes from the exposure. The interest grows each year as the summer wildfire seasons commence.

“We got three calls today, alone, regarding smoke taint,” Collins said. “The fact that Fred has been able to be a part of this project provides him with a great in-depth look at how lab and field research have a substantial impact on industry. The Washington wine industry increases exponentially year, with the mid-Columbia region being a hub for the industry. So this research is crucial for our area’s winemakers.”

Last summer during Burke’s first of two summers working with Collins in the lab, the duo set up experiments at the WSU Prosser Research Extension to test different amounts of smoke on grape vines. They are now in the process of analyzing samples collected from that experiment. Collins plans on continuing the study for at least the next several years.

“Just being able to look at all the parts that go into a real-life field of scientific study has been immensely beneficial,” Burke said. “I get to share that with my students and they benefit from that real-world application. Within their science classes, our students have to conduct procedures, collect data and analyze that data through labs and lessons. This real-world experience allows me to show them that what they’re practicing in class can be applied out into the field, as well as provide them with concrete examples of stuff we’re actively doing in the labs.”

Burke also had the opportunity to bring some of his classes out to the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center to see how the research is conducted and get an idea of how a research lab operates.

“Science in agriculture is kind of one of those unknowns for many of my students,” he said. “They see people planting and watering, but they don’t know the science behind it. This provides them with an in-depth look. It’s a career option that most of my students probably have never even considered.”

Burke plans to apply for a supplemental grant from the Partners in Science program, which would extend his research partnership time frame with Collins and provide Burke with dollars for science equipment for his classroom.

“It would provide us with more money for use in the classroom, which would allow my students to conduct some research of their own,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – A method of converting a biofuel waste product into a usable and valuable commodity has been discovered by researchers at Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Converting algae to biofuels is a two-step process. The first, developed by PNNL, applies high pressure and high temperature to algae to create bio oil. The second converts that bio oil into biofuel, which can replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

It’s that first step, called hydrothermal liquefaction, that produces waste — approximately 25 to 40 percent of carbon and 80 percent of nutrients from the algae are left behind in wastewater streams.

Bionatural gas and fertilizer

The wastewater is generally hard to process because it contains a variety of different chemicals in small concentrations, said Birgitte K. Ahring, professor at WSU Tri-Cities’ Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory. But Ahring and her team have found that adapting anaerobic microbes — microbes that live without oxygen — to break down the remaining residue is a viable option. Through this process, the material becomes degradable and gets transformed into a bionatural gas without the use of harsh chemicals. The solid material that remains can also be applied as a fertilizer or recycled back into the hydrothermal liquefaction process for further use.

Birgitte Ahring, left, with his research team
WSU Professor Birgitte Ahring, center, points to test sample, with her research team

The results of the team’s research are published this month in Bioresource Technology. The team also consists of:

  • Keerthi Srinivas, WSU postdoctoral research associate
  • Sebastian Fernandez, WSU research assistant
  • Andrew Schmidt, of PNNL’s chemical and biological processes development group
  • Marie Swita, of PNNL’s chemical and biological processes development group

Don’t waste waste

“It has always been my mantra that we shouldn’t waste waste,” Ahring said. “We had an idea that we could turn this waste product into something useful, such as a fertilizer. Our findings revealed that we could use this waste product as something much more.”

The ability to convert a waste product into a usable commodity provides algal biorefineries with a solution to a large problem, Ahring said.

“After removing the solids, about 10 percent of the output is bio oil, with the remaining 90 percent being a waste byproduct,” Schmidt said. “The fact that we’ve developed an alternative method to recycle or treat the leftover material means it’s more economical to produce the bio oil, making the potential for commercial use of the process more likely.”

Sewage sludge and wastewater

Ahring said the team’s results were so promising that they are now partnering with PNNL on its conversion of sewage sludge to fuel using a similar strategy for the wastewater.

“Today, sewage sludge is found throughout the world,” Ahring said. “Creating a process to produce biofuels, bio-natural gas, and nutrients from this material would be of major importance. The current study has demonstrated that nothing should ever be regarded as a waste, but instead as a resource.”

Schmidt said PNNL’s partnership with WSU allowed each team to focus on different aspects of the biomass conversion.  The collaboration is further enhanced by the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory, a facility PNNL and WSU built together on the WSU Tri-Cities campus nearly a decade ago.

“PNNL and WSU researchers interacted frequently on the project,” said Schmidt.   “While PNNL engineers focused on converting the algae to bio oil, the WSU team was able to delve deeply into fundamental research of wastewater conversion with microbes, which included taking advantage of unique analytical capabilities on the PNNL campus.”

A WSU alumnus himself, receiving both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from WSU, Schmidt said he’s excited to team on additional programs and projects aligned with goals to grow the collaboration between PNNL and WSU.

 

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By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

African American historic photoRICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities was recently awarded a $73,000 grant in partnership with the U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service to research and document the African American migration, segregation and overall civil rights history at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, Hanford.

Michael Mays, WSU Tri-Cities director of the Hanford History Project, said the African American story and perspective remains largely undocumented and untold at the Hanford nuclear site, which is one of three locations of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. The other locations of the national park include Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Mays said Hanford in the 1940s, like much of the rest of the country, was an extremely segregated place.“The history of the science of the Manhattan Project is well known, but the social history, especially with regard to questions of race, class and gender, is much less clearly understood,” he said. “We want to look at and document the settlement and demographic patterns of African Americans who were recruited to work at Hanford, and then track when and where they migrated to once their employment ended.”

“This is an important story to tell and an important part of our history that needs to be made known,” he said.

The plan for the project, Mays said, is to examine existing documentation, conduct new research and interview African American community members throughout the Pacific Northwest in order to better understand the African American experience at Hanford.

“The Hanford area went from a handful of small farming communities comprising a few hundred residents in the early 1940s to a peak population of nearly 50,000 at Camp Hanford in the course of 15 months,” he said. “There are many stories of the African American experience at the Manhattan Project, and we want to be able to share those stories from these individuals’ perspectives.”

The completed interviews will be included with the WSU Tri-Cities oral history collection of the Hanford Site, as well as displayed and made available through the National Park Service and at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, Hanford.

Mays said they are looking for African American individuals or their family members who had a role in the Manhattan Project at Hanford and with the site before, during and after the Cold War, or who were related to the site in any way during those times. Those who are interested should contact Jillian Gardner-Andrews at 509-372-7447 or j.gardner-andrews@wsu.edu.

“We are actively trying to identify people who experienced this remarkable history, either first- or second-hand,” he said. “We would love to hear from these individuals and document their stories.”

Mays said the project will be completed over the course of two years. Interviewees will be identified and scheduled by the end of the year, with interviews wrapped up by the end of spring. He and his team will then perform a review of documents and literature available on the subject and write up and publish their findings by the end of their second year.

 

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By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

Paul Skilton is the first professor from Washington State University Tri-Cities to participate in a teaching abroad experience with a prestigious business school in Brig, Switzerland.

WSU partners with the César Ritz Colleges in Switzerland to offer a dual degree program in hospitality business where students receive a degree from both César Ritz and WSU upon completion of the program. Through the years, professors from WSU have rotated to teach at the Swiss institution each semester. Since the hospitality business management program is fairly new to WSU Tri-Cities, the opportunity was not available for Tri-Cities professors until this year. The hospitality business management program began at WSU Tri-Cities in 2015.

Stockalper Palace in Brig, Switzerland

Stockalper Palace in Brig, Switzerland / Photo by Hansueli Krapf

César Ritz is a renowned school in the hospitality business management sector, ranking 24th in the world for hospitality and hotel management schools in 2016-16 by CEOWORLD Magazine and falling closely behind WSU, who ranked 21st in the world the same year by the publication.

“César Ritz prepares students who want to go into the hotel industry and all the fields that encompass that industry, from hospitality to restaurant and food service,” Skilton said. “Students from all over the world come to this school to study. The WSU Carson College of Business sends one faculty member each semester. I’m going this fall and Dr. Donna Paul will go in the spring.”

Skilton said the experience benefits both students abroad and students from WSU, in addition to allowing WSU professors to establish international connections with students and faculty from all over the world. WSU students, he said, may choose to study abroad for a semester at the Swiss school, broadening their scope of the hospitality industry and giving them that international experience that is crucial to their credentials in the field. The experience also opens doors for students overseas to come and study on campus at WSU, in addition to their experience on campus in Switzerland.

“The idea is that students will get a look at international contexts, contacts and points of view within the hospitality business world,” Skilton said. “If you are going to go into the hospitality business sector, you should be able to understand people who are different from you so that you can accommodate them accordingly. That international experience is very important.”

This semester, Skilton will teach a course focusing on management of innovation and change, as well as a principles of management course. He said he is most excited about learning as much from the faculty and students at the school as he is able to teach them.

“The faculty at César Ritz have a very different mindset,” Skilton said. “WSU is a research-based school whereas the faculty at César Ritz mostly consist of hotel professionals. It’s also a European college, so it’s going to be very different. I’m excited to learn about how they structure their programs and I hope they’ll teach me as much as I am able to teach them.”

Skilton leaves for Switzerland this month and will begin teaching at César Ritz in early October. He will return to WSU Tri-Cities in time for the spring semester this academic year.

The partnership program is one of WSU Carson College of Business’ longest-standing global partnerships and is in line with WSU’s Drive to 25.

For more information about the program and how WSU students can spend a semester abroad at with Cesar Ritz, visit https://business.wsu.edu/research-faculty/centers/switzerland/.

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

 

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities experienced another record enrollment this fall, celebrating a 5.1 percent increase in undergraduate students, which brings the campus to a total of 1,937 students.

The overall enrollment increased by 3.7 percent and the growth this fall contributes to a 49 percent increase in enrollment since 2013 for the WSU Tri-Cities campus.

Fall orientation 2017

Students at the 2017 WSU Tri-Cities fall orientation

“We attribute this to so many factors,” said Mika McAskill, WSU Tri-Cities director of admissions. “We are growing because our excellent academic programs and student-focused approach, being able to provide access to research opportunities and internships at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and of course, our enthusiasm for meeting the higher education needs of our region and state.”

New freshman enrollment numbers reflect a 42.9 percent increase over last year. WSU Tri-Cities remains the most diverse campus in the WSU system, with 38.9 percent of students identifying as minority. Enrollment figures also indicate that 95.4 percent of students are Washington residents, highlighting WSU Tri-Cities’ on-going commitment as a land-grant institution that prepares the state’s future professionals to continue to grow Washington’s economy.

McAskill said Tri-Cities Cougs are able to thrive in a small, private-school education setting, with low student-to-instructor ratios, all at a public school cost. She said WSU Tri-Cities students have the opportunity to graduate career-ready as a result of pairing their coursework with internships and other real-world experiences by leveraging resources and WSU partnerships locally, nationally and internationally.

“Our students understand the value of hands-on project opportunities, and so many of our new students come to us already knowing about the connections we have and the kind of support that comes with joining the Cougar family,” she said.

In addition to the academic programming and overall support students experience at WSU Tri-Cities, the students also saw the opening of their new Student Union Building this month. The $5.73 million facility provides students with their own space to relax, study, grab a bite to eat and socialize between and after classes. The university also has campus housing coming to students in the near future.

“There are many great things happening at WSU Tri-Cities, and it is all out of a commitment to providing our students with the resources and infrastructure to be successful,” McAskill said. “We aim to continue to grow these opportunities for our students because when they win, our state wins.”

Learn more about WSU Tri-Cities and its commitment to dynamic student engagement, dynamic research experiences and dynamic community engagement at tricities.wsu.edu.

By Adriana Aumen, College of Arts and Sciences

Christenson-Peter
Christenson

RICHLAND, Wash. – Peter Christenson, assistant professor of fine arts at Washington State University Tri-Cities, has received the Governor’s Arts & Heritage Young Arts Leader Award from the Washington State Arts Commission.

Christenson is a multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker. He co-founded Left of Centre, an artist collective and guerrilla-marketing firm, and has been the catalyst behind Null Set, a locally produced interventionist magazine and collaborative organization in the Tri-Cities.

He also initiated the Guest House Cultural Capital Residency, a short-term residency program that invites scholars and creatives from across the globe to Richland.

At WSU, Christenson teaches in support of the fine arts and digital technology and culture programs with a pedagogy and research agenda focused on multidisciplinary, new media and social art practices.

Peter Christenson, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of fine arts, helps artist Joe Batt set up his art exhibition in the WSU Tri-Cities Art Center.

Peter Christenson, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of fine arts, helps artist Joe Batt set up his art exhibition in the WSU Tri-Cities Art Center.

“This award is particularly meaningful for me as an artist and scholar committed to culture-building and community-based development across the state,” Christenson said. “I’m very honored and grateful to the Arts Commission and Governor Inslee, and feel so indebted to the communities whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with here in Washington.”

Christenson is a recent recipient of a US–UK Fulbright Scholar Award in Art & Design. His current practice is rooted in new media and video, collective campaigning and protest, performance, psychosocial and interventionist art, and site-specific installation. His research is significantly informed by his previous experiences as a social worker and licensed psychotherapist.

“Peter continues to build a reputation as a practicing artist in the Northwest, across the country and around the world,” said Squeak Meisel, chair of fine arts at WSU. “It is nice to know that the state of Washington values his contribution to the cultural landscape. His research is a model for how all students can choose to be innovative in their approaches to making and having a career as an artist.  I look forward to what he does next!”

Originally from Metro Detroit, Christenson holds bachelor of arts and master of social work degrees from the University of Michigan and a master of fine arts degree in intermedia from Arizona State University.

Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) is a state government agency established in 1961. Among its various activities is advocating for the public value of the arts; building leadership in and for the arts; strengthening arts education in Washington public schools; documenting the impact of and building community participation in the arts; and acquiring and caring for artwork in the State Art Collection at K-12 public schools, colleges, universities, and state agencies.

Other ArtsWA programs include Art in Public Places, Arts in Education, Poetry Out Loud, and Washington Poet Laureate.

 

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By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Citiies

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities has joined forces with a local youth-operated program to grow its home-based extracurricular learning opportunities in a community in east Pasco.

The organization, Ambassadors of Lakeview Achieving Success (ALAS), originated several years ago when Lakeview community youth wanted to improve their neighborhood through offering child friendly activities, leadership building opportunities and additional academic resources right in their home area.

ALAS camps“We started a program because there were a lot of kids running around, and it used to be a place known for drugs and alcohol,” said Brenda Yepez, ALAS mentor, resident of the Lakeview community and a WSU Tri-Cities student. “We didn’t want to see that anymore, so we started offering activities for the kids, and then started doing these summer camps.”

They since have partnered with multiple WSU Tri-Cities education faculty to grow their academic offerings, including building annual summer camps to offer lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

WSU students teach classes

“Two years ago, they (ALAS) asked if WSU would be willing to help, and we came up with a plan to have our introduction to education class teach daily at the camps,” said Jonah Firestone, assistant professor of education at WSU Tri-Cities. “I told my students to create all the curriculum for Monday through Friday classes every morning. It’s been a great opportunity, both for the kids in the community and for our WSU students.”

This year, Firestone also partnered with associate education professor Eric Johnson, and they split the camp days into English and Spanish offerings to create an academic bilingual component for the camps. Johnson has taken his education students to work in Pasco schools and with the ALAS program for the past eight years.

“My class did the Spanish lessons on Monday and Wednesday and Jonah did the lessons on Tuesday and Thursday in English,” Johnson said of the new structure for the camps. “It worked out really well and the feedback from my students is that they really enjoyed it.”

English, Spanish classes

Firestone said by offering the instruction in both languages, it allows the students to learn the material first in many of the community youth’s native language, and then the lesson is reinforced through the English language, which provides them a greater grasps of the concepts.ALAS camps

Maite Cruz, president of the ALAS program and resident of the Lakeview community, said they are glad to partner with WSU Tri-Cities for the camps, as it provides both parties with learning opportunities.

“Our first year of the camps was a little difficult because we didn’t have the experience on what to teach them,” she said. “But since we partnered with WSU, we’ve been able to expand our academic offerings to be a true benefit to the kids in our community.”

Aligning curriculum with culture

In addition to the academic offerings for the children in the community, Firestone said the partnership has presented an opportunity to educate their WSU students about the value of creating curriculum that aligns with the culture and environment of the students they’re educating.

“We wanted to get these pre-service teachers out into the community to engage in these kids’ culture and create curriculum based on where they are,” he said. “No kid has all the experiences

ALAS camps

as other kids, but there are areas where we can introduce concepts and curriculum based on the similar experiences of these kids. They then get to see that put into practice and how

successful it makes the kids’ learning. It’s been a real benefit to my students.”

Working in Pasco schools

Johnson said WSU Tri-Cities sends many of its pre-service teachers into Pasco schools to work with students as part of their educational experience.

“So for the students who have the chance with the Lakeview community in these camps or in our classes, they have a better appreciation for the resources that Lakeview offers,” he said. “They also see a lot of the students in the schools in their practicum.”

“For the students who get jobs in Kennewick or Richland, they are also more open to doing community visits because they have had that training and can apply what they’ve learned in the community to the classroom,” he said.

 

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By Maegan Murray

Martin Klotz, the new Washington State University Tri-Cities vice chancellor of academic affairs, hopes to focus on the university’s unique strengths to meet the needs of not only the Tri-Cities regional community, but also the state and nation.

A microbiologist and academic by profession, Klotz said what he likes most about WSU Tri-Cities is that it has its own unique focal points within the WSU system that serve to meet a greater need in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields – all while maintaining a base in the liberal arts.

“We have many focus points that are unique to WSU Tri-Cities, from our Bioproducts, Sciences, and Engineering Laboratory, to our world-class wine science center, to what we offer through our nursing and medical programs,” he said. “Environmental health is big in this area because of the Hanford Site and other related areas, and agriculture and food processing continue to grow. There is a need for managing the business aspects of those fields and there is also an engineering application that is crucial for many of these areas. Educators provide training at all levels of their profession, ranging from teaching in public schools to leadership in higher education, public officiating and industry.”

Klotz comes to WSU Tri-Cities from Queens College, City University of New York, in Flushing, New York, where he was dean of faculty for the division of mathematics and natural sciences and professor of biology. Prior to that, Klotz held academic positions at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he served as professor and chair of the department of biological sciences, the University of Louisville in the departments of biology and microbiology and immunology and the University of Colorado Denver in the department of biology.

For most of his career, Klotz directed his evolutionary and genomic microbiology laboratory to study the molecular underpinnings of ammonia- and methane-oxidizing bacteria, with an interest in the metabolic reconstruction of key catabolic pathways, the evolutionary history of involved inventory and how this inventory is being regulated. His research has been funded by federal and state grants agencies in excess of $4 million. He also contributed to the editing of three books on nitrogen cycle research and is an author and co-author of more than 100 peer-reviewed articles.

Klotz said one of the greatest needs in the world today is to secure global health, which extends to a number of academic areas at WSU Tri-Cities. He said this is not only due to the need for more scientists, physicians and health professionals, but also out of a need for academic study, research development and product development for all areas of the field.

“We have a system-wide nursing program and our new medical school, but the question is what are the additional opportunities in allied health professions for this campus and how do we get there?” he said. “Our health is not only determined by what happens on the inside of our bodies, but also what happens on the outside in the environment. One of the main industries of Washington state is agriculture, but it is also a major polluter and extractor of resources. It is an opportunity, responsibility and a challenge at the same time. It is really an opportunity that waits to be harnessed.”

Klotz said WSU Tri-Cities needs to identify basic areas that will feed into all of these opportunities.

“One of these basic areas is in the biological sciences, and particularly, microbiology, because it will feed into existing strength in bioengineering, agriculture and wine science, and it is a foundational discipline for academic programs and training with a focus on human and environmental health,” he said.

Klotz said he also intends to focus on growing needs for mathematics, statistics and data science at WSU Tri-Cities, as it also feeds into nearly all areas. He said a strong academic focus on algorithmic approach not only sets a foundation for a range of other academic areas – it is also a crucial component of complex thinking.

Klotz said he is excited to join the team at WSU Tri-Cities and looks to build on many initiatives already taking place on campus while building coalitions for seizing new opportunities.

“We have a highly motivated faculty and staff and everyone is engaged and really trying to make sure that everything works across the board,” he said. “I hope to facilitate paths to reach these goals and contribute also to translating the strategic plan that exists for WSU as a system into tasks and sub goals on our campus.”

Klotz said the mission of four-year higher education institutions is to not only graduate more students with a career-informed degree in time, but it is also to afford faculty and students with opportunities for scholarship and creative activity.

“Every academic direction and college represented here is important,” he said. “They all have their specific roles to play in forming a career-prepared graduate and they contribute to and build on a sound liberal arts education. Even though this is a STEM-focused campus, this is not just rooted in science and engineering. There are many opportunities for scholarship in the fine and liberal arts, in business, education and the health sciences.”

By Maegan Murray

An immersive experience at Washington State University Tri-Cities has Amy Verderber, a biology teacher at Kamiakin High School, performing research that has tie-ins to medicine.

Verderber studied biology in college before certifying to become a teacher, but she never got the opportunity to explore the field’s full research potential. Within the last two summers through the Partners in Science program, however, Verderber found herself working directly beside university biology faculty, completing research that has potential to improve what is known about human skull deformities and diseases.

Amy Verderber

Amy Verderber, a teacher at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, Wash., got the opportunity to complete biological sciences research at Washington State University Tri-Cities through the Partners in Science program.

Through the Partners in Science program, which is supported by a $15,000 grant from the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, high school teachers are paired with a university professor in their field and the pair spends two consecutive summers completing research. During the end of each summer experience, the teachers prepare a presentation on their research and how they plan to implement what they learn into their classroom setting. The university professors also get the value of an additional hand in the lab and in the high school teacher’s second summer, an experienced lab researcher to help with their studies.

Verderber is working with Jim Cooper, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Elly Sweet, clinical assistant professor of biology, in researching the impact of thyroid hormone on the development of jaw shape and jaw biomechanics in the zebrafish. The researchers hope their research will shed light on how the abnormal thyroid hormone levels during development can lead to human skull deformities.

Verderber continues to use the experience to provide her students with real-world opportunities and outlooks in science. She has applied what she’s learned to her lessons and often brings discussion of her experience into her labs and instruction.

Elly Sweet (left) talks with Amy Verderber about their research on the thyroid hormone in zebrafish.

WSU Tri-Cities professor Elly Sweet (left) talks with Amy Verderber about their research on the thyroid hormone in zebrafish.

“It’s been a great experience,” Verderber said. “To my students, it is more than just reading out of a textbook. I’m able to bring what is happening all around them into a practical classroom experience. It provides them with a look into the lab setting. I am not just a teacher who went to school and studied the subject. I now can say I’ve worked in a real lab and am doing scientific research with real-world applications.”

Throughout the two summers, Verderber recorded zebrafish feeding mechanics using a high-speed video camera, determined the effects of both an overabundance and a deficiency of thyroid hormone on jaw mechanics and performed research on the genetic controls of fish skull development.

“We’re trying to identify how thyroid hormone activates or deactivate genes in the fish’s head to determine whether they develop really moveable or jaws or jaws capable of only limited motion,” Cooper said. “There are also a large number of human birth defects associated with abnormal thyroid hormone production that causes malformation of the skull. The research can therefore answer both evolutionary questions and medical questions.”

Verderber said her students were very receptive to both what she learned in the lab, as well as what she brought in to the classroom through her teaching. She said she hopes to raise zebrafish in her classroom this year so the students receive that additional hands-on, real-world application.

WSU Tri-Cities professor Jim Cooper (left) chats with Amy Verderber about their research on the impact on varying amounts of thyroid hormone in zebrafish

WSU Tri-Cities professor Jim Cooper (left) chats with Amy Verderber about their research on the impact on varying amounts of thyroid hormone in zebrafish. The research could lead to advancements in medicine.

“My students are learning something outside of a textbook,” she said. “It’s been really rewarding seeing not only how I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned for their benefit, but in seeing how they’ve reacted to that material.”

Sweet said she is excited about how Verderber’s experience in the WSU Tri-Cities lab will open the eyes of students to the possibilities of careers in the biological sciences, as well as project upward what high school students are learning today.

“Not only will it help with the research aspect of things, it will also be helpful to know what students are currently learning about in high school, be able to have some input into the possibilities of projects they could work on, as well as have the opportunity for us to come into the high school classrooms to give presentations,” she said. “Even though many students majoring in the biological sciences are interested in pre-health, there are many other career options out there. This provides a great partnership on that end.”

Included in the Partners in Science program is the option of applying for a supplemental grant, of which the funds go toward classroom equipment like microscopes, pipettes and other supplies. Verderber said she plans on applying and that it will provide a great resource for her students if she receives the grant.

“I hope other professors see the value of this program and the many benefits that come out of it,” she said.

Cooper and Sweet agreed.

“The amount of time that we have invested in collaborating with Amy we have gotten back many times,” Cooper said. “It’s a gain in resources and a huge win for both the lab at the university.”

By Christina VerHeul, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine

Elson S. Floyd_College_of_Medicine logoSPOKANE, Wash. – A new profile of the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine charter class shows it is comprised of a strong percentage of women, low socioeconomic status and first generation students.

The class, a group of 60 students who are current residents of or have significant ties to Washington, represent a population of talented students who would otherwise have been forced to go out of state for their medical educations.

2017 Elson S Floyd College of Medicine class photo.
WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine 2017 charter class.

Selected from more than 700 applications that were submitted in just 27 days – the timeframe between receipt of preliminary accreditation and the application submission deadline – competition was stiff for the coveted spots.

“Our recruitment cycle for this first class was extremely truncated,” said Dr. John Tomkowiak, founding dean of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. “While most schools began recruiting in the summer, we couldn’t begin recruitment until November 2016. Despite the challenge, the fact that we received more than 700 applications in less than a month only highlights the pent-up need for medical education in this state.”

The college focused on drawing students from a wide cross-section of rural and urban underserved areas across the state to increase the likelihood they will return to their communities to practice medicine. It then selected students from 15 of the state’s 39 counties, with 15 percent of the class hailing from rural communities.

The college exceeded national averages for admission of females and average age, and had great success recruiting first-generation college graduates, as well as students with low socioeconomic status.

“We are proud of the highly accomplished group of students we selected for this charter class,” said Tomkowiak. “As we continue to grow in awareness and reputation, as well as build our recruitment efforts across the state, we anticipate the applicant pool and matriculated classes will continue to impress.”

Below is a profile of the charter class:

Demographics

  • Females: 34 (56.7%)
  • Legal Washington residents: 57 (95%) *The 5% nonlegal Washington residents must demonstrate they are from Washington by meeting at least 3 of the 4 requirements: born in Washington, childhood address in Washington, graduated from a Washington high school, parent/guardian currently lives in Washington.
  • Childhood in a rural Washington county: 9 (15%) *Based on Office of Financial Management data.
  • Childhood in a medically underserved Washington county: 58 (96.7%) *Based on the area health resources files from Health Resources & Services Administration.
  • Washington counties represented: 15, including Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Franklin, Grant, King, Pacific, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Whatcom, Whitman, Yakima.
  • First-generation college graduate*: 11 (18.3%) *bachelor’s degree
  • Low socioeconomic status*: 20 (33.3%) *Based on AMCAS EO1 or EO2
  • Average age: 26 / range 21-36
  • Advanced degrees: 7 (11.7%)

Applications

  • Total AMCAS applications: 711
  • Total secondary applications sent: 501
  • Total completed applications: 466
  • Total interviewed: 332
  • Matriculated class: 60

For more information, visit medicine.wsu.edu.

Media Contact

  • Christina VerHeul, director of communications and marketing, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, 509-368-6850, christina.verheul@wsu.edu