Alumni

RICHLAND, Wash. – WSU Tri-Cities and the U.S. Department of Energy will hold their second lecture as part of a new series on the Hanford Site from 3-4 p.m. Thursday, April 27, in the East Auditorium on campus. This presentation will focus on the Hanford Site’s radioactive tank waste, which has become the site’s greatest challenge.

Single- and double-shell tanks
river protection logo Sahid Smith, lead engineer for the Low-Activity Waste Pretreatment System Project at the DOE Office of River Protection, will deliver the lecture. His lecture will cover how the single and double-shell radioactive waste tanks were constructed, in addition to the complex combination of 56 million gallons of radioactive and chemical waste taking the physical form of sludge, salts and liquids that all have varying combinations of chemical properties.

Smith began his DOE career at the Richland Operations Office in 2007 as a general engineer, where he worked on the K-Basin Closure Project focusing primarily on the Sludge Treatment Project. He completed several rotational assignments in the Environmental Management Professional Development Corps Program in 2008, including assignments at the Oak Ridge Operation Office and Environmental Management Headquarters. Smith joined DOE’s Office of River Protection in October 2014. He holds a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in chemical engineering from Florida A&M University.

Linking to DOE

The DOE and its contractors are actively recruiting interns and staff in a broad scope of professional and technical jobs. Linking DOE operations with faculty, students and the community, this series focuses on opportunities and key challenges to be solved by today’s and tomorrow’s workers.

The lecture will be broadcast live at WSU Pullman, WSU Vancouver, WSU North Puget Sound at Everett and WSU Spokane via the campus AMS video streaming service.

 

Media Contacts:

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities welcomes community participation in its annual service day 9 a.m-5 p.m. Friday, April 7.

As part of Cougar Pride Day, volunteers will bring new life to the tiered garden at the entrance of the West Building and the garden around the Cougar statue on campus. Participants will develop a new garden that embodies the Cougar spirit by spelling out “WSU” with a floral arrangement that will be visible to those driving onto campus.

Volunteers will receive a free Cougar Pride T-shirt, as well as free lunch from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit. Those under the age of 18 will need parental consent to participate.

Cougar Pride day is a part of the Cougs in the Community program at WSU Tri-Cities, in which volunteers engage, network and have fun while sharing knowledge, skills and resources. For more information, contact Amber Eubanks, WSU Tri-Cities community engagement specialist, at 509-372-7106 or aeubanks@tricity.wsu.edu.

News media contacts:
Amber Eubanks, WSU Tri-Cities community engagement, 509-372-7106, aeubanks@tricity.wsu.edu
Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations, 509-372-7333, maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – A team from Washington State University Tri-Cities took third place among 21 teams at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge’s finals this week for their creation and business model presentation of a technology that converts lignin, a natural byproduct of plant-based materials, into biojet fuel.

Photo courtesy: Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship
Libing Zhang talks with people at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.

During the challenge, interdisciplinary student teams define an environmental problem, develop a solution, design and build a prototype, create a business plan that proves their solution has market potential and pitches their idea to 170 judges from throughout the Northwest who have expertise in cleantech, as well as to entrepreneurs and inventors, at a demo-day event.

The WSU Tri-Cities team, composed of postdoctoral researcher Libing Zhang and Manuel Seubert, a master’s in business administration student, advanced to the finals from an initial pool of 29 teams during the first round of the competition.

Paul Skilton, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of management, and Bin Yang, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of biological systems engineering, advised the team. The WSU Tri-Cities team also worked regularly with researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to prepare for the competition.

The team was presented with the Starbucks $5,000 prize for their third-place ranking in the final round of the competition.

Advancing biofuels

Zhang, team leader for the challenge, said the main benefits for their technology is that it takes lignin, a waste

Photo courtesy: Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship
Manuel Seubert presents at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge.

product in the biorefineries and pulping process that is considered one of the most abundant renewable carbon sources on Earth, and turns it into an environmentally-friendly, cheap jet fuel that can potentially reduce the carbon emissions for commercial airlines.

“I see several advantages of the technology and hope we can scale it up for commercialization, which will help commercial airlines to achieve their goals in reducing greenhouse emissions,” she said.

Developing a commercial product

Seubert, team co-leader for the challenge, said their goal with the competition was to capture people’s attention for the value of their technology, while using the experience as a learning opportunity for their future in developing the lignin-based jet fuel product into a commercial business.

“The next challenge is to secure funding so that we can scale it up to an industrial scale,” he said. “We are

Libing Zhang displays a container of lignin

Photo courtesy: Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship
Libing Zhang displays a container of lignin

actively looking for funding sources at this point and are thinking about establishing a limited liability company, which will allow us to pursue small business grants.”

Zhang said raising awareness about the product was a crucial part of the competition experience.

“We want people to know that the technology for converting lignin to biojet fuel has a commercial value,” she said. “It is encouraging knowing that people care about the technology and see its potential for reducing the carbon footprint. Now, we hope to take the technology to the next level in the business world.”

Zhang is also the entrepreneurial lead on a National Science Foundation I-Corps lignin-to-biojetfuel project, which was awarded to Yang and his team.

Skilton said the project represents an excellence illustration of the cutting-edge, hands-on programming students experience at WSU Tri-Cities.

“This is an example of the kind of integrated project team work our MBA students come to WSU Tri-Cities to do,” he said.

The Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge is the creation of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship in the Foster School of Business, in partnership with the University of Washington’s College of Engineering, College of the Environment, Clean Energy Institute, College of Built Environments and the Department of Biology.

Contacts:

Libing Zhang, WSU Tri-Cities recent doctoral graduate and postdoctoral researcher, libing.zhang@wsu.edu

Manuel Seubert, WSU Tri-Cities master’s in business administration student, manuel.seubert@wsu.edu

Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations specialist, 509-372-7333, maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

By Maegan Murray

Jamie Silva hadn’t considered a career in the medical profession until he saw directly how he could use research and patient interaction to better medical care for all citizens, regardless of demographic.

The recent nursing graduate of Washington State University Tri-Cities said it was through the research experiences he observed through both as a community college student, as well as in his undergraduate experience through WSU Tri-Cities, that opened his eyes to the possibilities of medicine.

As a community college student in Wenatchee, Silva participated in a research experience where he completed research on algae that they used to replicate the behavior of cancer cells and observe treatment effectiveness. The effort tied directly in with what friends and family had experienced in their battles with cancer. It propelled Silva’s interest in the medical field.

“I’ve seen family and friends pressured into certain types of treatments and this made me realize that I could have an impact on how patients are consulted about treatment,” he said. “My aunt, for example, was pressured into chemotherapy right away. Since she didn’t really understand English, so she assumed that was the best route for her. I want patients to be able to better understand their options.”

Silva began focusing on how he could take his newfound passion for medical research and patient care to the next level and applied to WSU Tri-Cities’ competitive nursing program. The school, he said, provided a perfect blend of medical research and implementation of innovative patient medical care that he had sought for a future in the profession.

This year, he was named the undergraduate nursing student of the year for WSU Tri-Cities.

“I feel that the nursing program is really impactful,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in a lab all day. I wanted that patient interaction. I wanted to see how the research applies directly to and affects the patient. WSU Tri-Cities ended up being a perfect fit for that.”

Real-world experiences

Through his hands-on courses at WSU Tri-Cities, Silva learned about how cancer and other diseases impacted the human body, how to treat those ailments, about different medicines, as well as how to approach patients about possible treatment options.

Silva said his courses utilized innovative tools such as advanced medical mannequins that mimicked individuals with various ailments and allowed students to practice their medical procedures. Additionally, he learned from world-class nursing faculty that tied what the students were learning in the classroom to extracurricular opportunities outside the classroom.

“Some of my biggest highlights were actually the professors,” he said. “They really care about us and really want to make sure that we succeed, and in turn, that our patients succeed.”

Silva’s professors at WSU Tri-Cities helped pair him up with a practicum experience at the Kadlec Regional Medical Center where his work focused specifically in research and administration. Through the experience, Silva attended meetings with physicians, nurse navigators and dietitians where they discussed cases, what worked best for individual patient cases, as well as what needed some changes. They then applied those strategies directly to their patient care.

Through the practicum, Silva also completed a research project that detailed how the hospital could reduce the time that patients suffer from neutropenia — a condition where the patient has an abnormally low count of a type of white blood cell, causing their immune system to be weak and creating a higher risk of infection. Neutropenia occurs in about half of people who receive chemotherapy. It is also a common side effect for people with leukemia.

“We compiled data on the time from when the patient walked in, to when they received antibiotics, the type of antibiotics they used and when those particular antibiotics were administered,” he said. “I compiled all of that data and showed it to the chief of nursing. It was a pretty informative experience and I hope it helps to make a difference in the lives of future patients.”

During his time at WSU Tri-Cities, Silva also gained admittance into a highly competitive summer internship through the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. Through the experience, Silva studied the latest and greatest methods for combatting cancer using the patient’s immune system.

“I would get to the laboratory and would have a research experiment in mind and I would write a protocol and conduct that experiment,” he said. “Some of those experiments involved observing how certain treatments would impact rats with cancer. I would also examine all the organs within the rat and see how effective the treatment was.”

Silva said he didn’t really realize it at the time, but he got the opportunity to work with some of the nation’s leading scientists and medical researchers.

“It was a pretty extraordinary experience,” he said.

Silva’s future in medical care

Silva said he hopes to take the experience he has had through WSU Tri-Cities, his experience at Kadlec, as well as his experience through the National Institute of Health to further improve the standard for patient care, as well as create and improve upon current and future cancer treatments.

“My friends and family who have had cancer have been the driving force with where I want to go and the influence I hope to have in the medical field,” he said. “It’s why I went into nursing.”

His end goal, he said, is to one-day become a physician focusing on cancer immunology. Because of his experience at WSU Tri-Cities, the WSU medical school is on his list of potential medical schools he hopes to gain acceptance to into the future.

“The nursing program at WSU Tri-Cities was more than impactful,” he said. “I learned how I could advocate for people with these diseases, the research behind those diseases, as well as how to combat those diseases through research into different treatment options.”

“I want to take a little bit of time working as a nurse and then apply what I’ve learned through my undergraduate courses, my experience as a nurse, as well as what I am going to learn through medical school in my future as a physician,” he said.

Alejandra Cardoso, a recent graduate of Washington State University Tri-Cities, was chosen as one of three representatives from Washington state to participate in the Council for Opportunity in Education’s National Policy Seminar March 19-22 in Washington, D.C.

The seminar affords the TRIO and GEAR UP communities the opportunity to help educate members of Congress, congressional staff and the president’s administration officials about the history and success of the programs, while giving the participants a chance to represent the interests and desires of low-income and first-generation students, veterans, adult learners and students with disabilities in the policy arena.

“It is really an honor,” Cardoso said. “What I’m looking forward to most about the conference is the opportunities to develop myself as a leader, as well as the opportunity to connect with other students with both similar and different backgrounds.”

Cardoso said she hopes to use the experience to share her own story of how the TRIO program at WSU Tri-Cities helped her be successful in her academics, which led her to successfully obtaining a position as a crime victim advocate with the Support, Advocacy and Resource Center in Kennewick, Wash., immediately following graduation last spring.

Cardoso said she was raised in an environment where school wasn’t considered valuable. She said she dropped out of school her junior year of high school, and that it wasn’t until after she had her first child at 17 that she considered going back to school to complete her high school diploma. The TRIO program, both at the community college level, as well as at WSU Tri-Cities, helped ensure her success in obtaining a bachelor’s in psychology.

“I never really saw myself as a college student,” she said. “What really got me interested in going when when I first worked at my first job at WorkSource. Seeing the social workers there inspire me to drive for my own success in that field. The TRIO program at WSU Tri-Cities kept me on track toward obtaining that goal.”

After transferring from Yakima Valley College to WSU Tri-Cities, Cardoso said she got really involved in the TRIO program, which provided her with support services ranging from tutoring, to counseling about academic and person-related issues and much more.

“The TRIO staff always try to help you as best as they can,” she said. “Just knowing that there was someone out there looking out for me and willing to help me, as long as I was willing to help myself, was crucial.”

In her current role as a crime victim advocate for SARC, Cardoso is fulfilling her dream of helping individuals get out of their despairing situations in order to live a better and more prosperous life. Specifically, she helps victims of harassment, assault, child abuse, identity theft and more.

“I’m the first person in my family to graduate from high school, let alone a university,” she said. “Now, I’m working on my master’s, which will allow me to further help individuals suffering with dangerous and undesirable situations. TRIO and WSU Tri-Cities helped me get to where I’m at now. I’m excited to share my story with others at the national policy seminar and I hope that I can help inspire positive change at the national level.”

For more information on the national policy seminar, visit http://www.coenet.org/policy_seminar.shtml.

Washington State University Tri-Cities welcomes community members to join in the celebration of current, past and future Cougs as part of its annual Crimson Fest on March 31.

The free event, which begins at 4 p.m. on campus, will feature carnival games, a rock wall, food trucks, inflatable Coug-themed playground equipment, a video game trailer, a photo booth, cotton candy and a range of other activities. Crimson Fest is open to the general public.

Crimson Fest 2016

Crimson Fest 2016

“Crimson fest is one of the most exciting events for me because it brings everyone together and creates that sense of belonging, as well as lots of Cougar pride,” said Israa Alshaikhli, president of the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities. “It really makes me happy to see our students, their families, alumni and community members all come to together to enjoy this day.”

Students, faculty and staff will go head-to-head with a dodgeball game at 4 p.m. During that time, those attending may complete some crafts including rock painting and galaxy jars.

ASWSUTC will host their annual Fund the Future 5K run at 5 p.m., with the race beginning at 6 p.m. People should register for the run at https://www.signmeup.com/site/reg/register.aspx?fid=RS2VDH7. The runs costs $25 for the general public, $20 for WSU alumni, $15 for WSU Tri-Cities students and employees and $10 for children ages 6 to 12. Children ages 5 and younger get in free. The run will also feature a 50-yard dash for children and prizes will be awarded to top finishers.

The evening will come to a close with a screening of “Guardians of the Galaxy” at 8 p.m. in the East Auditorium.

Crimson Fest is being put on by ASWSUTC, the Student Entertainment Board, the Office of Student life, the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and club sports.

By Maegan Murray

Paul Carlisle had just completed his undergraduate degree in business administration from Washington State University Tri-Cities in 2005 when he decided to open his own technology solutions company.

Alumnus Paul Carlisle used the WSU Tri-Cities master’s in business administration program to found Tri-Cities-based tech company ‘elevate,’ which now contracts with more than 50 companies throughout the region and state.

The idea came after the organization he previously worked for sold to another company and he felt the work he was doing became less challenging.

“It was an opportunity for me to say ‘I’m going to jump off and try to tackle something larger,’” he said.

But rather than focusing on large equipment installations, like most technology infrastructure companies were doing at the time, Carlisle planned to serve companies as an end-to-end technology management firm. With that, ‘elevate’ was born.

Carlisle used the master’s in business program at WSU Tri-Cities to refine the business structure, launch the organization, as well as consult with his professors for what worked and what didn’t within the company.

“I leveraged a lot of my business school classes through the master’s in business administration program at WSU Tri-Cities for elevate,” he said. “I feel like WSU Tri-Cities really helped me identify and create a level of maturity when it was being launched.”

Seeing success

Since that period, the company has grown to contract with more than 50 companies throughout the mid-Columbia region and across the state. In 2016, elevate welcomed Gov. Jay Inslee to talk about job creation, focusing more specifically on companies that have worked from start-up to thriving operations that aren’t based around the Hanford Site. This year, Carlisle was recognized with the Richland Rotary’s Sam Vulpentest Entrepreneurial Leadership Award for his devotion to growing community through service and entrepreneurial ventures.

Photo of Paul Carlisle talking with a colleague at tech company elevate.

Paul Carlisle talks with a colleague at tech company elevate.

But with all the recognition, Carlisle said it was through community support that truly made him and his business a success.

“I certainly didn’t do it on my own,” he said. “I did it with the community. I’ve worked with people in the Tri-City Regional Chamber, at WSU Tri-Cities, through WSU Tri-Cities’ Carson College of Business Advisory Board and with co-working and startup programs. In the end, that community engagement is the differentiator, and that is what continues to be special at WSU Tri-Cities.”

Carlisle said WSU Tri-Cities is different from many college campuses because the courses are truly rooted in the community and the business connections that are already established locally.

“People come here because it has a cool connection with the community,” he said. “Students at WSU Tri-Cities learn from those they will be working with into the future after they graduate. These are the people they’re getting internships from and the same people who are recommending those internships. In the MBA, you are consistently meeting with managers who are mostly based here.”

Giving forward

Now, Carlisle is using his success in his own career to give back to students and future entrepreneurs.

Carlisle serves on the WSU Tri-Cities Carson College of Business Advisory Board, which aims to create opportunities for community partnerships between local businesses so that students may be connected with many more research experiences, internships, co-ops and more. Additionally, he serves as an adjunct faculty member teaching entrepreneurship.

Photo of elevate founder Paul Carlisle talking with a colleague.

elevate founder Paul Carlisle talks with a colleague.

“We’re working on lots of good ideas on how we can really help grow the idea of community engagement within the degree,” he said. “At the end of the day, if all you’re doing is learning the course material, you’re missing out on a lot, and really the main point. We’re looking to give students that real-world access, hands-on experience that is so unique here at the Tri-Cities campus.”

Carlisle also works with the Tri-City Regional Chamber on its board and on its regional affairs committee, where through community connections, they are working to provide further opportunities for local businesses to excel.

“By looking at the natural flow of businesses in the Tri-Cities, we can start to remove barriers and just let the natural momentum move forward,” he said. “There is some risk, but with that little bit of risk, creating even a little bit of traffic, we can make a large impact.”

Carlisle said it has always been his goal to use his own success as a catalyst for growing the success of others.

“I’ve been there,” he said. “I know the hurdles that some of these young people have to conquer because I’ve experienced it all with elevate. In my 20s, I worked to really form elevate. In my 30s, I quickly realized that helping these emerging businesses is what elevate is all about. In my 40s, I want to be invited to play with these fantastic new startups built by these bright young students because they are the future of our community.”

Carlisle says he hopes his involvement within the business community inspires positive momentum among the young and up-and-coming professionals.

“What I recommend to current and future students is to seize the moment to engage with these amazing local opportunities,” he said. “You don’t know what is possible until you take the leap.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

Doug-Hamrick-webRICHLAND, Wash. – Doug Hamrick, retired chemical disposal project manager, will be honored with Washington State University Tri-Cities’ Distinguished Alumnus of the Year Award in recognition of his service, career achievements and dedication to the promotion of educational excellence.

He will be presented with the award during the 2016 WSU Tri-Cities commencement ceremony, which begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 7, at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash.

Problem solving, leadership, degree expertise

Hamrick graduated from WSU Tri-Cities in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He began college to further his career potential, but the value became much more than he had imagined.

“After I got out of the Navy, I got a job where I got promoted to supervisor after a couple of years and just kept advancing,” he said. “But one day, my boss took me aside and said, ‘Look, you are going to reach a point where you can’t rise any higher because you don’t have a degree.’

“I started out thinking it was a necessary piece of paper on the wall, but after eight years of going to night school and working as a supervisor, I started to realize that this was all worth something,” he said. “Now 30 years later, I know how important it was.”

He said his degree from WSU allowed him to grow not only his knowledge in engineering and project management, but also his problem solving ability, experience in finance and leadership skills.

High-hazard experience; service in retirement

Hamrick has 40 years of experience working in nuclear operations and chemical weapons demilitarization. He served in leadership positions at high hazard facilities at the Hanford site, Rocky Flats, Colo., and Anniston, Ala.

Hamrick-helps-build
Doug Hamrick helps with Habitat for Humanity construction.

He was project general manager of the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility 2002-09 while the facility completed construction, performed startup testing and completed the destruction of weapons containing the nerve agents sarin and VX.

Since returning to the Tri-Cities in 2012, he has devoted his retirement to community service. He serves on the Tri-County Partners Habitat for Humanity board of directors as treasurer and volunteers two days a week to help build houses for deserving families.

He is an instrumental partner and coordinator for the Coug House that WSU Tri-Cities is building with Tri-County Partners. The home will go to a family that escaped war in Burma and lived for years in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to the United States.

WSU scholarship sponsors

Hamrick and his wife, Julia, are the sponsors of two WSU scholarships: the Bud and Joan Simmons Scholarship for Chemistry and the Hamrick Family Scholarship for Mechanical Engineers.

Hamrick also serves on the REACH Museum Foundation board of directors as development committee chairman.

“Doug continues to give of his time and expertise to ensure students of all types have access to opportunities for bettering their educational experience, whether that be through the construction of the Coug House or through scholarships,” said WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young. “He’s a prime example of how students can use their educational experience to pursue opportunities beyond their career paths. He has used his education to give back to the community.”

 

Contact:
Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations specialist, 509-372-7333,maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Sebastian Fernandez has learned lessons about teamwork, the “art” of experiential learning and the rewards of rigorous study as an undergraduate at Washington State University Tri-Cities. He hopes to apply and expand those skills in the first class of WSU’s new medical school in Spokane, Wash.

“It sounds cheesy, but I just want to help people,” he said. “I could do that by becoming a doctor. I knew WSU could help me get there.”

Practical beginnings

A competitive WSU summer internship at Kadlec Regional Medical Center exposed him to the medical field via real-world application.

In one instance, a man stopped breathing and, within seconds, the doctor and his team worked efficiently to restore the man’s breathing.

“In 30 seconds, they brought him back from the dead,” Fernandez said. “It was amazing.”

Fernandez said that doctor gave him advice that he will use in his career as a physician.

“He told me, ‘The most important thing you have to remember is team work. Just because you’re a doctor doesn’t mean you get to boss everybody around,’ ” he said. “That stuck with me. It takes a team to accomplish great things.”

Research experience

SebastianFernandez-1-webSo Fernandez teamed with Birgitte Ahring, professor in the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory at WSU Tri-Cities, to create a more efficient biofuel using volatile fatty acids from cow stomach fluid and corn stover (post-harvest waste) in the absence of oxygen, also called anaerobic fermentation.

“We wanted to pick an area that would be relevant to the medical field and apply to his future aspirations,” Ahring said. “Anaerobic bacteria is relevant for humans because the inside of humans is anaerobic and the human body houses 10 times more bacteria than human cells.”

Cow stomach fluid was added to corn stover to produce volatile fatty acids, which can be used to produce biofuel to power cars, planes and other vehicles.

“School is typically very structured,” Fernandez said. “You follow the steps and write down what you observe. In a more experimental setting, it is kind of like working with a blank canvas. It is like an art. You can do anything. You can test anything.”

Rigors and rewards

“It took me months to learn,” he said of the research. “I had no idea I would have my own experiments and be writing a scientific paper with references. It is really hard. It takes hundreds of hours.”

But it provided him with experience needed for entering into the medical field, he said, while allowing him to conduct research that will make a difference in the biofuels industry some day.

“I just want to make a difference and the best way to do that is by helping others,” he said.
He said his results show that untreated corn stover actually yields greater volatile fatty acid production than pretreated corn stover. This finding will save the industry in the long run because the material won’t require pretreating.

He is making the final touches on a research paper, which he will work on with Ahring to send in for publication.

Medical school and beyond

After completing his undergraduate work this summer, Fernandez plans to take the medical school admission test and apply to schools in the fall.

“I want to go into immunology and infectious disease,” he said. “I feel like I have a good mind and can figure things out. The best way to help the world is by using those skills in the medical field.”

He eventually intends to work in a free clinic so he can give back to the community.

He said he would love to be one of the first graduates of WSU’s new medical school, which plans to welcome its first students in fall 2017.

Contacts:

Sebastian Fernandez, WSU Tri-Cities undergraduate, 480-559-5732
Birgitte Ahring, WSU Tri-Cities professor, 509-372-7682, bka@wsu.edu
Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations, 509-372-7333, maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

Zimmel-1 Zimmel-2 Zimmel-3

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Robb Zimmel remembers as a child watching his German relatives create concoctions from grapes and beets, onions and rhubarb. It wasn’t a stew, though, but wine that was cooked, bottled, capped with balloons and left to ferment.

“The balloons would get bigger and bigger,” said Zimmel, a Washington State University Tri-Cities graduate. “As soon as they deflated, my grandma would say ‘it is time’ and they would gather to finish the winemaking process.”

Since that early age, he has been comforted by the memory of winemaking, inspired by some of the most beautiful women in his life. This summer, he will release wines on his own label after graduating as part of WSU Tri-Cities’ first blended learning classes last year.

“I fell in love with that process, that romance, that wonderful feeling that came with making wine,” he said.

Education ‘changed my life’

While pursuing a full-time career as a flight paramedic in Portland, Ore., Zimmel followed his family’s example and made wine on the side. But after Sept. 11, 2001, he was called from the U.S. Army Reserves to serve overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He remembers calling his wife late one night in 2010 on a satellite phone from the middle of the desert: “I can’t do this anymore,” he said. She asked if he would be interested in putting his wine experience to use as a new career.

The day he got back to the United States, he headed to the WSU Vancouver campus where he studied for two years before transferring to WSU Tri-Cities to complete his degree in viticulture and enology.

“At WSU, I’ve studied with some of the nation’s best wine professors and worked with alumni who have studied all over the world,” he said. “My education at WSU changed my life.”

Winning ways … and wines

A little more than a year ago, Zimmel was recommended for a position in the tasting room at Barnard Griffin Winery in Richland by friend and fellow WSU viticulture and enology graduate Joel Perez.

Zimmel credits owners Deborah Barnard and Rob Griffin and their daughters Elise Jackson and Megan Hughes for his growth as a winemaker. Griffin would often invite him to bring in wine he made to be tasted and refined.

“Why would they go out of their way to help me?” Zimmel said. “But that’s just how they are. They are the most giving family I’ve ever met.”

“I’ve always been interested in the education part of the wine industry,” Griffin said. “I do it because I want the Washington wine industry to be great. If Washington wins, we all win.”

Embraced by family of vintners

With the support of the Barnard Griffin family and WSU, Zimmel said, he created the first batch of wine on his label, Cerebella. The name refers to a part of the brain and is a tie to his former career in the medical field.

He created 500 cases of wine in four varietals including a riesling, chardonnay, merlot and malbec. They will be available for purchase this summer.

To preorder or arrange a tasting, contact him through his Facebook page, Zimmel Unruh Cellars, athttps://www.facebook.com/ZimmelUnruhCellars.

“I just can’t believe that day has finally come,” Zimmel said. “I’m a winemaker, and I owe it all to the people who have helped me along the way. It’s a dream come true. It really is.”