Alumni

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

tricities_career_fair_RICHLAND, Wash. – A career fair will be hosted by Washington State University Tri-Cities, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, in the Consolidated Information Center and Student Union Building.

The career fair is free and open to WSU Tri-Cities students, alumni and the public. The event allows organizations to discuss employment opportunities with potential employees. WSU Tri-Cities students are encouraged to connect with industry representatives to learn more about prospective employment and internships.

tricities_career_fair
WSU Tri-Cities Career Development panel discussion begins at 8 a.m., with career fair to follow at 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Beginning at 8 a.m., the WSU Tri-Cities Career Development will host the “State of the Tri-Cities Workforce” panel discussion, a new program to the career fair. The forum enables panelists to provide a strategic and professional analysis of the local workforce. Panelists will present their understanding of the behaviors and resources that help maintain and strengthen the Tri-Cities area economy. Those interested in attending should RSVP at careers@tricity.wsu.edu

The event also will feature a career development student spotlight program that allows students to practice and deliver their one-minute resume pitches to on-site recruiters.

For more information about the WSU Tri-Cities career fair, visit http://tricities.wsu.edu/careerdev/careerfair.

 

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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 Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

wsu tri-cities student union building RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities invites members of the public to join the grand opening celebration of its $5.73 million campus student union building, 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14.

The event will feature a presentation by WSU President Kirk Schulz, WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young, student representatives and other distinguished guest speakers. Attendees also will have the opportunity to tour the building at their leisure.

“Our students now have a full facility of their own to study, hang out and meet with other students,” said Chris Meiers, vice chancellor of enrollment management and student services. “The students voted in the spring of 2014 to approve a fee on themselves to fund the building, and the idea grew from there.

“This is the first building on our campus solely designed around the student experience. We’re excited to officially open it up to our students and the public.”

Features include a multipurpose event space, new furniture, a gathering space.
Features include a multipurpose event space, new furniture, a gathering space.

The 9,951 square-foot building features a 2,437 square-foot multipurpose event space, new furniture, a gathering space, coffee bar, interactive TV monitors throughout the building and offices for the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities and the office of student life.

ASWSUTC President Israa Alshaikhli said she is excited to see an entirely student-centered space come to fruition at the benefit of her peers.

“The student union building project took five years of students’ work, dedication and commitment,” she said. “A lot of students were part of this process, and it is very empowering to see it completed now. It is literally by the students, for the students.”

Tyler Schrag, chair of the student union building governance board and former ASWSUTC vice president, said even before he came to WSU Tri-Cities as a freshman, there were a variety of individuals who brought much to the table for the building.

“The dedication shown by my fellow Cougs says a lot about the passion of those on our campus,” he said. “I hope for this building to be another huge step toward a bigger and better campus for all students to call home.”

Public invited to the grand opening celebration 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14.
Public invited to the grand opening celebration 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14.

To show Cougar spirit and leave a permanent mark on the building, individuals may also sign up to participate in the WSU Tri-Cities “Buy a Brick” program, where individuals and companies can designate their name, organization or insignia on a brick, bench or patio planter on or around the building.

Through the “Buy a Brick” program, participants may purchase:
• A 4×8-inch red brick with black block lettering – $100
• An 8×8-inch gray brick with black block lettering – $250
• A wood and iron rail bench with nameplate – $1,000
• A patio planter with nameplate – $1,000
• An array of bricks can be ordered with a minimum of $1,000

For more information on the WSU Tri-Cities Buy a Brick program and to reserve a brick or other items, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/buyAbrick.pdf or call 509-372-7264.

 

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By Maegan Murray

After a successful first year, Washington State University Tri-Cities will grow its offerings for professional development training, expanding to offer opportunities for individuals state-wide in leadership, project management, executive communication, professional engineering and more.

Instructor Semi Bird leads leadership class at WSU Tri-Cities

Semi Bird, senior instructor for WSU Tri-Cities’ professional development and community education, leads a leadership course at WSU Tri-Cities. The program is now expanding its course offerings to be open to individuals and companies state- and nation-wide after a successful first year.

“We started out with our Leadership in the 21st Century course last September, and the feedback from our professional students was so significant and so overwhelmingly positive that it inspired us to broaden our course delivery,” said Semi Bird, associate director and senior instructor for WSU Tri-Cities’ professional development and community engagement.

Bird said unlike many traditional leadership and professional development courses, the trainings offered through WSU Tri-Cities are all in-person and incorporate real-world experiences. The curriculum is based in individual participant experiences in the workplace and delivers dynamic discussion and role-play on how to handle difficult conversations and other situations. Participants also develop a common bond through shared personal experiences in the work place, all of which are broken down and discussed in the trainings.

“Students leave understanding that they are not alone and they leave better prepared with tools to grow their productivity and satisfaction in the workplace,” Bird said. “We’ve seen people return time and again for our different courses because they’re getting something out of the experience that they can use immediately in their work environment and role within their organization.”

Renowned leader teaching the courses

Bird is a demonstrated leader. His previous professional experience ranges from his leadership in the U.S. Army Special Forces as a Green Beret, where he earned the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat, to his role as the senior advisor to the United States ambassador of Bangladesh, to his proven track record of success as an entrepreneur in private business.

Bird said he was inspired to enter into the sector of professional development because he wanted to share his career knowledge as a leader with others so that they can grow and thrive within their respective organization. The return, he said, is that the individual’s employer wins, because their employees not only have the skills to be successful, but also the skills to better interact with their fellow employees.

Instructor Semi Bird talks with participants in a leadership course at WSU Tri-Cities

Semi Bird, senior instructor for WSU Tri-Cities’ professional development and community education, presents during a leadership course at WSU Tri-Cities.

Becky Chamberlain, WSU Tri-Cities director of continuing education, said Bird has a gift as an instructor and mentor.

“He teaches from experiences and delivers his curriculum with great passion,” she said. “I have been told by so many of our students that our Leadership Academy training is the best training they have experienced. Our students always take away calls to action using the skills and tools they received in our workshop.”

One student from CH2M stated that their favorite part of the training was “the open, free dialogue and trainer’s enthusiasm for the subject matter.” Another student from Mission Support Alliance said, “The dialogue with Semi and the other participants was invaluable. This allowed for a conversation, as opposed to a presentation format.”

Diversity in thought

Bird said students in the courses come from a wide-variety of industries where they gain from one another’s similar and dissimilar experiences, all within the same session.

“We are training employees of federal agencies, law enforcement agencies, banks, contractors, engineers, scientists and project managers,” he said. “This allows us to have highly-impactful discussions and engagement across disciplines.”

Participants in a leadership course at WSU Tri-Cities

Students in a WSU Tri-Cities leadership course present their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) at the end of their experience. Participants come from a range of positions, experience levels and organizations to participate in the courses.

The WSU Tri-Cities courses are offered to individuals from all experience levels, from entry-level employees to executives. Throughout the last year, WSU Tri-Cities grew its program to offer a variety of courses geared toward maximizing employee success, growing team efficiency and effectiveness, leadership preparation for aspiring leaders, as well as maximizing leadership dexterity for executive management.

WSU Tri-Cities has partnered and contracted with a range of regional and national corporations, some of which include the U.S. Department of Energy, Washington River Protection Solutions, regional Native American tribes, Mission Support Alliance, CH2M, Gesa Credit Union, the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce and Gear Up.

Expanding leadership training to meet state and national needs

This year, with the influx in courses offered, WSU Tri-Cities also aims to expand its offerings to individuals and organizations across the state and nation.

“Our training is real,” Bird said. “You can learn what you want in a book, but this is practical, tested, real-world training that has a proven track record for success within any organization.”

“You come through one of our courses and you go back to your workplace and see real results,” Bird said. “Right now, the feedback we’re getting from our students, who are leaders, themselves, is that they want to put their employees through the same or similar trainings. We are answering that call and need in our community and we want to grow the program to meet the need across the state and beyond.”

For more information on the courses offered through WSU Tri-Cities’ professional development and community education program and to sign up for a course, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/pdce/ or contact the office at pdce@tricity.wsu.edu or 509-372-7174.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Registration is now open for employers to sign up for a booth at the 2017 Washington State University Tri-Cities Career Fair, which will be held from 8 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Sept. 28 in the Student Union Building and Consolidated Information Center building on campus.

WSU Tri-Cities career fair, 2016

WSU Tri-Cities career fair, 2016

Held each fall, the career fair is open to WSU Tri-Cities students, alumni and the general public. The career fair offers employers an opportunity to reach its staffing goals while allowing WSU Tri-Cities students to search for and connect with potential employment and internships.

Employers can register for the event until Sept. 15. The cost is $100. Online registration is open until Sept. 15 and only to employers paying with a credit card.  Employers paying by check may download a printable registration form at http://tricities.wsu.edu/careerdev/careerfair.

Late registration costs $150 and is subject to space availability. For late registration availability, employers should contact Eadie Balint, career fair coordinator, at 509-372-7214 or ebalint@tricity.wsu.edu.

The career fair provides employers access to more than 1,800 students, local alumni and public job seekers. Career fair also features a student spotlight program where select students present a one-minute resume pitch to assembled employers, an on-site job board to post job and internship openings and access to interview rooms.

Additionally, the fair will include a new discussion panel focusing on the “State of the Tri-Cities Work Force.” The panel will feature local professionals from various backgrounds and businesses discussing future staffing goals and needs, preparing students to enter the workforce and the economic vitality of the community. The program is open to all registered employers and includes a complimentary breakfast.

For information about the WSU Tri-Cities Career Fair, visit http://tricities.wsu.edu/careerdev/careerfair.

RICHLAND, Wash – WSU Tri-Cities is launching a series of workshops to prepare engineers for the professional engineering exam.

Participants choose their engineering discipline – chemical, civil, electrical or mechanical. They then receive 42 hours of classroom-based exam review focused on solving theory and high-probability practice problems. Participants also learn exam day techniques, strategies and complete a simulated practice exam.

The first two workshops are:

  • Civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, June 22-Oct. 19
  • Chemical engineering, Oct. 12 – Feb. 16

The workshop costs $975. To register and for more information, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/pdce/peprepworkshop. Individuals can also contact the Professional Development and Community Education office at 509-372-7174 or pdce@tricity.wsu.edu.

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

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.”