Business

RICHLAND, Wash. – Students will deliver presentations on their research, classroom projects and art noon-1 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, May 2-4, as part of the Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

WSU Tri-Cities Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition

WSU Tri-Cities Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition

The public is invited to hear presentations, explore topics, ask questions and give feedback.

“Our undergraduates have opportunities to engage in hands-on experiences with research, scholarship and creative works throughout their undergraduate careers, starting with freshman survey courses through senior capstone projects,” said Allison Matthews, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of psychology. “The Undergraduate Research Symposium and Art Exhibition highlights their accomplishments in discovery and advancing knowledge.”

Some of the projects that will be featured include:

  • Nondestructive nuclear inspection robot
  • SAE Aero Design – electric airplane
  • Solar Mushroom Dryer – one of three projects that will be implemented in Uganda
  • Social Problems and Service Learning
  • Freshwater Invertebrates from the Columbia Basin
  • Bioinformatic Approaches Further Research for Ovarian Cancer
  • Cinema Verite
  • Digital imaging

The sessions will be in Consolidated Information Center, Room 120, with Thursday’s presentations also in the Art Gallery. 

Disciplines covered will include the sciences, digital technology and culture, fine arts, English, history, political science, engineering, psychology, statistics and exploration and leadership.

RICHLAND, Wash. – A team from Washington State University Tri-Cities whose business plan is to commercialize a WSU-patented jet fuel technology developed by WSU Tri-Cities professor Bin Yang’s lab has advanced to the University of Washington Business Plan Competition’s “sweet 16” round.

Libing Zhang presents during the UW Business Plan Competition

WSU Tri-Cities’ Libing Zhang presents during the UW Business Plan Competition

According to the university website, the goal of the UW Business Plan Competition is to promote student ideas and new venture creation and provide an opportunity for business and science students to present new business plans to Seattle-area venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and investors.

The team, composed of Libing Zhang, a recent doctoral alumna, and master’s in business administration students Manuel Seubert and Taylor Pate, presented the process of taking lignin, a waste product in the cellulosic ethanol biorefineries and pulping process that is considered one of the most abundant renewable carbon sources on Earth, and turning it into an environmentally-friendly, cheap jet fuel that can potentially reduce the carbon emissions for commercial airlines.

The WSU Tri-Cities team advanced from an initial pool of 82 teams in the screening round of the competition, which was then narrowed to a pool of 36 teams in the investment round before the team advanced to the sweet 16. During the investment round, each team had approximately four hours of face time with entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists and competition alumni from the Seattle area.

Last month, the same WSU Tri-Cities team placed third at the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge. 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.

Paul Skilton, WSU Tri-Cities associate professor of management, and Yang are advisers for the WSU Tri-Cities team.

The sweet 16 round of the UW Business Plan Competition kicks off May 25, followed by the final round that afternoon. The final round is open to the public. Prizes will be awarded later that evening at the competition dinner at MOHAI in South Lake Union.

RICHLAND, Wash. – Don Miller, CEO of Gesa Credit Union, 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.

Miller will be presented with the award during the 2017 WSU Tri-Cities commencement ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6, at the Toyota Center in Kennewick, Wash.

Growing as a professional and as an individual

He grew up on a farm where he learned about long hours, hard work and pitching in to help where needed to get the job done. In high school, he built and managed his own small herd of cattle while juggling his regular school work and other activities.  Managing that venture led to his interest in business and management.

WSU Tri-Cities Distinguished Alumnus Don Miller

WSU Tri-Cities Distinguished Alumnus Don Miller

“That’s really where I started to develop a liking for business and management,” Miller said. “But it would take me a few years to actually head in the direction, professionally.”

As an undergraduate student, he took classes in nearly every subject, often tackling large quarterly class loads at Central Washington University to try and identify what he was passionate about pursuing as a career. Ultimately, he decided on finance and graduated with his bachelor’s from CWU in 1987. Shortly following graduation, he accepted a job at Gesa Credit Union as a junior accountant.

Miller decided to pursue a master’s in business administration from WSU Tri-Cities a few years later because he knew it would not only expand his knowledge and skill in the finance world, but it would also help him develop as a leader. He felt the degree would also better position him to potentially become a CEO of an organization. He graduated with his MBA from WSU Tri-Cities in 1993.

“I worked with so many smart and talented people through the WSU Tri-Cities MBA program,” he said. “I appreciated having the opportunity to work with people of such high caliber who all brought such a diverse range of experience to the table. It was definitely a very knowledgeable and mature group.”

From there, Miller continued to work his way up within the organization and in 2006, received his first chance at a position as CEO with Gesa. The position went to another individual from outside the organization, however, the new CEO was very open to expanding Miller’s job-related experience.

“I worked for her, and she gave me opportunities to build the experience I needed to one-day take on the position of CEO of an organization,” he said. “She told me, ‘If you want to be CEO, I will help you fill those gaps.’ And she did.”

In late 2013, after serving as Gesa’s interim CEO for nearly six months, he took on the full role.

Service to community

Gesa CEO Don Miller (right) was recently named the WSU Tri-Cities Distinguished Alumnus.

Gesa CEO Don Miller (right) was recently named the WSU Tri-Cities Distinguished Alumnus.

Throughout his years of professional growth, Miller has dedicated himself to improving opportunities for up-and-coming professionals. He has taken on mentorship roles for individuals, helped coach his children’s youth sports and participated in church-related activities. Miller said he and Gesa are committed to promoting financial literacy and education.  Currently, he serves on the board for Junior Achievement of Washington in the Tri-Cities.

“I think it’s very important to give back to the community that has supported your own success,” he said. “It’s also important to learn that no person is ever too important for any role. I learned early in life and in my career that, especially within smaller organizations, everyone wears a lot of hats and that you should appreciate everyone’s contributions.”

Miller said he recommends that people define what their own idea of success is and run with it.

“There are always going to be people who are smarter and better than you, but it is important that you recognize and appreciate that fact and not let it intimidate you,” he said.

Miller said people are going to make mistakes in life and in work, but that the important thing is that individuals don’t overemphasize those mistakes, and instead, own them and find a way to overcome and learn from those experiences.

Miller said he also recommends that people challenge themselves in asking the right questions.

“As you a grow as a professional, you learn to ask better and better questions,” he said. “A lot of people are not willing to ask the questions.

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

Pauline Garza, a student at Washington State University Tri-Cities, has never wanted to be anything other than a chef.

Growing up, she said she remembers watching her mother and grandmother cook, hoping one day that she, too, would take hold of a spoon to whip up something that would captivate the senses.

“I just love food,” she said. “Becoming a chef has always been on my mind. I never really thought of doing anything else.”

Garza held a few jobs in the restaurant industry, and even job shadowed at Table 10, one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants in Las Vegas. Now a full-time chef for the 3 Eyed Fish Wine Bar in Richland, she plans the menus, completes the shopping, researches meal ideas, and prepares courses for restaurant customers.

HBM program at Tri-Cities offered for the first time

However, even with all this experience, Garza said there was still much to learn about the restaurant business.

This year, Garza enrolled in the hospitality business management (HBM) degree program at WSU Tri-Cities, which is offered at the campus for the first time this fall. The WSU Faculty Senate voted to extend the bachelor of arts degree to the Carson College of Business on the Tri-Cities campus March 12, 2015. The degree will offer two majors: HBM and wine business management.

Garza said she originally started her degree at the WSU Pullman campus, but due to personal reasons, decided to move back home and put school on hold. She resumed school at WSU Tri-Cities and planned on getting a business degree since the campus didn’t offer the HBM degree. But now that she can specialize in HBM, she will have the opportunity to apply even more of what she learns in the classroom to her career.

“I was really worried when I left Pullman that I wouldn’t have the same opportunities, but now, I like to think that I’m in the Tri-Cities for a reason,” she said.

Community benefits from HBM talent pool

Cindy Goulet (’90), owner of 3 Eyed Fish Wine Bar and a graduate of WSU Pullman’s hotel and restaurant program, said she is thrilled about the WSU Tri-Cities campus offering the degree. She said it will allow her to find even more talented employees like Garza.

“I think it is really exciting,” she said. “We are always looking for talented people. We are so fortunate to have Pauline here.”

Garza said she is already putting what she has learned through her business classes at the university to good use. She said school helps keep her motivated and increases her potential to be a better chef and future business owner.

“I want to have my own bistro and influence others who are passionate about the food industry,” she said. “I want to make beautiful food for everybody. It’s all about getting that smile after the first bite from my customers.”