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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

For Nick French and Robb Zimmel, a career in wine science made sense following their military experiences.

For French, currently a junior majoring in viticulture, the decision to pursue a degree in the viticulture and enology field from WSU Tri-Cities came after serving five years with the United States Air Force. He spent three years on active duty stationed at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, where he served as a crew chief on KC-135 Stratotankers and the other two years with the Washington State Air National Guard.

“While I was stationed in Kansas, I noticed that most of my favorite wines and wine selections were from this area, and, of course, California,” he said. “As a husband and father, I had to choose a degree that would be suitable to living near family in Washington.”

From the Air Force to viticulture

French said after hearing stories of the emerging wine industry in Washington and witnessing the construction of the Ste. Michelle Estates WSU Wine Science Center on the WSU Tri-Cities campus, it was a “no brainer” deciding to pursue a degree in viticulture and enology.

French enrolled as a student at WSU Tri-Cities a few years ago while keeping up with his former military life through involvement with the Veterans Office on campus. Now a junior, he serves as the vet corps navigator for the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs on campus while completing his degree. His courses and connections at WSU have led to a variety of experiences in viticulture, his primary interest.

“Last summer, I interned with the viticulture department at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and had a great experience,” he said. “I really enjoy being outdoors and working with the grape vines. Combining modern technology with pest and disease management has been really intriguing to me.”

“I had seen things that couldn’t be unseen. I had to have a career change.”

For Zimmel, who graduated from WSU Tri-Cities in 2014, the decision to pursue a career in winemaking came after he realized that, while he was grateful for his years in the U.S. Army Reserves, his job put too much stress and strain on him and his family.

For most of his career and through the present, Zimmel has served as a detachment sergeant for a small forward surgical team. Prior to this, he served as a line medic from 1991 to 1998, which gave him the foundation to serve as a paramedic as a civilian. He also served as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson in South Carolina until he was called overseas to Afghanistan in 2006-2008, and then to Iraq in 2009-2010.

“It wasn’t until I was in Iraq that I called my wife on a satellite phone in a wind-torn tent and explained to her that I had seen things that couldn’t be unseen,” he said. “I knew I had to have a career change. I didn’t want to go back to the medical field.”

Zimmel’s wife suggested that he look into winemaking as a career, considering he has expressed an interest in doing before. Zimmel said he knew he didn’t have the resources to attend University of California Davis, which offered a comprehensive degree in viticulture and enology.

“Later, it was my wife that made the discovery that WSU had a program and a plan soon began to be made,” he said.

Zimmel began taking courses first at WSU Vancouver in viticulture and enology, before transferring to WSU Tri-Cities to complete his full degree in 2014. He was in one of the first “Blended Learning” classes, which made a complete batch of wine from vine to bottle.

“When I started, I had no background in viticulture and enology,” he said. “I did, however, enjoy wine and always wanted to know more about it. I had the opportunity to travel a lot with the military and I fell in love with the Riesling in Germany, Sauv blancs in New Zealand. I’ve had horrible reds from the eastern block of Russia and incredible wines from the northern part of Italy.”

Forever a veteran

Even though both Zimmel and French are pursuing new passions after military careers, they said they will always cherish their time in the military and they even use their experiences as they can be applied to careers in viticulture and enology.

Zimmel has since started his own wine label, “Cerebella” under his winery name “Zimmel Unruh Cellars,” which released in summer 2015. In doing so, he said he’s using many traits and lessons from his career in the military.

Those include the fact that he knows he’s not the smartest person in the room, that burning bridges wastes time and energy, and that he can work with strangers to accomplish goals.

French said he respects and values his time in the military and continues using the skills he developed, such as leadership, work ethic and persistence, as he pursues his degree and moves into his future in viticulture.
Read more about Robb Zimmel here.

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Between 15-18 billion apples are harvested every year in Washington state for fresh market consumption, but often farmers can’t find enough people to pick the fruit.

Many agencies have tried to create a device that will help with the picking process – a machine that is both gentle enough and picks fast enough to make it economically viable for commercial use – but have been unable to do so.

Engineers and scientists at Washington State University Tri-Cities and the WSU Center for Precision and Automatic Agricultural Systems (CPAAS) are creating a practically adoptable robot that will pick apples as efficiently as people.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded a research team from WSU a $548,000 grant in 2013 as part of its National Robotics Initiative. The team hopes to test a working prototype as early as this fall in an orchard in Prosser, Wash.

A unique approach

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Cameron Hohimer, doctoral student at WSU Tri-Cities, examines the work of the 3D printer as it makes a part for the apple-picking robot prototype.

Unlike in factories and other industrial applications, apples require a system that is delicate enough to pick the fruit without bruising it, while also maneuvering around tree branches, leaves and other obstructions, said Manoj Karkee, principal investigator on the project and WSU assistant professor of biological systems engineering.

“That’s why it is more challenging and difficult compared to the robotics we have in industrial applications,” he said. “It does not mean we cannot learn from what we have seen or known in the industrial environment, but it takes much more creative solutions to make it happen in orchards.”

Karkee said he believes he and his team have taken a unique approach compared with others who have investigated robotic apple-picking.

Human assistance improves performance

Karkee is working with project co-investigators Qin Zhang, CPAAS director, and Karen Lewis, WSU regional tree fruit specialist, to approximate how the robot should move and manipulate to be most efficient and cause the least damage to the fruit and tree.

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A 3D printer makes a part for an apple-picking robot.

Working with Changki Mo, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at WSU Tri-Cities, the team is focusing on the complementary nature of robots and humans to complete the apple-picking system.

“We are trying to use some level of human assistance in a co-robotic environment,” Karkee said. “The robot would do about 95 to 98 percent of the job, but the remaining 2 percent would be done in assistance by a human operator. That makes it, at least in my opinion, possible to see the level of accuracy and productivity that we need to achieve.”

The robot features an arm and “hand” in which eight motors operate in congruence with a vision system to delicately grasp and twist the fruit off the tree as a human does.

The robot’s vision system incorporates cameras and sensors to capture an image of the tree. Using algorithms to identify color, shape and texture, it differentiates fruit from the rest of the plant and determines fruit location so the robotic arm can be directed for picking.

Hope for the future

Karkee said he is pleased with the progress and is optimistic about the team’s prototype that could be used for commercialization in the near future.

“This is one of the most challenging problems that scientists and agricultural engineers are dealing with right now,” he said. “Based on what we know, it is really promising. We really think we have something.”

He said if they succeed in creating an apple-picking robot, it could potentially save growers millions in Washington’s multibillion dollar apple industry.

“(Apple picking) is labor intensive, costly, risky; there are not enough laborers to do it and it is seasonal,” he said. “All of these factors encourage us to develop a machine. These are recognized problems that farmers, local bodies and the federal government are all trying to solve. We hope to be the solution to that problem.”

 


Contacts:

Manoj Karkee, WSU assistant professor of biological systems engineering, 509-786-9208,manoj.karkee@wsu.edu
Changki Mo, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of mechanical engineering, 509-372-7296,changki.mo@tricity.wsu.edu
Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations coordinator, 509-372-7333,maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

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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.”

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.”