By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – Students in a computer science capstone course at Washington State University Tri-Cities have partnered with Cypherpath, a local software company, to develop a platform that will help companies, both large and small, easily set-up, safeguard and better monitor their online business network.

Cypherpath logoAs the world of technology moves into a more cloud-based platform, information technology departments and companies are looking for ways to better convert, safeguard and maintain their cyber security infrastructure. Ways of capturing their online information and turning it into a completely digital platform, however, can be difficult, as it may require a lot of manpower, time, equipment and funds.

What the students are helping Cypherpath achieve is a platform that would allow companies to seamlessly capture their network information, which would then be used to autonomously create a company network. In the case of a cyber attack, the user could then go back and see exactly what happened, and if disrupted, seamlessly recreate the infrastructure that was damaged or lost.

Scope of the project

The group working with Cypherpath on the project includes students Logan Wickham, Andrew Tolman and Matthew Harris, all of which are completing the project as part of a senior design computer science course at WSU Tri-Cities. Cypherpath’s Chief Technology Officer Steve Silva and Philip Tilton, the company’s chief engineer, are both mentoring the students for the project.

Computer science students post with their project poster during the undergraduate research symposium

Computer science students (from left) Logan Wickham, Andrew Tolman and Matthew Harris post for a photo with their poster on the project they are completing in partnership with Cypherpath, a local software company in the Tri-Cities.

“We wanted the students to focus on a real customer problem that could be mentored in parallel to our development teams,” Tilton said. “We scoped the project in such a way that they could demonstrably show success with an initial end-to-end solution.”

Tolman said the ability to recreate a network has big potential for many organizations that have and deal with cybersecurity.

“In IT, there is a great demand to virtualize infrastructure to reduce the costs,” he said. “You can pay people to do this, or you can pay to have a system do it for you.”

Creating and refining the platform

Wickham said with their system, instead of having individuals to physically go in and create the network from scratch, their system would accomplish the same feat seamlessly and autonomously.

“It is all digitized and automated,” he said. “With cyber security, it also allows us to see when a cyber attack is happening and also allows us to feel out a dangerous area and seamlessly copy a system.”

The group is in the first phase of the project. They spent this fall semester building the program and will spend the following semester refining and adding other elements to complete the software.

“A viable network is what we intend as we move forward,” Harris said. “Anybody running large-scale networks would be interested in this technology.”

A partnership that prepares students for success in computer science

The partnership with Cyperpath resulted out of Brian Lamarche, the instructor for the course, reaching out to local industry members about possible real-world projects for their students to complete as a senior design final project.

“I reached out to a few colleagues I’ve worked with and many agreed to provide us with a project and also be the technical mentors for the project,” he said.

Lamarche said what is exiting about the group’s project is that it will be viable for companies ranging from small to large.

“This company provides a simplified system that cuts costs for many companies,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for our students because they’re a local organization and their project could have a large impact.”

The software the students are completing is an entirely new platform, but one that will exist between two existing systems for Cypherpath, aiding in their overall efforts to meet regional, state and national company networking needs.

“The students’ project will enable our customers to discover and bring existing infrastructure definitions directly into Cypherpath’s Software Defined Infrastructure Operating System, where they can provision, copy, share and management infrastructure on-demand,” Silva said. “This project has also introduced us to talented individuals who could someday join Cypherpath’s mission.”

The students will present their project to Cypherpath in April. The goal with their software, Tolman said, is to hopefully open it up through Cypherpath as an open source so that anybody can use it.

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – Neon rainbow pathways, smoldering ember-lit caves, eerie forests and bridges that lead to mystical lands, are just some of what individuals experience in virtual reality environments created by students as part of a fine arts sculpture course at Washington State University Tri-Cities this semester.

Student experiments with sculpting in virtual reality

WSU Tri-Cities student Alana Ahquin sculpts an environment in virtual reality.

Jonah Firestone, assistant professor of education and director of the Simulation and Integrated Media for Instruction Assessment and Neurocognition (SIMIAN) Lab, first approached Sena Clara Creston, clinical assistant professor of fine arts and digital technology and culture, this semester about using the virtual reality technology in the lab as a means for student course work in the arts.

Creston decided to have her students explore the medium to create 3-D settings that can then be enjoyed and explored by others.

She said typically with art, students are limited in what they can create, as it has physical and monetary limitations. Using Google’s Tilt Brush program in virtual reality, however, students can create 3-D masterful creations that extend beyond what is physically available in the traditional art sphere.

Students created three environments using virtual reality software

Students created three different, but detailed, environments using virtual reality software as part of a sculpting class at WSU Tri-Cities.

“It’s an opportunity for students to create within the parameters of their imagination, rather than within their physical parameters,” she said.

Using imagination to explore beyond physical limits

Students worked in three teams, each group intricately designing and planning for what they would include in their environments. Using basic tools, much similar in scope and style of the Paint program on the Microsoft operating system, the students created complex worlds, each with their own flare and style that encompassed 360-degree views of colorful landscapes.

Student Athena Marquez said even though the parameters of the program were simple in concept, it forced them to use their imaginations to bring scenes and objects to life.

“It’s really freeing,” she said. “You had to use your imagination to create a whole environment.”

One of the teams created a world featuring neon and bright pulsating lights, rainbow paths, banana peels and monsters, inspired by that of Nintendo Mario Kart’s rainbow road. Another group created an enigmatic world that featured a dark and mysterious cloud-like environment featuring archways of trees that led to a cave that showcased flickering golden embers. The last group created an extravagantly detailed dual environment that first welcomes the viewer into a cloud-like nebula that then encourages the viewer to enter into a fantastical forest featuring rich trees, waterfalls, pools and other features.

The students were required to spend a minimum of 20 hours in the lab, but many ended up spending more than 30 hours working on their environments.

A hands-on, enriching experience

“I didn’t know what to think about it, at first,” fine arts student Audrey Danielson said. “But as soon as you started doing it, you become crazy about it. It definitely gave me a great perspective on what is possible with art. There is so much space and you’re free to create these large environments that other people can then explore.”

Experimenting with virtual reality environments

WSU Tri-Cities student Adam Whittier logs into a virtual reality environment that he created with a group of students in a sculpture course at WSU Tri-Cities before putting on the VR headset to immerse himself into that environment.

Student Adriana Iturbe said what she enjoyed most about the project was the fact that it blends elements of art with elements of technology and engineering.

“I think this is something that many more students should experience,” she said. “As an engineering major, what I like is seeing and exploring the connections between disciplines and using those different disciplines to bring a project to life. This project really does open your mind to other experiences.”

Student Adam Whittier said he hopes the opportunity is extended to students from a variety of different backgrounds, as it provides a learning experience like no-other that is useful to the students’ diverse academic tenure.

“There are so many capabilities,” he said.

Creston is now partnering with Bob Lewis, associate professor of computer science, and his graduate student Antonio Ledesma, on an interactive virtual reality art environment. Lewis is planning on teaching a course to program interactive environments. Creston plans to partner with him and his students to conceptualize, design and program these interactive environments.

“We want to make these environments interactive, instead of just static,” she said.

For more information on the SIMIAN Lab at WSU Tri-Cities, contact Firestone at For more information on the digital technology and culture program at WSU Tri-Cities, visit

By John Sutherland, University Communications

Sandra Haynes

RICHLAND, Wash. – Sandra Haynes, a senior administrator at Metropolitan State University of Denver, is the new chancellor of Washington State University Tri-Cities.

WSU President Kirk Schulz announced Haynes’ hiring Monday, Dec. 18. She will begin her duties on March 1.

As chancellor, Haynes will function as the chief executive officer, representing the campus in the community, guiding campus growth and advocating for WSU Tri-Cities within the WSU statewide system of campuses.

Haynes currently is deputy provost and vice president of academic affairs and a professor in the Department of Human Services at MSU Denver. She oversees all academic affairs units. Previously she was dean of the university’s College of Professional Studies for 13 years.

Ideal skills to advance goals

“Sandra’s leadership skills and collaborative approach to building innovative partnerships promises an exciting future for WSU Tri-Cities as we continue to grow enrollment, academic programs and facilities,” Schulz said. “Her expertise also will shape the pivotal role WSU Tri-Cities will play in achieving our systemwide goal of becoming a top 25 public research university by 2030.”

Expanding WSU’s partnership with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, as well as continuing to ensure access to higher education for residents of eastern Washington, are among the priorities the president has identified for the new chancellor.

“I am honored and humbled to be selected as chancellor of WSU Tri-Cities,” Haynes said. “I look forward to playing a role in the important contributions the campus makes in the Columbia Basin area through quality instruction and the advancement of life-changing research. I am also excited to join the vibrant and engaged Tri-Cities community.”

Haynes’ achievements at Metropolitan State University Denver include identifying alternative sources of funding for the university by creating public-private partnerships and interdisciplinary programs to meet community and workforce needs. She also established best practices for the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty.

Haynes is a licensed psychologist and has authored several articles and book chapters. Her research interests range from topics in neuropsychology to philosophical issues regarding punishment to applied topics in human services and psychology and in higher education. She earned her doctorate and master’s degrees in experimental neuropsychology at Colorado State University, where she also competed a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Haynes was one of four finalists for the chancellorship following a nationwide search. The finalists recently visited the WSU Tri-Cities and Pullman campuses, where they met students, faculty, staff and members of the community. Haynes replaces H. Keith Moo-Young, who served as chancellor for more than four years.

WSU Tri-Cities

WSU Tri-Cities enrolls 1,937 students, more than 70 percent of whom study STEM-related academic disciplines. The campus offers 20 undergraduate and 33 graduate degrees.

WSU Tri-Cities student body is the most diverse among the university’s six campuses, with 38.9 percent of students identifying as minorities. WSU Tri-Cities hosts six university colleges, including Nursing, Medicine, Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, and Agricultural, Human and Natural Sciences, as well as the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The campus is home to the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory, a WSU-PNNL managed research and teaching laboratory.

In 2015, the Ste. Michelle Wine Estates WSU Wine Science Center, one of the most technologically advanced wine science centers in the world, opened at WSU Tri-Cities.

Construction of on-campus housing recently began and is expected to open next August.

The campus is also home to the region’s largest alternative teaching certification program and the Hanford History Project.



  • Phil Weiler, vice president for marketing and communication, 509-335-4742,
  • Jeffrey Dennison, director of marketing and communication, WSU Tri-Cities, 509-372-7319,

By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

PULLMAN, Wash. – Thanks to a state grant, Washington State University is providing greater access for paraprofessionals to become state-certified teachers.

The grant comes from the state’s Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB), which is responsible for oversight of the state’s teacher preparation, certification and continuing education. While there is a traditional route to becoming a teacher, such as through the College of Education’s teacher preparation program, PESB also has four alternative routes.

The award is for $140,000 at WSU Tri-Cities and is giving paraprofessionals in the area an alternative route to becoming certified teachers. It’s a second grant award to this project, which was successfully implemented two years ago. It’s been especially important in high-needs areas where teaching shortages have been prevalent, such as bilingual education, English Language Learner and special education. Additionally, there are some geographic areas of the state that have struggled to recruit and retain teachers. The Tri-Cities area is one of them.

Using past experience toward certification

For paraprofessionals, there’s a common denominator in what they lack to become state-certified teachers: course work and theory.

In a traditional teacher preparation program, the college students complete their course work, which includes vast amounts of theory in teaching practice, curriculum, classroom management and cultural-responsiveness. They are then placed in a school for practicum and student teaching.

These paraprofessionals already have varying experiences in the classroom, including instruction with small groups of students. However, they don’t have the theoretical background that students with traditional training have.

Lindsay Lightner, coordinator of the Tri-Cities alternative route project, said their project helps resolve that issue.

“A project such as ours gives them the opportunity to take classes and get that theoretical background,” Lightner said. “It’s been beneficial for paraprofessionals to understand why they have been doing X, Y and Z in the classroom.”

Many paraprofessionals have taken some college classes, including teacher preparation classes, but weren’t able to continue and get the full state certification.

“This program has been nice for those who haven’t been able to make that jump toward being a teacher yet,” Lightner said. “It gives them that little boost to make it past the finish line.”

No placement needed

Many paraprofessionals don’t require placement into a teacher preparation program, since they’re already in their home communities.

“We don’t have to go out and recruit people to move to the area,” Lightner said, “instead we’re helping those who already have roots in the schools to progress toward state-approved certification.”

By promoting paraprofessionals to teachers, Tri-Cities project co-director Judy Morrison said, it has made things easier on those districts.

“The districts have had to do less recruiting to try and find certified teachers,” she said.

But there’s one component that might be more important — relationships.

Traditionally, once preservice teachers finish with their teacher preparation program and student teaching, the interaction between the program and the school districts end.

“This has really strengthened our partnerships with multiple school districts,” Morrison said. “The way the grant is set up, not only do we get money to support the project, but districts get money, as well. We depend on their support in the schools, which has led to really important conversations, and has led to stronger relationships and stronger partnerships.”



Media Contact:

  • Brandon Chapman, communications director, College of Education, 509-335-6850,

Wine industry professionals seeking to advance their position or learn more about wine science may benefit from Washington State University’s online wine business management certificate. 

Registration for fundamentals of the wine business, the first of six modules offered by the Carson College of Business at WSU Tri-Cities, is open until  midnight, January 1,  at Students may register for individual modules or the entire one-year certificate.

Instructors include wine-industry experts, business and law professionals, and hospitality professors. Because the wine business management program is taught online, students can complete studies at their own pace within each module.

One unique aspect of the certificate is the wine business resident experiences. Students enrolled in the full certificate participate in two, off-site, hands-on wine experiences. The first introduces the strategic management wine project in Richland. Its proximity to the Red Mountain AVA, a designated American viticultural area in Benton County, Washington, exposes students to an agricultural region that distinctly makes Washington wine unique. The second residency at Ste. Michelle Wine Estates in Woodinville aims to immerse students in Washington’s wine business hub.

For more information about the wine business management certificate, call the Wine Beverage Business Management program at 509-335-5766 or email

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities alumnus Geoff Schramm never thought he would go to college.

Coming from a family where no one before him in his family had gone to college, he said it was sort of a family tradition that he goes straight into the workforce after high school.

Geoff Schramm presents during first-generation student celebration event

WSU Tri-Cities alumnus and instructor talks with students about being a first-generation, non-traditional student during a first-generation celebration event on campus.

“That’s just what you did in my family,” he said. “I didn’t have a blueprint for college or someone that could tell me about the experience. In some odd way, I felt it wasn’t for me when I was young.”

However, when the recession hit in 2008, he started thinking more about his future and the uncertainty that detailed the availability of jobs that were opened to him without an undergraduate degree. That same year, he applied to Washington State University Tri-Cities, got in, but couldn’t muster up the courage to start his classes. Then in January 2011, with his wife’s hand in his, he walked up the entrance steps to campus to begin his first semester at WSU Tri-Cities.

As the first person in his family to attend college, the beginning of this new college process was daunting. Often times, he said he didn’t feel he was smart enough. But through getting involved with campus programming, student clubs and especially through the development of professional relationships with faculty and staff, he said he found his place and really excelled in school.

“I decided to really submit and give myself to the process,” he said. “Once I started to do that and get involved with things on campus, everything changed.”

Finding his feet

While going to school, Schramm worked in the career development office as a career coach and then as a student mentor. He was also involved with several student clubs and served as a member of TRIO, which provides support services for students who are first-generation, disabled or economically disadvantaged.

Meanwhile, Schramm worked heavily with his environmental science faculty mentors to get a grasp of his school work, learning everything he could about his future field. Those same individuals then helped him connect with external professional learning opportunities that paired directly with his coursework.

WSU Tri-Cities alumnus Geoff Schramm hugs professor Dick Pratt following receiving his diploma last spring.

WSU Tri-Cities alumnus Geoff Schramm hugs professor and mentor, Dick Pratt, following receiving his master’s diploma last spring.

As an undergraduate student, Schramm completed a number of internships in his academic field. His first was with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which was followed with an internship with Mission Support Alliance doing biological monitoring. He also did a six-month internship with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As his combined school and career participation grew, so did his confidence, he said.

“I realized you may not get a degree because you’re smarter,” he said. “You can achieve a degree because you’re persistent enough to see yourself excel and you see it through. You have to put yourself out there and take opportunities as they come. I grew as a person mainly because I put myself out there.”

Prior to the end of his senior year, he decided to pursue a master’s program in environmental science. Through this opportunity and combined with his regular courses, he got the chance to teach several undergraduate lab courses, which opened his eyes to his love for teaching. He spent the past several summers helping instruct science courses for middle and high school students. He also completed an additional internship, this time with CH2M.

After graduating with his master’s in environmental science last spring, Schramm now works for Washington River Protection Solutions as an environmental quality lead. In addition to his full-time position, and as a way to give back to his time at WSU Tri-Cities, he also continues to teach science courses at the university.

Inspiring a new generation of college graduates

As he looks back on his college years, he said they were the ones that really prepared him for the best version of his professional self that he could be.

“I love being here,” he said of WSU Tri-Cities. “It was hard for me to leave as a student because I did see this place and the people here as family. The personal gratification that I felt through this place, which helped me reach my own desires, dreams and aspirations, stays with me.”

Geoff Schramm presents during the first-generation student celebration event at WSU Tri-Cities

Geoff Schramm presents during the first-generation student celebration event at WSU Tri-Cities.

Schramm said he now hopes to inspire in his children, as well as other men and women, to achieve their own aspirations through obtaining a college education. He asked his son recently if he was thinking about college.

“Heck yeah, I think about college all the time,” his son replied.

“I hope to build a legacy for my family and show them that education is important, life-long learning is important and giving back is important,” he said. “Hopefully through this experience, I’m giving them that.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Vincent Danna (’17) was in middle school when he lost all of his hair.

He suffers from a condition known as alopecia universalis, which is when the immune system mistakenly attacks the hair follicles. His personal struggle led him to want to become a dermatologist and help those who experience serious skin diseases and other ailments.

Vincent Danna (left) and brother

Vincent Danna’s brother (right) decided to shave his head in support of Vincent when he lost all of his hair in middle school.

“It sounds silly,” he said, “but my experience really spiked my interest in wanting to help other people through medicine.”

His passion led him to pursue a degree in biological sciences at Washington State University Tri-Cities, which in turn helped him land an internship at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). He continues to conduct cancer research with the computational biology group at PNNL.

He plans to use both experiences to get into a good medical school so that as a doctor, he can help others with similar and more serious medical conditions.

Real-world cancer research

At PNNL, Danna and his colleagues are analyzing ovarian cancer data in order to digitally categorize the productivity of what are called kinases. Kinases are enzymes within a cell that modify proteins and play a major role in the process of cell division.

Under the supervision of his PNNL mentor, Jason McDermott, Danna’s research focuses on identifying whether certain kinases are significantly overregulated or underregulated within cancer cells, which could demonstrate how kinases lead to the formation of malignant tumors. Targeting dysregulated kinases, he said, has the potential to stop the spread of the cancer, or to prevent it from developing altogether.

WSU Tri-Cities alumnus Vincent Danna

WSU Tri-Cities alumnus Vincent Danna

This spring, the team analyzed kinase data from 69 ovarian cancer patients. Danna said their results are promising.

“Cancer is essentially the over-replication of cells,” Danna said. “Chemotherapy targets fast-growing cells, but that can affect the whole body, as well as normal cells, which is why patients typically lose their hair. With our research, we hope to target something more specific, like a kinase or a gene.”

In the future, he said individuals may be able to take a drug or another inhibitor to suppress or better regulate those kinases.

“Targeted therapy is recognized as being one of the healthier and more beneficial methods in treating patients with ovarian cancer,” he said.

Danna and his colleagues at PNNL are now investigating whether dysregulated kinases have implications for phenotypes. Phenotypes are an organism’s gene-expressed observable characteristics, such as hair color. The outcome could help predict a patient’s lifespan and ability to fight ovarian cancer.

“The goal of that research is improving that patient’s quality of life and and to give them a better estimation of what they’re dealing with,” he said.

Additionally, Danna and other PNNL researchers are using similar processes to examine patient resistance or sensitivity to a type of cancer treatment called platinum therapy. The therapy uses platinum compounds to produce changes in the DNA structure as a way of treating specific cancers, including ovarian cancer.

Medical school and beyond

Danna said his science and statistics courses at WSU Tri-Cities gave him the ideal foundation for being successful with his work at PNNL. He said gaining the biological knowledge, as well as developing the statistical analysis skills to understand the computational side of writing code and programming through his internship, is what gave him the background to be successful with his position at PNNL.

Combining his academic knowledge with the opportunity to work on research that has real-world medical applications, has given him a realistic look at how medical research is done, and as a result, is experience he can someday use as a doctor, he said.

“It feels good that the research I’m completing will hopefully make a difference in the lives of future cancer patients,” he said.

Danna plans to take the Medical College Admission Test this spring and apply to medical schools soon afterward. He is currently considering the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine as an option.

Looking to the future, he is excited to lead his own medical initiatives that one-day might positively impact the lives of patients.

“I know what it’s like to suffer from a condition that can affect your physical and even emotional well-being,” Danna said. “I hope to make a difference in the lives of my own patients, someday.”

Preliminary research to be scaled into larger effort analyzing trends in wine industry entrepreneurship

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – From renowned winemaking regions to those that aren’t typically known for winemaking, business faculty from Washington State University Tri-Cities are studying why people start wineries in locations across the United States.

VineyardWine is currently made in every state in the nation; however, there are wineries located in regions that may not be suitable for grape growing or that don’t have a heavy foundation in wine entrepreneurship, said Rhonda Hammond, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of hospitality business and wine beverage business management.

Study examines winemakers’ motivations

“There is a gap in data regarding entrepreneurship in the wine industry,” Hammond said. “There hasn’t been a lot of research conducted on wine entrepreneurship in the United States. Not all winemakers are established in the places best for winemaking.”

Hammond, Byron Marlowe, clinical assistant professor and wine and beverage business management program coordinator, and Paul Skilton, associate professor of management, want to understand winemakers’ motivations and analyze major themes in entrepreneurship for wineries across the industry

In spring 2017, the researchers examined 307 U.S. wineries and vineyards as identified by Wine America, the national association of American wineries. They analyzed web and other digital media information to determine why wine makers chose various winery locations, and to see if location impacted success.

Location familiarity may trump best growing climate 

Hammond said their initial research indicates some winery owners, especially for those in regions that aren’t known for wine, may have sought out locations based on familiarity, regardless of whether the region’s soil, atmosphere, reputation and other conditions were conducive for winemaking. Others may import their fruit juice from other locations, she said.

“If people are already familiar with a place, then it makes it easier for them to be aware of opportunities and feel more comfortable starting a business in that location,” she said. “Some may also be able to import grape juice. Just because they may not be able to grow the grapes there, doesn’t mean they won’t be able to get the juice to produce wine.”

Hammond said wineries located in climates unsuitable for grape growing may also make wine with other fruits.

“The definition of wine is fermented fruit juice,” Hammond said “Hawaii, for example, is making pineapple wine. With the ability to transport juices, winemakers can utilize materials from other regions.”

The researchers plan to expand their research into a more extensive study where they will reach out to wineries across the country to assemble in-depth information about the wineries’ beginnings.

“We are hoping this can give us some direction and hopefully turn into something much bigger for the betterment of the wine industry,” Hammond said.

Chosen as one of approximately 30 students nationwide for summer optometry experience in Berkeley 

By Jessica Roth, WSU Tri-Cities

Catalina Yepez

Catalina Yepez

RICHLAND, Wash. – As a result of resources and mentorship she received at Washington State University Tri-Cities, student Catalina Yepez not only began the initial steps of realizing her future dream of becoming an eye doctor. The opportunities also led her to be selected for an opportunity open to only 30 students nationwide.

Yepez was selected as one of 30 students across the country to participate in a weeklong workshop that prepares students for medical school and careers in optometry at the University of California, Berkeley, this summer. The opportunity is one that was recommended to her by a WSU Tri-Cities professor.

She is now using the support of both her professors and her academic advisor to propel her opportunities as a future optometrist.

Identifying career dreams

Prior to beginning college, Yepez said she didn’t know what she wanted to pursue as a professional career. While going to school at Columbia Basin College, Yepez earned a receptionist job at a local vision clinic to help finance

Scan of Yepez's eye

During her optometry experience in Berkeley, Yepez got get a close look of her eye as part of an introductory eye exam.

her education. As she worked her way up, from clerical duties to conduction pre-testing for patients, she became fascinated by the whole field of optometry and found that she enjoyed working in the clinic.

While conducting an eye exam for a young boy who was fearful of the whole experience, but then became elated when receiving his first pair of glasses, Yepez’s eyes were opened about the opportunities in optometry.

“He exclaimed ‘I can see! I can see!” she said of the young boy’s reaction upon receiving his new glasses. “It was rewarding knowing that something so small and simple can change a person’s attitude and expression for the better. That is when I realized that optometry is what I wanted to do.”

Propelling dreams into actions

Shortly after that experience, Yepez began restructuring her academic plan to meet the pre-med requirements for optometry. She decided to transfer to WSU Tri-Cities her junior year to complete her undergraduate degree and to take advantage of the opportunities and resources available through the four-year university. An academic advisor, she said, was incredibly helpful with that process.

“I spoke to Mariella (Lora) with advising, she helped me out so much with my decision to transfer to WSU Tri-Cities,” she said. “It’s amazing how far you can go with the right support.”

Last spring, Elly Sweet, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of biology, encouraged Yepez to apply to internships to help her prepare for her future in optometry. This prompted her to look into prospective schools that she’d be interested in attending, and through her search she found a workshop offered at University of California, Berkeley.

Yepez and friends in an eye exam room

Yepez and friends in an eye exam room

The workshop allows students to experience what life was like as a medical student in the school’s optometry program. The program also provides students with valuable information about the admissions requirements and standards for medical school.

Yepez gained a recommendation from Nelmi Devarie Baez, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of chemistry, to include with her application for the program. She said she had Devarie Baez as an instructor for her organic chemistry class, which was one of her hardest courses. But through his mentorship, she gained an understanding for the material that would be vital to her future as an optometrist. With his recommendation and to her surprise, Yepez was selected of one of 38 students from around the United States for the experience.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” she said of her admittance into the program.

Through the program, Yepez spent one week in California with her cohort learning about strategies for a good score on the Optometry Admission Test, which is required for admittance into any optometry program, in addition to learning about how to prepare for an interview in the medical school application process and opportunities for real-world experiences in optometry after graduation. She also got to tour the university’s facilities and get a feel for the types of things they would be doing as medical optometry students.

“It was exciting,” she said. “We played with all of their equipment and learned how to perform a basic eye exam on each other. We learned more about the eye and vision and we got to experience a little bit of what it’s like to be a student there.”

Planning future career success

Yepez said if it wasn’t for the help and support of the faculty and staff at WSU Tri-Cities, she might not have realized her potential as a future optometrist and wouldn’t have gained admission into the Berkeley workshop.

“Everybody here at WSU Tri-Cities is trying to help you succeed,” she said. “There are a lot of resources here if you use them, and they help you out a lot. I am very happy I came here.”

Following her graduation this spring, Yepez said she plans to spend a gap year job shadowing local optometrists in the field and volunteering at a local cancer center before applying to optometry programs. She said she one-day hopes to work in a medical firm in the Tri-Cities region and might consider opening her own practice.

“WSU Tri-Cities has made me realize that optometry is a competitive field and I need to be a competitive applicant,” she said. “There are ways for me to prepare and resources here I can use. I’ve definitely gotten help every time I’ve asked for it.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

Jonah Firestone

RICHLAND, Wash. – WSU Tri-Cities is developing a teacher endorsement program in computer science that has attracted a $49,000 grant from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and a matching contribution from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Currently, there is no teaching endorsement program at any universities in Washington state for computer science, which makes program development in the subject increasingly important in today’s advancing technological society, said Jonah Firestone, WSU Tri-Cities assistant professor of teaching and learning and campus lead on the grant.

“The state of Washington has pushed to have at least one computer science teacher at every school who has an endorsement in the subject,” Firestone said. “Up until now, it was usually a math or science teacher who also had an interest in computing that would serve that role. But we need to take that further and offer an endorsement in the subject in order to best prepare our teachers.”

The first phase of the grant funds, he said, will fund the development and offering of professional development workshops with teachers from five districts that include Kennewick, Pasco, Richland, Prosser and Othello. The workshops, which currently are being developed by WSU Tri-Cities and PNNL and will be taught by PNNL computer scientists this spring, will provide training on computer science concepts and skills and for designing computer science curriculum.

The funds will also go toward stipends for educators who participate.

Firestone said there will be a combination of teacher recruitment for the program and recommendations from districts for current instructors who would immediately qualify for the program based on their roles in schools.

“We’re looking at teachers who are already in technology classes, plus we’re working with our contacts at the local science, technology, engineering and mathematics schools to inquire about teachers who would qualify and be interested,” he said.

Morrison Judy

The second phase of the grant entails the analysis of data collected over the course of the workshops, which will then be used for the development of a computer science certificate program for educators. Firestone and Judy Morrison, associate professor of teaching and learning, will co-lead the project. Together they will analyze the workshops and develop the certificate program.

Firestone said the certificate program will combine education courses with computer science courses.

“Classes on the content are not enough,” Firestone said. “We have to have classes on how to teach this material to the kids.”

WSU Tri-Cities is the only university in the state selected for the grant program. Twenty-four other districts, schools and nonprofits also were selected for the program, who will use the funds to train teachers, provide and upgrade technology, and expand access to girls, students from underrepresented populations and communities who have historically been underserved. The grants awarded to higher education institutions across the state total nearly $1 million.

“We are very grateful to OSPI for presenting this opportunity and to PNNL for providing the in-kind matching funds that will go toward the program and their time in working with us on this endeavor,” Firestone said. “This grant is allowing us to get this program started and off the ground. This is stage one of a multistage process.”