By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – An elementary statistics in psychology course at Washington State University Tri-Cities partnered with Grace Clinic, a free health clinic in the Tri-Cities, to assess the mental health of its diabetic patients. The clinic now plans to use the data to maintain and improve its methods in meeting patient resources and health needs.

WSU Tri-Cities students talk with Grace Clinic leadership about the resources they offer through the clinic

WSU Tri-Cities students talk with Grace Clinic leadership about the resources they offer through the clinic.

Throughout the fall semester course, the students analyzed the clinic’s diabetic patient A1C score data, which indicates the degree to which patients have their diabetes under control, and used a range of statistical assessments to determine the mental health of patients based on several potential barriers to treatment – some of which include age, race, language spoken and gender. They presented their results this month to Mark Brault, Grace Clinic’s chief executive officer, and clinic director Avonte Jackson.

The experience proved beneficial to both the clinic and the students.

“I believe that the students gained a lot of insight from this project –  into themselves, the field and their community,” said Janet Peters, clinical assistant professor of psychology and instructor of the course. “The project also gave them a very marketable skillset related to quantitative literacy, social responsibility and communication skills.”

For the Grace Clinic, the main benefit is that the data provides support for some of the patterns they had been informally observing and the leg work to accomplish the analysis of that data, Peters said.

“Larger health organizations have people to do this kind of thing,” Brault said. “We have limited resources for this kind of in-depth analysis. We plan to use this data as we move forward.”

Student findings

Through their analysis, the students found that the clinic was doing an excellent job of creating access to health care. They determined that there was no definitive statistical differences in the observed mental health of their patients based on potential barriers to treatment such as primary language spoken and race.

Grace Clinic CEO Mark Brault takes WSU Tri-Cities students on a tour of the clinic

Grace Clinic CEO Mark Brault takes WSU Tri-Cities students on a tour of the clinic.

The students did find, however, that there was a slight negative correlation between age and mental health, meaning that older patients reported slightly lower levels of mental health than younger patients, overall.

During her presentation, student Lindsay Bernesky recommended that the clinic leaders dedicate additional time to educating patients about the mental health services offered.

Impact on Grace Clinic

Both Brault and Jackson said the student presentations were informative and confirmed many of the things that their staff had suspected, but hadn’t had the time to dive into and assess.

“It is nice to have some statistical analysis to confirm many of these things,” Jackson said.

Grace Clinic CEO Mark Brault presents to WSU Tri-Cities psychology students about the clinic and the services they offer

Grace Clinic CEO Mark Brault presents to WSU Tri-Cities psychology students about the clinic and the services they offer.

She also said the clinic plans to follow up on the mental health gap for their elderly patients, and that it has already started to introduce some additional services for that population.

“One of the gaps we recently discovered is that there is limited access to mental health services for Medicare patients,” she told the students. “We recently added patients with Medicare to our mental health area,” which affirms some of the student findings.

Brault said the clinic also is adding additional safety nets and services to support patient mental health throughout their clinic. In addition to seeing a physician, a scheduled health visit might also include seeing a mental health professional.

“It was good to hear that a lot of what we’re doing is working, and that a lot of what we’re putting in place will serve the needs of our patients,” Brault said.

Real-world benefit to students

Many of the students said they enjoyed the real-world aspect of the course and that it provided a greater understanding of statistical analysis in psychology research.

“I can read through a case study and understand all of the terminology and be able to fully understand the results,” student Nagat Deng said.

“To know that we took a burden off of them and that we are giving back in that way is amazing,” student Caitlyn Carroll said.

Student Martha Herrera said she appreciated that the real-world experience was interwoven with regular course material, which allowed students to work as a team.

“Dr. Peters gave us this opportunity to do something that would be beneficial for the community,” she said. “I think it is awesome that we have that opportunity here at WSU.”

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.”

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

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.

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

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


Media Contacts:

By Maegan Murray

An immersive experience at Washington State University Tri-Cities has Amy Verderber, a biology teacher at Kamiakin High School, performing research that has tie-ins to medicine.

Verderber studied biology in college before certifying to become a teacher, but she never got the opportunity to explore the field’s full research potential. Within the last two summers through the Partners in Science program, however, Verderber found herself working directly beside university biology faculty, completing research that has potential to improve what is known about human skull deformities and diseases.

Amy Verderber

Amy Verderber, a teacher at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, Wash., got the opportunity to complete biological sciences research at Washington State University Tri-Cities through the Partners in Science program.

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.

Verderber is working with Jim Cooper, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Elly Sweet, clinical assistant professor of biology, in researching the impact of thyroid hormone on the development of jaw shape and jaw biomechanics in the zebrafish. The researchers hope their research will shed light on how the abnormal thyroid hormone levels during development can lead to human skull deformities.

Verderber continues to use the experience to provide her students with real-world opportunities and outlooks in science. She has applied what she’s learned to her lessons and often brings discussion of her experience into her labs and instruction.

Elly Sweet (left) talks with Amy Verderber about their research on the thyroid hormone in zebrafish.

WSU Tri-Cities professor Elly Sweet (left) talks with Amy Verderber about their research on the thyroid hormone in zebrafish.

“It’s been a great experience,” Verderber said. “To my students, it is more than just reading out of a textbook. I’m able to bring what is happening all around them into a practical classroom experience. It provides them with a look into the lab setting. I am not just a teacher who went to school and studied the subject. I now can say I’ve worked in a real lab and am doing scientific research with real-world applications.”

Throughout the two summers, Verderber recorded zebrafish feeding mechanics using a high-speed video camera, determined the effects of both an overabundance and a deficiency of thyroid hormone on jaw mechanics and performed research on the genetic controls of fish skull development.

“We’re trying to identify how thyroid hormone activates or deactivate genes in the fish’s head to determine whether they develop really moveable or jaws or jaws capable of only limited motion,” Cooper said. “There are also a large number of human birth defects associated with abnormal thyroid hormone production that causes malformation of the skull. The research can therefore answer both evolutionary questions and medical questions.”

Verderber said her students were very receptive to both what she learned in the lab, as well as what she brought in to the classroom through her teaching. She said she hopes to raise zebrafish in her classroom this year so the students receive that additional hands-on, real-world application.

WSU Tri-Cities professor Jim Cooper (left) chats with Amy Verderber about their research on the impact on varying amounts of thyroid hormone in zebrafish

WSU Tri-Cities professor Jim Cooper (left) chats with Amy Verderber about their research on the impact on varying amounts of thyroid hormone in zebrafish. The research could lead to advancements in medicine.

“My students are learning something outside of a textbook,” she said. “It’s been really rewarding seeing not only how I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned for their benefit, but in seeing how they’ve reacted to that material.”

Sweet said she is excited about how Verderber’s experience in the WSU Tri-Cities lab will open the eyes of students to the possibilities of careers in the biological sciences, as well as project upward what high school students are learning today.

“Not only will it help with the research aspect of things, it will also be helpful to know what students are currently learning about in high school, be able to have some input into the possibilities of projects they could work on, as well as have the opportunity for us to come into the high school classrooms to give presentations,” she said. “Even though many students majoring in the biological sciences are interested in pre-health, there are many other career options out there. This provides a great partnership on that end.”

Included in the Partners in Science program is the option of applying for a supplemental grant, of which the funds go toward classroom equipment like microscopes, pipettes and other supplies. Verderber said she plans on applying and that it will provide a great resource for her students if she receives the grant.

“I hope other professors see the value of this program and the many benefits that come out of it,” she said.

Cooper and Sweet agreed.

“The amount of time that we have invested in collaborating with Amy we have gotten back many times,” Cooper said. “It’s a gain in resources and a huge win for both the lab at the university.”

By Christina VerHeul, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine

Elson S. Floyd_College_of_Medicine logoSPOKANE, Wash. – A new profile of the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine charter class shows it is comprised of a strong percentage of women, low socioeconomic status and first generation students.

The class, a group of 60 students who are current residents of or have significant ties to Washington, represent a population of talented students who would otherwise have been forced to go out of state for their medical educations.

2017 Elson S Floyd College of Medicine class photo.
WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine 2017 charter class.

Selected from more than 700 applications that were submitted in just 27 days – the timeframe between receipt of preliminary accreditation and the application submission deadline – competition was stiff for the coveted spots.

“Our recruitment cycle for this first class was extremely truncated,” said Dr. John Tomkowiak, founding dean of the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. “While most schools began recruiting in the summer, we couldn’t begin recruitment until November 2016. Despite the challenge, the fact that we received more than 700 applications in less than a month only highlights the pent-up need for medical education in this state.”

The college focused on drawing students from a wide cross-section of rural and urban underserved areas across the state to increase the likelihood they will return to their communities to practice medicine. It then selected students from 15 of the state’s 39 counties, with 15 percent of the class hailing from rural communities.

The college exceeded national averages for admission of females and average age, and had great success recruiting first-generation college graduates, as well as students with low socioeconomic status.

“We are proud of the highly accomplished group of students we selected for this charter class,” said Tomkowiak. “As we continue to grow in awareness and reputation, as well as build our recruitment efforts across the state, we anticipate the applicant pool and matriculated classes will continue to impress.”

Below is a profile of the charter class:


  • Females: 34 (56.7%)
  • Legal Washington residents: 57 (95%) *The 5% nonlegal Washington residents must demonstrate they are from Washington by meeting at least 3 of the 4 requirements: born in Washington, childhood address in Washington, graduated from a Washington high school, parent/guardian currently lives in Washington.
  • Childhood in a rural Washington county: 9 (15%) *Based on Office of Financial Management data.
  • Childhood in a medically underserved Washington county: 58 (96.7%) *Based on the area health resources files from Health Resources & Services Administration.
  • Washington counties represented: 15, including Clallam, Clark, Cowlitz, Franklin, Grant, King, Pacific, Pierce, Snohomish, Spokane, Stevens, Thurston, Whatcom, Whitman, Yakima.
  • First-generation college graduate*: 11 (18.3%) *bachelor’s degree
  • Low socioeconomic status*: 20 (33.3%) *Based on AMCAS EO1 or EO2
  • Average age: 26 / range 21-36
  • Advanced degrees: 7 (11.7%)


  • Total AMCAS applications: 711
  • Total secondary applications sent: 501
  • Total completed applications: 466
  • Total interviewed: 332
  • Matriculated class: 60

For more information, visit

Media Contact

  • Christina VerHeul, director of communications and marketing, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, 509-368-6850,

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

It may be two years before Washington State University Tri-Cities has Elson S. Floyd Medical School students based on its campus, but Farion Williams, the new associate dean of medicine for the Tri-Cities campus, is already ramping up for the students who will study in the mid-Columbia region for their final two years of the WSU medical program.

“The Tri-Cities is in a very unique position in Washington state, with its variety of health care providers and professionals, its opportunities with organizations like the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and its potential for providing rural healthcare in eastern Washington and underrepresented communities,” Williams said. “I’m excited to be a part of getting the new Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine up and running, and I’m excited to join the team at WSU Tri-Cities.”

Farion Williams - WSU Tri-Cities associate medical dean

Farion Williams – WSU Tri-Cities associate medical dean

Williams, who begins his new role on June 26, plans to spend his first weeks on the job identifying and training faculty and helping to establish the curriculum, as well as meeting with local physicians and representatives from different medical providers to gain an understanding of the health care climate in the region.

“The Tri-Cities is a new community for me, so I look forward to meeting with the physicians and medical providers and understanding the different hospitals in the community,” he said.

A graduate of the University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio, Williams completed his residency training at the University of Kansas Medical Center where he served as the program’s chief resident in his final year. He began his first practice through the University of Texas Medical Branch in Dickinson, Texas. Following his time at UTMB, he became the associate residency director for family medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, and most recently served at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, where he held many roles – including residency program director and assistant dean for graduate medical education.

Williams’ medical resume includes extensive experience serving and developing programs for rural and underserved populations – a focus he looks forward to continuing at WSU.

“The mission of Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine is really important because there are many communities that lack resources for health care, and when their access is limited, their care is limited,” he said. “Once students have opportunities to train in rural communities, they are more likely to want to practice in rural communities, which is why it’s crucial that we establish those opportunities here in Washington state. I think it is very forward-thinking that WSU is focusing their program to help address this issue.”

In addition to his work stateside, Williams hopes to offer a study abroad opportunity that he has been a part of for several years at the University of Illinois. Through the program, medical students travel to Christian Medical College in India where they provide medical care, work with the local physicians and learn about how the health care system works within the country.

“The study abroad program gives students an opportunity to experience the healthcare systems in another country, how health care is delivered, how different national policies affect the way healthcare is delivered, and how the populations are different,” he said. “Students see that a lot of good can be done with limited resources and develop a perspective of compassion and empathy for people.”

Williams worked with the department of family medicine faculty at the medical college in India to help them gain accreditation for their residency program through the Medical Council of India in March 2017.