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Technologies to be implemented in Uganda this June

RICHLAND, Wash. – Three teams of engineering students at Washington State University Tri-Cities designed technological advancements that will address challenges pertaining to farming, education and agricultural business in rural communities in Uganda.

The projects were part of the students’ capstone engineering courses at WSU Tri-Cities where students are tasked with completing a year-long project that integrates many of the components of the students’ foundational engineering and related courses to solve either a real-world or simulated problem.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - solar lighting

Scott Hudson, WSU Tri-Cities professor of electrical engineering (left), helps his students solder a wire to a strip of solar-powered lights that the students designed for a remote community in Uganda. The lights will be implemented in the Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda this June.

The projects for the Ugandan communities include:

  • An aquaponic system that incorporates minimal water, fish and a growing medium to produce a recyclable and sustainable agriculture system
  • A solar-powered lighting system that will allow for additional educational instruction time in the evening and during other minimal daylight hours
  • A solar-powered mushroom dryer that preserves a local mushroom crop that will increase economic opportunity for the local community

Scott Hudson, WSU Tri-Cities professor of electrical engineering, and Messiha Saad, clinical assistant professor of mechanical engineering, serve as faculty mentors and advisors for the three projects, which were funded by Hudson on behalf of The Giving Circle. The Giving Circle is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which provides services and builds schools, sanitary facilities and more, to help disadvantaged communities around the world.

Hudson will also accompany a Giving Circle team to Uganda this June to help implement the new technologies to ensure their longevity and success.

The students spent their first semester predominantly coming up with a design for their projects and their second semester physically building the structures.

“What is great about these projects is that they will be directly implemented into communities that have a dire need for these technologies,” Hudson said. “Students are using their skill in engineering to design products that will serve an immediate need for a deserving community across the world. They’re solving real-world problems that will have a lasting impact.”

Aquaponic system for food sustainability

The Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda is located far from urban areas and utilities and is considered largely “off the grid,” Hudson said. Many people in the community don’t have access to their own farmland or can’t afford it, and water is in limited supply. An aquaponic system, which recycles water and fish waste to fertilize growing plants in the system, while allowing the fish to breed and then act as an additional food source, is a crucial technology that will do a lot of good, Hudson said.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - aquaponics

The WSU Tri-Cities student electrical engineering team poses with their aquaponics project that will be implemented this June in the Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda.

The WSU Tri-Cities student electrical engineering team, composed of students Amjad Al-Shakarji, Gabriel Fuentes, Trevin Schafer and Daniel Cain, had a lot of obstacles to overcome with their design, as many of the materials had to be inexpensive and either available in Uganda or easily shippable to the site. The team also had to conduct a tremendous amount of research, considering their backgrounds were limited in botany, hydrology, etc.

“It was an incredible learning process,” Schafer said. “We’re obviously not hydrologists or mechanical engineers, but we made it all work. A ton of our decisions in the design and construction were based off of research and collaborative ideas. It also helped that we worked really well together.”

The team’s design required the use of solar panels and battery storage, which is where the students’ skills in electrical engineering came to play. The students also developed an electronic system that allows them to monitor the effectiveness of the system remotely and track their data.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - aquaponics

The WSU Tri-Cities students’ aquaponics system utilizes a solar-powered pump to pump tilapia fish waste and recycled to plants that are planted in an above bin. The student’s design will be implemented in the Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda this June.

The way the team’s design works is as follows:

  1. Plants are planted in clay pellets atop the apparatus, where water is circulated to the plants via a solar-powered pump
  2. Tilapia fish live in a water tank and their waste is distributed to fertilize the plants growing at the top of the apparatus
  3. The fish then double as a food supply source, as they are native to Uganda and are easy to breed

Schafer said overall, the system uses far less water than that of traditional farming methods.

“The main reason we chose this project as our final engineering capstone project is that it truly provides one of the best resources for the people of Uganda,” he said. “It may not be as heavy in electrical engineering as some of the other student projects, but this project will certainly do a lot of good.”

Al-Shakarji said the project has presented the team with significant challenges, but great rewards.

“It’s been challenging to add the component of having to keep something alive, but it’s something that the people in Uganda will find of real value,” he said. “It’s also something that can be easily expanded. Using a manual that is provided by our team and components that may be easily shipped to the country or purchased locally, anyone can recreate this system. The sky is the limit for expansion.”

Solar lighting for additional educational hours

The Kagoma Gate Village has no access to electricity, which limits the number of hours that are available to provide educational instruction, activities and more. That is why a WSU Tri-Cities student electrical engineering team has partnered to create a solar lighting system that will provide more educational hours to the villagers’ days.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - solar lighting

The WSU Tri-Cities student electrical engineering team poses with their solar lighting system (above) that will be implemented in the Kagoma Gate Village in Uganda this June.

The team, composed of students Pierce Jones, Daniel Deaton, Steven Goulet and Richard Dempsey, are creating a lighting system that will provide the same level of light as a standard U.S. office building and has the capability to store enough energy for at least two hours of light per night.

“Right now, the villagers are using kerosene lanterns, which are not only very dangerous, but also very expensive,” Hudson said. “When you think about the fact that these people are making an average of $1 a day, that can eat significantly into the family’s budget.”

Deaton said one of their main challenges was finding components that met their design requirements, allowing the lights to shine bright enough, while not making the system too expensive for the village. The batteries and

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - solar lighting

The student’s solar lighting system uses a strip of LED lights powered by a solar energy system. The system will provide the same level of light as a standard U.S. office building and has the capability to store enough energy for at least two hours of light per night.

the solar panels, specifically, can be very expensive, he said. The system also had to be simple enough so that it could be recreated by other people in the region.

“Ideally, when this is all done, we want to have it where other villages can reproduce it at a low cost,” Dempsey said. “These are very hard working people that deserve to have a few hours of additional light that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”

Dempsey said their design, including the solar power components, can be reproduced for about $500.

“Our system is all very scalable and very linear,” Deaton said. “When it does get reproduced, we hope that the village won’t have to learn anything beyond that initial installation. We are creating a manual that provides all of the instructions for the installation.”

Mushroom dyer for economic growth

While Uganda has made great strides toward reducing the level of extreme poverty within the country, economic development remains a significant challenge due to lack of infrastructure and access to larger markets.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - mushroom dryer

The WSU Tri-Cities mechanical engineering team builds the frame for their mushroom dryer, which will be implemented this June in the Wakiso District of Uganda.

The Panache Cooperative in the Wakiso District of Uganda has been successfully growing oyster mushrooms, which are considered a delicacy in Africa. Preserving the mushroom’s shelf life, however, has posed a problem. Without extended preservation, exporting the crop to larger markets is impossible. That is why a WSU Tri-Cities student mechanical engineering team is constructing a mushroom drying device that uses minimal power.

The team, composed of students Sam Sparks, Rachel Estes, Keenan Moll, Ian Pierce, Lorraine Seymour and Joel Larson, was tasked with reinventing traditional commercially available dehydrators. Even the modest-sized versions, Pierce said, require significant electrical power, which is not available in the Wakiso District.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had to deal with is getting a mushroom, which consists of 90 percent water, down to 20 percent while dealing with the Ugandan climate that consists of about 70 percent humidity year-round,” Pierce said.

To combat that issue, the team created a device that utilizes a Lexan polycarbonate top that allows for the air to absorb solar energy and be superheated within the system. The system then uses solar components to promote air flow to help regulate the temperature, which ensures that the mushrooms don’t cook, and in turn, lose nutrients.

WSU Tri-Cities engineering projects for Uganda - mushroom dryer

The WSU Tri-Cities mechanical engineering team constructs piping for their mushroom dryer that will be implemented this June in Uganda. The team’s goal was to be able to dry approximately 25 kilograms of mushrooms per day with their design.

“The design has to be simple so that they can build it there,” Seymour said. “It all has to be simple parts with simple assembly, which we were able to accomplish.”

Moll said their design should increase the standard shelf life of the mushrooms from 24 hours, which is standard for unrefrigerated fresh mushrooms, to several weeks or more for the dried product. The team’s goal was to be able to dry approximately 25 kilograms of mushrooms per day. The team’s modular design is scalable to accomplish that feat.

“The people in the Wakiso District will be able to use the dryers to dry their mushrooms and sell them as a local product to restaurants and other businesses, which will help them earn a greater living,” Seymour said. “I feel very rewarded to have participated on this project, because we’re creating something that will have a lasting value.”

Saad said the projects provided his students a tremendous opportunity to utilize their skills in engineering to provide solutions to issues across the world.

“These humanitarian projects provided unique opportunities for my students and gave them greater confidence and the skills to work in unfamiliar environments and across cultural differences,” he said.

Beyond implementation

In addition to installing the different devices within their respective communities this June, Hudson said his goal will be to meet with representatives of the Ugandan government, representatives from the universities, as well as other influential figures to see how they can spread their work to other regions and villages.

“These villages are at a zero level for technology,” he said. “Anything we can do to help is a big improvement, and by empowering Ugandans with technology that they can fix, adapt and implement themselves, it will have a lasting impact that will benefit individuals for generations to come.”

Hudson said The Giving Circle has been a tremendous partner. He said he plans to continue the partnership for future student engineering projects.

“The Giving Circle is in it for the long-term and it makes a lot of sense for us to make this an ongoing development project from WSU Tri-Cities,” he said. “This is hopefully just the beginning of a larger effort and partnership.”

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

RICHLAND, Wash. – Kylie Chiesa, this year’s Washington State University Tri-Cities valedictorian, has always felt she had a special connection to children with developmental and physical disabilities.

She began working as a life-skills helper in high school and with her school’s Buddy Club.

“They learn in unique ways that fit their individual personalities and needs,” she said. “It is incredibly rewarding to see these individuals grow at their own pace in order to make their distinctive mark on the world around them.”

Finding her passion

In college, Chiesa started on the nursing track, but soon realized that career path wasn’t for her. From there, she spent three summers working at a camp for children with disabilities at The Arc of Tri-Cities, and realized that working with disabled children was her true passion.

Chiesa spent three years as a paraeducator at Canyon View Elementary School in Kennewick before deciding to pursue a degree in education with an endorsement in special education from WSU Tri-Cities.

“I loved what I was doing and decided to take the next step to become a teacher,” she said.

Kylie ChiesaClassroom exposure

During her coursework at WSU Tri-Cities, Chiesa had the opportunity to complete several practicum experiences in the classroom. She served in a variety of elementary school classrooms around the Tri-Cities focused that focused on general education, autism, and life-skills. Currently, she serves as a long-term substitute teacher in a resource classroom at Lincoln Elementary School and Canyon View Elementary School.

“My education at WSU Tri-Cities prepared me for a career as a teacher in many ways,” she said. “Going to different placements allowed for me to see many different teaching methods, strategies and approaches. The courses I took prepared me for teaching various subjects.”

In each class, she and her fellow students were given tools that they could use to stock a figurative tool bag.

“When we step into our first classroom, we will have a tool bag full of various tools to use with our students,” she said. But the learning won’t stop there, Chiesa added, as WSU Tri-Cities also taught her to be a lifelong learner.

First position in Kennewick

Chiesa has accepted her first teaching position as a primary autism teacher at Washington Elementary School in the Kennewick School District.

“Far too often, children with special needs are told what they can’t do,” she said. “Instead of focusing on everything these children can do. I repeatedly hear them described by their limitations. It is my goal to discover what those children with special needs can do well and assist them in reaching their full potential. There is no greater joy than seeing a student meet a milestone that they have been working so hard to achieve.”

Chiesa will graduate with the 2017 WSU Tri-Cities class at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 6, at the Toyota Center, 7000 W. Grandridge Blvd., in Kennewick, Wash. Doors open at noon. The event is free to the public and tickets are not required.

 

Media Contacts:

Kylie Chiesa, WSU Tri-Cities valedictorian, kylie.chiesa@wsu.edu

Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities public relations specialist, 509-372-7333, Maegan.murray@tricity.wsu.edu

RICHLAND, Wash. – Today, on a fitting sunny morning, Washington State University Tri-Cities dedicated its West Building to an individual known to have a matching luminous disposition whose leadership radiated across the state and nation: late WSU President Elson S. Floyd.

Elson Floyd - WSU Tri-Cities

Late WSU President Elson S. Floyd talks with students at WSU Tri-Cities.

WSU Tri-Cities leadership, faculty, staff and community members gathered to say a few words about Floyd as a curtain was lowered to unveil the new building designation as the “Elson S. Floyd building.”

Floyd passed away in June 2015, but many individuals at the ceremony stated that his legacy will live on for years to come through the tremendous initiatives and values that he instilled across the WSU system.

“Elson Floyd established a great legacy for WSU,” Chancellor Keith Moo-Young said at the ceremony. “Elson was a great friend and mentor.”

Floyd, who was also affectionately referred to as E-Flo to the campus community, was known across the state and nation for his passion for increasing access and affordability for higher education and wholly embodying the Cougar spirit. He successfully established the WSU medical school, which now bears his name, research grants tripled, WSU accomplished a $1 billion fundraising campaign and the university completed a variety of major construction projects including WSU Tri-Cities’ Wine Science Center. He also strongly advocated funding support for higher education institutions and at one-time contributed a portion of his salary toward scholarships during a time of recession.

Elson S Floyd building dedication - May 2017

The official sign is unveiled for the Elson S. Floyd building dedication.

“It has been almost two years since his passing, but the fact that we’re doing this makes a tremendous impact,” Moo-Young said. “We’re always going to be able to shed light on the great things that Floyd has done for this university and for higher education.”

Jana Kay, a coordinator for academic affairs who worked with Floyd throughout the years when he would come to WSU Tri-Cities, grew to know Floyd as a friend. She said the three tenants that he regarded as essential for the WSU system, which included accountability, affordability and access, weren’t just words to Floyd.

“He believed that all students should be able to go to college and afford it, and he truly expected the campuses to serve their communities,” she said. “When he came to the Tri-Cities, he always made time to meet with students and you could see that is where he got his energy … I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to President Floyd than having his name at the main entrance to campus.”

The idea for renaming the West Building as the Elson S. Floyd building came from Mark Mansperger, clinical associate professor of anthropology, who recommended it to campus leadership after Floyd’s passing.

Elson S Floyd building

Elson S. Floyd building at WSU Tri-Cities

“One of the things that I remember most about President Floyd was the professionalism that he always showed,” he said. “I’m really glad to see this name change in his honor.”

Although Floyd’s family could not be in attendance at the ceremony, Floyd’s wife, Carmento, wrote a letter to the WSU and overall Tri-Cities community to be shared.

“While I am unable to be with you this morning, please know that the Floyd family and I are grateful that you have chosen to honor and memorialize Elson in this extremely special manner,” she said. “He saw greatness here at Washington State University Tri-Cities and he wanted the entire WSU family, this community, the state and the world to realize the impact you are having in the world and the lives you are changing daily through your work.”

“He was proud of Chancellor Moo-Young and the leadership he, his faculty and staff were providing,” she said. “This endeavor to rename and dedicate the West Building to the Elson S. Floyd Building is the highest honor you can bestow in memory of Elson. It fills my heart with pride and enormous gratitude. I know that his spirit and huge smile are with you today, as is mine.”

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

A team from Washington State University Tri-Cities placed 17th recently during the SAE Aero Design Competition in Fort Worth, Texas.

WSU Tri-Cities - SAE Aero Design Competition

The WSU Tri-Cities mechanical engineering team poses with the airplane they designed and competed with at the SAE Aero Design Competition.

The team, composed of senior mechanical engineering students Erik Zepeda, Austin Shaw, Ryan Hagins, Matt Kosmos, Arich Fuher and Jose Espinoza, spent five months designing and constructing their airplane. The plane spanned seven feet long and had a wing span of eight feet.

The team said they chose a different design from WSU Tri-Cities teams who competed in years prior, and that their design was also different from many teams competing.

“Most of the other designs were pretty square, but we wanted to go with a more aerodynamic shape,” Shaw said. “We got numerous compliments on the design of our plane.”

During the competition, the team had a very successful first flight, placing fourth in the first round. During their second flight, however, the team had some electrical problems, which they weren’t able to remedy mid-air and the aircraft crashed.

“Even with that crash, we ended up placing 10th in the flight category,” Shaw said. “If we hadn’t crashed, we probably could have placed in the top five teams. That was disappointing, but everything else went really well.”

In addition to their 17th overall placing, the team placed 23rd in regular class design, 22nd in regular class presentation and 18th in regular class most payload transported.SAE Aero Design Competition - Spring 2017

All of the team members said despite their disappointing second flight, they all thoroughly enjoyed the design process, as well as the competition.

“It was a pretty cool experience, especially since it was our senior project,” said Zepeda. “I had never thought about aerospace engineering before, but now I’m thinking about it as a possible career direction.”

All the team members said the project presented them with excellent preparation for their future careers as engineers, regardless of the field of engineering they each go into.

“It definitely gives you good experience for taking on a large engineering project, as well as working with different people, scheduling, meeting deadlines and making presentations in front of judges,” Fuher said.

SAE Aero Design Competition - Spring 2017The design project was part of a senior capstone course taught by Messiha Saad, WSU Tri-Cities clinical assistant professor of mechanical engineering and faculty adviser for the campus’ SAE Aero Design team. Saad said the competition provides the opportunity for his students to learn the mechanics and importance of teamwork, project organization, scheduling, system and product design, product testing, cost analysis and project reporting.

“Through this design project and competition, my students are able to demonstrate and develop their engineering skills set in a real-world environment with real deadlines and stiff competition,” he said. “I am very proud that my students demonstrated the ability to successfully compete with students from some of the top-rated engineering programs in the country.”

RICHLAND, Wash. — Israa Alshaikhli secured her second term as president of the Associated Students of Washington State University Tri-Cities for the 2017-18 school year and will serve with a new vice president – sophomore Zachary Harper.

Israa Alshaikhli is a junior majoring in biological sciences and hopes to one-day become a doctor. Harper is majoring in business administration.

ASWSUTC student leaders

2017-2018 ASWSUTC Vice President Zachary Harper (left) and ASWSUTC President Israa Alshaikhli

The duo ran on a platform of bringing innovation, inclusion, transparency, community and accessibility to all students on campus.

One of the team’s largest initiatives in the upcoming year will be transitioning the student government into the new student union building while maintaining the current student lounge as a student-centered space.

“It will be nice to have a large space that is entirely student-focused,” Alshaikhli said.

Alshaikhli said they are also excited about continuing to build the WSU Coug nation, further connecting all of the WSU campuses together to share resources and provide support for all students.

“It has been our goal to provide the right resources and support in order to build a campus community where everyone feels welcome and represented,” she said. “It feels good to continue what I started last year and improve for next year. One thing that made me really happy about getting reelected is that students trust me to finish what I started.”

Harper formerly served as ASWSUTC’s director of finance. He said he is excited to step into larger leadership role as vice president.

“I’ve had such a great experience serving with ASWSUTC and I’m now excited to work side-by-side with Israa to continue to improve our campus and our community,” he said.

The elected college-specific senators include:

  • Connor Burnham – School of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Anjellica Ampil – College of Nursing
  • Tyler Schrag – College of Business
  • Essence Braggs – College of Arts and Science

To learn more about WSU Tri-Cities and its commitment to dynamic student engagement, dynamic research experience and dynamic community engagement, visit http://www.tricities.wsu.edu.

News media contacts:

Jeffrey Dennison, WSU Tri-Cities director of marketing and communications, 509-372-7319, jeffrey.dennison@wsu.edu

Brandon Fox, WSU Tri-Cities assistant director for the office of student life, 509-372-7300, Brandon.fox@tricity.wsu.edu

By Kaury Baucom, Viticulture & Enology

RICHLAND, Wash. – Connor Eck, a senior at Washington State University Tri-Cities originally from Del Mar, Calif., has been named a national Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact, a Boston-based nonprofit organization working to advance the public purposes of higher education.

The fellowship provides learning and networking opportunities to teach students leadership and how to bring communities together for positive change. As a student winemaker in WSU’s Blended Learning program, Eck worked with local growers and winemakers to develop leadership skills, gain hands-on experience and exercise environmentally friendly winemaking practices.

“I aim to find a way to limit the amount of water used in the farming of grapes and during the winemaking process, while still producing a high-quality product,” he said.

“The cultivation of community-committed leaders has never been more crucial,” said Andrew Seligsohn, Campus Compact president. “Our country needs more people who know how to bring communities together.”

The fellowship, named for Campus Compact co-founder Frank Newman, chose 273 students for the 2017 cohort. It is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.
News media contact:
Kaury Balcom, WSU viticulture and enology communications, 509-327-7223, kaury.balcom@wsu.edu

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

By Maegan Murray

Jamie Silva hadn’t considered a career in the medical profession until he saw directly how he could use research and patient interaction to better medical care for all citizens, regardless of demographic.

The recent nursing graduate of Washington State University Tri-Cities said it was through the research experiences he observed through both as a community college student, as well as in his undergraduate experience through WSU Tri-Cities, that opened his eyes to the possibilities of medicine.

As a community college student in Wenatchee, Silva participated in a research experience where he completed research on algae that they used to replicate the behavior of cancer cells and observe treatment effectiveness. The effort tied directly in with what friends and family had experienced in their battles with cancer. It propelled Silva’s interest in the medical field.

“I’ve seen family and friends pressured into certain types of treatments and this made me realize that I could have an impact on how patients are consulted about treatment,” he said. “My aunt, for example, was pressured into chemotherapy right away. Since she didn’t really understand English, so she assumed that was the best route for her. I want patients to be able to better understand their options.”

Silva began focusing on how he could take his newfound passion for medical research and patient care to the next level and applied to WSU Tri-Cities’ competitive nursing program. The school, he said, provided a perfect blend of medical research and implementation of innovative patient medical care that he had sought for a future in the profession.

This year, he was named the undergraduate nursing student of the year for WSU Tri-Cities.

“I feel that the nursing program is really impactful,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in a lab all day. I wanted that patient interaction. I wanted to see how the research applies directly to and affects the patient. WSU Tri-Cities ended up being a perfect fit for that.”

Real-world experiences

Through his hands-on courses at WSU Tri-Cities, Silva learned about how cancer and other diseases impacted the human body, how to treat those ailments, about different medicines, as well as how to approach patients about possible treatment options.

Silva said his courses utilized innovative tools such as advanced medical mannequins that mimicked individuals with various ailments and allowed students to practice their medical procedures. Additionally, he learned from world-class nursing faculty that tied what the students were learning in the classroom to extracurricular opportunities outside the classroom.

“Some of my biggest highlights were actually the professors,” he said. “They really care about us and really want to make sure that we succeed, and in turn, that our patients succeed.”

Silva’s professors at WSU Tri-Cities helped pair him up with a practicum experience at the Kadlec Regional Medical Center where his work focused specifically in research and administration. Through the experience, Silva attended meetings with physicians, nurse navigators and dietitians where they discussed cases, what worked best for individual patient cases, as well as what needed some changes. They then applied those strategies directly to their patient care.

Through the practicum, Silva also completed a research project that detailed how the hospital could reduce the time that patients suffer from neutropenia — a condition where the patient has an abnormally low count of a type of white blood cell, causing their immune system to be weak and creating a higher risk of infection. Neutropenia occurs in about half of people who receive chemotherapy. It is also a common side effect for people with leukemia.

“We compiled data on the time from when the patient walked in, to when they received antibiotics, the type of antibiotics they used and when those particular antibiotics were administered,” he said. “I compiled all of that data and showed it to the chief of nursing. It was a pretty informative experience and I hope it helps to make a difference in the lives of future patients.”

During his time at WSU Tri-Cities, Silva also gained admittance into a highly competitive summer internship through the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. Through the experience, Silva studied the latest and greatest methods for combatting cancer using the patient’s immune system.

“I would get to the laboratory and would have a research experiment in mind and I would write a protocol and conduct that experiment,” he said. “Some of those experiments involved observing how certain treatments would impact rats with cancer. I would also examine all the organs within the rat and see how effective the treatment was.”

Silva said he didn’t really realize it at the time, but he got the opportunity to work with some of the nation’s leading scientists and medical researchers.

“It was a pretty extraordinary experience,” he said.

Silva’s future in medical care

Silva said he hopes to take the experience he has had through WSU Tri-Cities, his experience at Kadlec, as well as his experience through the National Institute of Health to further improve the standard for patient care, as well as create and improve upon current and future cancer treatments.

“My friends and family who have had cancer have been the driving force with where I want to go and the influence I hope to have in the medical field,” he said. “It’s why I went into nursing.”

His end goal, he said, is to one-day become a physician focusing on cancer immunology. Because of his experience at WSU Tri-Cities, the WSU medical school is on his list of potential medical schools he hopes to gain acceptance to into the future.

“The nursing program at WSU Tri-Cities was more than impactful,” he said. “I learned how I could advocate for people with these diseases, the research behind those diseases, as well as how to combat those diseases through research into different treatment options.”

“I want to take a little bit of time working as a nurse and then apply what I’ve learned through my undergraduate courses, my experience as a nurse, as well as what I am going to learn through medical school in my future as a physician,” he said.

Alejandra Cardoso, a recent graduate of Washington State University Tri-Cities, was chosen as one of three representatives from Washington state to participate in the Council for Opportunity in Education’s National Policy Seminar March 19-22 in Washington, D.C.

The seminar affords the TRIO and GEAR UP communities the opportunity to help educate members of Congress, congressional staff and the president’s administration officials about the history and success of the programs, while giving the participants a chance to represent the interests and desires of low-income and first-generation students, veterans, adult learners and students with disabilities in the policy arena.

“It is really an honor,” Cardoso said. “What I’m looking forward to most about the conference is the opportunities to develop myself as a leader, as well as the opportunity to connect with other students with both similar and different backgrounds.”

Cardoso said she hopes to use the experience to share her own story of how the TRIO program at WSU Tri-Cities helped her be successful in her academics, which led her to successfully obtaining a position as a crime victim advocate with the Support, Advocacy and Resource Center in Kennewick, Wash., immediately following graduation last spring.

Cardoso said she was raised in an environment where school wasn’t considered valuable. She said she dropped out of school her junior year of high school, and that it wasn’t until after she had her first child at 17 that she considered going back to school to complete her high school diploma. The TRIO program, both at the community college level, as well as at WSU Tri-Cities, helped ensure her success in obtaining a bachelor’s in psychology.

“I never really saw myself as a college student,” she said. “What really got me interested in going when when I first worked at my first job at WorkSource. Seeing the social workers there inspire me to drive for my own success in that field. The TRIO program at WSU Tri-Cities kept me on track toward obtaining that goal.”

After transferring from Yakima Valley College to WSU Tri-Cities, Cardoso said she got really involved in the TRIO program, which provided her with support services ranging from tutoring, to counseling about academic and person-related issues and much more.

“The TRIO staff always try to help you as best as they can,” she said. “Just knowing that there was someone out there looking out for me and willing to help me, as long as I was willing to help myself, was crucial.”

In her current role as a crime victim advocate for SARC, Cardoso is fulfilling her dream of helping individuals get out of their despairing situations in order to live a better and more prosperous life. Specifically, she helps victims of harassment, assault, child abuse, identity theft and more.

“I’m the first person in my family to graduate from high school, let alone a university,” she said. “Now, I’m working on my master’s, which will allow me to further help individuals suffering with dangerous and undesirable situations. TRIO and WSU Tri-Cities helped me get to where I’m at now. I’m excited to share my story with others at the national policy seminar and I hope that I can help inspire positive change at the national level.”

For more information on the national policy seminar, visit http://www.coenet.org/policy_seminar.shtml.