Student

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.

tricities_career_fair
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 careers@tricity.wsu.edu

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 http://tricities.wsu.edu/careerdev/careerfair.

 

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By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

 

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities experienced another record enrollment this fall, celebrating a 5.1 percent increase in undergraduate students, which brings the campus to a total of 1,937 students.

The overall enrollment increased by 3.7 percent and the growth this fall contributes to a 49 percent increase in enrollment since 2013 for the WSU Tri-Cities campus.

Fall orientation 2017

Students at the 2017 WSU Tri-Cities fall orientation

“We attribute this to so many factors,” said Mika McAskill, WSU Tri-Cities director of admissions. “We are growing because our excellent academic programs and student-focused approach, being able to provide access to research opportunities and internships at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and of course, our enthusiasm for meeting the higher education needs of our region and state.”

New freshman enrollment numbers reflect a 42.9 percent increase over last year. WSU Tri-Cities remains the most diverse campus in the WSU system, with 38.9 percent of students identifying as minority. Enrollment figures also indicate that 95.4 percent of students are Washington residents, highlighting WSU Tri-Cities’ on-going commitment as a land-grant institution that prepares the state’s future professionals to continue to grow Washington’s economy.

McAskill said Tri-Cities Cougs are able to thrive in a small, private-school education setting, with low student-to-instructor ratios, all at a public school cost. She said WSU Tri-Cities students have the opportunity to graduate career-ready as a result of pairing their coursework with internships and other real-world experiences by leveraging resources and WSU partnerships locally, nationally and internationally.

“Our students understand the value of hands-on project opportunities, and so many of our new students come to us already knowing about the connections we have and the kind of support that comes with joining the Cougar family,” she said.

In addition to the academic programming and overall support students experience at WSU Tri-Cities, the students also saw the opening of their new Student Union Building this month. The $5.73 million facility provides students with their own space to relax, study, grab a bite to eat and socialize between and after classes. The university also has campus housing coming to students in the near future.

“There are many great things happening at WSU Tri-Cities, and it is all out of a commitment to providing our students with the resources and infrastructure to be successful,” McAskill said. “We aim to continue to grow these opportunities for our students because when they win, our state wins.”

Learn more about WSU Tri-Cities and its commitment to dynamic student engagement, dynamic research experiences and dynamic community engagement at tricities.wsu.edu.

By Adrian Aumen, WSU College of Arts & Sciences

In a cold, dimly blue-lit room, a strange human–animal hybrid paces before the entrance to a fiery red cave. When the “Huminal” senses a viewer approaching, it stops, turns its head to stare at the visitor and emits its own red-hot glow. The viewer must then decide how to respond to the apparent challenge: continue toward the creature or retreat.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric work on the "Huminal," an interactive robot that responds to its environment.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric work on the “Huminal,” an interactive robot that responds to its environment.

The Huminal is an interactive, kinetic sculptural installation featuring an autonomous, mobile robot that senses and responds to changes in its environment. Created by an interdisciplinary team at Washington State University Tri-Cities, it incorporates research and techniques in fine arts, design, electrical and mechanical engineering and robotics to provide a unique platform for exploring the relationship between humans and machines—and, it turns out, between artists and engineers, too.

Two years in the making and nearing completion this month, The Huminal is the third and most complex art-machine designed and built in as many years by fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston in collaboration with WSU engineering students and faculty. It debuted recently to rave reviews at a robotics exposition for employees of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, where Gordan Gavric, a key member of the Huminal development team, is an electrical engineering intern.

“The feedback we’ve gotten so far is really great,” said Gavric, a senior in engineering and president of the WSU Tri-Cities Robotics Club. “People recognize it’s a robot, but at the same time they’re a little creeped out. How do people want to interact with a creepy robot?”

Designed to pique curiosity along with uneasiness, the Huminal is about the size and shape of a large dog and covered with white plastic discs resembling scales or fur. Its four jointed legs give the appearance of walking as it rolls in an elliptical path outside its apparent den.

Multiple internal sensors, a camera and a small Raspberry Pi computer communicate with microcontrollers across two electronic systems to direct the robot’s movements and trigger the pulsing red LED lights in its chest. The steady hum of its heart—two 8.6 volt motors—is interrupted only when a sensor detects nearby movement. At that point, the Huminal is programmed to stop in its tracks, turn its head to face the approaching object and transmit its warning glow.

“I look forward to seeing how more people react to it,” Gavric said. “Is it alive? Is it human? The mystery is unnerving and it’s this uneasiness that Sena is trying to exploit.”

A corporeal experience

new media artist, Creston builds interactive art-machines to create a corporeal experience for viewers. Her artworks invite people to engage with machines and familiar materials in unfamiliar settings and ways. Environmental impact and social consciousness are frequent themes.

Sena Clara Creston and Gordan Gavric work on the Huminal

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric work on the “Huminal” at WSU Tri-Cities.

“Some people get really aggressive with the work and some are really careful with it,” she said.

By enabling viewers to choose their response to her art, she hopes to help them understand other ways they affect the wider world.

From the haunting Huminal to the satirical Machinescape—an immersive environment of post-consumer electronics—to the dreamlike Umbrellaship—a land-roving, steampunk-style sailboat—much of Creston’s art employs fantasy while exploring intersections between the natural and the man-made.

“Part of it is movement, part of it is response, part of it is material and part of it is social engagement,” she said.

She will talk about her innovative artwork at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, as part of TEDxRichland events at Uptown Theatre in Richland, Washington.

To create the Huminal’s skin, Creston cut up dozens of discarded plastic water bottles—familiar and somewhat controversial objects that connect the organic and inorganic.

“Many people across the world live with an unsafe water supply, yet we think of water as the source of life and the source of health and wellbeing, and water bottles deliver that,” Creston said. “However, the water bottle itself is not biological or biodegradable—it’s inorganic and it’s not going away. So the material itself becomes this questionable component.

“How do we actually feel for the inorganic and how do these things elicit responses?”

Collaborating in uncommon opportunities

Giving form to Creston’s layered ideas and complex inventions often requires more technical skills than she possesses. So for the past 10 years, she has been learning and implementing modest means of physical computing and mechanical engineering.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric observe the Huminal as it interacts with its environment.

WSU Tri-Cities fine arts professor Sena Clara Creston and engineering student Gordan Gavric observe the “Huminal” as it interacts with its environment.

“But, as my mentor explained, I didn’t need to learn how to do everything—I needed to learn how to collaborate,” she said.

Fortunately, interdisciplinary collaborations are strongly encouraged and available at WSU. Engineering professors Changki Mo at WSU Tri-Cities and Charles Pezeshki and Jacob Leachman at WSU Pullman recognized the uncommon opportunities Creston’s projects offered their students and wove them into their coursework.

“Her projects presented the perfect combination of an interesting customer, an achievable design and the monetary scope to take some risks in a shared learning experience,” Pezeshki said.

Students in Pezeshki and Leachman’s junior-level design classes worked remotely with Creston to create The Umbrellaship and Machinescape. The installations were designed, like The Huminal, to question the relationship between humans and their perceived environment.

Eric Loeffler, a May graduate in engineering who constructed the Huminal’s aluminum frame, said he and other students on the project gained a variety of valuable hands-on experiences not usually available to undergraduates.

For example, Loeffler learned new design software applications that he can use in his master’s degree program, and he expanded his welding skills to include aluminum materials.

“There were a lot of new things to work with from an engineering standpoint, and getting the chance to interact with Sena as a client was huge, too,” he said. “There’s really not a class that teaches you how to interact with a person who has their own particular wants, ideas and capabilities. That experience will definitely be useful in the future.”

Shared purposes, different approaches

“Some people might think engineering and arts are very different, but artists and engineers kind of have a shared purpose,” Gavric said. “They create things. They bring things into existence, and have ideas and concepts that they want to make. The difference lies in medium and motive. An engineer might design a circuit board to save a life, while an artist might paint a picture to change a life.”

“Working with Sena, I kind of opened up to ‘why are we doing this this?’ Oh, it’s for the aesthetic, or it’s for trying to get the point across.”

Gavric admits, “There’s no way I ever thought I’d be working on a robot for an art project.” But even before Creston finished presenting her concept sketches to the Robotics Club, he was hooked.

“It intrigued me immediately as an interesting concept and totally something new. There was a lot of back and forth on what we could do with the given technology and funding, and a lot of compromises, abstractions and problems that were solved. It was a rare opportunity. I’m glad I did it.”

Loeffler especially appreciated the chance to think outside the box.

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate and come up with different ways to solve a problem,” he said. “I think we’re fairly close to what Sena originally envisioned, with the aesthetic and the function she was looking for, and that’s very satisfying.”

The interactive art machine projects encouraged the engineering students to consider their role as engineer, inventor, creator and artist, Creston said. As they grew comfortable working on art projects and expressing their own creative ideas, they sought new collaborations with artists and invited them to participate with the Robotics Club.

Some of the rising engineers began working with fine art students on interactive media projects and even created an interactive art installation of their own, called Lux Flux. The large-scale ceiling installation was designed to sense when a viewer entered a darkened hallway and to send a river of light shooting along the ceiling.

“The project was completely collaborative with a fluid crossover between artists and engineers filling in the rolls of conceptualizers, designers and technicians as needed,” Creston said. “It was beautiful to see.”

Creston is now working with a team of mechanical engineering design students to develop their collective senior year project. Her creative and scholarly work has received financial support from the WSU Office of Academic Affairs, the Department of Fine Arts and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, as well as a chancellor’s seed grant to provide tools and materials and a project grant from Artist Trust.

The interdisciplinary projects align with the WSU Grand Challenges goal of improving education. They further the University’s Drive to 25 efforts by delivering innovative teaching, community outreach and transformative student experience.

Photos and video by Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities marketing and communications

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Citiies

RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities has joined forces with a local youth-operated program to grow its home-based extracurricular learning opportunities in a community in east Pasco.

The organization, Ambassadors of Lakeview Achieving Success (ALAS), originated several years ago when Lakeview community youth wanted to improve their neighborhood through offering child friendly activities, leadership building opportunities and additional academic resources right in their home area.

ALAS camps“We started a program because there were a lot of kids running around, and it used to be a place known for drugs and alcohol,” said Brenda Yepez, ALAS mentor, resident of the Lakeview community and a WSU Tri-Cities student. “We didn’t want to see that anymore, so we started offering activities for the kids, and then started doing these summer camps.”

They since have partnered with multiple WSU Tri-Cities education faculty to grow their academic offerings, including building annual summer camps to offer lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

WSU students teach classes

“Two years ago, they (ALAS) asked if WSU would be willing to help, and we came up with a plan to have our introduction to education class teach daily at the camps,” said Jonah Firestone, assistant professor of education at WSU Tri-Cities. “I told my students to create all the curriculum for Monday through Friday classes every morning. It’s been a great opportunity, both for the kids in the community and for our WSU students.”

This year, Firestone also partnered with associate education professor Eric Johnson, and they split the camp days into English and Spanish offerings to create an academic bilingual component for the camps. Johnson has taken his education students to work in Pasco schools and with the ALAS program for the past eight years.

“My class did the Spanish lessons on Monday and Wednesday and Jonah did the lessons on Tuesday and Thursday in English,” Johnson said of the new structure for the camps. “It worked out really well and the feedback from my students is that they really enjoyed it.”

English, Spanish classes

Firestone said by offering the instruction in both languages, it allows the students to learn the material first in many of the community youth’s native language, and then the lesson is reinforced through the English language, which provides them a greater grasps of the concepts.ALAS camps

Maite Cruz, president of the ALAS program and resident of the Lakeview community, said they are glad to partner with WSU Tri-Cities for the camps, as it provides both parties with learning opportunities.

“Our first year of the camps was a little difficult because we didn’t have the experience on what to teach them,” she said. “But since we partnered with WSU, we’ve been able to expand our academic offerings to be a true benefit to the kids in our community.”

Aligning curriculum with culture

In addition to the academic offerings for the children in the community, Firestone said the partnership has presented an opportunity to educate their WSU students about the value of creating curriculum that aligns with the culture and environment of the students they’re educating.

“We wanted to get these pre-service teachers out into the community to engage in these kids’ culture and create curriculum based on where they are,” he said. “No kid has all the experiences

ALAS camps

as other kids, but there are areas where we can introduce concepts and curriculum based on the similar experiences of these kids. They then get to see that put into practice and how

successful it makes the kids’ learning. It’s been a real benefit to my students.”

Working in Pasco schools

Johnson said WSU Tri-Cities sends many of its pre-service teachers into Pasco schools to work with students as part of their educational experience.

“So for the students who have the chance with the Lakeview community in these camps or in our classes, they have a better appreciation for the resources that Lakeview offers,” he said. “They also see a lot of the students in the schools in their practicum.”

“For the students who get jobs in Kennewick or Richland, they are also more open to doing community visits because they have had that training and can apply what they’ve learned in the community to the classroom,” he said.

 

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By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

wsu tri-cities student union building RICHLAND, Wash. – Washington State University Tri-Cities invites members of the public to join the grand opening celebration of its $5.73 million campus student union building, 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14.

The event will feature a presentation by WSU President Kirk Schulz, WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young, student representatives and other distinguished guest speakers. Attendees also will have the opportunity to tour the building at their leisure.

“Our students now have a full facility of their own to study, hang out and meet with other students,” said Chris Meiers, vice chancellor of enrollment management and student services. “The students voted in the spring of 2014 to approve a fee on themselves to fund the building, and the idea grew from there.

“This is the first building on our campus solely designed around the student experience. We’re excited to officially open it up to our students and the public.”

Features include a multipurpose event space, new furniture, a gathering space.
Features include a multipurpose event space, new furniture, a gathering space.

The 9,951 square-foot building features a 2,437 square-foot multipurpose event space, new furniture, a gathering space, coffee bar, interactive TV monitors throughout the building and offices for the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities and the office of student life.

ASWSUTC President Israa Alshaikhli said she is excited to see an entirely student-centered space come to fruition at the benefit of her peers.

“The student union building project took five years of students’ work, dedication and commitment,” she said. “A lot of students were part of this process, and it is very empowering to see it completed now. It is literally by the students, for the students.”

Tyler Schrag, chair of the student union building governance board and former ASWSUTC vice president, said even before he came to WSU Tri-Cities as a freshman, there were a variety of individuals who brought much to the table for the building.

“The dedication shown by my fellow Cougs says a lot about the passion of those on our campus,” he said. “I hope for this building to be another huge step toward a bigger and better campus for all students to call home.”

Public invited to the grand opening celebration 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14.
Public invited to the grand opening celebration 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14.

To show Cougar spirit and leave a permanent mark on the building, individuals may also sign up to participate in the WSU Tri-Cities “Buy a Brick” program, where individuals and companies can designate their name, organization or insignia on a brick, bench or patio planter on or around the building.

Through the “Buy a Brick” program, participants may purchase:
• A 4×8-inch red brick with black block lettering – $100
• An 8×8-inch gray brick with black block lettering – $250
• A wood and iron rail bench with nameplate – $1,000
• A patio planter with nameplate – $1,000
• An array of bricks can be ordered with a minimum of $1,000

For more information on the WSU Tri-Cities Buy a Brick program and to reserve a brick or other items, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/buyAbrick.pdf or call 509-372-7264.

 

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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:

Demographics

  • 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%)

Applications

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

For more information, visit medicine.wsu.edu.

Media Contact

  • Christina VerHeul, director of communications and marketing, Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, 509-368-6850, christina.verheul@wsu.edu

By Maegan Murray

After a successful first year, Washington State University Tri-Cities will grow its offerings for professional development training, expanding to offer opportunities for individuals state-wide in leadership, project management, executive communication, professional engineering and more.

Instructor Semi Bird leads leadership class at WSU Tri-Cities

Semi Bird, senior instructor for WSU Tri-Cities’ professional development and community education, leads a leadership course at WSU Tri-Cities. The program is now expanding its course offerings to be open to individuals and companies state- and nation-wide after a successful first year.

“We started out with our Leadership in the 21st Century course last September, and the feedback from our professional students was so significant and so overwhelmingly positive that it inspired us to broaden our course delivery,” said Semi Bird, associate director and senior instructor for WSU Tri-Cities’ professional development and community engagement.

Bird said unlike many traditional leadership and professional development courses, the trainings offered through WSU Tri-Cities are all in-person and incorporate real-world experiences. The curriculum is based in individual participant experiences in the workplace and delivers dynamic discussion and role-play on how to handle difficult conversations and other situations. Participants also develop a common bond through shared personal experiences in the work place, all of which are broken down and discussed in the trainings.

“Students leave understanding that they are not alone and they leave better prepared with tools to grow their productivity and satisfaction in the workplace,” Bird said. “We’ve seen people return time and again for our different courses because they’re getting something out of the experience that they can use immediately in their work environment and role within their organization.”

Renowned leader teaching the courses

Bird is a demonstrated leader. His previous professional experience ranges from his leadership in the U.S. Army Special Forces as a Green Beret, where he earned the Bronze Star for Valor and the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat, to his role as the senior advisor to the United States ambassador of Bangladesh, to his proven track record of success as an entrepreneur in private business.

Bird said he was inspired to enter into the sector of professional development because he wanted to share his career knowledge as a leader with others so that they can grow and thrive within their respective organization. The return, he said, is that the individual’s employer wins, because their employees not only have the skills to be successful, but also the skills to better interact with their fellow employees.

Instructor Semi Bird talks with participants in a leadership course at WSU Tri-Cities

Semi Bird, senior instructor for WSU Tri-Cities’ professional development and community education, presents during a leadership course at WSU Tri-Cities.

Becky Chamberlain, WSU Tri-Cities director of continuing education, said Bird has a gift as an instructor and mentor.

“He teaches from experiences and delivers his curriculum with great passion,” she said. “I have been told by so many of our students that our Leadership Academy training is the best training they have experienced. Our students always take away calls to action using the skills and tools they received in our workshop.”

One student from CH2M stated that their favorite part of the training was “the open, free dialogue and trainer’s enthusiasm for the subject matter.” Another student from Mission Support Alliance said, “The dialogue with Semi and the other participants was invaluable. This allowed for a conversation, as opposed to a presentation format.”

Diversity in thought

Bird said students in the courses come from a wide-variety of industries where they gain from one another’s similar and dissimilar experiences, all within the same session.

“We are training employees of federal agencies, law enforcement agencies, banks, contractors, engineers, scientists and project managers,” he said. “This allows us to have highly-impactful discussions and engagement across disciplines.”

Participants in a leadership course at WSU Tri-Cities

Students in a WSU Tri-Cities leadership course present their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) at the end of their experience. Participants come from a range of positions, experience levels and organizations to participate in the courses.

The WSU Tri-Cities courses are offered to individuals from all experience levels, from entry-level employees to executives. Throughout the last year, WSU Tri-Cities grew its program to offer a variety of courses geared toward maximizing employee success, growing team efficiency and effectiveness, leadership preparation for aspiring leaders, as well as maximizing leadership dexterity for executive management.

WSU Tri-Cities has partnered and contracted with a range of regional and national corporations, some of which include the U.S. Department of Energy, Washington River Protection Solutions, regional Native American tribes, Mission Support Alliance, CH2M, Gesa Credit Union, the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce and Gear Up.

Expanding leadership training to meet state and national needs

This year, with the influx in courses offered, WSU Tri-Cities also aims to expand its offerings to individuals and organizations across the state and nation.

“Our training is real,” Bird said. “You can learn what you want in a book, but this is practical, tested, real-world training that has a proven track record for success within any organization.”

“You come through one of our courses and you go back to your workplace and see real results,” Bird said. “Right now, the feedback we’re getting from our students, who are leaders, themselves, is that they want to put their employees through the same or similar trainings. We are answering that call and need in our community and we want to grow the program to meet the need across the state and beyond.”

For more information on the courses offered through WSU Tri-Cities’ professional development and community education program and to sign up for a course, visit https://tricities.wsu.edu/pdce/ or contact the office at pdce@tricity.wsu.edu or 509-372-7174.

By Maegan Murray, WSU Tri-Cities

Washington State University is leading the online implementation of a program aimed at reducing school truancy that could positively impact schools not only across the state, but also across the nation.

WARNS logoThe Washington Assessment of the Risks and Needs of Students program, also known as WARNS, uses data-driven procedures to track and improve interventions with students. As indicated in the Becca Bill, which requires children from the age of 8 to 17 to attend a public, private or home-based school, unexcused absences may be an early warning sign for unaddressed problems with school failure and dropout rates.

Paul Strand, WSU Tri-Cities professor of psychology, Nick Lovrich, WSU Regents professor emeritus, Brian French, professor and director of WSU’s Learning and Performance Research Center and Psychometric Laboratory, and Bruce Austin, research associate in educational psychology and the LPRC, have worked since 2014 to evaluate and refine the Washington Assessment of the Risks and Needs of Students program, also known as WARNS.

WSU psychology professor Paul Strand

WSU psychology professor Paul Strand

The program was developed in 2008 to assess students on a scale of six needs that have been linked to truancy, delinquency and/or dropping out of school: aggression-defiance, depression-anxiety, substance abuse, peer deviance, family environment and school engagement. Within the program, schools can use the data to develop and implement a plan for at-risk students through school community truancy boards to help prevent and/or correct student behavior.

WSU’s recent evaluation of the program supports using the WARNS as a global screening assessment of risks and needs, citing its reliability and validity. The evaluation was published in SAGE Publications this spring.

“A critical component to the use of scores for decisions about youth is building this line of evidence,” French said.

When children stop going to school, Strand said it can have a substantial effect on their attitude and success in school.

“What happens is kids fell behind in their credit accumulation and when they get to be a sophomore or junior, it starts to feel like a lost cause,” he said. “We want to try to identify truancy problems as early as possible because the less days that kids go to school, the less well they do. It is true that kids that go to school regularly may still struggle, but they struggle less than kids that don’t go.”

WARNS program now available online to schools

WSU’s Learning and Performance Research Center houses the online implementation of the assessment, which is offered to individual high schools and middle schools for $275 per year plus a $1 charge for each student assessed. Districts can also sign up for a subscription for $500 for both middle school and high school WARNS plus a $1 charge for each student assessed. The costs of the program are to ensure the technical integrity and continued development of the assessments.

Strand said he and his colleagues are excited to be in the stage of online implementation because the resource is invaluable for schools across the state.

School buses

Photo of school buses, courtesy of Alex Starr on Flickr

“We are in a position now where schools can use this,” he said. “We want to get the word out about how to use this system. We think the cost is minimal compared to the benefit that both schools and students could experience.

For more information on the assessment, including how to get started using WARNS, visit warns.wsu.edu.

The WSU researchers are also developing programs for elementary schools, as signs of delinquent behavior can begin at early as fifth-grade, Strand said.

“Where truancy really begins to show a problem is about seventh-grade, but even in the fifth- and sixth-grade, you can start to predict who the kids are who will have problems,” he said.

The team’s research for the WARNS program was supported by $150,000 and $98,000 grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a $21,400 grant from the Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts, a $25,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Priority Spokane and a high-risk, high-reward grant from the WSU College of Education.

“These funds help support the development of the Platform for Supporting Successful Outcomes, on which WARNS resides,” French said.

Use across the state and nation

Currently, approximately 80 schools across the state are using the platform, in addition to a school district in the state of Georgia. Schools in California, Ohio and Connecticut have also expressed interest, Strand said.

“Schools in Spokane County, for example, experienced increased graduation rates, of those that were using it,” Strand said. “Now, we’re working with a group that is part of WSU’s Learning and Performance Research Center to put the whole program into an online platform, with the help of WSU’s Social and Economic Sciences Research Center. Students can take the assessment and get immediate feedback. We’re also making it very affordable so schools have the means to access this resource.”

RICHLAND, Wash. – Five local freshman at Washington State University Tri-Cities are among the university’s latest class of STEM Scholars.

As part of earning the distinction, where STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the students are honored with a $8,400 per year scholarship and will join the university’s STEM Learning Community. The community consists of a cohort of students that pursue a range of extracurricular opportunities and activities in the STEM fields.

WSU Tri-Cities STEM Scholars – (from left) Louis Theriault, Aaron Engebretson, Jared Johnson, Destiny Ledesma and Diamond Madden

The students awarded include:

  • Aaron Engebretson – Liberty Christian High School
  • Jared Johnson – Richland High School
  • Destiny Ledesma – Hanford High School
  • Diamond Madden – Southridge High School
  • Louis Theriault – Mid-Columbia Partnership

In order to be eligible for the program, students must have a minimum high school grade-point average of 3.75 based on a 4.0-scale, officially pursue a STEM-based major available at WSU Tri-Cities, be enrolled as a full-time student at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as actively participate in STEM Learning Community activities offered through the campus. Undergraduate majors eligible include: civil engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental sciences, general biological science, general mathematics and general physical sciences.

“The students selected display an incredible work-ethic and strong potential for careers in the STEM fields,” WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Keith Moo-Young said. “We’re excited to offer them a variety of resources to propel them into their respective STEM majors, which will encourage them to lead their fellow students within those majors, pursue prominent research at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as inspire future students to follow in their footsteps.”

Kate McAteer, WSU Tri-Cities assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs, said the research component of the experience will provide the students with a solid foundation for their academic futures.

“These STEM Scholars have the opportunity to conduct undergraduate research right from the beginning of their academic careers,” she said. “It provides them with an early start on building a solid foundation of skills required to be successful scientists and engineers.”

Aaron Engebretson

Aaron Engebretson

Engebretson

Engebretson plans to major in engineering. In high school, he served as class president during his senior year and was his class valedictorian. He was a member of Key Club where he served as the vice president of the club. He received the Northwest Nazarene Bridge Academy Scholar Award for taking 15 or more college credits while in high school and maintaining a 3.5 or higher GPA. He also received the Essence of Liberty Scholarship from Liberty Christian School. He hopes to one-day join Engineers Without Borders, which works with developing countries to find solutions for water supply, sanitation, agriculture and civil works. He also hopes to explore research in nuclear science while attending WSU Tri-Cities.

“The STEM Scholars program is very important to me,” he said. “It will surround me with fellow students that are driven, intelligent and interested in STEM … STEM careers are on the forefront of modern-day advancements and research. From the future of cars, to the future of modern medicine, STEM Careers provide solutions to a variety of different problems and challenges.”

Johnson

Jared Johnson

Jared Johnson

Johnson plans to major in electrical engineering. He is currently finishing his associate’s degree through Columbia Basin College’s running start program where he continues to receive high honors and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. At Richland High School, he earned Summa Cum Laude. Additionally, Johnson gives back to the community through his role with the National Honor Society, as well as helping with Second Harvest food distribution, tutoring high school math and assisting with various elementary school functions. He said he is looking forward to exploring the variety of research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities.

“With a STEM education, there will be many job opportunities and career advancements,” he said. “STEM subjects have always been interesting to me in school. WSU Tri-Cities provides a wonderful university experience, while still having small classrooms for personalized education. WSU Tri-Cities is also a high-ranking STEM university.”

Destiny Ledesma

Destiny Ledesma

Ledesma

Ledesma plans to major in biology. In high school, she participated in the running start program at WSU Tri-Cities, in addition to serving as her class senator during her junior and senior years. It is with that role that she and her fellow peers brought back the “Every 15 Minutes Program,” a two-day event that sheds light on drinking and driving. Ledesma also gives back to the community by volunteering every year with the Tri-Cities Union Gospel Mission where she makes dinner boxes for the homeless with her family. She also volunteers at the Tri-Cities Water Follies, where she has served in various roles throughout the last few years. She hopes to attend medical school and pursue either a career as a reconstructive surgeon or dermatologist. She looks forward to pursuing research opportunities at WSU Tri-Cities, as well as getting involved with campus student government.

“It’s been such an honor and a blessing to have been able to receive such a prestigious scholarship,” she said. “I have been truly blessed with this opportunity to further my education … It will help prepare me to take on professional life after college and into the workforce. This program has truly changed my life.”

Madden

Diamond Madden

Diamond Madden

Madden plans to major in the physical sciences, with possibly an emphasis in chemistry. She earned 38 credits from Central Washington University’s running start program while she played softball, basketball and track and field for Southridge High School. Additionally, she played cello, violin and piano with the school’s orchestra, served in the school debate club, worked part-time for Tropical Sno and participated in the school’s Ignite program, which helps incoming freshmen transition to high school. She also volunteers occasionally with a local food bank. She hopes to pursue a career as a research scientist at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which has been a dream of hers for years.

“Words can’t even describe how much the STEM Scholars program means to me and my family,” she said. “Being the second youngest of seven children in a single-income family, this gives me the assurance that I can continue and complete my education for a degree in the sciences … I believe WSU is a remarkable college, with Tri-Cities being the perfect location for me and given the fact that the university partners with PNNL.”

Louis Theriault

Louis Theriault

Theriault

Theriault plans to major in civil engineering. In high school, as a home-schooled student, he participated in the WSU Tri-Cities running start program, which is what helped him decide on attending WSU Tri-Cities for his undergraduate degree. Over the years, he volunteered to help the Academy of Children’s theater put on its summer camps, helped at his home school program’s “Camp Invention” and continues to serve as a camp counselor for numerous camps, including for the upcoming STEM Camps at WSU Tri-Cities this July. He hopes to participate in WSU’s engineering study abroad opportunity at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences while earning his undergraduate degree at WSU Tri-Cities. After graduation, he hopes to serve as a civil engineer, working possibly around the United States or for an international engineering firm.

“The STEM Scholars Award means the world to me,” he said. “I didn’t believe that I would be one of the chosen people when I signed up. It is going to help me pay for almost all of my college and help me save money for my future … I want to pursue a career in the STEM fields because I want to be able to make a difference in the world.”

By Maegan Murray

RICHLAND, Wash. – Jonah Firestone, an education professor at Washington State University Tri-Cities, knows that technology is the future of education, which is why he is researching the use of virtual and augmented reality as tools for not only the general classroom, but specifically with special education in the kindergarten through 12th-grade setting.

Virtual reality in the classroom

A student tries out a virtual reality headset as part of research being completed by Jonah Firestone, a professor of education at WSU Tri-Cities. Firestone will complete a study on how the technology may be used in special education.

“With regular video games, you’re looking at a flat screen,” he said. “But with virtual reality, you wear a head set and you can look all around. It’s a 360-degree view up and down and you can see this complete world around you. As kids get more used to using this type of technology and as the price goes down, schools are going to start adopting these because you can now send an entire classroom on a field trip to The Louvre without leaving the classroom.”

Firestone said for subjects like science and history, teachers rely on textbook and stationary images to give students a picture of what they’re talking about as it is expensive to take students to laboratories and settings that are referenced in those lessons. With virtual and augmented reality, however, teachers can bring those settings and projects to the students in the virtual sphere.

“We can use this technology to put children and adults into complete virtual worlds where they can be a cell in the human body, or students can do experiments in physics and chemistry that they couldn’t normally safely do in the classroom setting,” he said. “You can then repeat those over and over again.”

Overcoming learning disabilities

Firestone said virtual and augmented reality have different purposes, but both can be applied as additional tools in the classroom, which could help students who struggle with traditional learning methods.

“We used to talk about this thing called learning theories where certain people were characterized as different types of learners, but that’s not really true,” he said. “We all learn in a variety of different ways. But with the more modes in which we learn, whether it be oral, visual or tactile, the more we’re readily going to learn.”

Virtual reality controllers

Controllers for the HTC Vive virtual reality technology.

Some students may have problems processing information that is given to them orally, or students may have visual disabilities where they have difficulty processing static information like documents with lots of text, he said. Students also may have issues holding their attention for an extended period of time.

“So what virtual and augmented reality do is reinforce learning in ways that helps from a variety of different vectors,” he said. “And realistically, strategies used in special education are good practices for any education setting. We can translate what we learn about these tools into the general classroom setting, as well.”

With virtual reality, students wear a head set where it provides them with a complete 360-degree view of a setting or project that the students can interact with. With augmented reality, students use a device like a tablet or a headset where the device projects an image into the real-world setting. Firestone said a good example of augmented reality is Pokemon Go, where the image of a Pokemon is projected through a screen into the real world.

“We’ve all taken classes where we’ve aced the class, but we have no idea what we’ve learned,” he said. “What we want to accomplish with virtual and augmented reality is a more organic method of learning. This organic method of learning is accomplished through learning by doing.”

Research results so far

Firestone worked with Don McMahon on the WSU Pullman campus to run a study with special education students at the college level who studied bones and skeletons using augmented reality with the help of iPad Minis. They compared what the students learned and absorbed with augmented reality to what they learned and observed from textbooks and the team got great results.

Firestone is now taking that research a step further by applying the same tools to kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms.

Students test out virtual reality

A group of students test out virtual reality headsets. WSU Tri-Cities professor Jonah Firestone will complete a study on how the technology may be used in special education.

“College kids are great, but I am very much interested in how these technologies can be applied to the k-12 setting,” he said. “What we’re currently doing is taking this same process and we’re modifying it for fifth-graders. Then, we’re going to modify it for middle school and high school.”

Firestone said he is using augmented reality to supplement different school lessons, including science where students observe and learn about the human body.

“Imagine looking at a picture of a femur, but with augmented reality, not only do you see a picture of a femur, but it has a voice that defines it for you and then shows you where it is on the human body,” he said.

Firestone is also looking into using virtual reality to immerse the kindergarten through 12th-grade students in an underwater experience called “The Blue.”

“It’s an underwater application where you see whales and you’re in a reef,” he said. “I’m then comparing that to the same information that the students glean from a text.”

Firestone said he’s had great results with the technology so far and that blending the virtual experiences with what students are presented with in a textbook is a winning combination.

“There is no one magic solution for learning, but the more things we can put together, the more kids are going to end up learning,” he said.