Join us at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24 at the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center for the inaugural WSU Grand Challenges FlashTalk. Learn more about the Strategic Research Investment initiative and how it’s benefiting you, the University, and society as a whole.

By Dr. Chris Keane, Vice President for Research

For over 125 years, Washington State University has remained rooted in its land-grant mission to offer practical, accessible education and to use science to benefit the state of Washington and beyond. WSU’s research and education transforms lives every day and betters society in remarkable ways.

Yet, much of the country is unaware of the University’s achievements in fields ranging from the plant sciences and veterinary medicine to the humanities and business. In an effort to raise awareness of the remarkable discoveries being made at WSU, President Kirk Schulz launched the Drive to 25, an initiative aimed to position WSU as being recognized in the top 25 public research universities by 2030. Started in 2017, the initiative sets ambitious goals for growth of our research, accelerating the development of a preeminent research portfolio.

To aid in enhancing our research efforts, WSU leadership worked with faculty and staff to develop the WSU Grand Challenges. The Grand Challenges team WSU researchers with scholars around the world- as well as federal and state agencies, national laboratories, business and civic leaders, and philanthropists- to target critical national and global problems. By capitalizing on our institution’s research strengths, the Grand Challenges focus WSU’s research, innovation, and creativity in specific areas to achieve broad societal impact. Enhancing multidisciplinary research associated with the Grand Challenges is an important element of the Drive to 25 research goals.

To ensure the success of these programs, we must invest the necessary resources to better deliver on our mission through science and scholarship.

Investing in our Goals

Growing WSU research requires investment in our research strengths. In 2016, WSU furthered its mission by strategically investing resources into research, academic, and student success programs with the potential for a wide societal impact. The research component, referred to as the Strategic Research Investment Initiative, identified specific investments to be funded over the period FY2017-FY2021. A similar program, now known as the Transformational Change Initiative (TCI), identified critical efforts necessary to enhance student success. TCI has received significant federal research funding, in the form of a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to examine how parents can best support their children while in college. These investments will help establish WSU as a distinguished public research university, focused on improving the quality of life for the people and communities we serve.

Investments in Success

The Strategic Research Investment currently funds four projects:

  • Functional Genomics Initiative
  • Health Equity Research Collaborative (HERC)
  • Green Stormwater
  • Nutrition

Originally six projects were funded. Due to budget constraints, one project was discontinued and another project was folded into the newly launched WSU-PNNL Advanced Grid Institute. I believe these changes will help ensure adequate support for the four projects above, including WSU’s highly regarded power grid research program. The four projects will help grow WSU’s research impact and further our land-grant mission to use research to benefit society as a whole.

As a result of the Strategic Research Investment initiative, 11 new faculty members have been hired with the following areas of expertise:

  • Pablo Monsivais, Associate Professor in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology. Dr. Monsivais studies social and behavioral determinants of diet and obesity to help inform policies to reduce health inequalities.
  • Justin Denney, WJW Distinguished Professor in Sociology. Dr. Denney’s expertise provides a bridge between translational studies of the social determinants of health and intervention studies designed to address health disparities.
  • Robert Danielson, Assistant Professor in Educational Psychology. Dr. Danielson’s expertise is in pedagogy and learning strategies to improve health education.
  • Mina Park, Assistant Professor in the Murrow College of Communications. Dr. Park will contribute health communication expertise and experience in working with disadvantaged communities and community intervention research.
  • Anna Zamora-Kapoor, Assistant Research Professor in CAS and ESFCOM. Dr. Zamora-Kapoor serves as Community Liaison for HERC and contributes community-based research with health disparity populations.
  • Samantha Noll, Assistant Professor in the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs. Dr. Noll’s expertise is bioethics related to animals and animal biotechnology.
  • Ryan Driskell, Assistant Professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences. Dr. Driskell’s expertise is in tissue regeneration and wound repair.
  • Joe Cook, Associate Professor in the School of Economic Sciences. Dr. Cook’s expertise includes stormwater and green infrastructure, benefit-cost analysis, environmental and natural resource economics, and water resource economics.
  • Jennifer McIntyre, Assistant Professor in School of the Environment. Dr. McIntyre’s expertise is in aquatic ecotoxicology, including the impacts of anthropogenic contaminants on aquatic ecosystems, developing fish, and Pacific salmon; and green-infrastructure approaches to prevent toxicity to animals from urban stormwater and runoff.
  • Courtney Gardner, will be joining as an Assistant Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (starts August 2018). Dr. Gardner’s expertise includes stormwater and environmental research.
  • Ofer Amran, Assistant Professor in CVM/ESFCOM. Dr. Amran’s expertise is in spatial epidemiology (GIS). He studies the relationship between space, place and health outcomes, particularly how individual, contextual and environmental factors impact disease rates and clinical outcomes and how access to health services affects health outcomes and service utilization.

Each new faculty member brings a unique strength to the University – from health and mortality disparities to the economics of water. These new faculty are not only outstanding in their fields, they also complement the strength of other WSU researchers among varying colleges and fields of study at WSU. The result is multidisciplinary research that addresses complex problems that cut across traditional disciplines and drives scientific innovation.

With the hiring of 11 new faculty members for the four projects, we are pleased to be making good progress overall. We have modified our hiring plan, which will delay additional remaining hires. But we are providing the research projects with a clear path forward and are setting expectations for where we need to go in the coming years.

Join the Discussion

As WSU moves towards being recognized as one of the nation’s top 25 public research institutions, WSU will continue to expand and extend its growing research capabilities. Please provide your feedback on the various Drive to 25 action plans, including those plans associated with WSU research.

Since 1890, our University has proudly met its land-grant mission and the Strategic Research Investment initiative is determined to assist WSU in providing the science and technology solutions needed for the 21st century and beyond.

 I invite you all to join us at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 24 at the Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center for the inaugural WSU Grand Challenges FlashTalk. This event will feature fast and inspiring presentations by speakers who are representative of the 11 faculty who have been hired through the initiative. Join us and learn more about the Strategic Research Investment initiative and how it’s benefiting you, the University, and society as a whole.