By Christopher Keane, Vice President for Research

Each year, the Office of Research looks to improve our support of the Washington State University community engaged in creative activity, research, and scholarship. Over the past 18 months, we have made significant steps to do just that. From putting a stronger emphasis on safety to centralizing the management of our vivaria, the Office of Research has worked diligently towards achievements which will help us better serve the University.

Some of our most notable accomplishments are discussed below. It is important to note that all of these accomplishments represent effective collaborations between colleges, campuses, central administration, and the Office of Research. I would like to thank the numerous faculty, staff, and students within the Office of Research and across the WSU system that made these accomplishments possible.

Safety emphasized as a top priority

In collaboration with the Safety Steering Committee, the President’s Chief of Staff, and Environmental and Health Safety, the Office of Research revived and restructured the President’s University Safety, Health, and Security Committees, including the development of a new Lab Safety oversight committee. A network of WSU Safety, Health, and Security committees are organized into four levels. Together, the committees engage and coordinate WSU administrators, campuses, colleges, departments, programs, students, and employees to sustain and improve WSU’s commitment to safety and a culture that emphasizes safety.

We also worked with the Safety Steering Committee to resurrect WSU’s annual safety fair, giving it a broader focus to include health and security. After a nine-year hiatus, we held the first WSU Safety, Health and Security Fair and Awards on November 28, 2017, and recently concluded our second safety fair held on October 16, 2018. The event highlights the University’s commitment to ensuring the health, safety and security of faculty, staff and students.

In addition to the safety committees and safety fair, Mike Kluzik, director of the Office of Research Assurances, and I have conducted five walk-through visits of individual WSU research laboratories. These visits are not inspections, but rather an opportunity to positively engage WSU faculty, staff, and students regarding safety and identify means by which the Office of Research can better support the University’s safety efforts.

Progress achieving Drive to 25 goals

In 2016, WSU President Kirk Schulz set forth a plan for WSU to become a top 25 public research institution by 2030. That same fall, the campus leadership team held discussions with the WSU community and choose 11 metrics to measure Drive to 25 progress. Groups of faculty, staff, students, and administrators system-wide were formed for each Drive to 25 metric in the summer of 2017. The groups were charged with developing objectives and action plans to advance their assigned metric for FY2018-FY2020.

The Office of Research oversees the effort associated with three of the 11 metrics. These metrics are federal research and development expenditures, total research and development expenditures, and citations. While we oversee these three metrics, we also partner with colleges, campuses, and central administration to develop a plan to increase our expenditures and citations. This collaboration is vital, as we know we cannot increase these metrics alone.

The first two metrics require us to raise our research expenditures. In FY2017, WSU’s federal research and development expenditures totaled $152.8 million, and our total research and development expenditures totaled $356.9 million. The FY2017 totals represent an all-time high for WSU. While this is good news, WSU is currently ranked no. 79 and no. 66 respectively in the U.S. for federal and total research expenditures among all universities, and ranked no. 52 and no. 44 amongst public universities.

We will need to increase our research expenditures significantly to achieve our Drive to 25 goals. The Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and the WSU-Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) strategic partnership provide significant new research opportunities for WSU faculty, students, and staff and support the Drive to 25. In particular, as discussed in a previous post, WSU and PNNL established three new joint Institutes in April 2018 that will enhance the scholarly output and impact of both institutions. The launch of the three institutes on April 3, 2018, was highly successful and represented an effective collaboration between PNNL, the Office of External Affairs and Government Relations, and the Office of Research.

The third goal, increasing the quality and quantity of citations from WSU, will include increasing bibliometrics and other measures of scholarly productivity. WSU currently ranks at no. 62 for public U.S. universities for citations.

The Office of Research is working with WSU faculty, staff, and administration to prioritize and implement the recommendations in the research expenditures and citations action plans. A number of achievements discussed in this post flow from recommendations in these reports. We look forward to continuing to work with the WSU community in pursuit of the Drive to 25 goals.

Investing in our research community through the Strategic Research Investment program

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, executed in close collaboration with participating WSU academic units, campuses, and central administration and referred to as the Strategic Research Investment program, identified specific investments to be funded for the period FY2017-FY2021. As a result of the Strategic Research Investment program, 11 new faculty members have been hired. Each new faculty member brings a unique strength to the University – from health and mortality disparities to bioethics of animal biotechnology. 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.

Early last spring, the new hires gave fast and inspiring presentations about the problems they plan to solve and their proposed research during the WSU Grand Challenges Flash Talks. Dr. Geeta Dutta, director of the Office of Research Advancement and Partnerships (ORAP), oversees WSU’s Strategic Research Investment program.

The Office of Research is currently working with college leadership, faculty, and staff to update the list of WSU research strengths identified in the 120-Day Study. The goals of this effort are to better identify and characterize our current and emerging research strengths, and identify priority areas for investment. WSU’s research strengths rely on the strength and expertise of individual faculty and staff. These individual scholars and researchers are experts in their field, form the “bedrock” of the WSU research enterprise. I look forward to discussing WSU research strengths and our efforts to support individual principal investigators in future posts.

Improved Support of WSU Animal Research

The Office of Research has improved support of WSU faculty and staff involved in animal research.

Alan Ekstrand joined the Office of Research Assurances as assistant director of the Animal Welfare Program in May 2018. Alan served in a similar position at University of California, Davis, and brings great experience to WSU. Working closely with college and campus faculty and staff engaged in animal research, he has already made changes to improve support of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), and will play a central role in taking the WSU Animal Welfare Program to the next level. To help accomplish this, Alan has added two full-time staff to support the program. In addition, the Office of Research completed an initial version of electronic forms used for submission and review of IACUC protocols. These electronic forms, now in use, replace the previous paper forms-simplifying faculty and staff interactions with the IACUC and reducing the time required for protocol reviews.

On July 1, multiple animal facilities within WSU began the transition to centralized management under the Office of the Campus Veterinarian (OCV) within the Office of Research. This transition, led by Dr. Nina Woodford, director of OCV, will establish a service-oriented, cost efficient program that meets the needs of the animal research community and provides centralized support for the entire University system. The centralization effort was strongly endorsed in two separate external reviews of the WSU animal program conducted in fall 2016. The first phase of centralization, involving centralizing operations of the small animal vivariums located with the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Arts and Sciences, is now complete. The vivarium centralization program is truly a joint effort between these colleges, the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), and the Office of Research, and is a very good example of what can be achieved via effective collaboration.

In addition to the above, OCV, in collaboration with faculty and staff, recently completed another major milestone. The Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International conducted a site visit and review of the WSU Animal Care and Use Program in October 2018.

The AAALAC site visit is an important part of WSU’s commitment to quality animal care and to continuous improvement of the Animal Care and Use Program. During the site visit, we received commendations for general cleanliness of the housing areas and for the well-trained, engaged and knowledgeable care staff, management, administration and investigators. Animal health was excellent and any ill or injured animals present had already been identified and medical care initiated. The IACUC facility and protocol reviews and reporting functions are thorough and the committee is engaged in the program.

We will find out the final outcome of the visit, including the AAALAC decision on accreditation of the WSU Animal Care and User Program, when the AAALAC report is released in early spring 2019.

Strengthening our Centers, Institutes, and Laboratories

WSU’s Centers, Institutes, and Laboratories (CILs) are units that enable the University to address cross-cutting interdisciplinary problems and opportunities related to research, teaching, service, and outreach, which could span specific academic departments, colleges, or campuses. There is a need for such units to reach across traditional lines and establish stronger relationships with academic units. Too often, they can compete or appear to compete with the academic units for existing incentives or credit. However, it is recognized that their focus on cross-cutting activities facilitates the success of academic units in competing for large interdisciplinary grants. Dr. Andrea Lazarus leads the Office of Research unit that supports CILs.

The Faculty Senate and the Office of Research have jointly chartered a task force to examine WSU CILs. The CILs Task Force will make specific recommendations aimed at providing criteria for formation and termination of CILs, simplifying CIL review and approval, and developing criteria for CIL formation, termination, and success. A draft task force report has been completed, and is under review by the Faculty Senate and the Office of Research. This report represents the results of a broad and effective collaboration involving the Faculty Senate, the Office of Research, colleges, campuses, and central administration.

Positioning WSU’s commercialization and industrial partnerships efforts to better serve the University

In 2016, the Office of Research commissioned an External Review of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ERIE). The ERIE team, composed of six experts and practitioners in technology commercialization and academic entrepreneurial activities, assessed opportunities, obstacles, and desired outcomes for WSU’s industrial engagement efforts.

As a result, the Office of Commercialization (OC), led by Dr. Sita Pappu, coordinated with the ERIE Working Group to implement recommendations to improve activities and processes that support WSU engagement with industry. This included simplifying and improving commercialization related processes and reorganizing and expanding OC funding programs, particularly the Commercialization Gap Fund.

Additionally, in order to change the pattern and increase industry engagement across WSU, the Innovation and Research Engagement Office (IREO) was created within the Office of Research. Founded in November 2017, IREO, led by Dr. Brian Kraft, actively works to encourage industry engagement within the WSU community through new programs and initiatives to create pathways for colleges and departments to partner with industry. IREO has worked closely with President Kirk Schulz, faculty, staff, and students to sponsor activities encouraging entrepreneurship at WSU, including the Entrepreneurial Faculty Ambassadors Program. IREO and OC have also implemented simplified industrial contracting mechanisms that encourage faculty and staff industrial research partnerships.

In addition to implementing the ERIE recommendations, both OC and IREO have other significant achievements. OC has facilitated 280 new faculty and student mentoring opportunities and has increased royalty income from licensing activities to $3,195,577. Additionally, $600,000 in funding were made available via different commercialization funding mechanisms in FY18, with a cumulative total of $2 million over the past four years. As a result, 48 projects were funded during that time that resulted in 20 licenses and 17 start-ups and service centers with over $5.2 million in follow-on funding. OC also implemented the new Executive Policy for Intellectual Property (EP 38) in FY18. As an additional point, the “WA 38” apple, developed by CAHNRS, was the leading generator of license revenue for WSU in 2018, and is now the all-time leading licensing revenue generator for WSU. This successful licensing effort represents an effective collaboration between CAHNRS and OC.

IREO launched the Amazon Catalyst program in FY2018, receiving applications from nine colleges and six non-academic units on campus.

IREO includes the Washington Small Business Development Advisors (WSBDC), a network of business advisors, trainers, and support staff who assist clients with making better informed business decisions to grow and sustain their businesses. During FY2018, SBDC helped 1,177 total long-term clients, helped 102 new businesses become established, saved or created 877 jobs, and raised $67,378,351 in capital formation. For every $1 invested in the WSBDC program, clients generated $4.37 in incremental tax revenue. Overall, WSBDC clients generated $7,695,269 of Washington state tax revenue and $2,622,262 of federal tax revenue.

Looking Ahead

The Office of Research is here to support the outstanding faculty, staff, and students engaged in creative activity, research, and scholarship at WSU. We are excited about what we have achieved, and look forward to further progress in 2019. The Office of Research is committed to implementing and maintaining the structures, processes, and resources needed to fully support our research community.

I would like to close by again thanking the numerous faculty, staff, and students within the Office of Research and elsewhere across the WSU system that make our accomplishments possible.