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The uncompromising pursuit of healthier people and communities

Addressing health disparities and preventing disease

American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities experience elevated rates of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. These communities are historically underserved when it comes to health care. Little research has been conducted to better understand and address their health care needs.

Dr. Dedra Buchwald of the WSU Health Sciences Spokane campus hopes to equip these communities with powerful tools to improve blood pressure control, and ultimately cardiovascular disease and stroke. With a $10 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, Dr. Buchwald will work with a Southwest tribe, an Alaska Native health care organization, and three Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community-based organizations to reduce health risks related to high blood pressure.

Taking aim at chronic disease

The grant is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Transdisciplinary Collaborative Centers for Health Disparities Research Program (TCC), which focuses on priority areas in minority health and health disparities. Dr. Buchwald will create one of two TCC centers that target chronic disease prevention. The other center will be based at Michigan State University.

A community partnership

Dr. Buchwald and fellow Principal Investigator, Dr. Spero Manson of the University of Colorado Denver, plan to engage community members in all aspects of the research process. The leaders of the Center’s three intervention projects are all American Indian or Alaska Native, and all are former mentees. The Center also includes teams of personnel who represent the spectrum of National Institute of Minority Health and Health

Disparities staff, academic institutions, and health care systems and agencies that play a role in serving minority communities. In addition, Drs. Buchwald and Manson will foster new scientific collaborations with local and regional partners. Scientifically rigorous and culturally informed, their investigations will respond to community needs while honoring community values.

Connecting communities for health

Join us April 18 at WSU Innovators in Seattle to learn more about how WSU’s work in Africa affects health in North America

Attend WSU Innovators to hear from two researchers working with Dr. Call, as well as Dr. Guy Palmer, the Allen School’s co-founder and senior director for global health at WSU. Tina Vlasaty of the Washington Global Health Alliance will moderate the panel.

The panelists will discuss the global-to-local approach needed to curb the emergence of antimicrobial resistance, and WSU’s role in developing solutions.

Learn more and register for this free event at

Stopping the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Young lady being treated in hospital bed

Advancing the health of communities worldwide

For decades, doctors have trusted antibiotic medicines to fight Infectious bacteria, saving lives and restoring health. Lately, though, the drugs often fail. To blame are newly emerging antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Drug-resistant bacterial infections cause nearly 23,000 deaths annually in the United States. Globally the annual death toll could be as high as 700,000.

WSU is part of global effort

Stopping antimicrobial resistance (AMR) requires a global effort. Washington State University is helping to lead the charge.

In the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, where experts study the emergence and spread of disease, researchers are examining the role the environment plays in proliferation of AMR.

Understanding how AMR spreads

AMR spreads quickly in developing countries where antibiotic use is unregulated and widespread. It thrives in low sanitation settings. Global travel and the international food trade aid dissemination of resistant bacteria worldwide.

WSU scientists are conducting research in east Africa to better understand the emergence and spread of AMR. They are working in partnership with Tanzania’s Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

Professor Doug Call of the Allen School is training scientists from Africa to better understand complex issues associated with AMR persistence. He teaches local scientists to recognize genetic mechanisms that can give resistant microbes an upper hand. Learn more about Allen School programs addressing AMR here.

Convening a Washington Coalition

In 2016 Washington State University joined with other organizations addressing global health issues to form the Washington State Antimicrobial Resistance Coalition. The group explores how drug resistance emerges in settings worldwide, then spreads into U.S. communities and hospitals.

The coalition fosters collaboration among federal agencies, Congress, international global health organizations, U.S. hospitals, research universities, and others to deploy resources strategically in the fight against AMR. It plans to monitor high-risk locations and test new approaches to keep superbugs in check.

Recent lecture in Seattle


The 2017 WSU Innovators event in Seattle featured researchers working with Dr. Call, as well as Dr. Guy Palmer, the Allen School’s co-founder and senior director for global health at WSU. Tina Vlasaty of the Washington Global Health Alliance moderated the panel.

The panelists discussed the global-to-local approach needed to curb the emergence of antimicrobial resistance, and WSU’s role in developing solutions.

Watch a video of the engaging conversation. 

Transforming leadership to achieve equity in education

Building parent participation and shifting administrator mindsets

In 2010, 47 percent of children under the age of five belonged to a racial or ethnic minority group[1]. That statistic signifies a shift in the demographics of tomorrow’s classrooms.

As the nation’s K-12 students become increasingly diverse, school environments, educational policies, and teaching best practices must take students’ cultural backgrounds into account. Research of Dr. Katherine Rodela anticipates changes needed in K-12 schools. The educational leadership professor is rethinking the role of parent leadership in school systems. She is also examining how district leaders can develop an equity mindset—the belief that by engaging members of a diverse community, we can effectively address challenges and achieve excellence.

Developing parent leaders

Dr. Rodela explores the effects of educating Latino parents about the U.S. school system. Working in partnership with the Clark County Latino Youth Conference and Vancouver Public Schools, she co-founded the Southwest Washington Latino Parent Leadership Institute. Parents gather weekly to learn about the operation of their children’s schools, as well as academic expectations and opportunities. The meetings empower parents to participate more fully in their children’s education. The Institute aims to build a strong parent community, so that parents will share what they learn with others and eventually run similar programs themselves.

Dr. Rodela plans to study how this kind of participatory, community-based leadership affects families, schools, and policy. Her research may lead to a model for parent involvement that could be shared nationwide. It could help school districts encourage participatory leadership from families whose voices have traditionally been unheard in educational decision making.

Cultivating equity mindsets among district leaders

Dr. Rodela is also exploring how equity mindsets develop among school district leaders. A long-term study follows a cohort of principals and superintendents who completed a superintendent certification class that she taught last year. Most of these administrators serve in rural communities.

Through interviews, surveys, and site visits, Dr. Rodela examines how principals and superintendents can be social justice leaders in diverse areas. She observes how these leaders are navigating Washington’s changing educational policy environment. Her findings will build a foundation for further research to identify best practices for educational leaders and policy makers.

[1] Evidence of changing demographics:

Multimillion dollar grant to support nuclear waste cleanup

waste barrels

Research probes how radiation changes nuclear waste over time

Safe management of nuclear waste is vital to national security and a primary mission of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Approximately 300 million liters of highly radioactive wastes are stored in underground tanks at the Hanford Site in Washington and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

Wastes stored in tanks at Hanford have been there for decades. Radiation present in the wastes drives chemical changes that are neither well understood nor predictable. DOE estimates it will take at least 50 years and $300 billion to process the wastes into forms fit for disposal using currently available methods.

To gather knowledge needed to find new methods for safely disposing radioactive wastes, the DOE is tapping the expertise of radiochemists at Washington State University and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

Co-leading a collaborative research effort

The DOE awarded $12 million to establish an Energy Frontier Research Center at PNNL. It is one of 36 such centers nationwide that conduct fundamental research to build a scientific foundation for energy technologies of the future—and one of four centers established in 2016. Called the Interfacial Dynamics in Radioactive Environments and Materials (IDREAM), the PNNL center is led by WSU Regents professor and PNNL scientist Sue Clark.

PNNL leads IDREAM in partnership with WSU, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and three other universities. The team collaborates to study chemical reactions in radiation environments and other extreme conditions that cause nuclear waste to change over time.

Examining molecular interactions in extreme conditions

IDREAM aims to provide new knowledge about molecular interactions caused by radiation in extreme environments. This knowledge will enable development of waste management technologies, as well as ways to predict how wastes will behave decades from now.

WSU chemistry professor Aurora Clark is an expert in simulating complex chemical solutions like those found in Hanford. As deputy director of IDREAM, Dr. Clark will work with theorists at PNNL and other research institutions, including the University of Washington, to create realistic simulations of interactions that occur among chemical species in the highly radioactive waste environment.

The simulations will provide the roadmap for investigations by experimentalists like Sue Clark—work that will aid in the design of new waste collection, processing, and storage methods.

Building the workforce

In addition to addressing pressing issues surrounding radioactive waste management, IDREAM will provide invaluable graduate and postdoctoral opportunities for a new generation of scientists.

There is a near-critical shortage of highly trained chemists in the nation’s nuclear industry. WSU is home to one of the nation’s premier radiochemistry research programs. Its work with PNNL to advance nuclear science attracts grants to the region and helps train tomorrow’s radiochemists.

Student research

Innovation spawns entrepreneurial venture

Every year, reused and infected hypodermic needles cause 1.3 million deaths. Two 2016 WSU bioengineering graduates developed a cost-effective solution.

Emily Willard and Katherine Brandenstein designed a sterilizing cap that fits over the opening of a vaccine vial, decontaminating needles to help save lives. Both young women are researchers at heart, but dove into the world of business to turn their discoveries into a technology for commercialization. With help from entrepreneurship experts at WSU, Willard and Brandenstein developed a prototype of their product and launched a company.

The duo won the WSU Business Plan competition and the University of Washington’s first Health Innovation Challenge. Willard and Brandenstein are now working to bring their product to market. In 2017 they will visit medical clinics in Tanzania.

Learn more about WSU undergraduate research at

Supplying food, energy, and water for future generations

Helping the Columbia Basin withstand climate change

In Washington’s Columbia River basin, climate change has diminished snow storage, a significant source of summer water for the region. At the same time, population growth is escalating demand for water.

The basin is home to farms and ranches that feed the state. Hydropower generates more than half of the Pacific Northwest’s electricity, most coming from the Columbia River.1 Resources must be deftly managed to develop the region’s resilience to climate change.

Population growth and climate change strain interdependent food, energy and water systems. WSU researchers have long studied each of these systems alone. A recent $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Agriculture unites the researchers’ efforts.

Exploring connections among food, energy, and water

Jennifer Adam and Julie Padowski are co-leading an interdisciplinary team that explores how food, energy, and water systems interact. Dr. Adam is associate director of the State of Washington Water Research Center, where Dr. Padowski is a clinical assistant professor. Dr. Padowski is also affiliated with WSU’s Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach.

Creating a roadmap for an uncertain future

Researchers will identify ways to optimize resource management under rapidly changing conditions. They will integrate existing models to better understand complex interactions throughout the basin. They also plan to evaluate how technological innovations, such as precision agriculture or energy storage batteries, might help mitigate effects of the shifting climate.

The team spans the WSU Pullman and Vancouver campuses, as well as University of Idaho, University of Utah, Utah State University, and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Faculty from WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources also participate.

1. Bonneville Power Administration,

Promoting an informed and equitable society

Preserving indigenous traditions in digital form

A complete picture of U.S. history requires the information held in tribal archives, libraries, and museums (TALMs). While many major libraries and museums now digitize their collections for access and use, many TALMs lack the resources to do so. In addition, traditional content management systems are organized under Western standards, not allowing for local narrations and other cultural practices and protocols important to archiving Native heritage.

Digitally preserving and sharing stories, artifacts, and images from diverse cultures is important in a technologically advancing world. WSU researcher Kim Christen is ensuring that digital history includes Native American voices stored and accessed in culturally responsible ways.

Helping tribal communities build and maintain digital archives

Dr. Christen has partnered with WSU Libraries to train tribal communities in the lifecycle of digital stewardship. Together they are hosting a multi-year Tribal Stewardship Cohort Program, supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Central to the program is Mukurtu CMS, a content management system that Dr. Christen originally developed several years ago for the Warumungu Aboriginal community in Australia. The sustainable, scalable software platform is now used around the world to help indigenous peoples circulate, manage, and narrate materials following their cultural practices. The cohort program teaches tribal communities how to implement and use Mukurtu in their home institutions.

Taking digital preservation nationwide

Dr. Christen’s most recent grant from the IMLS will allow her to launch Mukurtu hubs around the country, in partnership with several universities and libraries. The hubs will provide training and support to TALMs, and ongoing development and deployment of the Mukurtu platform.

Dr. Christen’s work on Mukurtu is part of the Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, which she leads at WSU with co-director Trevor Bond from WSU Libraries.

Innovation for Washington’s signature industry

WSU created a brand new apple variety called Cosmic Crisp, known for its excellent flavor, good texture, and superior storage. Cosmic Crisp is a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp.

More than 600,000 trees are expected to be planted this spring, and growers have ordered over 5 million trees for 2018. First harvest will be in 2019. Fruit will become widely available to consumers in 2020.

Cosmic Crisp is the latest example of WSU’s world-class tree fruit breeding program and the University’s commitment to the state’s tree-fruit industry.

Research worldwide to protect America

Preventing spread of disease in Kenya

In Kenya, 42 percent1 of the population falls below the poverty line. Lack of health care among the impoverished increases the risk of hard-to-control disease outbreaks. Understanding and preventing infectious disease threats among vulnerable populations in rural and urban settings is important to global health security.

Kariuki Njenga addresses these challenges using a “One Health” approach, which recognizes that human health is connected to the health of animals and the environment. With a $3.4 million, five-year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Njenga conducts investigations that aim to combat major health challenges in Kenya, including zoonotic diseases that travel from animals to humans.

Launching vaccination programs

Dr. Njenga leads the CDC’s One Health Program at the Kenya Medical Research Institute. As part of the current CDC grant, he explores vaccines for diseases that the CDC has monitored and deemed troublesome for vulnerable populations in Western Kenya.

Keeping watch for Zika virus

Dr. Njenga is also investigating the presence of Zika virus in East Africa. He tracks the health of pregnant women in two different regions to watch for emergence of the disease.

Monitoring livestock for disease

With another CDC grant, now in its second year, Dr. Njenga has created the first-ever systematic livestock disease surveillance program in Kenya. Information gathered informs further research and interventions that detect and stop zoonotic diseases.

Dr. Njenga is one of several researchers from WSU’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health who are based in Africa. These experts collaborate with local health organizations and governments to anticipate and foil emerging infectious disease threats.


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