Transforming the educational experience

Dean Wendy Powers and Amanda Smith in Innovation Center milling room
Amanda Smith, right, X-Milling lab lead and Ardent Mills Innovation Center Ambassador, provides a tour of the Innovation Center milling room to Cashup Davis Family Endowed Dean Wendy Powers, left.

It sounds like the entire state had high winds this past weekend. Hopefully no one suffered extensive damage. Winds had died down enough on Saturday that my flight to Denver left on time. I managed to avoid the hail that I hear hit Pullman Saturday afternoon.

Last week ended with a chance to interact with the small but mighty Department of Biological Systems Engineering (BSE). We talked a bit about the faculty’s program areas. Like many of our departments, BSE is spread across several locations and remains connected through shared goals for the future.

BSE goals include addressing strategies to increase enrollment and prepare the future workforce, as well as expanding research opportunities around energy, food, and the environment. The work of BSE aligns strongly with pillars and program priorities we have discussed with chairs and directors. Needs are familiar, too, and include facilities, people, and program dollars. I appreciate that the department is eager to plan for the future by having a clear understanding of what obstacles lie ahead.

I am in Denver this week with a number of others from WSU to attend the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) annual meeting. Lav Khot from BSE headed to Denver on Saturday, too. On Sunday, Dr. Khot accepted the National Excellence in Multistate Research Award on behalf of the Multistate project participants. The project is entitled “Research and Extension for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Applications in U.S. Agriculture and Natural Resources.” Project participants have identified cost-effective and user-friendly drone platforms and sensors to monitor and manage stressors in agriculture and natural resources. In addition, members have developed protocols for the calibration and use of drones. The team’s work has made important contributions to the use of drone technology. Congratulations to Lav and the other team members from around the country!

Many of the sessions at the APLU meeting focused on transforming the educational experience to increase diversity and improve access to education for all. Nancy Deringer, also in attendance, is likely gaining many ideas to share with others when she gets back in town.

Other sessions addressed the universal, nationwide challenge of attracting and retaining both staff and faculty positions. Repeatedly we acknowledged the need to recognize and reward our staff who were the on-campus presence through the early days of the pandemic. Speakers shared how they have rewarded those essential workers and steps taken to retain that committed workforce. Additional sessions talked about transforming promotion and tenure expectations to reflect engaged scholarship and methods to measure the impact. WSU members from Vancouver, Tri-Cities, Pullman, and our D.C. government relations team attended the meeting. It was nice to see a strong group representing the Cougars.

While in Denver, I visited flour supplier Ardent Mills. It was great to hear from the CEO about the importance of working with WSU and similar institutions and to discuss ideas for future partnering. As I learn more about wheat and pulse grains, I was fascinated to tour their Innovation Center. I have a much better comprehension of “falling number” because I now understand the chemistry and can visualize the impact of a low value. I was familiar with much of the analytical equipment, with the exception of the instrument that measures dough elasticity. In addition to the great tour, the core values of the company stuck with me, particularly the concept of “relentlessly curious.”

I look forward to heading back to Pullman later this week where the learning continues with a trip to the Grass Breeding and Ecology Farm. Now that I have that snowbrush, I am ready for anything!