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Saluting our Schools

WSU maintains regional Hispanic and Native American connections

Washington State University is a major research institution with many significant engineering and technology projects


Washington State University (Pullman, WA) is one of the schools that has benefitted from the Washington state legislature’s funding of the state’s new Engineering Expansion Initiative. The initiative, which includes an appropriation of $5.7 million over two years, will help increase the number of engineering and computer science students at the school. WSU is using the money to add as many as forty new faculty members and 425 undergraduate and graduate students in 2018-2015. During the first year of increases in 2013, more than 200 new students came to the school.

“Encouraged by local industry, our state government decided that we need more engineers trained in the Northwest,” says David Field, professor in the school of mechanical and materials engineering and associate dean for research in the College of Engineering and Architecture. “All our recruiting committees have diversity liaisons who have specific training from the office of human resources. That helps build more diverse applicant pools.”

Strong Hispanic and Native American ties
WSU sits in the midst of the rich farm country on the eastern state line bordering Idaho. The school’s credentials are impressive: WSU was recognized by the Carnegie Foundation in the Very High Research Activity category.

The school’s rural setting can be a challenge for urban minority students. “It’s difficult to retain students from Atlanta or Philadelphia,” says William Andrefsky, graduate school dean. “So WSU has committed to attract, educate and graduate underrepresented minority students from the two primary groups that live in closest proximity to our campus: Chicano/Latinos and Native Americans.”

Hispanic workers, who are drawn to the region’s agricultural jobs in apples, wheat and wine grapes, are a substantial resident minority group in eastern Washington. Thirteen Native American tribes live in the area, including the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which is the major employer in nearby Benewah County, ID. WSU is a land grant institution, established within the ancestral homelands of the Sahaptian-speaking Paluus’pu and Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) peoples. The university and the tribes negotiated a memorandum of understanding in 1997, to “strengthen the relationship between the university and the signatory tribes at the highest levels, to increase access to and Native American achievements at WSU.”

WSU created the Plateau Center for American Indian Studies as its outreach organization to work with the tribes. The College of Engineering and Architecture (CEA) has additional diversity programs. In the graduate school, Diverse Research Assistantships for Diverse Scholars funds STEM research for graduate students. The local chapter of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation has created a mentoring network for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members in STEM disciplines. WSU has student chapters of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Graduation rates for undergrads have increased from 25 percent to over 70 percent in the last six years since the CEA began team mentoring in partnership with the office of multicultural affairs for STEM majors.

WSU participates in important research projects
WSU is a major research institution with many significant engineering and technology projects. The CEA alone has an annual research budget of over $20 million.

WSU’s Composite Materials and Engineering Center leverages access to the local wheat fields for research into the creation of aviation biofuels from biomass. Seven WSU research groups have received support through the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation to address important aerospace technology questions. The Energy Systems Innovation Center focuses on clean energy and the smart power grid.

The Research and Technology Park helps turn engineering advances into marketable businesses. Travis Woodland, director of business development for the CEA, is a patent lawyer available to advise entrepreneurs on how to get their businesses off the ground. Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (Pullman, WA) grew out of former EE professor Ed Schweitzer’s work to protect the power industry from blackouts and electrical system damage. The company now employs more than 3,600 people worldwide. WSU clean air and water programs work with government agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide satellite monitoring of air and water quality.

Building strong regional partnerships
To encourage students within the region to pursue graduate education at WSU, Andrefsky has initiated several programs. WSU has forged closer ties with regional education institutions such as Eastern Washington State University (Cheney) and the University of Montana (Missoula) to recruit graduates to WSU. Proximity to home is an advantage. “It’s not a hardship for these students to go home for a few hours then come back,” he says. “That’s the new model we are looking at.”

The graduate school invites applicants to visit the campus soon after their applications are received. Andrefsky hopes to get a grant to identify the factors that influence Native American and Hispanic students to select and stay at an educational institution, and what spurs them to leave.

“Many underrepresented minority students are the first in their families to attend college,” he says. “If they have left their homes elsewhere to attend graduate school, they need to find community ties here.”

WSU is forging ties with tribal colleges. Native Americans who graduate from college rarely aim for doctoral degrees, the target credential for research institutions. New graduates may not realize that doctoral students are fully funded. WSU leverages funds so that all STEM graduate students in PhD programs are paid.

About half of WSU’s engineering students come to the university from community colleges. WSU works with these colleges to ensure transferability of credits and appropriate preparatory courses.

“We do a lot of our recruiting from minority-serving institutions, community colleges, and high schools for Native Americans,” says Field. “We’re very much aware of diversity and the benefits of having a diverse student population.”

D/C




College of Engineering and Architecture
www.wsu.edu

Main campus: Pullman, WA
Graduate students: 662
Graduate & UG tech degrees offered: Masters, thesis and
non-thesis; PhD
Ways to matriculate: Full time, part time, at satellite campuses

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