In building one university, geographically dispersed, Washington State University reaches into every corner of the state to deliver on the land grant mission.
Faculty play a pivotal role in every part of the process. From collaboration on course design, to cutting edge research to student success, WSU professors on our six campuses are the engine of WSU’s vehicle.
“We’ve seen many examples of WSU faculty working together on innovative solutions to statewide issues, from health care to open education resources for students,” provost Dan Bernardo says. “It’s inspiring to see each of our campuses develop their identities, while upholding WSU’s rich traditions and land grant principles.”
As WSU’s enrollment has grown in recent years, campuses in Everett, Spokane, Tri-Cities, and Vancouver are steadily surging. Building on the strengths of these local communities, faculty and staff deliver WSU’s quality education to populations that may otherwise go underserved. Likewise, faculty strengthen local connections and engage communities through research and creative activities.
Meeting Washington’s labor needs
One of the main strengths of the WSU system is its versatility. In response to the rapidly growing demand for data analytics professionals, faculty and administrators developed an interdisciplinary data analytics degree, offered jointly by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
In February, Nella Ludlow was named the director of WSU’s Data Analytics Program. Her diverse background working with artificial intelligence, as a research scientist, as an assistant professor in the Naval Postgraduate School, and in industry as a CTO and CEO, among other experiences, gives her a well-rounded perspective on what students can expect when they begin working in data analytics.
The degree, first offered in 2016, is delivered in a unique hybrid of online and in-person teaching. It’s available in Pullman, Everett, and online through Global Campus.
“I think students are jazzed to be able to pursue a data analytics degree at WSU,” Ludlow says, adding that 85 students enrolled in the introductory data analytics course last semester. “What’s unique about our program is, not many universities offer an undergraduate degree, but even fewer offer it online.”
WSU’s degree is one of just three online undergraduate degrees in the country in data analytics. It is tailored to post-baccalaureate students who graduated in another area and want to add data analytics skills.
Faculty are helping the data analytics degree take off. There are more than 60 faculty members involved in related courses, and four advisors helping students realize the opportunities the data analytics program offers.
The program is still just budding, but students realize the value in developing at least basic information analysis skills.
“Data analytics is the hot topic right now and we’ve got an awesome industry board,” Ludlow says. “We have people from Google, Microsoft, T-Mobile, Amazon, Nordstrom and others. They’re senior-level people that are actually doing data analytics at their organizations and they need good, quality people. I’ve heard it said numerous times, ‘We’ll hire 100 percent of your graduates.’”
Education across the state
Judy Morrison heard from local school administrators in the Tri-Cities area about the need for a local Master in Teaching (MIT) program, designed for individuals who hold bachelor’s degrees in fields other than education to prepare for teaching careers.
Morrison knew WSU Tri-Cities did not have the capacity to deliver the MIT program by itself, but by teaming up with faculty colleagues in Pullman and Vancouver, the program became a reality.
“We worked collaboratively to build our program,” says Morrison, associate professor of science education. “We depend on some courses from other campuses, delivered by AMS (videoconferencing system), and we’re also able to deliver courses to other campuses. It’s a great partnership. I don’t think WSU Tri-Cities could have done that locally.”
By leveraging the WSU system’s strengths, the MIT program helps to fill the state’s teacher shortage. The College of Education also provides doctoral programs in which faculty and students interact over AMS, and gain from statewide perspectives.
“It’s a really great thing to prepare people who are going to work at a state level, who are interacting with people across the state in different regions,” Morrison says.
As a faculty member since 2000, Morrison says the technology improvements made cross-campus collaboration much smoother, and added value for both students and faculty. While face-to-face interaction is ideal, video conferences are becoming standard across most industries.
“It takes a few times conferencing over AMS to learn the etiquette,” Morrison says. “But we are really lucky to have the technology. It’s made it really easy to work on grants, extend programs and collaborate. We certainly don’t feel like we just work in the Tri-Cities.”
Engaging students and communities
In rapidly growing Clark County, faculty and administration at WSU Vancouver prepare students for the job market after graduation, but they’re also committed to equipping students for civic engagement.
“One of the exciting things for us is the work happening around civil discourse and engagement,” WSU Vancouver chancellor Mel Netzhammer says. “We have an obligation as a university to prepare the next generation of active citizens. We have an initiative for public deliberation on our campus, so we host civil conversations on difficult issues.”
WSU Vancouver students, faculty and staff participate in the American Democracy Project, a national network focused on public higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens.
History professors Sue Peabody and Donna Sinclair reach into the community to engage Clark County citizens directly. In collaboration with Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries and the Clark County Historical Museum, they’re offering a series of workshops and community conversations titled, “How We Came to This Place.” The series aims to unearth local stories about recent regional history, and foster community dialogue and mutual understanding.
Strong community ties combined with WSU’s quality and statewide reach spur growth and innovation.
“Each campus within our system is developing its own identity and we’re able to engage our communities in different ways,” Netzhammer says. “We can address our local needs, and at the same time I think each campus is starting to create great opportunities for the entire WSU system.”