2015-2020 Voiland College Strategic Plan

Areas of preeminence

The academic and scholarly reputation of VCEA is heavily dependent on the college’s distinctive and interdisciplinary areas of excellence. WSU has similarly identified several areas of excellence that include (but are not limited to) global animal health, clean technology, and agriculture.

There are five areas of VCEA preeminence:

  • Electric power grid—This is a long-time area of preeminence, dating back to the days of the engineering research center and WSU’s involvement in the development of the hydroelectric dams on the Snake and Columbia rivers.
  • Chemical catalysis—Built upon a long history of expertise in fossil-fuel production, our chemical catalysis group is focused on the development of advanced catalysis and reaction engineering systems that enable the more effective use of existing fossil resources, mitigating the environmental impact of transportation fuels and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while also enabling a future that makes more effective use of materials that were previously considered waste.
  • Air quality research—The Laboratory for Atmospheric Research (LAR) is the oldest air pollution control group in the country. The LAR was an interdisciplinary research group long before interdisciplinary activities were recognized and encouraged. LAR has a history of major contributions including elucidating the role of vegetation in tropospheric ozone formation, development of emissions measurement methods and atmospheric organic compounds measurements, and predictive regional air quality modeling.
  • Materials science and engineering—In the early days of materials science and engineering at WSU, research was focused on metallurgical materials and wood-based materials. Currently, group members are still strong in metals and wood composites, but are also noted for contributions in computational materials and solid mechanics, composite structures, advanced manufacturing techniques, biomaterials, crystal growth, and anti-matter applications, among others.
  • Engineering for health—Our research is increasing fundamental understanding about biomaterials, molecular and cellular biological processes, biomechanics, behavior of pathogenic bacteria, and the spread of disease – research that will lead to improvements in health and the quality of life for millions of Americans. Researchers are also developing health-assistive smart environments to make our lives as pain free as possible.

There are also four additional emerging or desired areas of VCEA preeminence. Wherever possible, it is necessary to take advantage of the expertise and interests of other campuses, colleges, and departments from around the university. Fortunately, such opportunities will likely exist as the vice president for research determines strategic research priorities for Washington State University.

  • Water resources—We will build upon interdisciplinary collaborations and link VCEA faculty with faculty from across the university in the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research; State of Washington Water Research Center; Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach; Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Puyallup Extension Center. This emerging opportunity leverages our current activities that include the BioEarth Regional Earth System Modeling program, the Watershed Integrated Systems Dynamic Modeling program (WISDM), and the Nitrogen Systems and Policy-oriented Integrated Research and Education program (NSPIRE).
  • Smart systems—This area of emerging preeminence is characterized by our faculty, primarily in computer science, who are experts in data mining, sensor networks, pervasive computing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. Adding to that expertise, computer science faculty members work with colleagues from other disciplines to apply machine learning and develop smart systems that address societal needs, such as the smart homes program that is improving quality of life and reducing the health care costs associated with institutional care.
  • Computational and data sciences—Leveraging our emerging core competency in machine learning, we will collaborate with colleagues in applied math and applied statistics, take advantage of hiring opportunities in data base management and data analysis, and provide computational and data science expertise to specific application domains among WSU and VCEA signature areas, including global animal health, agriculture, computational materials, air and water resources, and health sciences.
  • Sustainable infrastructure and design—While our nation’s aging infrastructure is in need of investment, we also recognize that the finiteness of our resources and the complexity of social, economic, and environmental needs must also be balanced against the benefits of new or renovated infrastructure and buildings—the so called “triple bottom line.” Moreover, buildings represent nearly half of the energy usage in the United States. Designing and engineering energy efficient buildings and dealing with the nation’s aging infrastructure will require careful consideration of energy usage and environmental, community, and economic impacts, and will require interdisciplinary approaches.

Context in relation to the WSU Grand Challenges

In September, 2015, WSU described five Grand Challenges that are being addressed by WSU scholars in association with collaborators across the world. These challenges “capitalize on the University’s fundamental and applied research strengths (and) focus WSU’s research, innovation and creativity in specific areas to achieve broad societal impact.” The research and educational aims of Voiland College, as described in the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan (PDF), map well to these priority areas identified by the university.

The challenges are described in brief as follows (see https://research.wsu.edu/research-initiatives/grand-challenges/):

  1. Sustaining Health: The uncompromising pursuit of healthier people and communities
  2. Sustainable Resources: Supplying food, energy, and water for future generations
  3. Opportunity and Equity: Promoting an informed and equitable society, expanding individual opportunity, and advancing social justice
  4. Smart Systems: Harnessing technology to improve quality of life
  5. National Security: Fundamental research to protect America

VCEA’s broad themes of Energy, Environment, Health, Security, and Technology Innovation map almost directly to the Grand Challenge areas for WSU. Energy and Environment are critical for the Sustainable Resources Grand Challenge. Technology Innovation covers a wide swath but certainly applies to the Smart Systems Grand Challenge, and Health and Security are self-evident in fitting in with the Grand Challenge themes 1 and 5, respectively. In addition, VCEA’s Areas of Preeminence and Emerging Areas embody critical research strengths fundamental to the Grand Challenges. The Grand Challenge area of Opportunity and Equity is a theme that is espoused in VCEAs educational goals directly, but is also included in many areas of research where policy, accessibility, and economics play key roles in our research (e.g. ESIC, LAR, CMEC, and SERC all have research strengths in these areas).