A view of the WSU Tri-Cities campus.

WSU Tri-Cities is growing in many ways as it prepares to become one of the clinical campuses for the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

There is growth in the number of students who attend class on campus. There is physical growth with two new projects designed for students under construction on campus. And there is growth in the number and quality of the academic programs offered.

WSU Tri-Cities uses a polytechnic approach with a hands-on, career-focused approach. It offers 19 undergraduate and 33 graduate degrees in programs that range from engineering and computer science to business and education.

The campus is home to the WSU Wine Science Center and the Albert Ravenholt Research and Teaching Vineyard, where the university’s viticulture and enology program is based. WSU is one of only a handful of universities in the U.S. that offer a wine science degree program.

Also onsite is the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory, a joint WSU/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) facility where scientists develop technology for converting agricultural byproducts into useful consumer and industrial products such as plastics, pharmaceuticals and fuel additives.

“We’re building this campus around what’s important to the local industries, which are primarily science and technology-based,” said Chancellor Keith Moo-Young. “We have about 30 global engineering firms. We have one of the most unique cleanup sites in the world at the Hanford site. And we have Energy Northwest, which provides nuclear power all over the country.”

“The new medical school fits nicely into our niche with our science and engineering focus and our polytechnic approach, hands-on learning,” said campus Chief of Staff John Mancinelli.

“We also have the benefits of the medical industry nearby where companies are doing medical isotope studies. Plus, we have a retired doctor a half-mile away who went out and started his own business that creates prosthetic limbs and bones and goes to Third World countries to do surgeries with them,” he said.

The campus is part of the Tri-Cities Research District, where government and private partners provide internships and jobs to WSU students. The campus reports 92% of its graduates find work or enter graduate school within six months after receiving their diplomas.

Health sciences programs grow

The medical school will join the College of Nursing as major WSU health sciences programs with a presence on or near the Richland campus.

The WSU Tri-Cities nursing program is based in a facility renovated by Kadlec.

The College of Nursing has an off-campus facility that was renovated by the Kadlec health system. Kadlec also created an $18 million endowment to pay for faculty in the college. The program offers both undergraduate and graduate-level degrees. The newest is the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree for those who aspire to become advanced nurse practitioners.

In the College of Medicine, WSU’s third- and fourth-year medical students assigned to the Tri-Cities will spend most of their time in clinical settings, but the program will have an office suite on campus. It will be run by an associate dean who will oversee the students who do their rotations in the area’s hospitals and clinics.

Debbie Nogueras, who directs the nursing program, says she’s excited about the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine coming to the Tri-Cities.

“The biggest opportunity for us will be interprofessional education,” Nogueras said. “The deans of both colleges have a wonderful working relationship. They did a joint strategic planning session and members of the leadership team from the College of Medicine were there to hear about what Nursing is and wants to do and how we can work together.”

Students look forward to the medical school

Potential medical students are also excited about the new WSU medical school. WSU Tri-Cities graduate student Demi Galindo (below) says, once the school receives its accreditation, she plans to apply.

Galindo grew up in Yakima, graduated from high school in Kennewick and considered attending WSU Pullman. But she decided staying home to go to WSU Tri-Cities would be a better – and less expensive – fit. She initially chose psychology for a major, later switching to biology for her undergraduate degree.

“I really am intrigued by neurology, but I’m the type of person who likes to know a little about everything,” Galindo said. “So I think I will focus on primary care, being able to treat a wide variety of patients.”

She prepared for medical school by working as a scribe at Kadlec Medical Center, helping physicians document patient cases and the care they prescribed.

WSU Tri-Cities grad student Demi Galindo feeds zebrafish in Assistant Professor Jim Cooper's lab.

Now Galindo is working on her master’s degree in the lab of Biological Sciences Assistant Professor Jim Cooper, a few blocks away from campus. She breeds and grows tiny zebrafish, studying how the fish react when their thyroid hormone levels are altered, similar in many ways to people with thyroid issues.

If she applies to the WSU medical school and eventually becomes a physician, she says she would be interested in staying in the area to care for patients.

Another recent WSU Tri-Cities alum, Sebastian Fernandez, also has plans that include medical school. Like Galindo, Fernandez works in a research. His current project, with PNNL, focuses on creating biogas from toxic wastewater that’s created during the process of making biofuel from algae.

“I love doing research. It’s fun. But I want to spend my time doing the most I can for the world,” Fernandez said. “I’m very much a people person and I’d like to pursue that path.”

He says he’s intrigued by the idea of serving underprivileged people, driven in part by the story of his younger sister who was cured of a serious disease by doctors working in a free clinic in his hometown.

Creating more space for students

WSU is the only public four-year university with a campus in the Tri-Cities and its enrollment is now more than 1,800 students, about a third of them classified “minority,” making it the most diverse campus in the WSU system. That’s not surprising since it draws heavily from the ethnically-diverse regions of south central and southeastern Washington. The campus also is home both to undergraduates straight out of high school and older students training for new careers. The average age is 25.7.

Part of the campus’s challenge is finding enough space for those students and the infrastructure needed to support them. Mancinelli says fitting the medical school in is just one part of that.

“It’s not like we’re having to ramp up for this because we’re already in the middle of a big change process,” he said. “How do we take the medical school and the vision that the dean is bringing there, marry it with our local and regional community and combine it with the physical space we have? That’s the work we’re doing now.”

Two new developments are designed to bring more of a student-centered feel to the Richland campus.

Crews have begun construction on a student union building that will include study, leisure and meeting spaces. The facility is expected to be ready when class begins in August 2017.

A second project will create the campus’s first student housing. WSU Tri-Cities has signed an agreement to lease land on the northern end of campus to a Pullman firm, Corporate Pointe Developers, which is planning an 800-bed, seven-phase project. The first phase is expected to provide 165 beds for students by next fall.

“It’s going to change our environment on campus to a more traditional university feel,” Mancinelli said. “Students from communities all over our region will be able to come and live on our campus, in a community where there are jobs, as opposed to living in a small college town where they’re competing for jobs. And it’s a small campus with a small college feel. Students like that.”