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September enrichment video

At the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center, we have an enrichment program aimed at keeping our bears physically healthy and mentally stimulated. Every month, we’ll showcase the new or different activities and physical challenges our bears can tackle.

This month, the bears are foraging for food hidden around their exercise yard and solving a few enrichment puzzles also filled with food. They also figure out that the street-sweeper brushes make for a nice, relaxing back scratcher. A healthy coating of rancid beef blood makes the sweepers especially attractive to the bears.

Volunteering a full-time joy

You know passion is involved when you’re willing to volunteer dozens of hours a week shoveling animal waste and slicing up fruit.

Olstad stands with her hands on her hips in a grass yard with a tree in the background.
Kathryn Olstad stands in the Bear Center’s exercise yard, ready to hide food around for the bears to find.

It’s even more obvious when you’d happily spend even more time.

That’s how Kathryn Olstad feels about being a student volunteer at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center.

“It doesn’t feel like working,” said the Gig Harbor, Wash. Native. “Being around the bears is my happy place. I love seeing how much happier they are because of what we do for them.”

Olstad spent between five and seven days a week this summer at the center. She did feedings, cleaned up runs, set up enrichment items, and worked on a behavioral research project with a WSU graduate student.

“I learned so much this summer,” said the WSU senior wildlife ecology major. “The research we’re doing here is necessary to help wild bears survive in a changing climate.”

Olstad said she’s wanted to work with animals for as long as she can remember, and her main career goal is to do rehabilitation work for wildlife. She sees this summer of countless unpaid hours as an investment in her future.

“Besides being happy working with the bears, the work I did this summer will be fantastic experience when I’m looking for a real job,” Olstad said. “I’m developing a skill set with a wide variety of applications. It’s pretty great.”

Even though she’s volunteering on research projects now, she hopes to work with animals in the wild upon graduation.

“There’s not a lot of things untouched by humans at this point,” Olstad said. “Wildlife is so pure. They’re just trying to survive and overcome their situations. If I can help make that easier, or more natural, for them, that’s all I could ever ask for a career.”

She said she chose WSU in part because of the Bear Center. Or at least, hands-on research opportunities like those available at the Center. She wanted more than to learn from reading a book or listening to lectures.

And now she’s continuing that as she’s still volunteering at the center as often as she can. And still relishing the opportunity.

Big data on big animals

Work at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center goes well beyond important things like enrichment programs and energy-monitoring collars. WSU scientists are looking at the genomic level to try and figure out how bears have adapted to their climate.

Formal portrait photo of Joanna Kelley
Joanna Kelley

Joanna Kelley, an evolutionary geneticist and assistant professor in WSU’s School of Biological Sciences, said for the last two years, her lab has collected three different samples from six of the bears three times a year. Each sample has over 200 million pieces of data, giving them 10.8 billion pieces of data to wade through each year.

One sample is collected from muscle, fat, and the liver during the three distinct ‘seasons’ for the bears. Those are the active season, after hibernation through early summer, hyperphagia, or the time when bears are driven to consume huge quantities of food to prepare for hibernation, and then hibernation.

“It takes a long time to go through all that information,” Kelley said. “We spent the last year analyzing that data in different ways with different methods to see which genes change, or are expressed differently, during different times of the year.”

One of the preliminary findings of the work is that the only tissue that seems to change between the active season and hyperphagia is fat. Gene expression, or activity, doesn’t change in muscle or the liver at that time.

Another finding is that the genes involved in metabolism decrease activity or turn off entirely during hibernation.

“Neither of those are major surprises, but it’s great to confirm that,” Kelley said. “When biology makes sense, it’s really exciting. Now we want to figure out how the genes know to do that each year.”

Kelley took an interesting route to working with grizzly bears. She was advising a graduate student who was interested in bear DNA and worked with Charlie Robbins, a WSU professor and founder of the Bear Center.

Kelley’s background, however, is in human population genomics, or how people had adapted to different environments. That led to studying adaptive evolution in complex organisms like fish in extreme environments like the polar ice caps or in hydrogen sulfide-rich streams.

Half of her lab still works on those issues, but the others are working on the bear research.

“When I started at WSU five years ago, I never would have anticipated that half of my lab would be working on bears,” Kelley said. “But I’m so interested in how animals adapt to extreme environments. Plus, the bears are awesome.”

The graduate students working on grizzly bear gene sequencing are Shawn Trojahn and Michael Saxton.

CAHNRS Talk Tuesday: Luke Williams

Each week, we showcase one of our CAHNRS Ambassadors, a student leadership organization that encourages students to pursue higher education and serves as a liaison between the college and the greater community. This week, we’re featuring Luke Williams, a junior from Enumclaw, Wash.

What are you studying?

I’m majoring in Agricultural Economics.

Favorite Show/Movie:


Favorite Cougar Tradition: 

My favorite cougar tradition is “Cougs help Cougs”. Not only does this phrase hold within it the themes of family, trust, and community but it also leads to some of the best opportunities while here at WSU. Everyone wants to see each other succeed. Any stranger can walk on our campus, feel the atmosphere, and know that all Cougs, future and alumni, stand together.

Favorite CAHNRS Commodity:

The pepperoni. After working at the Meats Lab for a semester and getting to sample a variety of WSU Meats, I can say hands down that my favorite Cougar-produced product is the WSU Meats Lab pepperoni. Nothing compares to it.

Why be a CAHNRS Coug?

My initial reasons for becoming a CAHNRS Coug were purely academic driven; they had the major I was looking for! After spending four semesters here, I have added the feeling of family, the amazing staff, and the opportunities for success to my choice of CAHNRS over any other college. These opportunities have ranged from academic,  such as financial aid and campus employment, to beyond the Pullman limits with networking events and different industry connections.

Best Student Experience:

Some of my best student experiences have been centered around my part-time employment. WSU, CAHNRS specifically, has given me many opportunities to help fund my time on campus. Between working in the Meats Lab as a sophomore and currently as the CAHNRS Student Ambassador Facilitator, I have gained more than I ever expected. I have worked out of necessity, but the friends, connections, and memories that have come along with these jobs will follow me for a lifetime.

CAHNRS Taught Me:

CAHNRS classes and faculty have given me career and real-world skills that have prepared me to follow my dreams upon graduation. I may only be halfway through my degree program, but I already feel my economic and business skills are developing at a level that will be sufficient throughout my career path. And while the real-world may seem daunting, I know that the skills I have learned while being in CAHNRS will help me succeed wherever I go.

WSU Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Student Wins Competitive Grant

By Sarah Appel, CAHNRS Academic Programs

From the California town of Bishop, population 3,863, to the campus of Washington State University, and currently the hills of Ireland, Katie Doonan has found home and success within WSU’s Organic and Sustainable Agriculture major. Her most recent achievement–receiving the 2018 Future Organic Farmer Grant, worth $2,500, to help her pursue her dreams. The Future Organic Farmer Grant is a scholarship awarded to students that are enrolled in secondary education focused on organic agriculture.

Doonan leans against a stone wall overlooking dramatic cliffs in the background.
WSU student Katie Doonan at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

As a 13th generation farmer and rancher, Katie appreciates firsthand the effects that agriculture has on her community. She chooses to combine organic and traditional farming with new and upcoming technology to create a food product that is both “nutritionally enhanced and environmentally sustainable.”

“I aspire to be a physician and farmer that connects food production with long-term societal health,” Katie explained in her scholarship biography. “My goal is to create a cohesive system where sides aren’t pitted against each other.”

Katie works towards achieving her dreams through her education, research and extracurricular activities. According to her advisor, Regents Professor of Soil Science & Agroecology John Reganold, WSU’s certified organic farm provides Katie the opportunity to participate in independent research with WSU faculty on various crops that she can take back to her ranch.

“She’s probably one of the most conscientious students I’ve known,” Reganold explained. He described Katie as extremely self-motivated, hardworking, an independent thinker and much more. “[She] gets my highest recommendation.”

Workshop helps Skagit landowners protect forests from invasive weeds

A line of seven workshop participants hold up a huge mass of invasive ivy.
Participants in WSU Extension forest workshops learn how to control invaders, such as this mass of ivy.

Are blackberries and ivy taking over your forest? Are dreaded species like knotweed and Scotch broom popping up on your property? Invasive weeds not only inhibit growth or even kill your trees, they cause significant ecological harm by crowding out native species, degrading wildlife habitat, and increasing erosion.

Washington State University Extension Foresters help Skagit County-area landowners protect their property, at an Invasive Forest Weed Control Field Practicum, Saturday, Sept. 15, in Concrete, Wash.

At this field practicum, you will learn to identify and control some of the most common invasive weeds that cause economic and environmental damage in forests, such as blackberries, knotweed, Scotch broom, tansy ragwort, herb Robert, and more.

This practicum is completely field based and hands-on. After safety briefings, participants don protective gear to watch demonstrations and then do hands-on practice of control techniques, such as hand-pulling, root digging, and how to use herbicides safely and effectively.

The event is 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sept. 15, at Skagit River Woods Camping Country Club, 38120 Cape Horn Rd., Concrete.

Pre-registration is required. Learn more at the WSU Extension Forestry event site.

Human Development research shows how brain waves change as we grow

Sammy Perone
Human Development researcher Sammy Perone

At Washington State University’s Childhood Cognition Lab, Sammy Perone, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development, is revealing how our brain waves change as we grow, affecting our ability to think, reason and remember.

In a recent paper in the journal Developmental Science, Perone describes how the team of scientists developed a new way to study brainwaves in children using electroencephalography, or EEG.

They observed patterns of certain brainwaves associated with executive function, our ability to set and achieve goals, that change as we develop.

Perone’s research opens the door to new understandings of how human cognition develops and functions, potentially benefiting mental health, education and development.

Read his article here:


Economists help fight endemic foot-and-mouth disease in East African cattle

Head shot of Bastola in maroon shirt.
Umesh Bastola

In developing countries around the world, foot-and-mouth disease, or FMD, devastates cattle herds and causes more than $2 billion in nutritional and economic insecurity every year.

Herds are particularly vulnerable in East Africa, where researchers Umesh Bastola, a recent doctoral graduate of the School of Economic Sciences, and Thomas Marsh, joint professor in Economic Sciences and the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, are part of an international effort seeking solutions to frequent outbreaks harming the herds that rural residents depend on to survive.

In Nature Ecology and Evolution, Bastola and Marsh joined colleagues from the University of Glasgow and WSU Global Health Tanzania to present findings identifying economic impacts from FMD on household wellbeing, showing that FMD outbreaks in East Africa are not caused by frequent transmission from wildlife, but rather are limited to specific virus types that spread through the domestic cattle population.

These findings suggest that, in contrast to building ecologically destructive fences to separate wildlife and livestock, FMD control programs involving targeted vaccination of cattle could be effective in eastern Africa.

  • Read the full story on the multi-disciplinary effort here.
  • Read a Nature Ecology and Evolution commentary on the research here.

    Several cattle walk in a dry, hilly field.
    Cattle graze in East Africa, where herds are vulnerable to foot-and-mouth disease. Researches in the School of Economic Sciences are part of an international effort seeking solutions to frequent outbreaks.

August enrichment video

At the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center, we have an enrichment program aimed at keeping our bears physically healthy and mentally stimulated. Every month, we’ll showcase the new or different activities and physical challenges our bears can tackle.

This month, a new pulley item was added. The bears have to pull down on the cut up tires to bring down a plastic ball. The ball is smeared with peanut butter and filled with kibble and fruit treats. But if they let go, the ball goes back up and they have to start over.

CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Mark Gibson

We asked several CAHNRS Ambassadors, excellent students who love WSU and their college, to name their favorite or most influential professors. And now we’re featuring those nominated educators in this weekly series, which runs through the summer.

Formal portrait of Mark Gibson
Mark Gibson

Today we’re showcasing Mark Gibson, clinical associate professor in the School of Economic Sciences. Here are his answers to a few questions:

Where are you from?

I was born in Minneapolis and grew up in the Twin Cities area.

Where did you go to school?

I got my B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in economics from the University of Minnesota.

How did you become interested in your field?

I didn’t know what I wanted to major in when I went to college, but I loved my economics courses. And I had great experiences with economics faculty at Minnesota and after college with economists at the Federal Reserve.

Why did you want to become a professor?

Economics is exciting and fun, both teaching it and doing it. I love sharing that with students and colleagues.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

I love teaching, but it’s even more fun to get to know students outside the classroom and to encourage them in their aspirations.

What advice would you pass along to students?

Attend class, pay attention, and get to know your instructors and classmates.  Have lots of fun, too.