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CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Alex Fremier

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.

Alex Fremier posing with a special camera in a desert, surrounded by African children.
Alex Fremier

Today we’re showcasing Alex Fremier, associate professor in WSU’s School of the Environment. Here are his answers to a few questions:

Where are you from?

Carmel, CA

Where did you go to school? 

Principia College, Elsah IL (Bachelor’s), University of California, Davis, CA (Master’s & Ph.D.)

How did you become interested in your field?

My father was a professional black and white photographer, so I grew up outside admiring the environment. My mom was a librarian and liked learning. I guess I am a product of them. I just started asking why did the environment look the way it did.

Why did you want to become a professor? 

Few jobs allow you to follow your curiosity and share it with others.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

The energy. They see they can impact the world in positive ways but don’t know how yet. Neither do I, but I like the process of learning how to help others succeed.

What advice would you pass along to students?

Triangulate understanding. No one person, or one group of people, has a complete understanding of the world. Some of have a better understanding of specific components. When you openly consider multiple views, honest learning happens. That’s what keeps me learning and engaged.

CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Alejandro (Alex) Prera

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 photo of Alex Prera
Alex Prera

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

Where are you from?

Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Where did you go to school?

University of Nebraska, Lincoln (Bachelor’s), University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (Master’s and Ph.D.)

How did you become interested in your field?

My mother is a Ph.D. in Economics. Her hard work has always been an inspiration to me.

Why did you want to become a professor?

I started teaching as a graduate student and found that I liked it. It’s always great to bump into students outside the classroom.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

Every year they change. That means I have to change to keep up with their ever evolving preferences.

What advice would you pass along to students?

Take more math and stats. Regardless of your major, those are very important in the “real world.” If you want to figure things out, take economics. It is amazing how useful it is, especially in the business world. I worked at a private bank for about a year, and I wish I had taken more math, stats, and economics.

Unseasonal wake-up brought about by food

If bears are fed during hibernation, they wake up. But not completely.

A bear stands on his hind legs to grab an apple off a pole.
One of the WSU bears putting on weight in preparation for hibernation last year.

That’s the preliminary finding from a research study conducted this winter at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center, where scientists fed seven bears glucose every day for 10 days. Four WSU bears were not fed during hibernation, serving as the control group in the research.

One of the amazing abilities bears possess is that they are resistant to insulin during hibernation. That’s similar to Type 2 diabetes in humans. But bears can reverse that insulin resistance when they wake up in the spring.

“We found that blood glucose decreased when we fed them, suggesting that insulin sensitivity was restored,” said Heiko Jansen, associate professor in WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “It wasn’t restored fully, it was about 50 percent of active season levels, but it did increase.”

Once the study ended, the bears returned to a normal hibernation state, suggesting bears can and would wake up if they have access to a food source.

“If a wild bear had access to high levels of carbohydrates, they may not need to hibernate,” Jansen said. “The feeding itself leads to physiological changes in bears.”

The study is ongoing, as Jansen and his team are still doing research on blood work and fat biopsies obtained during the study, as well as analyzing data from the samples they’ve already looked at.

“This is a big project, and it’s replicable each winter,” Jansen said. “So, we can potentially look at another nutrient, like protein for example, in the future.”

Center’s youngest residents developing quickly

At the Bear Center, they’re still called ‘the cubs’. But physiologically, they’re more like teenagers or young adults.

A bear cub is sprawled out on top of a block of ice, with belly against the ice and all four limbs dangling off the sides.
One of the cubs cools off in the summer of 2015.

The four youngest grizzly bears at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center are now three and a half years old. They were born at the Center in 2015, and many cute photos were taken.

But now they’re reaching physical and sexual maturity, and they’re much bigger and more powerful than in past years.

“They’re still great to be around, but they’re so big and strong now that it’s not safe to be in with them anymore,” said Center manager Brandon Hutzenbiler.

The two male ‘cubs’ weigh between 300 to 350 pounds, about the same as the adult female grizzlies at the Center. The female youths weigh around 230 pounds.

In comparison, the adult males weigh 550 to 600 pounds at this time of year. The bears haven’t started eating voraciously to prepare for hibernation yet.

The young bears are considered physically mature, but may be socially immature, said Lynne Nelson, a professor in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

Brandon holds a bottle for a bear cub as the cub drinks milk from it.
Brandon Hutzenbiler with bear cubs in 2015.

“In the wild, they would have separated from their mothers and be surviving on their own,” Nelson said. “Young bears in the wild are often more confident than they should be, so they make mistakes. They can get in trouble, similar to human teenagers.”

Bears have a complex social structure in the wild, she said. If food is plentiful, they congregate and even cooperate when collecting it. But since young bears haven’t experienced this social structure, they can occasionally make mistakes when introduced to new animals or larger groups.

Those mistakes could include misreading the body language of older adults, causing conflicts with territorial males or protective mothers with cubs.

Alum returns to WSU after years studying wildlife in Alaska

If you love wildlife, working for Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game is basically the ultimate job.

Two men look toward the camera, one with binoculars at his eyes, as they sit outside. A grizzly bear is in the distance behind them.
Tony Carnahan, left, and his friend Tom Griffin, McNeil River sanctuary manager, watch for bears in Alaska.

“As a research biologist, I worked with moose, river otters, wolverines, wolves, brown bears, black bears, mountain goats, and probably a few others I’m forgetting,” said Tony Carnahan, currently a Ph.D. student at WSU.

One of his jobs involved guiding groups of up to 10 people at the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary to watch brown bears for seven-to-ten hours a day. McNeil River has the largest congregation of brown bears in the world, with the highest official scan having 69 bears in view at one time.

“That was one of the best jobs ever,” said Carnahan, who was born in Pullman and went to high school in Yakima. “I was able to just sit there and watch the different behaviors of bears. And they were really predictable because we were, too. To them, we were basically flies on the wall.”

Carnahan guided at McNeil River for two seasons and was later able to guide for a few weeks each summer as a state research biologist for a total of seven seasons. This experience made Carnahan an expert at reading a brown bear’s body language, the primary way bears communicate with each other.

“The way they walk, their posturing,” Carnahan said. “There are so many layers of bear communication. It’s really cool to peel them back.”

Carnahan earned a bachelor’s degree from WSU, where he volunteered at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center. The adult bears at the center today were just cubs when he volunteered over a decade ago.

Tony Carnahan holds a river otter in two hands in a forest setting,
Carnahan holds a river otter in Alaska while he worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

After graduating, he left for Alaska where he earned a master’s degree and started working for the state. But he wanted to improve his skills in areas like statistics, so he decided to go back to school for a doctorate.

His friend and fellow WSU Ph.D. student, Joy Erlenbach, mentioned that WSU professor and bear expert Charlie Robbins was looking for a new student to investigate grizzly bear energetics. Carnahan said he’s always been fascinated with animals and how they manage to live in different environments with different food resources available.

“Working on this energy study is perfect for me,” Carnahan said. “Bears have such different lifestyles from other animals. They have to make sure they have enough energy stored away to make it through the winter. Being able to work under Dr. Robbins’ guidance is an honor for me.”

When he finishes his Ph.D., Carnahan plans to return to Alaska.

“Honestly, I’d love to have my old job back,” Carnahan half-jokes. “It’s a dream position, and hopefully, with all the new knowledge I’ve gained working with the WSU bears, I’ll be even better at it.”

May 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.

Here is the staff preparing a wood block by hiding treats in pre-drilled holes. Then those holes are covered up with cream cheese or peanut butter. These blocks are very popular with our bears!

Marriage of vegetables: WSU expert writes new grafting guide

Portrait of Miles, in WSU red hat, at greenhouse
Carol Miles, WSU Professor of Horticulture

Worldwide, gardeners and growers are using grafts to create hardier, healthier vegetable plants.

Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, and nearly all the watermelon produced in Japan, Korea, southern Spain and Italy, Turkey, and Greece are grafted.

By merging the roots and stalks of two separate vegetables into a single plant, grafting helps vegetables fight soil-borne pests and diseases, resist drought, salinity and flooding, and is especially useful where farmers have few crop rotation or soil fumigation options.

Carol Miles, professor of horticulture at Washington State University’s Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center (NWREC) in Mount Vernon, is co-editor and contributing author on a new Vegetable Grafting Manual, written in collaboration with vegetable scientists at Ohio State, the University of Florida, Purdue University, the World Vegetable Center, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Available online, the manual covers production of grafted vegetable plants, with an emphasis on research-based information.

Miles also helped produce a new Guide for Hosting Grafting Workshops. Based on research by the vegetable horticulture program at NWREC Mount Vernon, the guide can help garden groups, Master Gardeners, and other experts host sessions and teach proper grafting techniques. Find the guide online here.

Additional vegetable grafting publications from institutions including WSU can be found on the national vegetable grafting website.

CAHNRS Faculty Feature: Michael Brady

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 picture of Michael Brady wearing a suit and tie.
Michael Brady

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

Where are you from?

Ohio

Where did you go to school?

Miami University (B.A.), London School of Economics (Masters), and Ohio State University (Masters and Ph.D.)

How did you become interested in your field?

I took Introduction to Microeconomics as a junior in college.  My undergraduate degree is in biology, but that course is why I decided to pursue economics in graduate school.

Why did you want to become a professor?

The combination of independent research and the opportunity to teach college-age students is the best possible job one could want.

What is your favorite thing about working with college students?

I teach agriculture related economics courses, and the best thing about working with our undergrads is how much they know about agriculture, and how much they care about it.

What advice would you pass along to students?

Treat the first two weeks of the semester like they are the last two.

Cougs Abroad

By Maya Wahl, CAHNRS Academic Programs

Summer looks different for students across WSU: some head home, some stay on campus to take classes, some work on internships locally, and some travel across the globe to explore the world.

This summer two viticulture and enology students, Madeline Nichols and Jessica Marston, have travelled across the world to dive into the wine industry. Madeline is in Dominio de la Vega, a winery in Valencia, Spain. Jessica works at Villa Maria, a family winery located in New Zealand.

In a room of oak wine casks, Madeline Nichols pulls out a sample of wine from one barrel using a long tube.
Madeline Nichols tests wine at Deominio de la Vega, a winery in Valencia, Spain where she is spending her summer as an intern.

Aside from the fact that they are getting the opportunity to travel across the globe for the summer, these future winemakers are beginning to explore the vast industry that they will soon be a part of.

“I hope to gain a unique perspective on the Spanish wine industry and broaden my knowledge about winemaking – particularly in Old World wine country,” Madeline said before she left. “Immersing myself in another culture will hopefully expand my understanding of international business.”

“I hope that I will come out with well-rounded knowledge and experience of both the growing side and winemaking side of wine,” Jessica said before her departure. “I’m hoping that doing this internship will help me narrow down a more specific area of either winemaking or growing that I want to eventually end up doing.”

Internships provide opportunities for students to expand their knowledge of their future careers. It’s a time to try new things and test the waters of an industry that students hope to enter post-graduation, ultimately, finding their niche to pursue later on. Some students find these experiences close to home, but many choose to travel. Along with the benefits of working in the industry before receiving a degree, students make connections. These connections will pave the way for their careers.

Madeline Nichols

Both Madeline and Jessica were excited about their internships abroad for months before they left. They encourage their fellow CAHNRS Cougs to look into internships as well.

“Cougs should know that there are opportunities domestically and internationally that can radically change the way they think – in a great way,” Madeline said. “It never hurts to apply for internships or international programs. If you don’t get accepted to a program right away, just keep applying! There’s thousands of opportunities out there.”

Have you ever been interested in traveling abroad? Would you like to gain professional experience while you’re at it? Check out International Studies Abroad at studiesabroad.com and WSU Global Studies. Wave the flag across the globe and build the Coug network!

Affordable resources help students explore the wonders of insects

Rich Zack holds a specimen case of moths in an aisle of the MT James specimen collection.
Richard Zack, Professor of Entomology (Seth Truscott-WSU Photo)

For college students on a tight budget, textbooks can be a costly burden that puts life-changing courses out of reach.

That’s why Rich Zack, Professor of Entomology and Interim Associate Dean of Academic Programs in the WSU College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS), makes every effort to track down open educational resources—free digital materials, documents and online sources—that allow students to explore his insect science courses without breaking the bank.

To thank him, the Associated Students of Washington State University recently gave Zack their Exceptional Usage of Open Educational Resources Award for 2018.

Through courses like “Entomology 101: Insects and People,” and at his popular edible-insect “Bug Buffets,” Zack introduces students who’ve never explored science careers to a new universe of unusual creatures, natural wonders, and basic concepts that help make science—and insects’ role in our world—relevant to everyone.

By keeping costs of materials down, Zack’s efforts allow WSU students to get more out of their education.

“I’ve always tried to make sure that every student can learn about the amazing and important world of insects,” he said. “Open resources help students save hundreds of dollars every semester. For me, it’s exciting to be able to lower the barrier to learning and help students gain experiences that they might not be able to find, otherwise. It’s something every faculty member can aspire to.”