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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.

Scratching an itch now easier for WSU bears

Repairs and upgrades make old things new again. That’s true at the WSU Bear Center as well as anywhere else. And the climbing structure at the center needed a little upgrade.

Three people brace a red cylinder on top of a yellow cylinder as they try to chain them against a wooden post.
Staff and volunteers stack up the new scratching posts and chain them to the repaired climbing structure in the WSU Bear Center’s exercise yard.

So late last month, staff and volunteers at the center spent an afternoon cleaning up the exercise yard and doing small repairs on the climbing structure. They also added in a grizzly-sized scratching post for the bears to use.

First, some of the grass and clover had become overgrown, so two weed-whackers and half an hour later, the yard was looking a little better.

Second, some boards in the climber were starting to rot. So they were replaced, including an important bit of structural support. That makes things much safer for the bears to use, as it eliminates any chance of an old board giving way or getting cuts or injuries from splintered wood or old nails.

Lastly, the staff and volunteers stacked two street sweeper cylinders on top of each other, then strapped them to the side of the climbing structure. That gives the bears a great rough structure to rub up against when they’ve got an itch.

The staff also apply different oils to the brushes, like anise, which they love to rub on themselves.

“We have to keep things up to date and safe for the bears,” said Brandon Hutzenbiler, manager of the center. “And they love any place where they can scratch an itch. That new post is really popular.”

The center is adding other upgrades as well, especially given the extreme heat experienced in early August. New swimming pools were added to each bear run, so they can all have a place to cool down. Staff also put up water misters on top of the runs, so bears can get nice cool water misting down on them if they want to be out.

The bears do have air conditioning in their dens, so don’t often go outside in the hottest part of the day.

“It’s important to keep the bears as comfortable as possible,” Hutzenbiler said. “They don’t have their winter fur yet, but it’s still hot for them. So we’re doing what we can, including giant fruit-filled ice blocks, to cool them off.”

Driven to dig

The initiative to burrow is strong in bears. The cubs at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center are no different, having recently dug out a significant den in the exercise yard for the first time.

Grizzlies like the cubs naturally dig to create dens to prepare for hibernation. It’s a little early, but some bears in the wild will dig out a den months in advance of winter. It’s also possible the cubs are practicing. Nobody ever taught them to do dig, they just started and created this:

Two photos side by side, one a close up of a hole. The other is from further back.
The den dug by the cubs at the WSU Bear Center. On the left is a close-up, the right shows the entrance in the side of the hill.




The burrow goes back nearly 12 feet, and two of the cubs can fit in the inner chamber. The entrance is just big enough for one of them to fit through, which is typical of bear dens. The smaller the opening, the quicker it gets covered by insulating snow and the less space for body heat to escape during hibernation.

Most of the work was done by our two male cubs, Adak and Dodge, over the course of a week. Grizzlies can dig out up to a ton of earth in less than a week.

This den is built into the side of a hill in the exercise yard, which is common in the wild. Using the side of a hill is more energy efficient, as the tunnel is more lateral than vertical. Since hot air rises, a lateral tunnel works better to keep in body heat during winter months.

This den is near the fence line, so it may have to be collapsed by Bear Center staff. But in the past, dens have been allowed to last until the bears enter hibernation in their runs. They are always taken down and the land returned to how it was before the digging.

In the wild, dens are rarely re-used, as they tend to collapse in the spring due to runoff from snow melting. So our bears take the removal of their dens in stride.

Working with bears highlight of time at WSU

It’s all about loving animals and wanting to make sure they’re properly cared for.

Stotts looks up and steadies a rope tied to an PVC pipe inside a bear run.
Amber Stotts helps set up enrichment program items for the WSU bears as a volunteer at the WSU Bear Center.

That’s what drives WSU senior Amber Stotts in her career goal of working at a zoo or animal sanctuary.

“I’ve always wanted to work with animals,” said Stotts, who is minoring in zoology and majoring in anthropology.

The Manhattan, Kansas native plans to graduate in December 2020.

Since the fall of 2015, she has volunteered at the WSU Bear Research, Education, and Conservation Center. In her three years, she’s done it all, from cleaning pens to making enrichment puzzles that the bears use.

“I love watching them interact with their toys, especially when it’s something I helped put together,” Stotts said. “Watching them figure out how they work and get their reward is really cool.”

Stotts, who heard about volunteer opportunities from her academic advisor, has appreciated the opportunity to add several years of professional experience. But her time commitment goes beyond just a few lines on a resume.

“What we’re doing is really important for the bears,” she said. “The enrichment program keeps their minds and bodies stimulated, which is vital.”

This summer, Stotts volunteered on weekends and hopes to continue helping through the fall semester whenever she can.

“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the bears’ personalities,” she said. “John and Frank (the two adults males at the Center) are so relaxed about everything. Willow (one of the female cubs) acts like princess. I’ve gotten to know them and how they’ll react to certain situations or new enrichment items.”

Stotts isn’t sure where she’ll be after graduation, but appreciates the opportunity to learn and gain hands-on experience at the center.