CAHNRS faculty honored with WSU Showcase awards

In 2024, Washington State University honored the contributions of five people from the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) during Showcase, the university’s celebration of academic excellence.

“The university’s annual awards recognize outstanding members of the community for their scholarly achievements and professional acumen. Recipients of these awards are leaders whose discoveries, innovations, pedagogy, creative activities, and outreach have transformed lives,” WSU Provost Elizabeth Chilton wrote in an email to the entire university.

The five CAHNRS honorees are:

Sahlin Eminent Faculty Award

Laura Hill retired in January after an esteemed career as a WSU scientist and administrator. She was key in establishing WSU’s interdisciplinary Prevention Science Program and served as its director.

Portrait photo of Laura Hill
Laura Hill

“Prevention science is my passion because we help design and develop programs that can have a significant impact and improve people’s lives,” Hill said. “I’m so proud of the teams and collaborations I’ve been a part of and their contributions to people across their lifespans.”

In addition to her research, Hill served as chair of the human development department, then as senior vice provost of WSU. She oversaw faculty affairs during her role in the provost’s office.

Hill was humbled to receive the Eminent Faculty Award.

“I appreciate being honored for my impact at WSU,” Hill said. “I’m uplifted that the things I stood for are also valued by the university.”

V. Lane Rawlins President’s Award for Distinguished Lifetime Service

N. Richard (Rick) Knowles earned a PhD from WSU in 1983, then returned to the university after working at other institutions for 15 years. He spent 21 years in the WSU horticulture department, primarily focused on potatoes. But he said receiving the lifetime service award isn’t about his work alone.

A man stands in a potato field.
Rick Knowles

“I think most awards, and certainly in my case, are the result of more than the awardee’s effort,” Knowles said. “As head of my research group and during six years as department chair, I basically stood on the shoulders of all those who had worked directly with me, and who I’ve had the privilege of leading and/or collaborating with over the years.”

Now retired, Knowles said he’s most proud of teaching and learning from graduate students.

“Graduate students were the lifeblood of my program,” he said. “Training them and ensuring their success was a top priority. You know you’ve done something right when one of your grad students can compete internationally for — and land — your position when you retire.”

Knowles also said he felt pride representing WSU to industry and other research institutions. He worked closely with potato growers, processors, and global ag companies to make sure his team’s research helped solve their problems.

Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award – Outreach & Engagement

Giving Kevin Murphy an award for outreach and engagement makes total sense. His Sustainable Seed Systems Lab works closely with industry and stakeholders to determine research goals, then shares research results with them in a variety of ways.

A man stands in a field of golden-colored grain.
Kevin Murphy

“We work with bakers and chefs to develop flavorful food products using particular varieties of quinoa, millet, buckwheat, spelt, and barley,” Murphy said. “We host events for growers to make sure we help them as much as possible.”

His lab hosted two International Quinoa Research Symposia and a buckwheat festival to share findings on those crops, working closely with growers at all stages.

“These activities showcase the diversity of research being conducted at WSU,” Murphy said. “They build lasting and effective partnerships across food value chains, and they are a way for us to bring in, share, and listen to different voices that together impact the sustainability of the crops we grow and the health and nutrition of the people who eat these foods.”

One massive program involves eight years of research to develop quinoa varieties that will grow and thrive in Rwanda. Led by graduate students Cedric Habiyaremye and Olivier Ndayiramije, the project has released three quinoa varieties developed for edible seeds and leaves to the farmers in that country.

“These are all long-term research projects that require a concerted effort to continually engage with stakeholders in diverse ways to achieve success,” Murphy said.

President’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Career-Track Faculty

Caitlin Bletscher is honored to receive a teaching award, especially given the differences in teaching since the coronavirus pandemic.

Formal portrait photo of Caitlin Bletscher
Caitlin Bletscher

“Every educator knows it’s been challenging in the classroom since 2020,” said Bletscher, who is based on the WSU Vancouver campus. “Getting students engaged and thinking creatively, with so many things going on outside of our control, makes receiving this award even more special.”

She also said a teaching award is important because she considers it the most vital work done at a university.

“I think my research and community engagement is important, but in teaching we are equipping the next generation to address the most complex challenges of our world,” Bletscher said. “Awards like this place an emphasis on the importance of that role and investing in the learning process.”

In addition to teaching, Bletscher is writing a book about systems thinking in higher education, with co-authors coming from backgrounds like WSU Extension and the School of the Environment.

“The book will present strategies and practices for educators to present topics in a systemic, interdisciplinary way,” she said. “We want students to think holistically across disciplines, not just in silos.”

Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award

Brandon Hopkins’ research involves establishing the world’s first gene bank for honey bees on the WSU Pullman campus and proving to commercial beekeepers that storing bees indoors in the winter helps reduce losses.

A person in a beekeeper's suit leans over boxes full of honey bees.
Brandon Hopkins

“When we started, at most 2% of U.S. commercial beekeepers stored their bees indoors,” said Hopkins. “Now it’s more than 30%. I think that’s because of the work we’ve done in the WSU honey bee program to show the benefits of this additional investment.”

Hopkins said he appreciates receiving this award but knows that he didn’t do the work alone. In addition to other faculty, staff, and students in the entomology department, he said commercial beekeepers themselves are incredibly helpful.

“A lot of credit for my work goes to stakeholders, who often share innovative ideas,” Hopkins said. “I test out what works and why, then share that information with others in the industry so they can benefit from the work the stakeholders are doing.”