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Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Honors College First Graduating Class – Edward Bixby

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Honors College First Graduating Class – George Edward “Ed” Bixby

By Gary Hyatt, WSU Honors College,

Name: George Edward “Ed” Bixby
Hometown: Chelan, WA
Main Occupation:Nuclear Physicist and Data Analyst
Where you live now: In the foothills above Boulder, CO

Ed Bixby grew up on the shores of Lake Chelan in Central Washington. For several summers, Ed worked at the local Boy Scout Camp on the waterfront.  His father owned a local grocery store, where Ed worked as a clerk when needed. Despite having only an eighth-grade education, Ed’s father was considered one of the smartest people Ed had ever known. Ed’s mother and her family (the Pells) were quite educated and had a long history of attending Washington State College (WSC). With encouragement from his math teacher, “Ma” Reinier, and members of his family, Ed became a “Coug” and joined the Honors Program at Washington State University (WSU).

As early as HS, Ed decided to study physics because he wanted to understand how things worked. Due to his bad memory, he felt that physics would allow him to figure things out if he couldn’t remember them.  As a requirement at the time, he was part of the Air Force ROTC during his first two years and even planned to join the service until a scheduling conflict led him in another direction. Always open to advice about meeting girls, one of his roommates suggested that Ed enroll in a social dance class. Despite his demanding physics course load, Ed knew he needed help with his social skills. So, when Ed’s advisor raised an eyebrow at this course selection, he remained determined, knowing the social dance class would provide a better social educational opportunity than any physics class he would have taken.

After WSU, Ed received a research assistantship from the physics department at the University of Colorado. While working on his Masters, Ed met the love of his life, Norma Layher Bixby, at an ice-skating lake in the Rockies. Knowing that Norma was not moving from her Colorado home, Ed decided to stay local and took a position at DOE’s Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant where he spent the rest of his career working at a place where he literally was not allowed to bring his work home with him. His laptop was the size of a car, the uranium was a little tricky to handle, and Norma was spared all of Ed’s work stories because of the Cold War and security clearance—he could not say a word. During his time at Rocky Flats, Ed transitioned from the nuclear physics side into data analysis. He learned early computer programming languages such as Hewlett Packard Language and Fortran, working with statisticians to solve problems using the data he gathered. He enjoyed this aspect because he could take his file cabinet-sized computer around to different departments, working on solutions to various problems. “No one day was the same,” which allowed him to be content going to work every day. He was also proud of serving on a committee that helped protect the safety of the US nuclear arsenal during a very challenging time.

After retirement, Ed and Norma traveled, danced (Square and Round), and fixed up their rental properties in their spare time. Ed greatly valued his Honors experience, feeling it gave him a sense of accomplishment and the confidence to compete with anyone. He appreciated the diverse classes provided by the Honors Program, which broadened his understanding of the world. Learning German was a significant plus for Ed, as he married into a German family and became the main communicator between the English-only and German-only speaking members. Imagine that… this introverted boy from Chelan being the most talked-to person at his last family reunion in Germany. Yes, the Social Dance class was a good choice.

We appreciate Ed sharing his story with us.

1. Why did you choose to enroll in The Honors Program at WSU?
My high school math teacher, “Ma” Reinier, was a significant influence on me. She taught both my mother and me, making me part of her third generation of students. My mother and several of her family members attended WSC where my mother earned a BS in Mathematics. Inspired by their experiences and wanting to follow in their footsteps, I decided to pursue my education at WSU as well. Additionally, coming from a small town, I felt that WSU’s environment would suit me well. It was Ma Reinier who suggested I try out for the honors program, and I took her advice.

2. What were your initial impressions of The Honors College when you first started?
I was impressed with Dr. Bhatia and how welcome everyone made me feel.  Although I was a bit apprehensive about being able to compete with such talented students, meeting and speaking with Dr. Bhatia was a very rewarding experience. He was an amazing person, and his encouragement helped me feel more confident and excited about being part of The Honors College.

3).Can you describe a memorable class or project from your time in The Honors Program?
One memorable class was an Honors course in Comparative Religion. Although I’m not particularly religious, I found this class fascinating.  I learned that conflicts over national borders and disputes between organized religions are the two leading causes of wars. For one of the assignments, we had to write a paper on a topic related to religion. I chose to write about Japan’s Geisha girls, who were the only educated women in medieval Japan. I was initially hesitant about tackling such a risqué subject, but I wanted to understand why a country would neglect the intelligence of half its population. My paper was well-received, and it sparked my ongoing curiosity about gender discrimination, including in my own country.

4. Who were some of the most influential professors or mentors during your time at WSU?
Dr. Paul Bender was a particularly influential professor for me. He taught a senior laboratory class and was also an amateur geologist during the summers.  Dr. Bender was experimenting with a new technology called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) to differentiate overlapping lava flows. While he didn’t succeed in this specific application, the technique itself proved successful and eventually evolved into what we know today as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Thankfully, the term “Nuclear” was dropped, which helped in its acceptance in the medical field.

5. How do you think your experience in The Honors College shaped your personal and professional development?
After graduating college, I found a job working at the local DOE Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility.  After completing a 7-year research project I took the digital data acquisition system I had used to branch out into direct support of the plant’s operations.  I took that system all over the plant site to provide data acquisition and computer assisted analysis to any group who asked.  Basically, I became a “scientist jack-of-all-trades”.  I give credit to the honors society for the broader interest in other problems and programs besides my own major.  If there was a problem or question to be investigated and a committee was formed, I would likely be on that committee.  I ended up being given three very prestigious awards for my work.

6. Can you share a significant personal achievement or milestone that you attribute to your education at The Honors Program?
That same Dr. Paul Bender recommended that I continue my physics education by attending graduate school at the University of Colorado in Boulder.  I believe Honors College credentials helped me win a research assistant position at the university’s cyclotron, complete with in-state tuition and a $300/month salary.

7. Can you describe the sense of community within The Honors Program during your time there?
I’m not a very socially outgoing type so didn’t socially interact much with others in the college outside of classes but did find it very stimulating to study with some very smart fellow students.  That really brought home to me and reinforced how important a top-notch education really is.

8. Looking back, how do you feel The Honors Program prepared you for the real world. 
Seeing the world from a variety of viewpoints helped me become interested in many subjects and world events.  As the T shirt my crazy brother gave me says, I learned to “think outside the quadrilateral parallelogram”.  That ability makes me a better citizen, I think.  In the words of JFK, I liked the challenges of doing “hard things”.  So, I continued my education in Physics.  Theoretical Physics was hard for me.  Those darn Maxwell’s Equations of electricity and magnetism ate my lunch.  But in the face of adversity, I did manage to earn an MS in Nuclear Physics, however.

9. What advice would you give to current students at The Honors College?
Just go for it and really take advantage of this golden opportunity.  It will be life changing.  Become active in our country’s politics; when you become eligible to vote, learn about the issues and candidates and always vote and take action in any policies or committees that interest you.

10. Do you have any humorous or particularly memorable stories from your time in The Honors Program?
Who says small schools can’t graduate great students?  There was a required math entrance exam which I took.  I got a notice from one of the professors advising me to take a more advanced test, so I did.  I was called back again and advised to skip the entering math class and take a much more advanced class.  So, I took the advanced class which was mostly review for me.  Soon I got a message from a woman I didn’t know who asked me to her sorority sock hop.  I went and she told me no one had ever beaten her in a math exam and she just had to meet me.  My math skills are far above my social skills, and I never saw her again.

Another fun time was in my junior year when class conflicts prevented me from taking Airforce drill exercises, so I was made assistant to the wing inspector.  His job, among others, was to critique other officers for their notes tacked to a public cork board.  He criticized them for typos, smudges, erasures etc.  My job was to type up his reports which would also be posted on that board.  So of course, I couldn’t make any of those mistakes!  Can you imagine how long it took me to type that first two-page report with no back or delete keys and no spell check?  I think it was four hours.

I was required to take a foreign language class and chose German.  On the first day of class, we were waiting for the professor to show up and realized some of us were there for German and others for French and we wondered how that was going to work out.  Just then a svelte lady walked in who said “Guten Tag” and half the class got up and left!  I remember the shocked look on her face until we told her what had happened.  I even learned some German!

11. Was there a defining moment during your time at WSU that you often look back on?
At the time all incoming freshman males had to take two years of ROTC and I chose the Air Force.  After my HS experience of being in a marching band I had no trouble with the drill exercises and the classes were easy.  I knew I wanted to go on to graduate school so to save my parents the cost, I signed a contract for the entire four years since the AF would be paying for it.  The wing commander told me, however, that if I wanted out, he wouldn’t object.  Well, my senior year I had a conflict between a required physics class and a required AF class.  So, in spite of the award granted me in my sophomore year I backed out of the contract so I could graduate.  If I had stayed in the AF my later life would have been very different, including never meeting my very smart and loving wife of 54 years, now deceased.

12. Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience in The Honors program or your life since then?
At 81 years of age, I have no regrets about the life I have lived; just one adventure after the other, it seems, including my Honors education.  My wife and I did almost everything: square dancing, 4 wheeling in our old International Scout, primitive camping in our 9X9 wall tent (usually at about 11,000 feet elevation), ice skating, cat shows, management of our own two small apartment buildings, and living in our mountain home here in the foothills above Boulder, CO.



Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Honors College First Graduating Class -William P. “Bill” Mech

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Honors College First Graduating Class – William P. “Bill” Mech

By Gary Hyatt, WSU Honors College,

Name: William P. “Bill” Mech
Hometown: Prosser WA
Main Occupation: University Educator/Administrator
Where you live now: Jupiter, FL


Graduating in the winter of 1964 William “Bill” Mech has the distinction of being the Honors Program first graduate. Bill grew up in the Central Washington town of Prosser. With the WSU/USDA agriculture station and the Hanford Nuclear site nearby, his town was populated with highly educated individuals. “It was cool that one of my Scout Masters had his PhD in Entomology and the other in Horticulture; it definitely helped when earning my Plant Science merit badge,” Bill recalls.

Bill was attracted to Washington State College after a visit to the Pullman campus and remembers being impressed by the new Honors Program. He appreciated the smaller class sizes, top faculty, and the opportunity to be around great students. Consequently, Bill moved to Pullman, lived in Pioneer Hall, and majored in Mathematics. He fondly remembers attending Friday Discussion Groups hosted at ‘The Pottery”, the home of Frank and Irene Potter.  Frank Potter, the university’s first professor of philosophy, had a wonderful floor-to-ceiling library filled with heavily annotated books in many languages.

After graduating from WSU, Bill earned a fellowship with the University of Illinois’ Math Department, specializing in functional analysis. Upon earning his PhD, he was hired as faculty at Boise State University (BSU). One memorable aspect of his time at BSU was the location of the math department and university administration in the same building. “My office was right between the President and Provost, definitely giving me an over-inflated sense of importance,” he jokes.

At BSU, Bill served as faculty, chair of the math department, and was responsible for distinguished scholarships, from which they produced two Rhodes Scholars, and internships. His experience with The Honors College led him to become the first Director of the Honors Program at BSU. Dr. Bhatia’s consultation with the administration was crucial in adding an honors program to their curriculum.

In the late 90s, Bill sought a new challenge: creating a new Honors College at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). Building this college from the ground up, he faced the challenge of gaining campus-wide support. He often recalled advice from Sid Hacker of WSU Honors: “Always remember, Bill, from time to time you will meet someone who has absolutely no poetry in his soul; forget about him—he will never understand.”

By the time Bill left his position, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College was thriving and recognized as one of the nation’s top honors colleges, alongside WSU. After serving as Dean, Bill concluded his career teaching college math at a county-wide magnet school.

Today, Bill is enjoying Florida winters, golf, and travel. Reflecting on his career, he takes pride in educating so many people and even working with a few math prodigies, including one who graduated college at the age of 12. I hope you enjoy learning more about Bill and his Honors experience.


1. Why did you choose to enroll in The Honors Program at WSU?
It was just starting as the first university-wide Honors Program in the country. Plus, it was affordable.  It was like going to a private liberal arts college which also had graduate research available , but at state rates.

2.Can you describe a memorable class or project from your time in The Honors Program?
I remember my senior thesis, “Graphs of Groups” which was published in two parts, under Phil Gold.  Later, I realized that this was a blend of some old and some new information that subsequently led to a book in The New Mathematical Library series.

3. Who were some of the most influential professors or mentors during your time at WSU?
Arne Lindberg, Ted Ostrom, John Elwood, Ray Muse, Don Bushaw, Sid Hacker, Paul Anderson (Physics), Vic Bhatia, Carl Nyman, Herb Wood, Henry Grosshans.

4. Can you share a significant personal achievement or milestone that you attribute to your education at The Honors Program?
I became active in the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC).  I served on the Executive Committee, President and then a decade as Executive Secretary-Treasurer.

5. How has your degree from The Honors Program influenced your career path or life choices?
I always enjoyed teaching and tried to bring in many connections to other disciplines as did many of my professors.

6. What do you think is the most significant impact The Honors Program had on you and your peers?
I believe that because of the exciting challenges of learning in this community of teachers and fellow students. I was motivated to attempt projects that I was not sure I could complete, I went on to establish the Honors Program (now College) at Boise State University, and the Harriet Wilkes Honors College at Florida Atlantic University.  The sense of being the first was both daunting and familiar.

7. Do you have any humorous or particularly memorable stories from your time in The Honors Program?
Because I graduated mid-year in 1964, I was literally the first Honor Graduate.  In subsequent years, like the Tenth Anniversary in Pullman, I came to appreciate that distinction more.

8. If you could go back and do it all over again, would you? Why or why not?
Yes, certainly.  It was exciting to learn from some of the finest faculty and fellow students in Honors.  This experience helped us to set our horizons higher than they might otherwise might have been. Many of us in this first class entered graduate or professional schools in which our studies would become increasingly narrow.  Our paths predictably led us into some forms of leadership where we would interact with people of differing backgrounds.  Our broad liberal arts course selections as Honors students would provide the valuable framework for our varied relationships.  After all, how long can one carry on a productive social conversation about differential equations and normed linear spaces?

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Honors College First Graduating Class – Dolores “Dee” Tadlock

Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of The Honors College First Graduating Class – Dolores “Dee” Tadlock

By Gary Hyatt, WSU Honors College,

Name: Dolores “Dee” Tadlock
Hometown: Sunnyside, WA
Main Occupation: Educational Consultant and Founder of Read Right Systems, Inc.
Where you live now: Shelton, WA

Dolores “Dee” Tadlock grew up in Sunnyside, WA. Her father was surprised when Dee approached him during her senior year to express her desire to attend college. “Because I was a girl, he really did not have any idea or expectations that I would be going to college. But after pressing me on whether this was a good idea, he agreed, and away I went.” After graduating from WSU, Dee served two years in the Peace Corps in India, helping with poultry production in rural villages before returning to the States earning her master’s in history from New Mexico State University. After taking some time off to raise her two boys, she decided to get her teaching credentials and eventually earned a PhD in Education with an emphasis on Reading from WSU.

Dee’s journey to improve reading education was enhanced when her youngest son, Kyle, struggled with reading proficiency. Despite having a PHD in Reading, Dee’s initial attempts to help Kyle were unsuccessful and stressful for both. Determined to find a solution, Dee researched extensively on how the brain processes reading. After three years of study, she developed a new approach that helped Kyle become an excellent reader in a short time. This success prompted her to use and refine her methods while working in special education systems with all ages.

A turning point came when a former business professor and friend attended a workshop on the Toyota Production System at Simpson Timber Company. This model emphasizes employees’ suggesting improvements to enhance company operations. However, many employees were not making suggestions due to being deficient in literacy, so Dee’s friend recommended her to help solve this problem, leading to the creation of Read Right Systems, Inc. and her lifelong pursuit of making reading accessible to all.

Today, Dee remains the owner of Read Right System and enjoys helping people achieve what they once thought impossible. Here are her reflections on being part of the first Honors graduating class at WSU 60 years ago…


Why did you choose to enroll in The Honors program at WSU?
I scored well on the entry exam and my grades were good enough that I was offered a place in the Honors program. Since I wasn’t on a college preparatory track in high school, I doubted my ability to compete with other students and considered not joining. However, my advisor asked, “What is worse, failing out of the program or never trying it in the first place? Either way, you end up in the same place.” That question motivated me to pursue it, and listening to that advisor turned out to be a great decision.

Who were some of the most influential professors or mentors during your time at WSU?
Dr. Wood in History and Dr. Bhatia from the Honors Program.

How do you think your experience in The Honors program shaped your personal and professional development?
The Honors Program gave me a sense of confidence. I wasn’t well-prepared for college, especially Honors Math and Chemistry. My last math class was 9th-grade Algebra, so I was nervous and doubtful of my success. Doing well in my classes and overcoming my fears gave me a great sense of accomplishment and empowered me to believe “I can do this,” a belief that has carried me through life.

Can you describe the sense of community within The Honors College during your time there?
With the program being so new, we didn’t have the same kind of community The Honors College has today. It was nice to see the same students in many of my classes, and the smaller number of students created a sense of being part of something special.

Looking back, how do you feel The Honors College prepared you for the real world?
The senior oral exams and the confidence I gained from my Honors experience helped me succeed in my master’s and PhD programs.

Was there a defining moment during your time at WSU that you often look back on?
If my advisor hadn’t posed the question about whether it was worse to be asked to leave or not to try at all, I probably wouldn’t have joined the Honors program. That would have been a shame.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience in The Honors program or your life since then?
Looking back, I often think about how many things happened by chance. It makes me reflect on how the universe works and how being confident allowed me to seize opportunities that seemed to simply fall from the sky.

Courage, Shenanigans, & Sports Reporting: Honors Eckman Fund Supports AP Writer’s Remarks at 2024 Murrow Symposium

Courage, Shenanigans, & Sports Reporting: Honors Eckman Fund Supports AP Writer’s Remarks at 2024 Murrow Symposium

By Phyllis Shier, WSU Honors College,

San Francisco Associated Press (AP) sportswriter and honors alumna Janie McCauley (’98) delivered keynote remarks at the April 2024 Murrow Symposium’s closing luncheon. The event was sponsored by the Honors College Art Eckman Fund, which supports honors sports broadcasting majors with enrichment opportunities and was open to the university community.

In her remarks, McCauley addressed reporting on controversial and dangerous topics and the courage it demands of both the journalists and the subjects of these stories. She cited examples that speak to heroic courage, like that of her colleague Anja Niedringhaus, a German photojournalist who was killed in Afghanistan in 2014 covering an election. Janie worked with Niedringhaus at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. Her Murrow symposium remarks were delivered on the tenth anniversary of Niedringhaus’s death.

McCauley also covered the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic games, which included the first men’s volleyball team from Iran. Conducting background prior to the games, she became aware of women in Teran who were fighting for the right to attend, since Iranian women were not allowed in stadiums. In telling their stories McCauley couldn’t use their names or else they would be in danger, she said.

“I’m still in touch with some of these courageous women in Iran to this day who risked their lives, in some situations, to fight for what they believe in,” she said. Janie made it her quest to find an Iranian woman in the Rio stands at the volleyball match. With assistance from the crowd, she finally found an Iranian expatriate living in Brazil who told her “I’m here for everybody back home who can’t be.”

“That was one of the more powerful stories I’ve done in my career, telling (the story) through the eyes of that woman…,” McCauley said.

That story encouraged Janie to seek out other tough assignments including an abuse scandal surrounding an Olympic rowing coach she knew and a story about the “forgotten population” of San Quentin inmates who benefited from playing tennis with a group she’s a part of, among others.  Tennis helps San Quentin Prison inmates find community | TenniStory (

For McCauley the “call” to sports journalism came early. As a child growing up in Washington state, she anticipated her family’s annual trek across the mountains from Leavenworth to attend a Sonics game in Seattle. Those early interactions energized her passion for sports and fueled her tenacity. Allowed one hour after the game to explore the Sonics stadium, Janie engaged in what she called “shenanigans.” Like sneaking into the visiting Detroit Piston’s family room by pretending to be the niece of rival player Bill Laimbeer. Or standing on a toilet seat in the arena bathroom to hide until everyone left so she could meet players, coaches, and their family members. Once she snuck under a dumpster to meet players as they prepared to get on the bus. “I think it probably gave me some skills for how to be resourceful,” she joked.

At thirteen, Janie wrote to NBA teams across the country with hopes they’d respond. Many did—replying with letters that included bumper stickers and signed photos of team players like David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs. Those interactions impressed on her the importance of writing, so in high school she got a job with her local newspaper, The Leavenworth Echo. As a WSU student she reported for the AP, writing quotes and short articles for newspapers across Washington and Idaho.

McCauley joined honors in her sophomore year, describing it as “a safe space to try new things out.” Minoring in Spanish, she spent her senior fall semester in Guadalajara, Mexico, conducting honors thesis research on the dangers journalists face in unsafe countries, foreshadowing a career to come.

But it was those early interactions with NBA teams and the treks across the mountains for Sonics shenanigans that instilled the confidence to pursue sports writing. Over her career she’s run into some of her early heroes and when she does, she thanks them.

“It was special—it influenced what I’m doing now,” she said.

This summer McCauley will cover swimming at her sixth Olympics in Paris.

“Thirty years in and I’m still having fun,” she told Murrow Symposium participants. “It’s been the joy of my life.”

The Honors College Art Eckman Fund, established by Cougar football team member and honors business administration alumnus Colin White (’03), was created in memory of renowned sports broadcaster and former Cougar Art Eckman (’64), who passed away in 2023. The Fund was first awarded in 2022, sponsoring a “Women in Sports” guest lectureship. White, who volunteered as a student web developer for Cable 8 Productions, was inspired to give back because of the financial support he received to attend WSU.

“Looking back now and being lucky enough to be in the financial position that I am in, I want to be able to provide that same sense of financial relief for other Cougs,” White told the WSU Foundation. Alumni and industry partners across the WSU community are encouraged to support the endowment.

Honors Nurses Present in Salt Lake City

Honors Nurses Present in Salt Lake City

Six Honors College students in the College of Nursing presented their research at the 2024 Western Institute of Nursing Conference in Salt Lake City. The presentations covered a range of healthcare topics:

Carolyn Stone* and Ekatrina Burduli Mental health and Birth Satisfaction of Perinatal Individuals During the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Rosie Kirker*, Sheila Hurst, Britanny Bannon, Carolyn Stone, Dena Carr, Sharon Stadelman Sleep Distrubance and Challenges Faced by People Experiencing Houselessness

Destiny Stanek Bolles*, Janessa Graves, Sheila Hurst, Shawna Beese: The Relationship Between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) among All of us Respondents.

Macy Johnston*, Janessa Graves, Sheila Hurst, Shawna Beese: Exploring Access to Outdoor Physical Activity and Stress in NIH All of Us Research Program

Amelia Kohut*, Janessa Graves, Sheila Hurst, Shawna Beese: The Relationship Between Food Insecurity and Perceived Stress

Bianca Gerghe*, Janessa Graves, Sheila Hurst, Shawna Beese: Mental Health Service Utilization Among Pregnant Women in NIH All of US Research Program

Angela Crable, Jenifer Brewer, Molly Parker, Tara Marko, Natasha Barrow, Amelia Kohut, Sheila Hurst, Julie Postma: Assessing Nursing Curriculum Using the Planetary Health Report Card

Sheila Hurst, Brittany Bannon Dena Carr, Sharon Stadelman, Charis Williams, Carolyn Stone, Grace Borchert, Morgan Erickson, Marian Wilson: Sleep Assessment Among Houseless Individuals

Student Highlight – Zoe Logan


Student Highlight: Zoe Logan

By Sophia Flippin, Honors Student Intern,

Meet Honors student Zoe Logan, a graduating senior. Originally from Rocklin, California, Zoe came to WSU to major in animal science with the goal of becoming a veterinarian. She is especially interested in treating exotic animals in a general practice setting or specializing in cardiac or neurosurgery.

Zoe has prioritized pursuing veterinary experiences outside of the classroom while at WSU. She serves as both vice president and facility manager of the WSU Raptor Club. The student-led group cares for 10 non-releasable birds of prey by feeding, watering, and monitoring them for sickness. Zoe often worked with Sprite, an owl who recently passed away. She routinely socialized Sprite by spending time with him at the Stauber Raptor Facility while he stood on a falconry glove. Providing enrichment opportunities for the birds has been the group’s recent focus. In addition to caring for the birds Zoe and other club members participated in donation walks throughout the year to collect funds and items for a silent auction, an event held each April. Auction proceeds go toward caring for the birds.

The Honors College curriculum also provided Zoe with the opportunity to become involved in veterinary research, something she hadn’t initially considered. Working with animal science professor Marcos Marcondes and graduate student Valerie Achziger, she helps study the use of the dietary supplement zeolite to decrease the microbial population’s rate of methane production within a cow’s rumen. The team uses an artificial fermenting rumen in a laboratory setting to feed zeolite to the microbes and to measure resulting methane levels. Zoe earned the Fries Research Grant for her work and presented her overall study and research results at the recent Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities.

Zoe believes that the variety of classes built into the Honors curriculum and the high-caliber professors she’s learned from along the way have broadened her knowledge and skills in ways that helped her get accepted into veterinary school. Dr. Robin Bond’s Honors 380 course on Greek literature and culture stands out to her. Learning how to read and write some classical Greek and class discussions about Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey were especially captivating, she said.

When asked what advice she would give to underclassmen, Zoe attests to the importance of establishing a positive routine and healthy habits that balance schoolwork with other responsibilities.

“Starting college is an adjustment at first, so it’s important to note what study strategies or routines work best for you. Either way, it gets easier, and it is important to not get too overwhelmed,” she said.

After graduating this spring, Zoe will be heading to the island of Grenada in the Caribbean to further her veterinary studies at St. George’s University.

Honors College undergraduate researchers land top awards at Showcase

Honors College undergraduate researchers land top awards at Showcase

Fifty-three students participated in the Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) 2024 on March 25th, 2024 as part of a week-long series of events honoring the accomplishments of students, faculty, and staff.

Held since 2012, SURCA is the only WSU-wide venue for students systemwide in every major and year in college to share their mentored research.

Honors College students winning either Crimson or Gray awards are listed below by major, mentor, and project title.

Abstracts and additional information about each SURCA presenter for all the presenters is available online.

Applied Sciences

Jacob Buursma
Mentor: Kristen Delevich

“Long-term Effects of Adolescent Cannabis Vapor Exposure on Corticostriatal Circuits Responsible for Decision Making”

Arts and Design

Jasper Willson
Multimedia Journalism
Mentor: Lisa Waananen Jones

“Forest on Fire: A Documentary About the Changing Relationship of Fire in the Sequoia Ecosystems”

Engineering and Physical Sciences

Dylan Suina
Mechanical Engineering
Mentor: Jeffrey Bell

“Modifying 3D Printed Carbon-infused Thermoplastics for Applications in Potentiometry”

Suzanne Gelston
Chemical Engineering
Mentor: Dilara Ozdemir

“In Vitro Activity of HOCl Generating Scaled-up Electrochemical Bandages”

Connor Reschke
Materials Science and Engineering, Spanish
Mentor: Hui Li

“Recycling Wood Waste with Particleboard and Pelleting”


Matthew Bunge
Economic Sciences
Mentor: Shawna Herzog

“Britain’s Financial Revolution and Class Exploitation, 1689 – 1740”

Molecular, Cellular, and Chemical Biology

Ally Richards
Mentor: Sean McGuire

“Investigating the Role of Protein-protein Interaction of GPAT9 in Arabidopsis thaliana

Lauren Benjamin and Hailey Landsparger
Mentor: Emily Qualls-Creekmore

“Identification of Neural Circuits That Participate in Stress Habituation”

Stevie Fawcett
Microbiology, Spanish
Mentor: Stephanie Seifert

“In vitro Tool Development for the Study of Hantaviruses”

Eva Rickard
Data Analytics
Mentor: Sascha Duttke

“Decoding Gene Regulatory Networks Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia”

Jasmin Chu
Mentor: Kristen Delevich

“Microglial Ablation Effects on Adolescent Behavioral Flexibility”

Organismal, Population, Ecological, and Evolutionary Biology

Molly Greiner
Mentor: Hanna Delgado

“Characterizing symbiotic rhizobia isolated from native Trifolium”

HarleyJo Holman
Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Sciences
Mentors: Lisa Shipley, Leah Brueggeman

“Mountain Caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) Habitat in the South Selkirks: Zonal Shifts in Dynamic Landscapes”

Braeden Stiffler
Mentor: Janice Parks

“How Pea-canola Intercropping (Peaola) Changes Soil Inorganic Nitrogen Content”

Social Sciences

Matteya Proctor
Neuroscience, Psychology
Mentor: Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe

“The Moderating Effect of Cognitive Self-Efficacy on the Relation Between Cognition and Technology-Based Health Information Search in Middle-Aged and Older Adults”

Ten Years in the Making: Transgenerational Epigenetic Study Leads to Journal Co-Publications for Honors Undergraduate and Alumna

Ten Years in the Making: Transgenerational Epigenetic Study Leads to Journal Co-Publications for Honors Undergraduate and Alumna

By Phyllis Shier, WSU Honors College,

A ten-year study in WSU’s Skinner Laboratory provided bookend undergraduate research experiences for two Honors College students, one recently, at the study’s culmination, and one at its inception.

Sarah De Santos knew WSU might be right for her when she was invited to join its National Institutes of Health program Motivating Innovation and Research Achievement (MIRA). MIRA offers unparalleled undergraduate research opportunities for Honors College students from underrepresented groups majoring in biomedical science and engineering fields. A Genetics and Cell Biology major in the pre-medicine track, Sarah dreamed of becoming a pediatrician since she was five. But, as college approached, she began to dream even bigger. “I wanted to find a way to be a little more proactive and thought, ‘maybe I’ll involve myself in research,’” she said.

MIRA offers financial support for up to four years of tuition and an initial summer bridge program. It introduces students to lab rotations and summer research opportunities and provides the opportunity to attend a national scientific meeting. While the two labs she toured initially weren’t in her area of interest (i.e., genetics or epigenetics), De Santos reached out to WSU Eastlick Distinguished Professor of Biological Science, Michael Skinner by e-mail. Skinner is the founding director of the Center for Reproductive Biology.

“He replied very quickly,” she said. She visited the Skinner Laboratory a few days later. “After that meeting, he basically said ‘Just send me your resume and consider yourself a part of our lab.’”

Wrapping up a decade of research

Now a sophomore, Sarah’s undergraduate research in the Skinner Lab led to her first co-authored research publication in the latest issue of

Environmental Epigenetics. The paper, Multiple generation distinct toxicant exposures induce epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of enhanced pathology and obesity, chronicles the ten-year study that culminated a year and a half into her lab experience. The study examined three

Sarah De Santos (left) and Eastlick Distinguished Professor Michael Skinner standing in front of De Santos’s research poster in Abelson Hall. Click/Tap to enlarge the photo. 

successive generations of gestating year-old female rodents, strategically injecting them with environmental pesticides and jet fuel during fetal sex determination, followed by three generations with no exposure. The final “F5” generation determined the transgenerational phenotype for pathology and disease using “Deep Learning” artificial intelligence-based histopathology analysis. Results showed “compounded disease impacts in obesity and metabolic parameters,” while other pathologies increased only minimally, leveling out by the transgenerational F5 generation.

“While there was a slight increase with other diseases, like kidney disease, ovarian disease, different cysts, obesity was the one disease that you could basically track a substantial increase in as the generations progressed,” De Santos said. The study is novel in its transgenerational approach. “We bred them out pretty far and we saw how, not the first or second generation after exposure, but their descendants in subsequent generations showed an increase in obesity and epigenetic markers for that,” she said.

Sarah worked with first co-author, Eric Nilsson on histology and pathology. “Eric really helped me understand not only how to do certain tasks within the lab but also the reasoning behind them,” she said. She took tissue cuts of reproductive organs, preserving them in various rinses so slides could be created, and worked with the Deep Learning AI analysis program checking for abnormalities detected and correcting for variables identified that weren’t necessary for the study. “I was learning while helping it learn as well,” Sarah said. Even with the learning curve she noted great benefit in using the AI. “Using the Deep Learning system, we were able to speed up our analysis process; instead of it taking weeks or months, it only took one or two weeks.” She also helped with slide quality control, looking for cut off specimens or out of focus images, and helped with statistical data generation.

“For a first experience I thought it was pretty incredible that I was able to tag along at the tail end of this project and learn all about what we were doing and assist significantly,” she said. “I was very happy about that.”

De Santos credits Professor Skinner for having an impact on her overall journey as a student. “Coming into college I was very focused on just the MD track…nothing else mattered,” she said. Having previously shadowed doctors, she’d seen the clinical side of medicine. Discussions with Professor Skinner helped her realize how conducting research would allow her to help pediatric patients both in “…identifying problems and potentially designing solutions as well,” she said.

“That helped me get a better understanding of what Dr. Skinner calls preventative medicine… instead of, as a physician, just reacting to a problem, we identify the problem and are already researching solutions for it,” she said.

Outside her interests in science and medicine, Sarah loves learning in general—something that’s supported in her honors education. She took a poetry course with Honors College Professor Colin Criss and discovered an interest in poetry. She joined Palouse Review, the WSU Honors College biannual arts and academics journal and was surprised to find a strong science contingent within the group.

“Honors gives you the opportunity to kind of branch out a bit—maybe do something you’re not really comfortable with or used to, but, once you kind of take a chance, it’s really rewarding,” she said. “With science, you’re focusing on facts and data…it’s still creative but a different sort of creativity from poetry, so I appreciated that,” she said.

An honors English course with Professor Bryan Fry expanded her knowledge on literary and historical research.

“That was a very interesting class for me because whenever I hear research, I think scientific paper… and here’s this professor my freshman year saying ‘let’s go into the archives; let’s go to maps; let’s delve into these different first-person and second-person accounts… His class was very much about research but literary research and historical research.” Sarah’s project focused on early discrimination and exclusionary laws towards Asians, specifically Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, and Korean immigrants. The project was of specific interest to her as her father and grandmother immigrated to San Francisco in the 1970’s from Manilla. While the Chinese Exclusionary Act was no longer in place, that change only occurred three decades earlier. “So, it was very interesting to see that contrast of my experience and my parent’s experience versus the experience of those who had to deal with such laws before they were finally done away with,” she said.

De Santos is quick to confirm how much she values the access her Honors College and MIRA experiences have provided her.

“Before getting into the Honors College and the MIRA program… I was very much considering just going to a local college, dealing with that, because I knew medical school was going to be extremely expensive,” she said. “Being able to come to WSU, especially since I’m one of the few people in my extended family who’s actually been able to go to college—was very, very rewarding; I’m very grateful for that opportunity.”

 The study from the start: An alumna’s perspective

 “It’s been a minute,” WSU Honors College alumna Margaux McBirney said with a laugh, about her role as Environmental Epigenetics second co-author in the 10-year transgenerational epigenetics study in the Skinner Lab. “I think I started in his lab the first week of college, so right from the beginning!” she said.

Margaux began by exposing test subjects to environmental toxicants, but also learned the research background of the project she’d be participating in. This differed significantly from a traditional lab experience, McBirney said, where students may be inserted into the process without fully understanding the scope of the project.

“I really appreciated that model because it helped you start to develop this understanding of the basis of our experiment… and then you could start to contextualize. It provided this foundation to build upon.”

Skinner (kneeling, in hat) and Margaux McBirney (blue tee) front row, last on right.

So, when Professor Skinner encouraged her to continue during the summer, she stayed, even though it deviated from her summer plans. “For context, during the school year I would be in the lab about 10 hours a week my first year; over the summer I was in the lab basically full time, so I think that’s really where things progressed.”

McBirney started working on histopathology analysis of tissues, helped to dissect animals, and helped to gear up for the paper on one of the biggest studies in the lab to-date. “It was absolutely worth doing it because…your rate of learning was so much higher,” she said.

One drawback of a long study meant significant data wouldn’t be available in time for her honors thesis, so Professor Skinner assigned Margaux to another study on the epigenetic effects of atrazine.

“That’s what was so amazing about Dr. Skinner and the Honors College is that they just worked in tandem so well,” she said. The atrazine study “paired beautifully,” with the timing of her thesis project. “Dr. Skinner and I reworked the plan to have me be more involved in that study and that ended with…another co-author publication and using that for my honors thesis.”

Margaux’s experience also included a summer in France via a connection the Skinner lab had there. She took an intensive French course onsite which helped with her honors language requirement. “That was a really fortunate opportunity as well—to go do that,” she said. An avid cycler, she got to see the Tour de France and do some cycling of her own.

McBirney progressed in the lab’s ten-year study to working with senior lab scientists on molecular techniques. “It was really an incredible experience where you got a whole lifecycle of these experiments; so often undergrads get a summer in a lab or a half a year… it was really amazing to have three and a half years of progressive experience,” she said.

“Ultimately, that’s really what got me my first job out of college, too, because that’s not so common,” she added.

McBirney’s first job at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute in Seattle eventually transitioned into a lab management role. “I applied to a lot of jobs there,” she said of her start at the Hutch. “I think what really stood out to their HR recruiters was the depth of my experience and specifically this niche area, which is working with animals in research settings.”

McBirney is currently Lab Operations Manager at Talus Bio, a cancer therapeutics company in Seattle.

Positioning students for success

The Skinner Lab has mentored honors and traditional students for more than twenty years.

“Mike is a super advisor,” said Honors College Dean M. Grant Norton. “Over the years he has mentored fifteen or more honors students, integrating them into his research projects in ways that often lead to undergraduate research publications and even career opportunities; students are grateful for those opportunities and real-world connections,” Norton added.

Training the next generation of researchers is vital to the research mission of the university and students in the Skinner lab are an essential part of his lab’s workforce. “I’m in the university because I believe that environment facilitates research activity,” Professor Skinner said. “I’m really looking for students who have a career goal that we can help facilitate.”

That trait is something he finds consistently in honors students.

“Honors students are far more serious about their academic futures,” Skinner said, noting that a high percentage of them often “tend to gravitate” to his lab rather than him having to seek them out. Often, he said, they already know they want to go on to grad or medical school. “Those students are committed to go on in their careers and to do further education and so those are the ones that really fit the best in a research environment,” he said.

Honors students recognize the reciprocity the situation provides.

“What’s really special and unique about Dr. Skinner’s approach is that he enables the undergrads and gives you so much room to learn and try things,” McBirney said. “It’s worth noting because when you do give that ownership and guidance—of course, with oversight—it’s really impressive what undergrads, as a general term can do,” she added. “You learn you can start to really contribute, make decisions, and be an asset to the lab.”

“If you’re looking for someone…to work in your lab, if they have aspirations to go on to the more professional degrees and stay in science, that’s how you select the better students,” Skinner said.

Students like Margaux and Sarah, for example. “There’s two of them… one at the beginning and the other at the end with no overlap,” Skinner said.

“Margaux was in on the very beginning several years ago. She basically got this project started with some other senior people in the lab. It took us forever to get all the generations and all the pathology and everything else,” he said. “She was one of my more productive honors students in the sense that she co-authored four publications.”

“Sarah played a significant role in helping us finish up all of the pathology over the last year and a half…summarizing a lot of the data, putting things together,” Skinner said. Once he learned she was an honors student who wanted to do an MD and a potential PhD, he knew she’d be a good fit for his lab. “Finding those people early in their careers is not common.”

Student Highlight: Andrew Davila

Andrew DavilaStudent Highlight: Andrew Davila

By Sophia Flippin, Honors Student Intern,

Meet Honors student Andrew Davila. Andrew is a senior majoring in economics with a specialization in financial markets and accompanied by a business administration minor.

He encourages underclassmen to say “yes” first and then worry later. Referring to his own experience, Andrew said students often let fears get in the way of their potential.

Andrew is deeply immersed within the WSU community and holds several leadership positions on campus. Last semester, Andrew worked as an Honors 198 facilitator. He worked with another Honors student, Matteya Proctor, to lead first-year students in topics pertaining to leadership, professionalism, and personal growth. He represents the Honors College as an Associated Students of Washington State University senator

Through the Honors College, Andrew has been able to strengthen his Spanish and mature academically. Most recently, you can find him researching firm resilience to demand shocks for honors thesis. The thesis process allows Andrew to pursue his interest in econometrics and its real-world applications. Andrew appreciates how diverse the Honors College general curriculum is and his ability to explore various topics. He fondly remembers Dr. Bill Smith’s Honors 370 class about the United Nations. Learning about the dynamics between various nations and their shared history made for an interesting class, Andrew said.

Outside of Honors, Andrew has worked within WSU Housing and Residence Life for three years and is now a senior resident advisor for the Stephenson East residence hall. He oversees 11 resident advisors, advises the building’s hall government group, and executes building-wide programs. Last year, Andrew channeled his love for chess into founding of Chess at WSU, a chartered organization that competes collegiately.

“My advice is to not place a perceived limit on what you believe is possible. Going back to freshman year, if I had told myself I would be involved in such lovely departments and balancing all my current work at once, my old self would not have believed it.”

Andrew is currently in the process of applying to graduate schools to earn his Master of Applied Economics. His ultimate goal is to become an economic consultant.