New WSU Tri-Cities chancellor seeks to boost enrollment, build new lab space

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 15, 2013 

Washington State University Tri-Cities needs a dormitory, new laboratory space and other facilities, says the campus' new chancellor.

"We're going to need investment from the state to get to the next level," said H. Keith Moo-Young, who started June 1.

But he doesn't expect that to happen anytime soon with the Legislature needing to go in to a second special session after failing to approve a state budget.

For the moment, the chancellor said he is easing into his role at the north Richland campus. And during the next few months, he plans a listening tour and series of meet-and-greet events to get feedback from students, faculty and community members.

But Moo-Young said he has goals he wants to achieve, including boosting campus enrollment from almost 1,500 to 5,000 students in the next few decades.

But he says it's not just about numbers. Moo-Young wants to create well-rounded, creative scientists and engineers who also are exposed to the arts.

He wants strong collaboration, within and outside the school with private industry. And he wants WSU Tri-Cities to be the intellectual center of the region.

"The way I look at the job of chancellor is to be a visionary and move the campus in the right direction," he told the Herald.

When Moo-Young first met with faculty, students and residents before he was hired, he spoke of the importance of balancing the school's strength in science and mathematics with the fine arts in order to create the strongest graduates.

He employed a similar model as dean of engineering, computer science and technology at California State University-Los Angeles.

He said building a regional performing arts center on campus would advance that purpose, though he acknowledged that finding the money would be challenging. Private donations to leverage a bond for construction would likely be needed, he said.

"That's one way it could gain some legs and some teeth," Moo-Young said.

An immediate way of getting more fine arts on campus is to invite artists from the community. He said he foresees an arrangement where the school and arts community share the East Building auditorium.

"The information economy is still here, but the creative economy is the future economy," he said. "This is the only way our engineers will remain strong."

Putting students first also is a top priority, he said.

Moo-Young said he supports student efforts to build a student union and said there also needs to be facility similar to Columbia Basin College's HUB, where student services can be concentrated, because those are critical to keeping students on campus.

Also, Moo-Young said he wants to see more support for and expansion of faculty research, such as cultivating more cooperation between professors working in Richland and Prosser.

"We're all in the same region, and it makes sense for us to collaborate," he said. "I see it as an evolving opportunity."

Faculty and students could benefit from more partnerships with private corporations. Already, the Bioproducts, Sciences and Engineering Laboratory, or BSEL, is operated cooperatively with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

And the Wine Science Center is a collaborative effort between the university, Port of Benton, wine industry and state agencies.

Moo-Young said he sees such partnerships giving students hands-on experience as well as providing resources to faculty researchers and serving the broader community by keeping companies here and attracting new ones.

In turn, those connections cultivate an inspired and vibrant campus, which attracts community members and prospective students, especially from outside of the region, he said.

Moo-Young knows state lawmakers will need convincing to pay for new buildings. He said he can make a compelling case because of the school's record of producing skilled graduates at a relatively low cost to the state.

But there also will need to be some changes on campus. Programs won't be cut but Moo-Young said resources -- staffing, equipment, space -- could be shuffled to meet student needs.

"What programming do we need to enhance?" he said. "Are the systems we have in place streamlined enough to be a good use of resources?"

So Moo-Young's first days and weeks may be quiet for now. But don't expect it to stay that way for long.

"As far as I'm concerned, there are a few areas we have huge opportunities," he said.

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