WSU Tri-Cities committee working on academic master plan for the future

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJuly 5, 2014 

Opportunities for students to study agricultural science. Emphasis on fostering creativity, critical thinking and collaboration. A model for a new liberal arts education.

Washington State University Tri-Cities, along with the rest of the WSU system, is in the midst of determining what areas students will be studying during the coming years.

A committee of faculty and administrators at the Richland campus is working on the academic master plan. Full details won't be available until late August.

Tri-City university officials say they want to play to the Richland campus' strengths during the planning process -- its intimate setting and proximity to the agricultural and scientific industries.

While the campus will always be part of the WSU system and likely "can't be all things to all people," it's important that the university firmly establish its own identity, Vice Chancellor Mike Mays told the Herald.

"We're done with our days being considered 'Pullman lite,' " he said. "We think, going forward, we have a lot to offer."

The academic master planning process, which was last conducted several years ago, was instituted by university officials in Pullman. And it comes at a critical point, Mays said, as it's been about seven years since the Richland campus became a full four-year institution and strategies to grow enrollment need to change.

The arrival of Chancellor H. Keith Moo-Young about a year ago also jump-started efforts ranging from more community engagement to encouraging collaboration between departments, Mays said. The chancellor has a vision to expand the campus and its role in the community.

"He wants to see things happen right now," Mays said.

University officials at the Tri-City campus want to develop programs in four different areas -- the health sciences, bioproducts and engineering, wine science and a combination of computer science, information technology and the campus' Digital Technology and Culture, or DTC, program.

All those areas represent disciplines with deep investment on campus, Mays said, but could also still benefit from increased attention and expansion.

The wine science center could lead to more food science or business economics courses that would relate to the region's agricultural interests and tie into WSU's research station in Prosser.

The Tri-Cities' ties to science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, also will continue to play a role on campus in expanding programs and how students are taught overall, May said.

The ability to collaborate between areas of study also is important, Mays said. The DTC program, which is a fine arts program, has largely been successful because of its eagerness to work with other faculty members such as engineers and scientists.

But WSU Tri-Cities likely won't add programs seen in other liberal arts universities, such as expansion into the fine and performing arts or philosophy. That's because starting such programs -- when there's no solid demand for it from the region's employers -- could be exponentially costly for such a small campus, Mays said.

"We can't make a mistake," he said.

An online survey developed for the Richland campus and connected to the university's efforts asks participants to rank the importance of affordable tuition, opportunities for student research and support services as well as what programs they'd like to see at the Richland campus.

The results will be used in the planning process for WSU Tri-Cities.

Lura Powell, a WSU regent who worked closely with WSU Tri-Cities as a past director of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said she's liked what she's heard about the university's planning efforts. More importantly, though, she likes how the university is trying to involve the Tri-Cities.

"This community has rallied around WSU Tri-Cities and is a very important part of its future," she told the Herald.

Faculty and administrators at Washington State University Tri-Cities are making a road map for what the university might offer students academically in the coming years.

The public is invited to provide input for the process.

Go to www.tricity.wsu.edu/academicaffairs/masterplan.php and click the link at the bottom of the page to answer a few survey questions.

w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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