How can the university most effectively apply its system-wide resources to better serve the needs of the state of Washington?

More specifically, how might faculty and others partner with WSU Extension in creative new ways to deliver their expertise to address the health disparities present in Washington’s rural communities?

Those were two of the key questions discussed Oct. 8 at the first in a planned series of system-wide strategy sessions designed to begin the implementation of WSU’s first-ever system strategic plan. The session focused on goal 3 of the strategic plan, which calls for the university to become a national leader in outreach, extension, service and engagement while addressing the quality of life issues of Washington residents.

Some 200 members of the WSU community registered for the two-hour virtual session, “Rural Health and WSU Extension: Addressing Health Disparities,” which featured brief presentations by faculty and staff from WSU Extension, the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, and the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine. The presentations focused on topics such as “Meeting Vulnerable Patients Where They Are,” “Supporting the Washington Food System During COVID-19,” and “WSU Extension and Healthy Communities: A Partnership to Support Youth and Family Development Through Mentoring, Life Skill Development, and Career Preparation.”

The presentations were followed by small-group breakout sessions in which conference attendees shared ideas about how to create more system-wide partnerships and suggested next steps the university could take to match its expertise to community needs.

In his opening remarks, WSU President Kirk Schulz challenged the event attendees to identify new ways to create synergy between the university’s statewide locations. The goal, he said, is to build a more interconnected and interdependent set of campuses as the university responds to Washington’s evolving social and economic challenges.

The presentations at the strategy session highlighted eight cross-college and cross-unit collaborations. “We hope these sessions will inspire more collaborations across disciplines, colleges, and campuses,” said Laura Hill, senior vice provost, in her opening remarks. A video recording of the presentations and a discussion survey are available to members of the community who were unable to attend the Oct. 8 event.

Presentation summaries

“Meeting the Vulnerable Patients Where They Are”

  • Dr. Luis Manriquez, assistant clinical professor at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, described the street medicine program based at WSU Health Sciences Spokane, which delivers health care to Spokane’s homeless population. Launched in response to COVID-19, the program uses the Crosetto Mobile Health Care to deliver services. All three of the Spokane-based health sciences colleges participate in the program, along with the Spokane Regional Health District, Spokane Alliance, and Community Health Association of Spokane.

 “Leveraging Extension for Rural Health Promotion and Substance Use Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery”

  • Elizabeth Weybright, associate professor of human development and interim director of the WSU Extension youth and families program unit, described the university’s Center for Rural Opioid Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery, or CROP+TR, a multidisciplinary collaboration that provides training to rural communities to help them prevent and treat opioid addiction. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded the university $1.1 million a year ago to fund the effort. Weybright and Michael McDonell, associate professor at the College of Medicine and director of Behavioral Health Innovations, lead CROP+TR.

“Total Farmer Health”

  • Don McMoran, director of WSU Skagit County Extension, highlighted an Extension-led initiative to reduce the suicide rate among farmers. A program that started with a grant from the state in 2019 for a pilot program recently was awarded a $7 million Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant will fund expansion of Extension’s suicide prevention work to 13 western states and four U.S. territories. The Learning and Performance Center at WSU’s College of Education will assist with research and evaluation components of the project.

“Supporting the Washington Food System During COVID-19”

  • Laura Lewis, director of the food systems program and an associate professor of community and economic development in the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, briefed listeners about the efforts she leads to foster viable farm businesses, optimize sustainable natural resource stewardship and promote scaled processing in the state. She highlighted a WSU-sponsored international quinoa research symposium that brought together more 1,000 people who learned more about the valuable role quinoa plays in contributing to food security, human health and nutrition, sustainable production, and holistic use worldwide.

“Advancing the Transformative Student Experience: The WSU E3 Project”

  • Michael Gaffney, assistant director of Extension and director of Extension’s community and economic development program, described the “Extension, Engagement, Education,” or “E3,” project that seeks to coalesce existing and new university programs to provide accessible opportunities for meaningful experiential learning and engagement for WSU students. E3 is a partnership between the Center for Civic Engagement, Extension, and the Office of Research.

“WSU Extension’s Broadband Action Teams Work with Strategic Partners to Increase Rural Broadband Access for Telehealth”

  • Debra Hansen, professor and director of WSU Stevens County Extension, described her partnership-building activities to increase rural broadband access to telehealth services. She noted the challenges associated with building an effective network of community leaders, academic minds, and technical experts required to connect rural communities to local decision makers and the need to sustain funding. She invited conference attendees from all disciplines to bring their knowledge and creativity to tackling the issues at hand.

WSU Extension and Healthy Communities: A Partnership to Support Youth and Family Development Through Mentoring, Life Skill Development, and Career Preparation

  • AnaMaria Martinez, associate professor of human and family development and a regional specialist with WSU Extension, shared insights from her research into bridging science and community through research- and evidence-based programs to address social-ecological factors from a prevention lens. She cited the example of educating youth about the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. Not only do these youth develop new life skills, they also become mentors for their peers while advancing their own sense of self-satisfaction and confidence. She encouraged her listeners to contact her with their ideas about how to create more youth advocates for health.

“The Medical Education Pipeline: Key to the Physician Workforce in Rural Washington”

  • Ken Roberts, professor of biomedical sciences and vice dean of academic and community partnerships at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, discussed his office’s efforts to develop and maintain partnerships with community clinics and hospitals where WSU medical students will train. The work of his office includes outreach to K-12 schools, particularly in rural and underserved communities, to promote careers in medical sciences and healthcare. The outreach efforts have included workshops attended by about 19,000 youth the past several years. Those efforts, Roberts noted, would not be possible without partnering with Extension colleagues.

Chris Hoyt, chief of staff for the Office of President, is heading implementation of the system strategic plan. She is assisted by the Strategic Plan Implementation Team: Mark Beattie, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, WSU Everett; Gwen Halaas, vice chancellor for academic affairs, WSU Health Sciences Spokane; Hill, from WSU Pullman; Domanic Thomas, vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment, WSU Vancouver;  Ray White, vice chancellor of finance and administration, WSU Tri-Cities; and Kristina Wilson, ex-officio, chief of staff, Office of the Provost and liaison with the new Executive Budget Committee.

The team is supported by Guy Ellibee, director of IS operations & system services, and Rebecca Lande, program manager, both Office of the President; John Sutherland, University Marketing and Communications; and consultant Jean Frankel, founder and principal, Ideas for Action LLC.