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WSU named finalist for 2021 APLU awards

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The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) named Washington State University as a finalist for its ninth annual Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) University Awards.

“WSU is committed to supporting research that fuels entrepreneurship, innovation and economic opportunity in the state of Washington and across the nation. Being a finalist for APLU’s IEP University Awards reflects WSU’s commitment to developing innovative leaders, technologies, and partnerships that tackle complex societal problems and enrich the quality of life for us all,” said Christopher J. Keane, vice president for research at WSU.

WSU and Iowa State University are finalists for the IEP Place Award for exemplary initiatives resulting in social, cultural, or community development. WSU and ISU are two of the six universities that the APLU selected as finalists for four different awards recognizing exemplary and innovative case studies of economic engagement impact.

The winners will be announced during the association’s annual meeting in November.

WSU was recognized for its Drive-In Wi-Fi hotspots project.

Drawing on relationships it had developed over decades of work with communities statewide, WSU Extension reached out to a host of public and private partners to launch the project in April 2020 as the pandemic exacerbated long-standing inequalities in the state.

For example, one in 10 rural residents in the state lack access to broadband and the pandemic threatened to cut off entire communities from digital access that enabled learning, remote work, and telemedicine.

In partnership with the Washington State Broadband Office, Washington State Library, and dozens of other partners, the project grew to include over 600 drive-in Wi-Fi hotspots, enabling anyone to park and access high-quality, high-speed Internet. Although not a permanent solution to the broadband needs in Washington state, these hotspots provide free, publicly available emergency access in response to the pandemic. Over 4,588 individuals have accessed the WSU drive-in locations and the University continues to expand its network of Drive-In Wi-Fi hotspots to help provide the high-speed Internet connections necessary for distance learning, remote work, telemedicine, and day-to-day essential services. WSU also harnessed its internal assets to make sure information about the project was widely disseminated through social media, email, and physical mail both in English and Spanish.

WSU submitted two other case studies for consideration to showcase the University’s innovative and economic engagement impact. These case studies included the College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital’s dedication in training the next generation of veterinarians while providing the highest level of care to animals across the state, and the Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory’s pivot from animal testing to human testing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 78,000 tests have been conducted to date.

“All three case studies submitted for consideration for the APLU IEP University Awards are exemplary examples of the specific projects, programs, and initiatives WSU is committed to that supports community development and economic engagement,” said Colleen Kerr, vice president for External Affairs and Government Relations at WSU and a member of APLU’s Commission on Economic and Community Engagement Executive Committee. “Our nomination for the IEP Place Award is especially meaningful during a year of uncertainty. Launching the Drive-In Wi-Fi hotspots program to provide internet access to rural communities demonstrates WSU’s land-grant mission and tradition of service to society.”

All six of the IEP University Awards finalists will compete for the IEP Economic Engagement Connections award, the top prize in the awards competition, recognizing overall excellence and leveraging across all three award categories. Nearly 70 institutions have been named IEP universities designees since the program was launched in 2012.

“Congratulations to this year’s Innovation and Economic Prosperity University Awards finalists on their outstanding work to advance regional economic development,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “Public research universities are major engines of economic development in their region, and the IEP finalists have distinguished themselves as leaders in this space.”

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