Enhancing Academic Excellence

MACS trains next-gen ocean protectors

The urgency of the climate crisis and its ongoing impact on ocean life and the marine ecosystem has created the need for a new generation of adept and well-equipped marine scientists.

“You can’t look at our oceans and not realize we have an urgent need for better-prepared scientists, people who can talk across disciplines and understand and work across disciplines in ways that will address the accelerating rate of change of our oceans and the impacts that cascade through the entire system we live in,” says Brian Bingham, director of Western’s new Marine and Coastal Sciences Program.

Marine and Coastal Sciences, known as MACS, combines classes in four fields: biology, environmental science, geology and chemistry. The MACS program also emphasizes immersive research and builds community through cohorts and a residential component.

Cohorts can be particularly powerful for first-generation students and students of color; being among a group of students with similar interests and goals creates a sense of belonging for students who may not feel comfortable or welcome in a university setting.

We will measure our success by:

Tenure/Tenure-track Faculty
Academic Excellence 2019-20 2020-21 Target 2024-25
Total Faculty 566 563 600-625
Percent Faculty of Color 19.3% 20.6% 18-23%

Students Graduating with High-Impact Experiences
(Undergraduate research, global learning, community-based learning, internships, capstone courses and projects)

2019-20 2020-21 Target 2024-25
84.3% 78.1% 95%*

*other experiences, such as military service, may also count as equivalent

Research & Sponsored Programs Annual Expenditures
2019-20 2020-21 Target 2024-25
$12.8M $13.5M $15-20M
A group of students from the MACS program working together on a rocky beach at the shore's edge

Assistant Professor Jim Cooper of Western’s Marine and Coastal Sciences Program, left, helps students collect specimens on the beach near Shannon Point Marine Center.

Alia Khan’s snowmelt research wins prestigious NSF early-career grant

Alia Khan kneeling in the snow with a computer in her lap and holding a scientific instrument on a stick. She is wearing a bright red snow coat, which matches the bright red paint on the large ship behind her.

Assistant Professor Alia Khan travels to the world's coldest regions to study snow and ice.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Alia Khan’s work studying snowmelt on the warming planet has been awarded a five-year, $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The CAREER grant is the NSF’s most prestigious award to early-career faculty who are conducting promising research the NSF wants to see continue. Khan’s award is the first in Environmental Science and the largest ever awarded at Western.

Khan will use the funds to continue her international collaborations with scientists from the Chilean Antarctic Program to evaluate the role of temperature, light-absorbing particles, snow-algae growth, and their impacts on snow and ice melt in the Western Antarctic Peninsula.

Much of Khan’s research focuses on how the regions of the planet covered with snow and ice are melting faster as a result of climate change. She also studies the role of light-absorbing particles such as black carbon, dust and biological constituents like snow algae on that feedback loop.

Khan will incorporate undergraduate and graduate students from Western in snow and glaciological research methods on Mount Baker in the nearby Cascade mountains. Her work presents sophisticated problems that will train and inspire students.

Anatomy and Physiology Lab preps students for health careers

The torso of a person wearing a lap coat, pulling on blue nitrile gloves

Western’s Anatomy and Physiology Lab provides a rare opportunity for undergraduates at universities like WWU: the chance to study human anatomy by working on actual human bodies.
The lab opened in fall 2021 in the Carver Academic Complex and hosts classes for biology and kinesiology students, providing crucial training for graduate school or careers in the high-demand health sciences.

“This really helps me understand how the human body works from more than just a theoretical way,” says Joanna Sanok of Port Townsend. “I can see it happen right in front of me. And if I have a question, I can just find the answer out for myself.”

The lab hosts two human cadavers at a time, via UW Medicine’s Willed Body Program.

Launching into medical research

Aliyah Dawkins, posing in front of blurred yellow flowers in a dark red rain coat and striped top

Aliyah Dawkins, the 2022 Presidential Scholar for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Behavioral Sciences Division, plans a career in biomedical research to develop better drugs for people impacted by brain diseases, while building representation of African Americans in medicine and biomedical research.

A talented student athlete who set a Western record in the pentathlon, Dawkins double-majored in biochemistry and behavioral neuroscience and was a highly regarded research assistant of Assistant Professor Grace Wang, studying the genetics of aging and neurodegeneration.