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Central Washington University

CWU Nationally Prominent in Earth Science Research Funding

ELLENSBURG, Wash. (October 23, 2012)— Central Washington University is ranked second in the state and eightieth in the nation for research and development funding in the Earth sciences. That is the finding of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) just released 2010 Higher Education Research and Development Survey. The results indicate that CWU devoted $2.98 million for such research, the majority of the funding provided by NSF.

“NSF is fond of us because we take our research into the classroom,” says Audrey Huerta, geological sciences professor and director of the university’s Science Honors research program. “Central is nationally and internationally recognized for our work in the Earth sciences. That type of recognition is unusual for a school that does not have a PhD program. It indicates the high quality of our faculty and the opportunities we provide to our undergraduates and master’s students to participate in groundbreaking research.”

Last summer, CWU alumnus Brad Pitcher worked as an intern in the prestigious National Association of Geoscience Teachers-US Geological Survey (NAGT-USGS) Cooperative Field Training Program. He worked with a USGS research geologist in Menlo Park, California and in the field at Yellowstone Volcano Observatory on a research project titled “Quantifying Past and Present Output of Magmatic Volatiles at the Yellowstone Volcanic System.”

Pitcher, now a PhD student at Oregon State University, said, “The Earth sciences program at Central Washington University is the perfect blend of dedicated professors and small class sizes,” says Pitcher. “The program offers a great environment and numerous opportunities for undergraduate research. I was able to travel to Hawaii and Italy for classes and research. I also presented my research at multiple conventions.”

Allowing CWU undergraduates and master’s degree candidates to be highly involved in international field research in the Earth sciences is one area where CWU is atypical, as compared to its peer institutions.

“It helps our students to get more than just a ‘cookie-cutter’ education,” Huerta adds. “We’ve had students go to Antarctica, Chile, Italy, Tibet and lots of other places to study the earth, be better scientists, and better citizens. Even if our graduates don’t pursue additional degrees, they have a better understanding of the Earth.”

Earth science at CWU involves a variety of study areas – including research pertaining to climate change, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and the evolution of the earth – as a way to understand what may happen in the future. Among the university programs involved are the Pacific Northwest Geodetic Array (PANGA), which monitors earthquake activity in the Pacific Northwest; Science Talent Expansion Program (STEP) that provides academic support, social support, and financial benefits designed to improve student success in the sciences; and Yakima Watershed Activities To Enhance Research in Schools (WATERS), which offers public elementary through high school students the chance to work alongside university faculty and students in interdisciplinary watershed research.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-1487,

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