Regional Higher Education & Industry Leaders Tout Spokane’s Future as a Leader in Technology Innovation

During visit by National Science Foundation’s Director, leaders from Avista, WSU, Gonzaga, and EWU discuss opportunities provided by Cantwell-led CHIPS & Science Act

SPOKANE, WA – Today, as National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Sethuraman Panchanathan looked on, industry and higher education leaders from the Spokane area touted the region’s current and future potential as a leader in technology innovation, which could result in substantial federal funding from the CHIPS & Science Act signed into law last August. The group gathered at the Catalyst Building, a center for innovation in Spokane with partners including Eastern Washington University (EWU) and Avista.

“Spokane is unique in its ability to do big things in partnership across organizations, including the higher ed organizations, the business community, the way that we work together,” said Dr. Daryll DeWald, Spokane Chancellor, Washington State University. “I think you'll be impressed by it and we would like to have your investment. ... You came to the right place. And we'll be glad to tell you more about our story. We work well together. It's about innovation. It's about partnerships.”

“We need to make sure that we make every effort to unleash the talent, the ideas, the potential, and the possibilities all across the nation,” said Dr. Panchanathan. “And the way we do it is through partnerships. And what I saw today, and what is available to Spokane, and what is already happening here is a testimony to what partnership can accomplish.”

“We know in order for energy to be affordable, reliable and clean, that it's going to take a lot more than just additional generation,” said Jason Thackston, Senior Vice President, Chief Strategy & Clean Energy Officer, Avista. “We need to think about new ways ... to partner with our customers and others, and help advance the technologies that will enable that clean energy future. So that's in large part why we engaged with partners here in the university district with the Catalyst Building with Scott Morris Center for Energy Innovation. It was to create a space where we could [not] just experiment and conduct science experiments, but actually apply ideas in a safe testing environment that we could then execute into the grid. And so, there's a lot of great work that's happening here on this campus and over at the Morris Center.”

“A key goal of our academic institution at Gonzaga is to enable and sustain industries, such as aerospace, for quality jobs, a skilled robust and competitive technology workforce and a diverse supply chain of small businesses,” said Dr. Karlene Hoo, Dean of School of Engineering and Applied Science, Gonzaga University.

“We're really proud of the work that we've done, supported by NSF to support STEM teacher education as a core part of our identity and what we do,” said Dr. David Bowman, Dean of College of STEM, EWU. “Programs like the Noyce programs that help have diverse students from diverse and underrepresented minority backgrounds to serve as K-12 teachers, at some of the highest need districts throughout the state. That's a core part of what we do, and we really appreciate the partnership with NSF to help support make that happen.”

During her remarks, Dean Hoo also pointed to the university’s industry partnership with Advanced Thermoplastic Composites Manufacturing (ATC), which is at the leading edge of aerospace composite manufacturing. She additionally announced that Gonzaga has prepared and submitted a proposal to the NSF’s GRANTED opportunity to build research capacity, which focuses on addressing systemic barriers in STEM. 

After the press conference, the speakers participated in a Spokane Technology Leadership Summit moderated by Mark Norton, Chair of the Inland Northwest Aerospace Consortium (INWAC), to discuss how federal funds now available from the CHIPS & Science Act can aid in transforming the Spokane region into a national technology leader and train the next generation of the STEM workforce.

Sen. Cantwell was a main architect and key negotiator of the CHIPS & Science Act. In her position as Chair of the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, she was instrumental in securing the science R&D funding authorizations in the 11th hour of negotiations. The new law authorized a new mission at the NSF focusing on translational science in key areas – including artificial intelligence, quantum technology, advanced manufacturing, composites, energy, and biotech -- with an authorization of $20 billion over five years. Composites and advanced manufacturing are key technologies for the aviation sector.

The CHIPS & Science Act additionally authorized $13 billion in STEM education funding at the NSF, representing a tripling of the NSF’s annual STEM education budget. This funding can be used for scholarships, fellowships and traineeships, and for competitive awards to universities to expand STEM education capacity. The law additionally directs the NSF to increase STEM education opportunities for women, minorities, and tribal communities, directing nearly $2 billion to minority-serving institutions and other emerging research institutions around the country with a proven track record of helping grow a diverse workforce. One of the major focuses of the CHIPS & Science Act was enabling smaller institutions to compete for NSF grants, and programs like the GRANTED assists emerging institutions seeking to work with the NSF.

Video of today’s press conference can be viewed HERE.