It’s fall semester and a time for new beginnings at WSU. WSU’s new Provost Mitzi Montoyo is beginning the welcomed process of developing a new Vision/Mission statement for the WSU system. This will not be easy. In the last two weeks I’ve been told by several people that, “vision statements are pointless” and “every Land-grant school has the same vision/mission”. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I believe these statements are precisely our system’s problem. Those of you that are in-tune to the campus culture and have read My WSU Drive-to-25 recommendations and Taking Land-Grant for Granted posts know that this is a cause I’d commit career martyrdom over. In this post I’ll make a point about the essential importance of vision/mission statements, describe WSU’s Land-Grant Heritage with specific emphasis on current challenges facing the State of Washington, and conclude with a vision/mission statement for WSU and MME that will decisively fulfill our Drive-to-25 aspirations.

“I’m in a hurry. So what’s your pitch?”

Every spring I volunteer to cold-call top WSU student recruits to convince them to come to the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering (MME). I’ve heard a lot of questions from these brilliant students over the years. But I’ll never forget one call. The phone rang, he picked up, I introduced myself as a professor of mechanical engineering at WSU and was calling to see if he had made a decision on school yet or if he had any questions. His response was, “Look I haven’t decided. I’m kindof in a hurry. So what’s your pitch? Why should I come to WSU?” The question caught me off guard. I was used to relative justifications of WSU over UW, Idaho, or Oregon State. But an absolute justification? That was a tough sell. Looking back on it, that was precisely the type of question an entrepreneurial recruit should ask, whether coming from a potential new student, staff, faculty, or administrator… and I had no response.

This is step one in any business pitch competition — what are you going to do for me? It’s no different for any student, taxpayer, or politician in our state. However, ask just about any administrator on campus for their pitch and you’ll get metrics, like I defaulted to in the phone call above — “we’re top 10 in X” “we’re the fastest Y” “the highest Z” …. Herein lies the problem: metrics are totally pointless unless presented within the context of a relevant story/vision/mission. When you don’t know what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it, you pound your chest and say “but I’m good at XYZ” in the hopes that somebody will care. But how does the top X, fastest Y, or highest Z actually help our constituents? In a single sentence? Here’s how the Toyota production model put it in “The Toyota Way”:

“The least effective manager in this (the Toyota model) is top-down and has only general management expertise–the bureaucratic manager. This characterizes a large portion of U.S. managers. How effective can you be if you are trying to run the organization through command and control without an intimate understanding of what is going on? Your only choice is to make a lot of rules and policies and measure performance relative to those rules and policies. This leads to metrics-driven management that takes the focus away from satisfying customers or building a learning organization.”

So when I see vision statements along the lines of, “We’ll be an international recognized school of distinction” I get frustrated. Anybody anywhere could say that. If every Land-Grant vision statement is the same, then why am I even here? This would be absolutely dead in the water in any business plan competition. What I really want to know is:

  1. Who’s your client? (Hopefully our constituents in the State of Washington.)
  2. What’s their problem? (We’ll get to this)
  3. What are you going to do about it? (and this)
  4. Why are you better at this than anyone else? (We’ll finish with this)

You naysayers are thinking, “But Washington State isn’t big enough”, “We have to think Global”…. let me clue you in, Washington State is global — big time.

The State of Washington and WSU’s Land-Grant Heritage

Manifest Destiny to the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’ was what drew my Great, Great, Great Grandparents to help establish shipping routes to overcome the logistical challenges of moving to Walla Walla in the 1840’s. The Pacific Northwest promised cheap fertile land, and a sustainable beginning for those who would work for it. Hydropower and abundant agriculture opportunities have kept the cost of food and renewable electricity very low. Although the land is no longer as cheap, the Inland Northwest where WSU is located, remains a place for connection to new opportunities and beginnings with Pullman being named the top small town for manufacturing in the US by Forbes in 2018 and the top place to live in Washington State.

This story of new beginnings and a sustainable lifestyle has helped the State of Washington to become:

#1 State in the US in 2019 by U.S. News and World Reports

#1 Aerospace state in the US

#1 exporter of apples, cherries, raspberries, and hops

#3 concentration of high-tech jobs in the US

#1 renewable energy state

Considering these stats, and that there are only two public Carnegie Research 1 Institutions in the state, you quickly realize that Washington State University has incredible potential to foster a quality education, research or business career, and become a top 25 Public Research Institution. Moreover, the State of Washington’s Strengths directly correspond to WSU’s Land-Grant heritage.

If you don’t have time to read my Taking Land-Grant for Granted post, know this: the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 emerged during the end of the 1st industrial revolution to provide each state land to establish a university as each State sees fit to correct imbalances between urban and rural populaces. Said more specifically, “to provide colleges for the benefits of agriculture and the mechanic arts… including military tactics”… couldn’t be much more relevant to mechanical engineering. Continuing on to the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 the idea of Land-Grant institutions as a grand-equalizers between the urban vs. rural divide begins to emerge. Nowhere is this divide more apparent than the State of Washington — and this remains WSU’s key challenge and opportunity.

Figure 1: Washington State population density map (Commons).

When you look at the above map of Washington’s population density you notice the heavy population base in the Puget Sound area. With Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing and many other global businesses headquartered there, this is also where the wealth and commerce are concentrated. Problem is, the food, energy, and water resources necessary to support this commerce are primarily produced east of the colossal barrier known as the Cascade mountains. The Cascade geo-spatial divide is also geo-political, socio-economic, and climatic. This divide has resulted in flourishing at the University of Washington, and Washington State University being left behind.

In the 127 years since WSU’s founding in community known as Pullman, WSU has grown into a multi-campus system with a major seat in every corner of the state, and a presence in every county of the state. This distributed presence creates difficulties when lobbying for resources, which politicians want to return to their own district, difficulties in educating as classes must be broadcast to students around the state, and administration as each location has it’s own physical and financial constraints. Examples abound. MME has branch campuses in Tri-Cities, Vancouver, Bremerton, and Everett. However, the Vancouver faculty decided to go their own way over a decade ago and I couldn’t name anyone in MME at that campus. The last time I was at the Everett campus their Aerospace club had a goal to “beat Pullman’s” while they were pitching to companies for the same pool of resources to support their club as the Pullman club. The Everett community was recently considering partnering to develop a hydrogen vehicle research hub, my area of expertise which I’m in the top five in the US. When the state legislator was told of my expertise, the response was, “But he’s in Pullman, that won’t help us.” I was literally teaching class on engine technology at the Everett campus earlier that same week, if not day. Clearly we’re allowing a unique opportunity to leverage our distributed presence become a key obstacle. Whatever happened to “OneWSU”?

Figure 2: WSU’s systemic presence across Washington State. Nobody else is even close.

Yes we’ve got challenges, but a new revolution is emerging to directly address these issues. The roots of WSU and the Land-Grant mission grew out of Manifest Destiny during the 1st Industrial Revolution. Today, the 4th Industrial Revolution, known is Industry 4.0 is beginning to emerge. Industry 4.0 has four key principles:

  1. Interconnection: The ability of machines, devices, sensors, and people to connect and communicate with each other via the Internet of Things (IoT) or the Internet of People (IoP). If we double down on our “OneWSU” slogan to fully interconnect not only the people at our campusses (an Internet of Campuses (IoC), but the clubs, things, and politicians, we will amplify our presence — any machine added to any one campus helps the entire system.
  2. Information transparency: The transparency afforded by Industry 4.0 technology provides operators with vast amounts of useful information needed to make appropriate decisions. Inter-connectivity allows operators to collect immense amounts of data and information from all points in the manufacturing process, thus aiding functionality and identifying key areas that can benefit from innovation and improvement. Helping to connect the challenges in any corner of the state with our experts, regardless of where they are in the system.
  3. Technical assistance: First, the ability of assistance systems to support humans by aggregating and visualizing information comprehensively for making informed decisions and solving urgent problems on short notice. Second, the ability of cyber physical systems to physically support humans by conducting a range of tasks that are unpleasant, too exhausting, or unsafe for their human co-workers. Allowing anyone, at any campus, to operate machines remotely. Imagine a 3D print being sent from one campus to another, where it is printed and automatically shipped to the sender within days. Imagine someone developing a procedure for utilizing a piece of machinery that when posted, appeared at every identical machine within the WSU system.
  4. Decentralized decisions: The ability of cyber physical systems to make decisions on their own and to perform their tasks as autonomously as possible. Only in the case of exceptions, interferences, or conflicting goals, are tasks delegated to a higher level. Just like our decentralized campuses — they have the autonomy to make the decisions to help their local constituents, but adding a capability to any one campus helps the entire system.

Although focused on manufacturing, one can readily see how the Industry 4.0 movement is directly related to overcoming logistical barriers analogous to those that divide the State of Washington, and the WSU system. By utilizing Industry 4.0 principles, MME can network together the people, classes, machines, and politicians in a decentralized/swarm based system that reaches every corner of our state in a way that no other school in the Pacific Northwest can. Fully realizing this concept alone will decidedly place us at the top of the Pacific Northwest and in the top 25 Public Research Institutions. Overcoming these logistical barriers that create urban-rural divides is our Land-Grant heritage, our key challenge, and our greatest opportunity.

A Systemic, Land-Grant Inspired, Vision for WSU and MME

WSU Vision: WSU will become the most highly integrated and cooperative Land-Grant university system in the Western United States; thereby most effectively preparing students, farmers, and industry for the rapid, highly interconnected, global workplace of the 21st century.

MME Vision: MME will lead the WSU effort by fully utilizing Industry 4.0 manufacturing principles to completely automate and integrate our multi-campus presence.

In the case of WSU, integrating our state presence will help to reduce historical in-fighting among our ‘siloed’ colleges. With our new Provost and Deans, now is the time to build the bridges between the silos and campuses that we’ve been lacking for so many years. If we choose to ignore this opportunity, growth at campuses like Everett and Spokane, driven in-part by local political backing, will cause the Pullman campus to continue to erode, and eventually be surpassed in quality. We have to refute this either-or mentality when it comes to our campuses. We truly need “OneWSU”.

In the case of MME, bringing the Vancouver campus back into the mix immediately increases our faculty count by 20%, which is the most important parameter in national rankings. We’re still under the same Dean. This also brings back in faculty with an emphasis on manufacturing and industry, directly analogous to the current MME push in manufacturing and controls. Removing the “branch campus” stigma will create a confluence of confidence and convenience, helping us to work with our local representatives. It’s a combination that nobody else can compete with.

Folks will complain about the quality issues posed by integration. Keeping the segregation between our campuses will only further the tribal infighting and will not help to raise the entire system’s quality — if they carry the WSU brand, then it effects us all.

We must settle for nothing less than a singular, distinctive brand that benefits every corner of our state. If we become truly best at integrating our state, then nobody will have a lower barrier to the rest of the US and world. I want to tell every student recruit that WSU has a Factory4U that is the Best in the West at preparing people for the rapid, interconnected, world of the future.