WSU Spokane's chancellor talks about the school's strides in the medical field, and why Spokane is a great city for young academics

click to enlarge DEREK HARRISON PHOTO
Derek Harrison photo

Daryll B. DeWald's love of science started early when he got a chemistry kit as a Christmas gift. "I've always been curious," he says, and he turned that natural curiosity into a career.

After working for the pharmaceutical company Upjohn, DeWald left the industry to obtain a Ph.D. in biochemistry. He was on the faculty at Utah State University before joining Washington State University in 2011 as dean of the College of Science, transitioning into the role of WSU Spokane chancellor in 2017 and spearheading the formation of WSU's College of Arts and Sciences.

As the child of a military family, DeWald has lived all over the country, but he has found a particular affinity for Spokane. He chatted with the Inlander about what makes the city special, and the recent strides that WSU has made in medical research. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

INLANDER: You worked in the pharmaceutical industry for years. Can you explain why you decided to leave it for academia?

DEWALD: In the pharmaceutical industry, there's usually a focus on applied research, and I was doing very enjoyable applied research, but I wanted to do more basic research, understanding human physiology. Some of my work has been in cancer research, so I didn't have the opportunity at Upjohn to do independent research and I wanted to do independent research. So I was encouraged to go back to higher ed and earn a Ph.D.

What were some of those independent studies you were involved in?

As a faculty member, I was able to run programs that were connected but distinct. One of them was implant stress physiology. We would look at what we call abiotic stresses on plants, and how plants acclimate to that abiotic stress — that can be heat, cold, salt in the soil. When I was at Upjohn, and then later in my academic career, I branched out and we started doing more cancer research. Most of my research has been very collaborative. I like to work in groups. I think that groups bring different perspectives and different expertise, so you can address bigger problems. We looked at how breast cancer cells move from the primary tumor to different sites of the body and how they essentially colonize. I'm driven to do this type of work because both of my sisters and my sister-in-law had dealt with breast cancer. So there's a kind of a personal drive to do this, but it's to serve society the best that we could.

Having helped spearhead the College of Arts and Sciences, why do you think it's important to merge those two concentrations?

Typically at a university like ours, the arts and sciences have about 50 percent of the educational responsibility. Everything from anthropology to biology to chemistry to music to history — there's an understanding of their foundational role in the education of the students coming in. They're like the living room that the students first come into. It's how you embrace them, how you help them to recognize their inherent capabilities and to really capitalize on that.

Looking back at 2019, are there any projects or research operations happening within WSU Health that stand out to you?

We're really excited about the growth of the research, because research is about impact. It's about addressing challenges and problems and trying to bring solutions. This year, the grants that were awarded to nursing pharmacy and medicine exceeded $35 million, and that represents a growth trajectory that is exciting and very cool. It also is growing very rapidly. To compare, eight years ago, our research awards were about $10 million. In the academic realm, that's a short period of time to triple the amount of research.

You've lived all over the country, but what is it specifically about Spokane that makes it ideal for young academics?

Spokane is a very ambitious community. There's a type of cohesion here, and a willingness to do hard stuff that I've never seen in my academic career. There seems to be a common commitment in trying to make the place better. From my office, I look at downtown and I see who I serve. I can also see the University District and some great opportunities there. Can we make this an educational hub that's nationally prominent and globally recognized? I think we can do that together. It's energizing. That's something that I really find is part of why I love being here. ♦

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About The Author

Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the Inlander's Music & Film editor. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.