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Michael Gonzalez

By Cheryl Reed

Michael Gonzalez, a 2015 WSU doctoral graduate and ARCS scholar, recently visited WSU to talk with graduate students about postdoctoral opportunities at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where he now works.

After completing his doctoral degree at WSU, Michael did a postdoc at the Center for Applied Genomics at CHOP and is now a staff scientist at the hospital utilizing computational and bioinformatics tools to identify genetic mechanisms involved in a number of disorders in pediatric medicine, specifically attempting to answer basic questions about how the immune system functions in certain disease states. His research has looked at some rare diseases in children.

Michael’s Ph.D. is in immunology and infectious diseases from the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, where he researched how host genetics impacted susceptibility to infectious diseases in livestock species. He says that WSU trained him well for his work, even though he transferred his skillset from animal to human.

“I was surprised how well-prepared I was for my postdoc,” says Michael. “During my Ph.D. program, I decided that I wanted to go into human medicine instead of animal medicine. Some of the data sets I use now are larger, but the skillset I use is very similar to my work at WSU.”

While at WSU from 2011-2015, Michael was an ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) scholar –a prestigious program that supports the brightest graduate students in the sciences, medicine, and engineering. The support he received from the ARCS program enabled him to focus on his research passion.

Originally from Los Angeles, Michael earned a bachelor’s degree from UC Riverside, and a master’s degree from Fresno State. He chose Washington State University for his doctoral program after connecting with Dr. Stephen White, a research geneticist and adjunct faculty in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology.

“When I interviewed with Dr. White,” says Michael, “I could tell that he really wanted to see me succeed. I appreciated that, and attribute his interest in my success to the reason I chose WSU.”

Having grown up in a busy metropolis, Michael found living in the small town of Pullman interesting. “I loved Pullman,” he says. “I considered it an adventure, and I loved my short commute,” he laughed.

Michael had not been back to Pullman since graduating in late 2015 until his return in March 2019 to present tips to graduate students on finding a successful postdoc position.

“CHOP has a recruitment initiative where they use current postdocs and scientists to act as postdoc ambassadors to spread the word about postdoctoral opportunities and resources at CHOP,” says Michael. “Being part of this initiative was a chance for me to come back to Pullman and talk with current graduate students.”

While completing his postdoc at CHOP, Michael felt compelled to teach, and believes that he wants to be a faculty member at a research-1 university where he can teach and also conduct research.

“I knew I enjoyed teaching,” he said, “and CHOP and the University of Pennsylvania —which is highly connected to the hospital—encouraged me to think outside the box. When I told them about my interest, they said that I should absolutely pursue teaching.” Consequently, this year Michael was able to co-teach a bioinformatics class at La Salle University, which helped reinforce his career trajectory.

Michael was happy to visit his alma mater and talk with students in Veterinary Medicine and the ARCS program about postdoc opportunities. His experience at Washington State University and success now as a scientist and prospective faculty epitomizes the Graduate School mission and reinforces our vision for graduate students who leave here well prepared to make the world a better place.

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Kaitlin Witherell

By Ruth Williams

Kaitlin Witherell Grad Student

Kaitlin Witherell, a doctoral student in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health at WSU, was destined to become a scientist. When she was young, she frequently went to work with her mother, who is also a scientist. As Kaitlin grew older, so did her interest in microbiology. In high school she conducted an extensive project on the micro-organisms that live off the oxidation of the Titanic.

“I’d been sitting in the lab for 12 hours one day, and realized that I wasn’t sick of studying it yet,” says Kaitlin. “That was when I realized how much I liked it!”

After high school, Kaitlin continued her studies at University of California Davis, where she fell in love with the community of shared knowledge and support. When she began looking for a graduate program, she found the perfect fit at WSU.

“While looking at graduate schools, I came across the Immunology and Infectious Disease program at WSU,” says Kaitlin. “When I visited WSU Pullman for my interview, everyone was so nice and willing to help. I felt a very warm sense of community here, and that really solidified my decision to apply.”

Why WSU?

Another factor in her decision to come to WSU was the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) program, which contributes to the advancement of science and technology by funding doctoral fellowships.

“I was wavering between several schools until I found out I had an ARCS Fellowship,” says Kaitlin. “I knew I couldn’t turn down that kind of opportunity.”

The Seattle Chapter of the ARCS Foundation has a strategic partnership with Washington State University and the University of Washington, and is supporting 157 fellows from both universities this year. Fifty-two of these fellowships are supported in perpetuity by named endowments.

“My sponsors, Bruce and Joanne Montgomery, are wonderful people,” says Kaitlin. “I have met with them a few times during site visits and when I was in Seattle. I really appreciate being able to share my successes with them. Knowing that I have such great, kind, and successful people in my corner is really nice, and I hope to stay in touch with them even after leaving the ARCS program.”

About Her Research

Kaitlin’s faculty advisor is Dr. Douglas Call, professor of molecular epidemiology in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. In his laboratory, she is working on a collaborative project with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Fred Hutch) on antimicrobial peptides.

These small antimicrobial peptides, called knottins, are a relatively untapped market for new antimicrobials. They are produced in organisms like sea snails, venomous snakes, and scorpions as a natural defense mechanism.

Fred Hutch contacted her lab because they had found a way to produce these antimicrobial knottins synthetically. They call these artificial knottins “optides”. The significance of this is that her lab now has access to a library of untapped, potential antimicrobials. They have already found several optides that are effective against a variety of multi-drug resistant bacteria. With more optides on the way, the lab is confident they will find many more effective optides in the next few months. Kaitlin’s part in this is to find out which ones are most effective by themselves, which optides have synergy with extant antibiotics, and discover how optides are killing bacteria.

“I feel so fortunate to be working with Dr. Call because it feels like this project is perfect for me,” says Kaitlin. “I’m so passionate about my research because I can see how it may lead to creating new antibiotics which will save lives. It feels like I can make a difference in the world. Plus, I enjoy the work so much it doesn’t even feel like work anymore.”

Through her work in Dr. Call’s lab, Kaitlin was able to complete an internship at Blaze Bioscience, Inc. in Seattle this summer. Blaze is a Fred Hutch partner and owns the rights to the optide project.

“Blaze is a small company, so I would frequently work at Fred Hutch because they had the equipment I needed, and while there I was able to make some of the microbial peptides I’ve been researching. It was really cool to be able to see that side of my research in person.”

After WSU

Kaitlin is surprised at how much she’s grown since coming to WSU.

“When I first came to WSU, I was shocked at how much I didn’t know. It feels like everyone who is in a Ph.D. program is the best of the best, and at first it felt like I did not deserve to be here. It took a lot of work to build up my self-confidence, especially about my dissertation project.”

After graduating, Kaitlin would like to go into industry or a government position.

“Most likely my objectives will change to go wherever the science takes me, but that is my current plan,” she says. Kaitlin graduates in Spring 2020.


$2.2 million gift creates graduate fellowship

By Marcia Hill Gossard, College of Veterinary Medicine

A $2.2 million gift from the estate of Bernadine and James Seabrandt will create the Bernadine Fulfs Seabrandt Graduate Fellowship in Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University’s school of Molecular Biosciences. Read More

Sarah Kostick

Ph.D. student researcher inoculates trees in race against fire blight


WENATCHEE, Wash. – Apple and pear growers in Washington state recently declared that the spring of 2018 marks one of the worst outbreaks of fire blight in recent history, as noted by Capital Press, an agricultural news publication. Read More

NextGen Ph.D. Program

Connecting graduate education to underserved populations


Creating a national model to connect graduate education in the humanities to rural and underserved populations is the aim of a new Washington State University effort being funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Read more

David Alpizar

Doctoral Student Selected for Summer Internship with ETS

by Cheryl Reed


Washington State University doctoral student David Alpizar has been selected for a highly competitive internship this summer for ETS in Princeton, New Jersey. While there, he will be working on the TOEFL test, studying assessment, test score validity, and test fairness.

ETS has developed a number of student performance assessments used by universities, including the GRE, TOEFL, and Praxis. Alpizar’s work with ETS will draw upon his research in the field of educational measurement and psychometrics at WSU, where he has been working with Dr. Brian French in his psychometric laboratory within the Learning and Performance Research Center.

“David has the unique opportunity to work on ETS research surrounding new item types for assessments used at the graduate level,” says French. “He will work with a team of experts to investigate how these items may build better assessments to assist with making the best decisions about individuals.”

While Alpizar has always imagined working in academia, he looks forward to working in industry this summer and exploring the idea of a career there.

“It feels very surreal,” he said.

Alpizar came to WSU in 2015 to pursue a doctoral degree in educational psychology under the mentorship of French. While working on his master’s degree from California State University, Northridge, he attended a conference in Portland, Ore., where he presented a poster on his work. There, he met WSU College of Education faculty Sola Adesope, who believed Alpizar would be a good fit for the educational psychology doctoral program at WSU.

“But I’d never heard of that place,” Alpizar said—who immediately went home, checked out the program, and emailed French. French responded that he believed Alpizar would be a good match for his program and sent him information about the WSU Graduate School’s Research Assistantship for Diverse Scholars (RADS) program, which sponsors a campus visit, and, if selected for admittance, includes a research assistantship and tuition waiver. Alpizar was selected to visit WSU spring 2015.

“I liked it here,” says Alpizar. “It felt right—it felt comfortable, and I met a lot of friends during the visit.”

Alpizar was offered a research assistantship in French’s laboratory through the RADS program for fall 2015.

French was pleased Alpizar selected WSU and the Educational Psychology program as the environment to continue his professional development.

“David enjoys the complexities and technical aspects of the work,” he says. “He is able to negotiate and situate his work in the useful space between application and methodology to inform how we use measurement to better our health and learning environments. He brings a critical and positive energy to my laboratory, and is a team leader.”

Rooted in Education

Originally from Mexico, Alpizar moved to the San Fernando Valley in California in the early 1990s. He graduated from high school in 2000, then attended the Los Angeles Mission College for his associates degree and California State University Northridge in 2013 for his bachelor’s and 2015 for his master’s degree in psychology.

Although he began his education in mathematics, he quickly became interested in psychology while working as a tutor for adults with disabilities at Los Angeles Mission College.

“I developed an interest in teaching people with disabilities the skills to cope and to make information more accessible for them,” says Alpizar. “So I changed my major to psychology.”

As an undergraduate at Northridge, Alpizar received a Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) scholarship, which helped train him for graduate research work.  When he began conducting research, he enjoyed the way that math statistics were used in psychology research, and realized his skills in mathematics would be valuable for his graduate work.

Alpizar’s master’s thesis, which examined whether widely used depression assessment, i.e., Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-8,) is interpreted the same among emerging adults of Mexican and Central American men and women residing in the United States, was published in the November 2017 Journal of Psychological Assessment, ( a highlight of his career so far. He also co-authored two published articles last year in the Journal of Advances in Medicine and Medical Research and the Journal of Latina/o Psychology.

Alpizar will be starting his dissertation work this year around his research in French’s laboratory, including testing assessments’ psychometrics properties, and examining the performance, power, and precision of test statistics under several conditions (e.g., sample size). He will be taking his preliminary examination in fall 2018.

“David is a pleasure to work with,” says French. “His motivation and energy for his work is very high. Most importantly, he is intellectually curious, which enables him to drive forward on his ideas.”  Under French’s mentorship, Alpizar is the fifth doctoral student who has obtained such an internships in recent years, and is the second RADS student in two years to do so.

Alpizar says he is thankful for the love, mentorship, and support given by his family, the faculty and staff at WSU, and the faculty and staff at California State University Northridge.

Kevin Estelle and Tyler Fouty

Engineering Graduate Students Win NSF Graduate Research Fellowships

by Ruth Williams

PULLMAN, Wash.—Washington State University engineering graduate students Kevin Estelle and Tyler Fouty have been awarded 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Program Fellowships (NSF GRFP).

The NSF GRFP supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines who are attending accredited institutions. The program received more than 12,000 applications this year, with 2,000 fellowships awarded nationwide. The award provides three years of financial support that includes a stipend and funds to cover tuition and other university fees.

The application requires students to demonstrate their potential for significant achievements in science and engineering research, and once selected are expected to become knowledgeable experts who can contribute to research, teaching, and innovations in science and engineering.

“I had four people looking over my proposal,” says Fouty, whose advisor is Nick Engdahl. “I think I spent two months on it.”

Fouty was recruited to WSU through the combined efforts of Civil Engineering, the Plateau Center for Native American Studies, and the Graduate School, with funding for his first year from a Research Assistantship for Diverse Scholars (RADS). Fouty was also a participant in a NSF-funded alliance, PNW-COSMOS, supported by a grant to the  Graduate School from the NSF’s Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) program that is aimed at developing and studying a model of culturally compatible recruitment and mentoring for American Indians/Alaska Natives.  Fouty’s undergraduate institution, Salish Kootenai College, a tribal college on the Flathead Indian Reservation, is a partner institution in the AGEP alliance.

Fouty received his undergraduate degree in hydrology from Salish Koontenai College. Now a civil and environmental engineering master’s student at WSU, he is researching the resilience of simulated streambed culverts to prolong fish habitats. Because fish cannot swim through many of the culverts in Washington state to get to their spawning habitat, Fouty is creating a complex simulation of streambeds with culverts in the Albrook Hydraulics Lab to understand the problem.

“We’re designing how to lay out the sediment for a natural stream bottom to help the fish get through the culverts and back to their spawning grounds,” he said.

Estelle, who received his undergraduate degree in mechanical and materials engineering from WSU, worked closely with his advisor—Arda Gozen—and started his application long before the deadline. He also looked up the papers from previous winners to see what the committee looked for in applicants.

“You have to be very genuine,” he says, “and have experience, especially in community service.”

Estelle is a now a mechanical and materials engineering doctoral student conducting research on 3D-printed bio-dissolvable microneedles that can be mixed with medicines to treat disease.

“If a person has a localized skin cancer, or skin disease, you would put an array of these needles on the skin and they would dissolve into the capillaries with the medicine over a certain amount of time,” says Estelle.

Homeschooled on a farm with several siblings, Estelle credits his mother for his interest in engineering.

“My mom encouraged me to look into engineering,” he says. “After doing some reading about it, I found it was a perfect fit for both my math and creative sides.”

Estelle and Fouty will join 16 other WSU students who are currently funded by a NSF GRFP.

Contact: Cheryl Reed, communications director, Graduate School, 509-335-7177,