Students bridge science, policy to solve global challenges

By Seth Truscott, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

Rachel-Wieme-headPULLMAN, Wash. – Rachel Wieme has big ideas growing in a quinoa plot near Pullman. Her organic experiments hold the potential to improve soil and help feed the world. But it’s a long way from idea to impact.

To get there, the Washington State University graduate student is learning to share her discoveries through NSPIRE: Nitrogen Systems Policy-Oriented Integrated Research and Education. The program trains students to understand the nitrogen cycle – how the element circulates through earth’s plants, animals and environment – and then effectively share that science with policymakers.

This winter, participating colleges will offer the latest version of NSPIRE: A new certificate program, C-NSPIRE, will explore the carbon and nitrogen cycles and how they relate to the environment and public policy.

C-NSPIRE deadline March 1

Rachel Wieme, a doctoral scholar in crop and soil sciences, inspects harvested quinoa at a research farm near Pullman. (Photo by Seth Truscott, WSU)

The program is open to graduate students advised by faculty members of the Center for Environmental Research, Education and Outreach – an interdisciplinary network that pursues environmental research across WSU. Interested students must apply by March 1 and can learn more at

Scientists can’t solve complex environmental problems alone, but “getting factual science accepted by policymakers and the public can be a challenge,” said Kristen Johnson, NSPIRE chair.

The program helps students learn how policy is made, then find ways to translate their science into policy.

“It’s about communicating science in a way people understand,” she said.

Final projects complete the connection

In addition to required and elective courses, NSPIRE students take part in a capstone activity to tie policy and science together.

For his capstone, Chris Gambino, a 2015 Ph.D. graduate in animal sciences, worked with the Meridian Institute, a non-governmental organization that helps farmers and environmentalists find common ground.

“People come in with different values and needs, and science is just one piece of the puzzle,” he said. “It’s really about discovering the answers together.”

Wieme, the quinoa researcher, is about to start her capstone project: global agro-ecology with the U.S. Agency for International Development.

“Being able to describe the connection between soil health and global food security is important to me,” she said.

“We’re the bridge between science and policy,” said Gambino.


Kristen Johnson, WSU Department of Animal Sciences, 509-335-4131,
Rachel Wieme, WSU Department of Crop and Soil Sciences,