National Lab Energizes Heritage
By Andrea McCoy
In the late 1980s, when Director of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Dr. Bill Wiley learned about Heritage University and its mission to create educational opportunities for underserved and underrepresented students, he couldn’t help but get on board. He knew he could impact the lives of area students for generations to come as well as help build the cultural diversity of the scientific community by creating stronger ties between Heritage and PNNL and the manager of the government laboratory, Battelle. His idea helped shape and grow Heritage’s science department into what it is today.
One of six U.S. Department of Energy (D.O.E.) national laboratories managed or co-managed by Battelle, PNNL and its nationally renowned scientists address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security.
Wiley joined the laboratory in 1984 and was the first African American to serve as its director. He remained as director until his retirement in 1994, and passed away two years later. Wiley grew up in the South during segregation and earned a bachelor’s degree at a time when higher education eluded many of his peers. When he took on the director’s position at PNNL, he brought with him a mission to expand the diversity of the scientific community.
“Bill understood the obstacles that underrepresented people face as they pursue college degrees,” said Jack Bagley, president of The Bagley Group and a member of the Heritage University board of directors, who served as the director of the Office of University and Science Education Programs at PNNL under Wiley’s leadership. “His passion, his history and the culture of Battelle that placed a high value on supporting education really led us to do what we did.”
Battelle’s and PNNL’s involvement at Heritage with financial support and donations of scientific equipment and computers began almost as soon as the university formed. Internships and job shadowing for Heritage students ultimately became a human resources pipeline back to PNNL (see related story on Elsa Cordova). Their commitment expanded in the early 1990s when Tom Claudson, who was then a director of engineering working on special projects, approached Wiley with a request to be assigned to Heritage as a loaned executive.
“Bill was probably one of the most influential people I ever met in my life,” said Claudson. “I walked into his office and said, ‘I want you to send me to Heritage College.’ We talked for the next several hours about the university and how we could make an impact. In the end he said, ‘Go see the controller and find the money to make this happen.’”
Claudson was the first of several loaned executives—scientists and managers who were paid by Battelle to teach at the university. He began teaching business and science courses, but as his enthusiasm grew, so too did his involvement. He took on the management of the campus facilities, including the construction of the Library and Learning Center, now named for founding president Sr. Kathleen Ross, and later joined the university’s board of directors.
Other loaned executives who followed shared Claudson’s enthusiasm for the young university and its students. Dr. Eric Leber was the manager of college and university relations for PNNL when Dr. Wiley encouraged him to go to Toppenish and experience Heritage; he was hooked at the first visit. Leber immediately agreed to teach several science courses.
“I knew immediately what a special place Heritage was, and I wanted to be part of it,” said Leber. “It felt good to be part of the mission of Heritage [and] be part of a community helping students become everything they can be.”
When Leber retired from PNNL in 2002, he joined the university as the associate dean of arts and sciences and the director of science and technology programs.
“Our science department quite simply could not have started out as professionally without PNNL’s and Battelle’s support,” said Bertha Ortega, chair of the General Studies Department. “The faculty they loaned us provided a quality of teaching and expertise we couldn’t have afforded at the time, not to mention the equipment and student experiences they provided.”
Over the years, Battelle continued to support the university, donating surplus buildings for classroom space, building a greenhouse and ultimately contributing generously to the capital campaign to build Heritage’s state-of-the-art Arts and Sciences Center, which includes laboratories and instruction space.
Today, Heritage’s Science Department is a thriving, well established program with more than 100 students taking courses and majoring in a variety of science degree programs. The department has two overarching programs: environmental sciences, including natural resources and environmental science, and biological sciences such as clinical laboratory science and biology.
PNNL’s and Battelle’s connections to the university remain strong. Students continue to engage in internships and job shadowing at the laboratory. Although the need for loaned executives has passed, several scientists provide instruction and special lecture series throughout the school year. And the university’s board of directors continues to boast among its ranks PNNL and Battelle leaders, including Paula Linnen, the associate laboratory director for the Organizational Development Directorate at PNNL.
“I consider it an honor to continue the momentum that was established all those years ago by serving as a member of the board of directors. Our legacy of involvement in preparing students for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics remains just as critical today as it was when Dr. Wiley first established this partnership,” said Linnen, who joined the board this year.
“Thanks to PNNL, today Heritage engages students with high-quality science instruction in mathematics, science and technology, all in a research-rich environment,” said Dr. Kazuhiro Sonoda, dean of the Arts and Sciences Department. “These opportunities are possible because of the generosity and commitment of just a few people with an incredible vision.”