Nature or nurture? It seemed so simple a debate when I was younger and first learning biology. DNA and genes determined some of our traits, and the rest came from family, society, and other external factors.

There was certainly debate about the extent of what we could learn versus what we inherit as hard-coded genetic information. Well, that discussion is a lot more complicated now, as recent empirical research and discoveries show offspring can inherit traits developed by parents’ environment and experiences. Basically, what’s passed on to kids is not just in the genetic code.

One way that happens is through epigenetics, where heritable changes in gene expression occur without changes to the underlying DNA sequence. Washington State University biologist Michael Skinner and his students over the last 15 years pioneered and replicated experiments in this field that showed epigenetic transfers, traits changed by environment that were passed down several generations. Skinner was treated initially as a rogue for the findings, but his research has spurred new understanding of evolution and inheritance, and could lead to effective gene therapies for diseases.

Even when we inherit traits, the environment can sometimes make it hard to express oneself, as Bob Dlugosh ’71 and other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Cougs will attest. It wasn’t easy to identify as LGBT, even at WSU, but with support these alumni could finally be who they are, and use their voices to build community and resilience.

The voices of Cougs over the years have resonated with people from all over. Edward R. Murrow’s amazing broadcasts from wartime London reached millions. And who can deny that Keith Jackson ’54 expressed the very heart of college football? Jackson, who passed away in January, is remembered by new Murrow College Dean Bruce Pinkleton in this issue. Younger voices, too, can tell us great stories, such as Kara Rowe’s documentary work on women in agriculture.

One thing I’ve discovered over the years is that every member of the Cougar family has a story. Some are sad but must be told, like the untimely death by suicide of WSU student and football player Tyler Hilinski. Stories can help us heal, and hopefully reach out to others facing despair.

Other stories share the spirit of WSU life, whether it’s trout fishing in Idaho rivers or playing piano in Kimbrough. That’s why I’m asking you to express yourself with a 100-word story about your time at Washington State. Look at the contest details, but please note that the top stories will get a cheese-y prize.