Most communities face a crisis, such as a natural disaster, and can use some assistance to bounce back. Washington State University has been there to help through Extension, outreach, and caring alumni with, for example, the response to the Oso landslide in 2014.

WSU students often lend their creativity to support communities, too. The small Eastern Washington town of Malden was ravaged by a wildfire in 2020. As the people of Malden rebuild, landscape architecture students led by WSU professor Jolie Kaytes talked with community members and contributed ideas and designs that connect the past and future of Malden.

Coug alumni are known to give a generous helping hand in times of need, even when they have faced hardship. Valerye Huff Zimmerman (’10 Comm.) and her husband escaped on foot from the August wildfire that struck Lahaina, Maui. Their condo was destroyed, but they were soon back delivering meals in West Maui. Other Cougs, including retired judge Joe Cardoza (’72 Poli. Sci.) and Hawaii state senator Tim Richards (’84 DVM), have stepped up to assist in the Maui recovery.

Both Malden and Maui were slammed by increasingly erratic weather, heat, and fire. As we face a world that’s warming, WSU researchers continue to find ways to ensure we have a food supply in hotter climates. They have developed techniques and knowledge to adapt livestock, potatoes, wheat, apples, and other food sources facing fluctuating weather patterns even as the population grows.

Communities have always been entwined with food and cooking. Ancient ovens discovered by the Kalispel Tribe north of Spokane show an example of that long history, and the Tribe partnered with WSU to excavate and research the site. It’s the first archaeological project the Kalispel Tribe has made public, and the trust and connection with WSU made the partnership possible.

Sometimes people can share their own communities and help others understand and develop empathy. Gillis Williams (’22 Comm.) uses social media to entertain and enlighten followers about people with autism spectrum disorder. A project with the WSU archives unlocks previously untold histories of LGBTQ+ people, with honest stories that open eyes and minds.

Sometimes even the seemingly small acts of individuals enhance community. Former WSU football player John Scukanec (’96 Crim. Jus.) plays simple games of catch and builds relationships. As he says, “Everyone has a story, and you don’t know what it is until you throw the ball.”