Washington State University Metropolitan Center

The WSU Metropolitan Center for Applied Research and Extension

How the WSU Metropolitan Center is positioned at the national, state, regional and city levels:

Demographic Categories Washington Statewide
Black/African: 3.65%
Asian: 8.07%
White: 76.72%
Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander: 0.64%
Native Alaskan/Native American: 1.32%
Two or more races: 5.51%
Other race: 4.09%
Median age: 37.6
Total Population: 7,666,343

Washington State University’s (WSU) Metropolitan Center for Applied Research and Extension (Metro Center) understands cities. From economies and the environment, to health and equity, and everything in between, the Metro Center leverages actionable research, cutting-edge analysis, and a deep understanding of place-based solutions to create pathways for cities to thrive. The Metro Center is a resource for public officials, non-profit and private sector leaders across the state who want to engage the unbiased knowledge and research base of the land grant university to effectively address issues facing their cities. Working project by project across a broad range of subject areas, the Metro Center provides WSU with the flexibility to tackle emerging urban issues through applied research.

Headquartered at WSU’s urban Everett campus, the Metro Center sits within the greater-Seattle metropolitan area, a region with a population of nearly 4 million people, encompassing over 90 municipalities and 30 of Washington’s 49 legislative districts. With its statewide focus, the Metro Center serves not just the urbanized west side of the state, but also the vibrant cities of eastern Washington, such as Spokane and Yakima, that are surrounded by vast swaths of rural lands. These smaller cities, both east and west side, without the tremendous staff resources of Seattle, are often in greatest need of the short term, high quality expertise that the Metro Center can provide.

The Metro Center is also positioned nationally through active engagement in the National Urban Extension Leaders, including hosting the 2019 National Urban Extension Conference, and through collaborative opportunities as the administrative home of the Western Center for Metropolitan Extension.

How the WSU Metropolitan Center addresses the multitude of issues and priorities in the city:

The Metro Center’s work is driven by community needs. Simply put, a client requests the services of the Metro Center to address an issue. The Metro Center then assembles a unique project team from across WSU to create a scope of work and budget, and to implement the project within a specific timeline. The client, in turn, is charged for the full cost of the project.

The Metro Center core staff is relatively small, but the individual project teams are comprised of scholars and practitioners from WSU colleges, schools, and departments across all five of its campuses, and its Extension offices, to leverage WSU as a leader in metropolitan issues. The Center is a conduit of the knowledge and experience of WSU and aims to strengthen connections between university expertise and research and communities. This partnership allows the Metro Center to create solutions to cultivate new, innovative ideas, and unique actionable results for each of its clients.

Metro Center projects include:

  • Yakima Equity Study Analysis – an evaluation and statistical analysis of data to inform the equitable allocation of city resources.
  • Everett CHART: Financial Return and Program Effectiveness – an evaluation framework and outcome goals for a program designed to address the needs of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
  • Stanwood and Camano Island Community Survey – helping the city implement a targeted outreach approach to engaging community in strategic planning.
  • Age-Friendly Housing Assessment – providing an assessment and analysis, plus strategy recommendations, to allow a diverse population of older adults age in the home and community of their choosing.
  • Measuring Changes in the Restaurant Industry – tracking policy and operational changes in the restaurant industry as it responds to increases in the minimum wage.

In addition to offering applied research services, the Metro Center convenes local leaders, partners and fellow urban Extension colleagues at summits and trainings to help to address the broader needs of growing metropolitan regions. They include:

  • National Urban Extension Conference –the Metro Center provided leadership as WSU hosted the 2019 conference, the only national gathering of Extension professionals who serve our cities.
  • Sustainable Urban Systems – funded by the National Science Foundation, this gathering of 40 invited experts identified key challenges facing ‘megapolitan’ regions and their adjacent communities and natural spaces, and how to improve urban systems sustainability.
  • Poverty Immersion Workshops – helping agencies and organizations take concrete actions to assess, plan, implement and evaluate sound policy and system changes to better serve low-income clients.

How WSU Metropolitan Center attracts, develops, retains, and structures competent talent:

Many land grant faculty members are eager to work on real-world projects and the Metro Center can provide them with that opportunity. The Center prioritizes customer service to both external fee-paying clients, and internal ‘clients’ – the faculty and staff who join project teams. The Center’s small core staff scope and develop projects, lead the proposal writing and budget creation, contract with the client, manage the project and also take a leadership role in final reporting and deliverables. This allows project team members to be subject matter experts focusing on their unique contributions to the work, instead of being burdened by project management. Careful budgeting also ensures that project team members are fully compensated for their time, materials and travel.

How the WSU Metropolitan Center collaborates to leverage resources for collective impact:

One of the Metro Center’s goals is to add value to county Extension offices by providing additional capacity beyond their local faculty and staff, allowing them even greater ability to serve their communities. Some Metro Center’s projects have originated with a request from the county Extension director. Since the Metro Center only engages in shorter term projects (with set begin and end dates), those projects with the potential to evolve into longer term programs can be transitioned to the county Extension office.

The Metro Center’s collaborations extend beyond Washington State to urban extension units and professionals across the country as the administrator for the Western Center for Metropolitan Extension and Research (WCMER). The WCMER is a multi-university collaboration established by the Western Extension Directors Association to increase the internal capacity of Western Extension programs to address metropolitan issues, and to elevate the value of Cooperative Extension to external metropolitan audiences. The WCMER focuses its efforts on applied research and on professional development for Extension professionals. The nine institutional members of WCMER now include universities beyond the west.

Multi-university projects implemented by the Metro Center and WCMER partners include:

  • Well Connected Communities – helping to drive transformational change and increase the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life, in partnership with the National 4-H Council and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
  • Urban Green Infrastructure Summit – a workshop connecting university researchers with city and county personnel to present research and best practices and to build a collaborative network to develop grant proposals and applied research projects.
  • Extension as Urban Policy Advisors – two workshops, one in Seattle and, by popular demand, one in Sacramento, to help Extension personnel understand how they can appropriately and effectively engage in policy work in many areas and at many levels.

Contact the Metro Center: Director Brad Gaolach, 425-405-1734 (also a Virtual Expert)