Gov. Inslee Visits the Catalyst

October 13, 2023

Members of the Eastern Washington University community met with Gov. Jay Inslee to discuss cybersecurity, graphic design and climate-friendly buildings during his Oct. 12 visit to the Catalyst building.

Inslee kicked off his tour at the Catalyst-adjacent Scott Morris Center for Energy Innovation, where he was joined by Washington State Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, Mark Baldwin, chief of staff for EWU’s Office of the President, along with David Buri, the university’s executive director of government relations. Eco-friendly building experts Dale Silha, vice president for the northwest region of McKinstry Co.; Rick Fechner, director of facilities for Edo, a Spokane-based clean energy consultancy; and representatives from the Emerald Iniative, a McKinstry-affiliated real estate and alternative energy infrastructure firm, also accompanied the governor during the visit.

Inslee, who has made investment in mitigating climate change a state priority, then looped over to the Catalyst to meet with university faculty members and students.

“The local impacts are profound of saving energy and educating students,” Inslee said of the Catalyst building. “This has an impact way beyond the footprint of this building. It’s a message to the state that we can do this. It’s a very, very important piece of work.”

McKinstry Co. designed and developed the groundbreaking zero-energy, zero-carbon Catalyst. Located on the southern hub of the Univesity District, the Catalyst is served by an all-electric heating and cooling plant housed at the neighboring Morris Center. The system combines eight different mechanical devices to provide heating and cooling to all buildings, including Catalyst, within the larger area dubbed the Spokane EcoDistrict.

Eastern’s footprint in the building provides students with modern, high tech-classrooms and immersive learning experiences. To facilitate EWU’s move to Catalyst, the McKinstry Charitable Foundation and Avista Foundation provided EWU with a $5 million, 10-year grant to offset most of the university’s current leasing costs – creating a public-private partnership that supports research and innovation.

Inside the Catalyst, Inslee visited EWU’s cybersecurity lab, where he chatted with Stu Steiner, assistant professor of computer science and director of EWU’s cybersecurity program, along with several of Steiner’s students, including Alex Moomaw, a 25-year-old member of the Colville Tribes, who is finishing up bachelor’s degrees in computer science and cyber operations.

Steiner, who has, with his wife, Shirlee, funded an endowed scholarship, thanked the governor for the state’s support for students. Steiner also highlighted the role that government grants play in helping students pursue degrees with an emphasis in the crucial cybersecurity field.

After Inslee asked about how Eastern’s program complements other collegiate cybersecurity programs in Washington, Steiner told him that EWU’s work, which is federally-recognized, has a unique emphasis on industrial control systems and critical infrastructure. He added that Eastern has strong collaborative relationships with Western Washington University and other state colleges.

“There are so many jobs open that we don’t really compete with the other schools,” Steiner explained, saying that in Washington state alone there are about 12,500 jobs open for cybersecurity experts. In fact, EWU will have the first class of cyber operations graduates in the state, as of Fall 2025.)

Inslee said the state is continually inundated with attempted hacks. “We have massive assaults and it’s every governor’s nightmare,” he said.

The governor then praised EWU students for their role in working with Secretary of State Steve Hobbs to protect the integrity of elections, expressing an appreciation for their overall work. “You are saving society and civilization and our economy – all at the same time,” said Inslee, who encouraged the students to pursue jobs in Washington state after graduating.

Back in the main entryway, Inslee talked with EWU Design’s Mindy Breen, professor and department chari, and Ginelle Hustrulid, an associate professor. Breen and Hustrulid shared a few details about the program’s hands-on, community-based partner projects that, they said, were integral to learning and professional development for their students.

Inslee shared an idea for an informational graphic about climate change, and then praised design students’ work. “You guys are doing great stuff,” he said. “I’m going to brag about you.”