McKinstry Gift Creates More Research Opportunities for Faculty and Students

February 22, 2021 By Leilah Langley

A generous $500,000 gift from the McKinstry Charitable Foundation will help drive more EWU research at the Catalyst building. The new applied learning center in Spokane gives students and faculty the space to work directly with local business and industry experts. EWU offers more undergraduate research opportunities than any other university in the region, with an emphasis on partnerships in our community.

“We are proud to be connecting research passions of EWU faculty and students with real world applications at the Catalyst building,” says Dean Allen, chief executive officer at McKinstry. “The South Landing Eco-District is a living laboratory fueled by public-private partnership, and we’re excited that this grant program will allow more EWU faculty and students to engage with that vision in a deeper way.”

The McKinstry Charitable Foundation, headquartered in Seattle, is committing a gift of $50,000 per year for 10 years to the Catalyst Faculty and Student Research Fund, which will be managed by the EWU Foundation. All research or experiential learning projects must be conducted out of, or for the Catalyst setting and approved annually through the EWU Provost’s Office.

“We are very grateful for this significant gift from our partners at McKinstry,” says EWU interim president David May. “Catalyst is a game-changer for Eastern and the region, and by supporting research efforts this fund will allow our students and faculty to flourish in their work and provide more opportunities to connect with business and industry.”

Eastern is the primary tenant in the Catalyst building, which is located on the South Landing of the University District. Catalyst is Spokane’s first zero energy building and the first office building in the state constructed out of environmentally friendly cross-laminated timber (CLT). The innovative new space is the result of a unique collaboration among cross-industry partners McKinstry, Avista and Katerra, and will allow Eastern to easily connect students to the regional business community.

McKinstry’s first gift was used to fund student projects which resulted in design and marketing for the grand opening of the building last year. Two groups of Eastern students, their faculty advisors and EWU staff members worked with McKinstry representatives to develop both an interactive design installation and an accompanying digital campaign to inform and engage occupants and visitors to the Catalyst building.

“This project, funded and supported by McKinstry, was a tremendously rewarding experience for students and faculty,” says Mindy Breen, professor and chair of the Department of Design at Eastern. “Real world student projects, like this one, are effective learning experiences and they help connect students with industry partners.”

Student sketches illustrating HVAC elements
Additional sketches by Delaney Umemoto ’20

For the design project, students did extensive research about the building and the neighboring Morris Center, which houses the eco-district that powers the South Landing development. They used what they learned to develop a multi-part design installation for the Catalyst lobby and the windows of the neighboring Scott Morris Center for Energy Innovation. The project tells the complex story of Catalyst’s energy usage and production.

“We created a visual data feed of the energy the building and occupants consume and how much energy the building produces to offset that value,” explains student team leader Danielle Flinn. “We also created an illustrated animation to show the importance of how the buildings work together and benefit the greater community and construction industry in general.”

Catalyst lobby digital mockup by Danielle Flinn ’20
Morris Center digital mockup, also by Flinn

For the third design deliverable, students created an augmented reality component to accompany the energy usage installation in the Catalyst lobby. Senior Peter Chang helped develop the elements using Zapcodes—essentially QR codes on steroids—that users scan with their smartphones to view the content.

“The augmented reality experiences are meant to create engagement within the community about energy usage in the building,” Chang says. “I hope they inspire some conversations in the ways we use certain commodities that we often take for granted.”

View the full Catalyst Concepts report, as presented to McKinstry by EWU’s Peter Chang, Danielle Flinn, Delaney Umemoto and Patrick White.

The final components of the multi-tiered project focused on producing deliverables to promote the grand opening. Students, under the direction of EWU faculty, worked with marketing professionals from all of the Catalyst partners to develop website copy and videos for the Catalyst website. The materials were used for a livestream during the grand opening, which was forced to become a virtual event due to the pandemic. The materials remain on the website, catalystspokane.com, for the ongoing purpose of educating the community.

“The Catalyst was built and produced through cross-disciplinary collaboration,” says Riley Baxter, a graduate student who worked on the marketing project. “I hope the contributions we all made will inspire future generations to work together, despite their background, to reach a common goal.”

The response to the student work was overwhelmingly positive. Breen says McKinstry executives were impressed with the quality of work and said the project set the high-water mark for how McKinstry and EWU should partner together.

“They went so far as to say it was one of the top student project presentations they’d ever seen, and invited the four senior design students to meet with McKinstry and explore opportunities for future work if they wanted,” she says. “The offer was genuine and brought tears to my eyes.”

A completed design installation installed in the Catalyst lobby.
A separate installation educates visitors outside the Morris Center.

The students credit the Catalyst project with helping them build the leadership and collaboration skills, and professional experience needed to start successful careers after graduation. Flinn now works as an associate product designer for WebMD Health Services and Baxter landed a position in Eastern’s University Relations office as a social media content manager. Chang is working to build his design portfolio.

More than 1,000 students and staff will utilize the Catalyst building when in-person learning resumes. Programs in Catalyst include design, computer science and electrical engineering. Eastern’s business programs, creative writing and some health sciences offices will also be housed in the structure. Learn more at ewu.edu/catalyst.

If you’d like to explore naming opportunities, donations or other ways you can support the project, please contact Lisa Poplawski Lewis, associate vice president of philanthropy and campaign director, at lpoplawski@ewu.edu or 509.359.4555.