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CAS Connect November-December 2015

In Motion: Daryll DeWald focuses on growth

Curious and determined in his progressive roles as student, biochemistry researcher, professor, and now dean of the WSU College of Arts and Sciences, Daryll DeWald readily takes on the challenges of understanding how various processes can influence, encourage, and regulate growth in organisms and in organizations.

Daryll DeWald
Daryll DeWald

How did being a first-generation student shape your college experience?

I was the first in my family to attend college and go on to earn an advanced degree, but my mother was also attending college at the same time, so I was what you might call a “co-generation” college student.

Overall, the experience fortified my confidence and ignited my interest in scientific inquiry. As an undergraduate, I worked in a biochemistry lab, which led to the opportunity to design my own research and to publish two papers by the time I graduated.

What led you to a career in higher education?

I worked as a research scientist at Upjohn for five years before deciding to pursue a PhD at Texas A&M. Working in the private sector was enjoyable but lacked the spark of being an educator, and I missed the flexibility to investigate problems that were interesting to me personally.

During my postdoctoral work at UC San Diego’s medical school, I was fortunate to be surrounded by amazing scientists—my mentor was a Howard Hughes investigator, and several National Academy of Science members and a Nobel Laureate also were in the program. The overall experience reinforced my desire for a career where I could blend a robust research portfolio with teaching and mentoring students.

DeWald speaks with freshmen at the college’s 2015 Week of Welcome kickoff event.
DeWald speaks with freshmen at the college’s 2015 Week of Welcome kickoff event.

The land-grant institutional model is a good fit for my personal philosophy. After 15 years as a professor, researcher, and academic administrator at Utah State University, I joined WSU in 2011 as dean of the former College of Sciences. My son was a student here in Pullman at the time so, when the opportunity arose, I was already familiar with the quality of the institution. I’m delighted to be here, and for the opportunity for professional and personal growth.

Why did you choose biochemistry for your educational focus?

I discovered biochemistry through my undergraduate and graduate research as a biochemistry major. I was intrigued by the connection between chemical processes and biological function and how this connection is relevant to many types of organisms—from simple bacteria to plants and animals on up to human beings.

Biochemistry is a multifaceted discipline and researchers are continually discovering new knowledge and expanding our understanding of both how and why biological functions happen. There seems to be no plateau of knowledge in the field, and that appeals to me.

What are some of most interesting things you’ve learned in your research?

Working with the team in my lab, we identified a key regulatory enzyme that controls protein secretion, which is how proteins are transported from the inside of a eukaryotic cell to the outside of the cell. Eukaryotic cells are a bit like our bodies: they have organelles—or compartments—that have different functions. Protein secretion is a critical process for cellular growth and has implications in many aspects of medicine. We also discovered how plants respond to certain stresses, and how lipids in humans are involved in cancer cell communication.

Fundamental discoveries about how biological processes work add to our overall understanding of complex systems and contribute to further inquiries about why processes happen, as well.

What motivates you in your role as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences?

I’m a bit of an extrovert so being able to connect with people—students, faculty, staff—from a wide variety of disciplines and on a wide variety of topics is one of the more enjoyable and interesting aspects of my job.

DeWald, center, with former dean Bob Nilan and his wife Mary at the 2013 CAS Appreciation and Recognition Social.
DeWald, center, with former dean Bob Nilan and his wife, Mary, at the 2013 CAS Appreciation and Recognition Social.

It’s rewarding to be able to invest in people and programs and to help build an organization that enables student success. It may sound clichéd, but it is fulfilling to be part of something bigger than any of us could make on our own. I’m proud of the way we have come together as colleagues to create the College of Arts and Sciences and how we represent the effectiveness and excellence of the University In research, scholarship, and education.

What’s it like to work in iconic Thompson Hall?

I often tell folks that I have one of the best offices on campus—both in people and in physical space. Thompson is one of the most interesting architectural buildings on campus and I love its history. It was built in 1894 and served as the administration building until the late 1960s. It’s an honor to come to work every day in the same space as previous WSU leaders. Plus, we have a stunning western view of Pullman and the rolling hills of the Palouse.

How do you relax at the end of the day?

DeWald and a fresh-caught sockeye salmon (Kenai River, Alaska).
DeWald and a fresh-caught sockeye salmon in Kenai River, Alaska.

My family and I have a small hobby farm north of town and I thoroughly enjoy being outdoors and taking care of our horses and other animals.

Like my life partner and spouse, Rebecca, I enjoy a variety of music—but as a consumer, not as a creator. My personal playlist is a bit eclectic: the music of The Eagles has been a long-time favorite; I appreciate the simple artistry of Hank Williams Sr.; and I listen to a variety of classical music.

All three of our children are musicians, too. Our son is now an officer in the U.S. Air Force (and married to a Cougar alumna) and our daughters are both in college, but for many years our lives were filled with cellos and violas and percussion sets. We still have two pianos in the house. I’m thoroughly a novice, even today, but listening to our children’s music and watching them continue to grow and learn is a joy and unending delight.

Washington State University