Washington State University’s engagement in Everett is about to become a lot more visible, after more than two years of collaboration with regional higher education leaders and state lawmakers.

The Legislature in 2011 authorized the transfer of the University Center of North Puget Sound to WSU after years of sound leadership by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. The goal is to significantly increase higher education opportunities in our state’s most underserved region.

Years of study have chronicled the needs of Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties. The eight education institutions now delivering third- and fourth-year instruction at the center have provided valuable opportunities as the center has matured. For the past year, WSU has delivered a single program in mechanical engineering at the center. In fact, we will graduate our first class of engineers from that program this spring.

Now it’s time to take the next step. This year, WSU will assume management of the center.

In the fall, the university will open programs in electrical engineering, communications and hospitality business management. This will continue the university’s commitment to building out STEM disciplines as well as other fields of study in demand by employers and students. These academic efforts complement each other and build synergy in adherence to our strategic plan for the center.

Additional growth is being contemplated as well. WSU has requested $1 million in the state’s supplemental operating budget to add two programs: software engineering and community supported agriculture and sustainable food systems. If funded by the Legislature this spring, both programs would open their doors to students in January 2015.

Software engineering – closely related to computer science but with more focus on areas such as software development, security, maintenance and management – would serve our state’s information technology and computing industries, among others.

The community supported agriculture and sustainable food systems program would afford us the opportunity to build an agriculture program to meet the specific needs of western Washington. Increasingly, as consumers take a greater interest in learning where their food comes from, western Washington producers find themselves selling their products not as commodities but to consumers directly through farmers markets, farm-to-school programs and community supported agriculture organizations. All of this requires a new set of entrepreneurial skills to keep farmland profitable and in operation, a critical issue in Northwest Washington.

In addition, Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposed supplemental budget included $500,000 in planning money for WSU to develop a proposal for a School of Advanced Manufacturing and Aerospace. This would provide an opportunity to develop more targeted programs to meet the specific needs of aerospace and advanced manufacturing industries in the heart of the Puget Sound manufacturing base. WSU is in full support.

While we continue to engage in conversations in Olympia to support these proposed expansions, we’re moving forward with opening a new WSU Connections store in downtown Everett this spring. This will give the university a legitimate storefront presence in town and shoppers a place to buy their Coug gear and the highly coveted Cougar Gold.

After years of work, new higher education opportunities are coming to the North Puget Sound region. At WSU, we’re committed to the partnerships and efforts that continue this initiative.