Ken Roberts, Ph.D., is the acting dean of the WSU College of Medical Sciences, and since 2008 has directed the University of Washington's five-state WWAMI medical education program at WSU-Spokane. Previously, he was an associate professor at the University of Minnesota's medical school, where he investigated reproductive biology.
Before you took your current job, you were a researcher...
I still have my roots as a faculty member, I still have a lab [at WSU-Spokane].
Your current administration job seems to be quite a contrast to research. Is there a unique spirit, a fire maybe, in a person with your background?
Faculty researchers tend to have that as part of their inner core; they just have to ask questions, have to investigate the answers, have a real need to share that knowledge.
And maybe a healthy dose of skepticism?
A great scientist is his own worst critic.
Have you brought that inquisitive nature to your recent role championing the plan for WSU to develop a medical school in Spokane?
It's sort of a new type of skepticism on my part — you really want to make sure that the story you're telling is in fact true, that you're not just trying to promote something that would be good for the institution. This is really something the state needs. I've become convinced of that based on the data around physician need, and also on what we know a medical school brings to the community. There's a number of pieces of evidence or data, if you will, and it all sort of rolls together to provide strong support for this idea.
So how is the project going?
This has been a very, very satisfying experience. When I was in Minnesota, it's a big university, right in the middle of the city, and it's sort of 'done.' So anytime you do something new, you do it within the confines of this big enterprise, and typically you have to push out here, and someone gets constrained over there. But in Spokane, it's new. It's energizing... It's not uniform support of every idea we've ever had, but overall, the community is very supportive of the campus downtown — what Eastern is doing, what WSU is doing, and what the University of Washington programs on the campus are doing... There's sort of a wind-in-your-back phenomenon.