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Vang Le — Western Washington University freshman and winner of the Boys and Girls Club of Whatcom County’s Youth of the Year award and the Regional Youth of the Year award — talks about his life then and now

Vang Le has overcome a lot in his 18 years. But one wouldn't know it by looking at him today, as he sits in a coffeehouse at Western Washington University. With his headphones around his neck, he fits right in, as if going to school was always meant for him. But it wasn't.

Western associate professor Steven Garfinkle writes books on translations of ancient cuneiform texts, is the president of the United Faculty of Western Washington and still finds time to lead conferences in Madrid, volunteer in his twins’ middle school class and play cards on the weekends.

Garfinkle grew up with a fascination for history and archeology. His love of history was instilled in him when he was younger, after working on archeological excavations.

Remigijus “Migo” Biciunas, a technical maintenance supervisor for Western’s Facilities Management for 19 years, had the kind of experience not too long ago that most of us would rather not think about. In May 2008, at age 62, despite still feeling like a kid, Biciunas had a heart attack.

After triple-bypass surgery, he was able to go back to work. But on New Year’s Eve 2008, one of his arteries gave out, and the functionality of his heart went down to 10 percent.

In 1965, a young English student named Esther Erickson stepped foot on the Western Washington University campus to begin her education.

On June 30, 2010, after nearly 45 years as a Viking, she leaves.

“I love Western, and I have enjoyed it tremendously,” she says with a smile. “Working here wasn’t my plan when I graduated, but it’s been a wonderful career.”

It's common for WWU employees to wear many hats on the job, but few can match the one Biology Department Senior Instructor Janice Lapsansky puts on almost every day: It's pointy, red, and has the words "FIRE CAPTAIN" on it.

Lapsansky, who has been at WWU since 1990, has been a volunteer firefighter for the past 10 years at the Sandy Point Fire Department west of Ferndale. At the same time, she worked part-time for more than 20 years at the St. Joseph Hospital Emergency Department, utilizing her training as a first responder.

Paul Dunn began his duties May 17 as senior executive assistant in the President's Office at Western Washington University. Dunn was hired earlier this spring after a nationwide search. He will be responsible for a wide range of duties, including overseeing the coordination and facilitation of various responsibilities and projects of the President's Office and serving as part of the senior administrative team.

Karen Casto remembers one particular assignment she gave her Western Washington University students back in the winter of 2003. And she should. That assignment, and the results of it, would play a pivotal role in a decision that would later change her life.

She was teaching a First-year Interest Group at the time, a course cluster combining mathematics and American history. She wanted to get to know her students, see where they were coming from. So she asked each of them to jot down an experience relating to math.

Oliver de la Paz is a winner, plain and simple. Want proof? Well, there’s the $1,500 GAP Grant he was awarded last year from Artist Trust, which supports artist-generated projects in Washington. There’s also the Crab Orchard Review Series in Poetry award he won in 2000, the prize for which was publication of his first book, “Names Above Houses.” And in 2009 his poetry collection “Requiem for the Orchard” was selected from 502 contest submissions for the Akron Poetry Prize, which is rewarding de la Paz with $1,000 and publication, this March, of the collection.

Western Washington University’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs Director Geri Walker is retiring at the end of January after a 35-year career at WWU.

WWU’s Gary McKinney is able to blend his alter egos of author and musician into his job in the office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education

He’s been in at least one band almost continually since he was 16, and with three published novels to his credit, he still says he has the burning desire to write the Great American Novel.

No one can say WWU’s Gary McKinney, a research analyst in the VPUE’s office, is not a well-rounded person.