More than 50 Western Washington University students and graduates received Outstanding Graduate honors for the 2019-20 academic year.
Faculty members from dozens of academic departments and programs select one graduate to honor as the Outstanding Graduate of the year. Selection is a high honor based on grades, research and writing, service to the campus and community, and promise for the future.
The Outstanding Graduates from Huxley College of the Environment and Woodring College of Education include:
Huxley College of the Environment
Cosmos Yahriel Cordova
Cosmos Cordova of Lopez Island graduated with a bachelor's degree in urban planning and sustainable development from the Huxley College of the Environment, along with minors in sustainable design, Spanish and environmental policy.
At Western, Cordova participated in many substantial planning projects such as creating a downtown redevelopment plan for Ferndale, conducting analysis for implementation of a multi-modal trail in Monroe and presenting the findings at the American Public Works Association conference in Seattle, designing an interactive map for shoreline monitoring in Bainbridge Island, and conducted an analysis on safe routes to school in Ferndale and presented the findings to school and city officials, and learned design skills and sustainability methods to build a 200-square-foot tiny home on Lopez Island.
During Cordova’s study abroad in Greece last summer, he and other students did a project on the island of Ithaca to study foot traffic and develop recommendations for how the community could increase access to tourists year-round.
Cordova was a graphic design officer for two school clubs and volunteered in Bellingham working on urban gardens. Cordova plans to either move off the island with his tiny home and adventure for a year or will stay on Lopez Island and work in the sustainable design and development field. His dream job is to design and develop self-sustaining, low-income community housing. A graduate of Lopez Island High School, Cordova is the son of Summer Moon Scriver and Jamie Cordova.
Outstanding Graduate, Environmental Science
Emma Nordlund of Salem, Oregon, will graduate in August with a bachelor's degree in environmental science with an emphasis on toxicology and a minor in chemistry. In her independent research with Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Manuel Montano, Nordlund examined different aspects of nanomaterials in the environment, such as nanopesticides, using sophisticated analytical equipment and methodologies.
Nordlund served as co-officer of the WWU Students for Renewable Energy and worked with the Western Foundation to switch investment managers and decrease the university's investments in the fossil fuel industry. Throughout her time at Western, Nordlund has also worked on the Viking Union set crew and security team. After graduation she hopes to move to California with her partner, and her dream position is to work in a lab for a state environmental agency. Nordlund, the daughter of Jan and Chris Nordlund, is a graduate of Sprague High School.
Woodring College of Education
Yesugen Battsengel of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, graduated in June with a bachelor's degree in human services.
Faculty in the Health and Community Studies Department recognized Battsengel's leadership skills and ability to engage and embrace complex topics and critical thinking. Battsengel is most proud of the community they were a part of at Western and the personal growth that took place here. They completed an internship at Squalicum High School, assisting several students with college applications and other coursework. During their senior year, they also assisted Assistant Professor Brett Russell Coleman with research on whiteness and anti-racism.
At Western, Battsengel was elected the Associated Students vice president for Diversity and was involved in a variety of roles with the Ethnic Student Center. Battsengel was also an active participant in various clubs and the Ethnic Student Center Conference Committee. They also served as the student representative in 2017 for Woodring College's Dean Search Committee. Battsengel was further involved in the President’s Council for Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice and represented WWU at the Association of College and Unions International conference this year, where she was a keynote speaker and presenter. Battsengel, whose parents are Zoltuya and Munkhzul, is a graduate of Decatur High School in Federal Way. After graduation, she's hoping to work at a nonprofit.
Future Bilingual Teaching Fellows Program
Veronica Gonzalez of Burlington graduated in June with a bachelor's degree in Education degree and a major in language, literacy and cultural studies.
Gonzalez was an academic leader in her program, not only because she excelled in the classroom but because her attention to detail, inquisitive nature and ability to explain things helped her classmates improve as well. Gonzalez completed her teaching internship at her own alma mater, Lucille Umbarger Elementary School and was able to teach alongside those who had taught her as a child. She hopes to find a teaching position in her community so she can continue to give back.
Gonzalez, a graduate of Burlington-Edison High School and Skagit Valley College, is the daughter of Ramon Gonzalez and Vicky Gonzalez, who is also a former staff member at Lucille Umbarger Elementary.
Outstanding Graduate, TESOL
Paul Ligon of Spokane graduated in June from Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies with a bachelor's degree and a concentration in language, education and global literacy as well as a minor in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). TESOL faculty complimented his dedicated professionalism during his student teaching, as well as his academic diligence and his compassion for English language learners.
Ligon plans to go abroad after graduation, perhaps to Ecuador or Peru, to teach English for a few years. Eventually, he would like to teach English near the southern U.S. border.
"I would like to engage with the border population," Ligon says, "Since there is an impending refugee crisis due to climate change, and it is important that our southern border becomes somewhat fluid."
Ligon is a graduate of Lewis and Clark High School and the son of Kim Mitchell.
Outstanding Graduate, Nursing
Julie McElroy of Bellingham graduates in August with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and a minor in biology. The nursing faculty say McElroy brought a mature, thoughtful approach to the classroom, based on her life experiences and her work as a certified nursing assistant, community volunteer, and registered nurse. McElroy and other students worked with the Northwest Educational Service District to develop a protocol for K-12 students returning to the classroom after suffering a concussion.
She volunteered with MAD-HOPE, a student/community volunteer organization that educates high school students, parents, and community members about the signs, risks, and resources affiliated with suicide. She also sings with the Kulshan chorus, which promotes social justice, peace, and equality.
After graduation, McElroy plans to continue her studies and become a nurse practitioner with a focus on mental health, building on her current work at a pain clinic, where she's found a new purpose as a nurse.
"The subject of 'pain' is extremely subjective, and to treat one's pain certainly requires compassion and patience," McElroy says. "I intend to move into my advanced practice with a focus on mental health."
McElroy, a graduate of Sehome High School and Bellingham Technical College, says she owes a debt of gratitude to her two sons, Finn, 8, and Sawyer, 7, who are her two greatest advocates and supporters.
Outstanding Graduate in Special Education
Jessie Petrak of Los Angeles, California, graduated in June with a bachelor's degree in Education and a dual endorsement in special education and elementary education.
Throughout her college career, Petrak has been involved in youth programs around Western like the YMCA and Ray of Hope, a summer camp in Bellingham for kids dealing with trauma.
During winter 2020, Petrak student-taught full-time at Kendall Elementary School in a fifth and sixth grade resource room. Because of her experience at Kendall Elementary, she stayed at the school for her elementary internship. After graduation, Petrak will join the Highline School District as a special education teacher. The daughter of Cindy Petrak and Jonathan Petrak, she graduated from Granada Hills Charter High School.
Outstanding Graduate, Elementary Education
Natalie Reeder of Seattle graduated in June with a bachelor's degree in Education, majoring in general science for elementary education.
At Western she dedicated her time to diversity and equity within Woodring College of Education, serving on Woodring's Equity and Diversity Committee where she helped create forums to address changes in the college. She co-created the Students for Public Education advocacy group, served as the president of the WWU National Science Teaching Association student chapter and presented her work at the Washington Science Teachers Association conference.
Reeder worked for four years at the AS Child Development Center where she was able to bring STEM learning to the preschool level. She also worked as a student teacher in a fifth grade class at Cascadia Elementary School in Ferndale, where she created an online platform for students to communicate with their teachers during the COVID-19 school closures; and was recognized by other fifth-grade teachers in the district for her contributions to distance learning.
After graduation Reeder hopes to teach in a K-5 classroom setting. She has a passion for education reform and social justice in teaching.
“You won't learn how to change the system from those who benefit from it,” Reeder said. “Push the envelope and make change!”
A graduate of Ballard High School, she's the daughter of Nancy Reeder and Thomas Reeder.