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 the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Social and Behavioral Sciences Division and the college's interdisciplinary programs, include:
Receiving her Bachelor of Arts in sociology, with a minor in biology, Erin Dahlman-Oeth of Kirkland graduated December 2019. She is recognized for her commitment to the Western community. As a student, Dahlman-Oeth helped organize the Western Regional Global Health Conference where she led her group "Beyond the Binaries" and served as a moderator. She also worked for the Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI) and lent a hand to fellow students as a TA. During her time at BPRI, Erin conducted research relating to the October 2019 legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada and how that intersected with border policy. Dahlman-Oeth presented her findings both at Scholars Week and Canada Week, finding the work so interesting that she secured a permanent position there as a research analyst prior to graduating. Another of her well-recognized research projects included a qualitative analysis of how gay women's post-dissolution friendships challenged typical stereotypes. Dahlman-Oeth has continued to work at BPRI since graduation and plans to expand her skills as a data analyst by gaining more experience in the public sector outside of Bellingham. A graduate of Juanita High School, she is the daughter of Whitney Dahlman-Oeth and Kelly Dahlman-Oeth.
Emily Hillman of Twin Falls, Idaho, graduated in June with a Bachelor of Arts degree with two majors, linguistics and Spanish, and a minor in TESOL. Faculty members call Hillman a genuine student of language and culture. During the 2019 Scholars Week, she presented her paper on the syntax of Guarani, an indigenous language of Paraguay. Some faculty members said that this paper could easily be considered graduate level work. Hillman also presented a poster titled “Question: Can we talk about this discourse marker?" in the 2020 Northwest Linguistics Conference. Language has been at the core of Hillman’s experience at Western. She was awarded a scholarship in Spanish from the Department of Modern and Classical Languages. She also completed her TESOL practicum in Queretaro, Mexico, where she worked at a language school teaching English, while taking Spanish courses. She has not only focused on language, but service, too. She has taken initiative to create innovative ways to educate about linguistic discrimination and linguistic diversity by her work with the Western Talks project. HIllman also volunteers with CAST in Bellingham, which serves people who are homeless. She also spent the past two summers with the Agape Service Project, where she taught middle and high school students about immigration and social justice and organized a weekly food bank serving thousands of migrant farmworkers and their families in Whatcom County. Hillman plans to work in Latin America for a few years, teaching English and developing Spanish fluency, before she goes back to school to earn a master’s degree in bilingual education.
East Asian Studies
Emmalene Madsen of Sequim and Gig Harbor graduates in June with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chinese language & culture and East Asian studies with minors in international Studies and psychology. Madsen has been an instrumental in creating spaces on campus that were previously missing. She is the founding president of the WWU Chinese Conversation Club and has been an officer for the WWU Global Ambassador Club. She also used her position with Western’s Education Abroad office to advise students about education opportunities abroad. Her motto “Why not” has guided her through Western. She used it when she saw there needed to be a Chinese Conversation Club, She also used it to apply to study abroad in Beijing, China in the summer of 2018. She said she would not have been able to go if it weren’t for funding from the Freeman Asia Award. Madsen was also awarded the East Asian Studies Department Sarah Ann Wirth scholarship twice, which helped her continue her education. She hopes the community she helped build will continue to thrive after she graduates. Madsen plans to teach English online and then to move to Sichuan Province, China to teach English for a few years. After she gains experience she hopes to get a master’s degree in international or higher education. Madsen is a graduate of Gig Harbor High School and the daughter of Pamela Madsen and Steven Madsen.
Communication Sciences and Disorders
Jessica Mendiola of Ozark, Arkansas, is graduating in June with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication sciences and disorders with a minor in Spanish. Mendiola is a veteran of the United States Navy, where she was recognized for her leadership skills while leading 20 other sailors. She chose Western because she was stationed at NAS Whidbey Island, where she also met her spouse and after she got out of the military, he was still stationed in Washington. After they both got out of the military, she heard of Western’s well-regarded Communications Sciences and Disorders Department. The CSD Department recognizes Mendiola as a leader among her peers, being active in the classroom and hard-working outside of the classroom. In the past year, she served as the Undergraduate Representative for the Western Washington University chapter of the Student Academy of Audiology, working as a liaison between undergraduate and graduate students. Mendiola is proud of her resilience, dedication and persistence, as she worked as a home care aide and acted as a single parent while her husband was deployed or away for job training for half her time at Western. Her life outside the classroom consists of being the treasurer of Western's chapter of the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the undergraduate representative for Student Academy of Audiology. Mendiola volunteers as a homework tutor for low-income kids at Children of the Valley in Mount Vernon and has volunteered for various events at Western and in the community such as Western’s Preview Day and Whatcom Center for Early Learning Auction. She also worked closely with Assistant Professor Anna Diedesch, as a volunteer research assistant focused on evaluating auditory performance for normal hearing and hearing-impaired individuals for the purpose of supporting individualized treatment for hearing loss. After graduating, Mendiola plans to pursue her Clinical Doctorate for Audiology at Western beginning September 2020. Jessica Mendiola is a graduate of Ozark High School. Her husband is JamesLee Mendiola and their children are Aiden, La'Ana, and Kambrielle.
Iva Reckling of Cheyenne, Wyoming, earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in March with a major in recreation management & leadership and a minor in environmental science. Passionate for the outdoors, Reckling worked for the Outdoor Center as a trip leader and the challenge course coordinator. She also worked with Associate Professor Jasmine Goodnow to secure a $30,000 grant for the Right to Risk program, which sought to make outdoor adventures more accessible to those with a disability or with marginalized identities. One of the highlights of her academic experience was an internship with Walking Mountains Science Center in Colorado, where Reckling taught and led camps focused on outdoor education. Post graduation, she's pursuing certification to become a registered yoga teacher and will eventually return to school for a masters degree. A graduate of Cheyenne Central High School, she is the daughter of Kathy Reckling and W. Carlton Reckling.
English - Creative Writing
Hokulani Rivera of Pauoa, Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, graduated in June with University Honors and a Bachelor of Arts degree with two majors, English-creative writing and cultural anthropology. She is a published poet, campus community builder, and talented academic who values interdisciplinary engagement. "As an indigenous poet, her work is always imbued with social justice stakes, heritage, and radical joy," said English Assistant Professor Jane Wong. Rivera presented "Ua lawa mākou i ka pōhaku: reclaiming my Hawaiian right to exist with anger and aloha in the time of TMT,” about protests surrounding the location of the Thirty Meter Telescope, at the Northwest Indian College - Nez Perce Student Speaker Series. She's a research assistant in the WWU Medical Anthropology Lab, where she is conducting research on fieldwork safety. She was a campus leader, serving as co-facilitator of an Ethnic Student Center annual conference, and as an officer for several clubs, including the Mixed-Identity Student Organization (MISO), the Native American Student Union, the Oceanic Students Association, and Western Amnesty. She was also a student lead at the Teaching-Learning Academy, where she's working on a textbook to be published in the coming months, and worked in the Hacherl Research & Writing Studio. As one of the few students of color in the Honors Program, she also volunteered with the Honors Outreach to Past and Prospective Students (HOPPS) program, making connections with students at NWIC, Bellingham Technical College and Whatcom Community College. She studied abroad in Senegal with a group of WWU students and faculty, a profoundly moving experience, even though it was just three weeks. "I was still able to observe the similarities my culture shared with these coastal peoples in terms of tools and oral traditions," Rivera says. "My time spent in Senegal really fueled my passion to study Indigenous oral traditions in my graduate career." Rivera is deeply interested in researching Indigenous forms of knowledge transference, and hopes to attend a graduate program that focuses on indigenizing narratives of place-based sustainability through storytelling. Eventually, she wants to earn her Ph.D. in Indigenous or comparative Indigenous studies, and, potentially, tribal governance. Rivera is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools - Kapālama.
Rowan Salton of Muskego, Wisconsin, graduated in June with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts from Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies. Salton is most proud of her capstone study, “Motivations for Pursuing Trauma Advocacy: A Qualitative Study.” The study was inspired by years of work with Assistant Professor Brianna Delker in the THRIVE (Theory, Healing, and Research on Interpersonal Violence Exposure) Lab and her experience in direct service advocacy with trauma survivors. For this project, Salton interviewed trauma advocates at a local survivor support agency and found that trauma touches every person’s life, that we all either experience it ourselves or know someone who has, and that in learning to be more open and show up fully for those who need support, we make our world a healthier, more compassionate place. During her time at Western, she was a CASAS Direct Service Advocate, supporting student survivors of sexual violence. She was also the Advocacy Specialist for the Queer Youth Project, supporting LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness, facilitating queer youth community events, referring youth to queer-informed mental health and housing professionals and providing one-on-one direct service advocacy. Salton also loves the self-determinism and freedom in academic pursuits that’s available for students at Fairhaven College, where she pursued a concentration in intersectional well-being. Salton is a graduate of Muskego High School and the daughter of Dan and June Salton.
Presidential Scholar, College of Humanities and Social Science
Outstanding Graduate, Political Science
Piper Tolbert of Anchorage graduated in March with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a minor in law, diversity, and justice at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies. Tolbert is known as an intellectually curious, highly engaged student with a deep commitment to engaging critically with race, gender, sexuality, and class in relationship to questions about power, identity, knowledge, history, and political change. She fully supports a recent petition by Black students calling for more action from Western and the Associated Students to address anti-Black racism on campus. During her time at Western, Tolbert and fellow students Kayla Johnson and Jace Cotton authored a collective reflection on the 1973 essay volume, "Lessons from the Damned: Class Struggle in the Black Community" and the potential for radically transformed spaces for learning; they presented the work at the National Woman’s Studies Association Annual Conference in San Francisco. Tolbert was also an investigative intern with the Whatcom County Public Defender's Office completing interviews with witnesses, and a policy intern with the ACLU of Alaska, where she worked to promote pay parity and criminal justice reform and conducted policy research. She also interned at Cook Inlet Region, Inc. where she worked with Story Works Alaska, a local youth storytelling and writing non-profit. Tolbert volunteers at Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood, is a member of Planned Parenthood Generation and organized the 2019 Condom Fashion Show. Now, Tolbert is looking into graduate programs focused at the cross-section of law, public policy and gender equality. The daughter of Melissa Harmel and Reinhold Tolbert, Piper Tolbert plans to return home to Alaska to work in local politics or with a non-profit to advocate for gender equality and reproductive justice.
Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Emma Toth of Seattle graduated in March with a Bachelor of Arts degree with two majors, political science and also women, gender, and sexuality studies. Toth was active on campus as a member of the Professional Women's Association, Western Feminists Club and the Community Ambassador Network. Her academic pursuits included an independent study project on "The Politics of Listening", which hat fused feminist and political theories of listening and storytelling with legal studies and case law to illustrate how the justice system can delegitimize sexual assault allegations. In the Bellingham community, Toth served on the board of the York Neighborhood Association and also campaigned and canvassed for local candidates. Now Toth is studying for LSATs, as she plans to apply to law schools soon. A graduate of John F Kennedy Catholic Memorial High School, she is the daughter of Erik Toth and Jennifer Toth.