Meet the 2018-19 Outstanding Graduates from CFPA, Woodring, and Interdisciplinary Programs

Friday, July 26, 2019

More than 50 Western Washington University students and graduates received Outstanding Graduate honors for the 2018-19 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 graduates were recognized at spring Commencement June 15. As the College of Humanities and Social Sciences is so large, we have broken it up into its two divisions, Humanities and Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The Outstanding Graduates from the College of Fine and Performing Arts, the Woodring College of education, and WWU's Interdisciplinary Programs are:


College of Fine and Performing Arts

Grace Heller

Outstanding Graduate in Theatre

Grace Heller of Seattle graduated cum laude and with University Honors in June with a Bachelor of Arts. She majored in theatre with concentrations in both theatre management and dramatic writing and minored in arts enterprise and cultural innovation. Heller was involved in six main season department productions and served as the artistic director of Student Theatre Productions, helping to curate and stage dozens of shows. She also interned with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2018 and has been involved in multiple productions with TheatreWorks, a local theatre company Bellingham. Heller is a graduate of Ingraham High School.


Ruby Rae Jones

Outstanding Graduate in Art and Art History

Ruby Jones of South Whidbey Island graduated cum laude in June with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, majoring in studio art. Jones' art explores the concepts of ecology, sustainability and environmental justice. She completed an internship with Shannon Point Marine Center, "Communicating Climate Change Through Art," where she worked with scientists and marine biology students to learn about how climate change is affecting ecosystems in the Salish Sea Basin. She then created "Disintegration," a group of large wood relief carvings that she later exhibited at the Anacortes Art Fair and on Western's campus. Later, she designed a community eco-art action called "Dreaming the Giant," in which a group collaboratively performs the movements of a massive gray whale through movement, sound and guided visualization -- and along the way learn more about whales and the threats they face. Jones' BFA thesis project, "Oddkin," was a series of mixed-media sculptures that re-imagine relationships between humans and other species. Jones now plans to continue her research and artistic practice by participating in more exhibitions and artist residencies. She also wants to start a business selling jewelry, art prints and ceramics, and eventually go to graduate school for a Master of Fine Arts degree. Jones graduated from South Whidbey Island High School and is the daughter of Goldie Christensen and Kenny Jones and stepdaughter of Bret Christensen.

Art: Detail of “Oddkin: Compost,” by Ruby Jones, 2019.  Clay, soil, fungi, wood, aluminum, coyote and possum bone, hair. 84x42x18 inches


Fabian Nieto

Outstanding Graduate in Music

Fabian Nieto of Mount Vernon graduated in June with a Bachelor of Music degree, majoring in music performance, and a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in French. Nieto, a first-generation college student, is a talented clarinetist and was an integral member of performing ensembles at Western, including the WWU Symphony Orchestra, Scholarship Wind Quintet and the New Music Ensemble, where he served as principal clarinet. He performed in Shanghai with the WWU Wind Symphony, won the WWU Concerto Competition, performed as a soloist with the WWU orchestra and helped organize the WWU Video Game Orchestra, which he also conducted. He also served as a woodwind coach for the Fidalgo Youth Symphony and performed professionally with the Pacific Northwest Opera and several musical theatre productions in Skagit and Whatcom counties. He placed second in the Virginia Glover Scholarship Competition. For his French degree, Nieto studied abroad in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Now, he plans to move to France for a year and hopes to go to graduate school. Nieto was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, is a graduate of Mount Vernon High School and the son of Hortencia Nieto and Felix Nieto.


Cathleen VanBuren

Outstanding Graduate in Dance

Cathleen VanBuren of Maple Valley graduated magna cum laude in June with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish. She also minored in mathematics. VanBuren excelled academically while being involved in several activities. She served as a demonstrator in several dance classes and as a Spanish tutor for fellow students. Her research areas were disability inclusion in dance and traditional dances of Spain. She led the Dance Program's New Music New Dance production and assisted with the Cabaret production. She was also a Compass 2 Campus mentor, a volunteer for BAAY's EduArts after school arts program and FIRST Robotics competitions, and as a coach for the Bellingham High School Color Guard. VanBuren graduated from Tahoma High School and is the daughter of WWU alumni Camille and Eric VanBuren, the sister of WWU student Darren VanBuren and the fiancée of fellow WWU dance graduate Evyn Bartlett. Next, she will travel to Spain to teach English -- and plans to keep dancing wherever she goes.


Woodring College of Education

Emma Caro

Outstanding Graduate of Elementary Education

Emma Caro of Everett graduated in June with a Bachelor of Arts in Education and majored in language, literacy and cultural studies with a minor in education and social justice. During her time at Western, Caro was heavily involved in the Ethnic Student Center. She was also a part of Blue Group, the Latinx Student Union and MEChA. Caro was the co-chair of Blue Group and was co-chair for Woodring College of Education's Equity and Diversity Committee. She facilitated small groups and workshops in several conferences such as the Migrant Youth Conference, Northwest Filipino American Student Alliance Conference and the Global Health Conference. Caro says that her passion is in working with diverse youth and their communities through relationship building to teach children to be critical thinkers who will go on to transform oppressive systems and find empowerment within themselves. "I am a continual learner and desire to develop culturally responsive ways to teach children; I am a daughter of a single mother that works hard every single day of her life to provide for her family and attribute all my accomplishments to my mother," Caro says. "I am trying to find my place in this world and know this is only the beginning." Caro is a graduate of Cascade High School and is daughter to Luz Caro.


Amy Kammenga

Outstanding Graduate of Special Education

Amy Kammenga of Mount Vernon graduated in June with a Bachelor of Arts in Education and majored in special education and elementary education, with a dual endorsement. At Western, Kammenga says her proudest achievements have been making it through the special education program while working a part time job and completing the SPED Final Block with a perfect GPA. Kammenga interned with an elementary school in Mount Vernon in their autism spectrum program. There she taught eight primary-aged students severely impacted by autism, developing ways to help them succeed both in and out of the classroom. For her certification to become a teacher in Washington, Kammenga worked with one student to teach them letter sounds and how to blend and read words — within three weeks. Kammenga recently completed an internship teaching kindergarteners in Conway. There she taught students foundational math, reading and writing skills, as well as science. Outside of her academics, Kammenga has been a job coach at a transitions program in Burlington for 18 to 21-year-olds with a variety of disabilities. There she helped them practice living and vocational skills that help them gain employment and lead more independent lives. Kammenga has also been coaching a Special Olympics unified soccer team that she started in high school and provides an inclusive team for students with and without disabilities. After graduating, Kammenga will begin teaching kindergarten through fifth grade students impacted by autism spectrum disorder at Island View Elementary School in Anacortes. Kammenga is a graduate of Mount Vernon High School and is daughter to Rich and Dawn Kammenga.


Anne Lee

Outstanding Graduate of Health and Community Studies

Anne Lee of Renton graduated in June with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majored in human services and minored in education and social justice. Lee, a first-generation college student, was devoted to serving students and their communities during their time at Western. They're known as a conscientious and thoughtful student who advocates for more diverse views and fosters a collaborative environment in the classroom.  Lee served as Associated Students Vice President for Student Life, as a resident adviser, and on the Students for Ethnic Studies board. They also co-founded the Human Services Students of Color Union, served on the Woodring Equity and Diversity Council, and participated in the Gender Inclusive Housing workgroup. Next, Lee plans to live and work in Bellingham. Lee's parents are Doug Lee and Phung Van and they are a graduate of Lindbergh High School.


Alyssa Stirpe

Outstanding Graduate in Nursing

Alyssa Stirpe of Stanwood is graduating in August with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Stirpe is a board certified Registered Nurse working for Skagit Regional Health in a rural family medicine clinic on Camano Island. She also serves as a nurse advocate, participating in contract negotiations between the Washington State Nurses Association and Skagit Regional Health. While earning her degree at Western, Stirpe partnered with the Northwest Educational Service District and the School Nurse Corps to identify gaps in vision screening practices in order to reduce the prevalence of pediatric ophthalmic deficiencies. After graduation, she'll begin a Doctor of Nursing - Clinical Nurse Specialist Program at Seattle Pacific University. As a Clinical Nurse Specialist, she plans to promote preventive care and reduce health disparities in rural communities. Stirpe is a graduate of Mount Vernon High School, the wife of Jason Stirpe, and the daughter of Michelle Evans and Robert Hughes.


Grace Warthen

Outstanding Graduate in TESOL

Grace Warthen of Plain will graduate in August with a Bachelor of Arts Degree majoring in linguistics with a minor in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Warthen volunteered with English instruction programs at Whatcom Community College as well as Western's Asia University America Program. She also served as an English teaching assistant during a mission trip to DR Congo. This summer, she is completing her TESOL training in Queretaro, Mexico, and after graduation plans to teach English in either Central or South America. Warthen, who was homeschooled through 10th grade, is a graduate of Wenatchee Valley College through the Running Start program and the daughter of Eric and Mari Lynn Warthen.


Interdisciplinary Programs

Pauline Mogilevsky

Outstanding Graduate of the University Honors Program

Pauline Mogilevsky graduated cum laude and with University Honors in June with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She majored in environmental studies and had two minors, mathematics and graphic information science, in which she also earned a certificate. Mogilevsky completed her honors capstone project on the effectiveness of public meetings as a form of participation in local government.  She was also a research assistant for Associate Professor Nabil Kamel, studying networks of musicians on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. She was a member of the Student Honors Board and the Honors Board and was part of the Sustainability Representatives program. She completed internships with the cities of Newcastle and Bellevue, working in communications and outreach. But she's most proud of the relationships she built with friends and classmates at Western. Mogilevsky, the daughter of Anna Khapman and Alexander Mogilevsky, is a graduate of Hazen High School in Renton.


Josefina Alanis Mora

Outstanding Graduate of American Cultural Studies

Josefina Alanis Mora of Seattle graduated in June with a Bachelor of Arts degree and majored in American Cultural Studies. She's the first in her family to graduate from college in the U.S. As a student at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, Mora had the opportunity to bring her experience as an activist to her studies. Her spring independent research project, about the experiences of queer, trans people of color who are tattoo artists and tattoo collectors, was the subject of a photo exhibit and panel event. She also presented her research at Scholars Week about cultural competency in public health and access to public health care for undocumented workers in Whatcom and Skagit counties. Outside of class, Mora collaborated with and supported student groups such as the Blue Group in securing resources for undocumented students at Western. Mora is herself the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants; her mother was placed into deportation proceedings last winter when Mora was in the midst of her studies. Mora is now the assistant outreach, education and retail manager at WinkWink Boutique in Bellingham. She is a graduate of The Northwest School, the daughter of Maru Mora Villalpando and the fiancée of Wanbo Cheung.




"Compost 2" by Ruby Rae Jones
 Cathleen Van Buren
  Emma Caro
Amy Kammenga
Anne Lee
Alyssa Stirpe
Grace Warthen
Pauline Mogilevsky
Josefina Alanis-Mora