WWU Names 2015-16 Outstanding Graduates

BELLINGHAM – Western Washington University honored its Outstanding Graduates for the 2015-16 academic year at spring Commencement Saturday, June 11.

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.

This year’s Outstanding Graduates, grouped by city, include:




Jacob Engelbert graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Finance and a minor in Economics and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Finance and Marketing Department. While at Western, Engelbert interned as a financial analyst at evolution Projects, a real estate development firm in Seattle. He also completed qualifying education for a Washington state appraiser trainee license and served as tech officer of the WWU chapter of the Financial Management Association, developing a new website for the club. After graduation, Engelbert will work as a commercial real property appraiser trainee at a commercial investment advisory firm in Bellevue. The son of Ken and Kathleen Engelbert, Jacob Engelbert is a graduate of Auburn Riverside High School.  


Victor Perez earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, minors in Mathematics and Spanish, and is the Outstanding Graduate in the Engineering Program. Perez was a member of the IEEE-HKN Honors Society, was chair of the Western’s IEEE organization and was a member of the Society of Women Engineers-Bellingham chapter. He served as a research assistant and laboratory assistant and volunteered at KVWV, a non-profit community radio station in Bellingham.   

Christopher Trinies graduated magna cum laude in March with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Sciences and as the Outstanding Graduate in Environmental Sciences. Trinies was known by faculty members for his patience, ability, attitude and willingness to help in all of his classes. He maintained a 4.0 grade point average while working and raising three children. The partner of Melissa Flores, Trinies is a graduate of Skyline High School in Oakland, California.  


Stephen Ateser graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design and a minor in User Experience Design. He was selected as the Outstanding Graduate in the Design Department as well as Student Commencement Speaker. At Western, Ateser helped design Western’s student magazine Klipsun and served as lead designer for the Associated Students Publicity Center, helping to plan for strategic growth. He completed a design internship with Tether, Inc., a Seattle design firm that specializes in brand storytelling for clients such as Nike, Gatorade, BMW and Starbucks. And he completed workshops with professional designers in Portland and Seattle, exploring how good design can address social problems. He hopes to put his skills to work using design and technology to enrich people’s lives. The son of Sandi and Demir Ateser, Stephen Ateser is a graduate of Henry M. Jackson High School in Bothell and Shoreline Community College. 

Colin Carter graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Canadian-American Studies and Political Science, a minor in English, and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Canadian-American Studies Program. He completed an undergraduate thesis on Canadian Arctic foreign policy and completed extensive research work at the US/Canada border. He also studied abroad to Kenya and Rwanda in 2014. He’s also credited with reinvigorating Western’s Club Canada. Next, he hopes to find a position at an international human development organization in Seattle, become an American citizen and join the Peace Corps. A graduate of Bothell High School, Colin Carter is the son of Diane and Mark Carter. 

Kasey Cottrill graduated magna cum laude in March 2016 as the Outstanding Graduate in the Kinesiology Department with a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and a Pre-Physical Therapy Specialization. Cottrill, who has an extensive background in competitive gymnastics and coaching, taught dance at Harper&I Dance Center in Bellingham, Gabriel’s Art Kids and Shuksan Middle School’s after-school program. She also performed at many athletics and cultural events with the WWU Hip Hop Dance Team, served as a peer mentor in Biomechanics and Functional Anatomy courses, and completed an internship with Waterfront Sports and Physical Therapy in Edmonds. This summer, Cottrill will volunteer at an in-patient physical therapy clinic, continue to teach at Harper&I and choreograph floor routines for Cascade Elite Gymnastics and the University of Washington’s Division I gymnastics team. In the fall, she plans to work as a physical therapy aide and apply to doctorate programs in physical therapy. The daughter of Dwight and Lynda Cottrill, Kasey Cottrill is a graduate of Bothell High School.  

Nolan Hoppe-Leonard graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in an interdisciplinary concentration at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance, and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Dance program. Hoppe-Leonard was a newcomer to the field of Dance when he began taking classes at Western. He went on to become a skilled, advanced-level dancer and powerful performer as well as a gifted writer and creative choreographer. After graduation, he attended a summer intensive workshop with Doug Varone and Dancers at Skidmore College and then has an internship at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine. The son of Janet and Renny Hoppe-Leonard, Nolan Hoppe Leonard hopes to become a professional dancer with a company.  


Laura Daley graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Human Services Program. A distance learning student who took all her classes online, Daley completed a nine-month internship with Housing Kitsap, Kitsap County’s public housing authority, where she wrote and maintained grants, and created and implemented a goal-setting curriculum for at-risk teens. The internship led to her current position as residential services coordinator for Housing Kitsap. Daley is the daughter of Helen Havens, David Saunders and Susie Saunders, the wife of Levi Daley and the mother of 3-year-old Felix Daley. She is also a graduate of South Kitsap High School and Olympic College. 

Fall City

Patrick Hutchins graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Education and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Environmental Studies Department. During his time at Western, he was part of an eight-person team that planned and led a five-day outdoor education course on Sucia Island for 24 at-risk youth. He also worked as an assistant in the Family Interactive Gallery at the Whatcom Museum, where he developed science-based exhibits for young children. Faculty members praised him for his communication and leadership skills and his ability to adapt to teachable moments in the field. Hutchins, the son of Terry and James Hutchins, grew up in Sammamish and Fall City and is a graduate of Eastlake High School in Sammamish and Seattle Central Community College. 


Emma-Lee Hefton will graduate in summer 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Community Health Education, a minor in Spanish, and as the Outstanding Graduate in Community Health. At Western, Hefton served as a Peer Health Educator focusing on alcohol and other drug risk reduction. She also worked as a home care assistant for Catholic Community Services. She won a Western Libraries Undergraduate Research Award and the Evelyn Ames CHES Award. This summer, she’ll complete an internship as a community health intern at Skagit Regional Health in the Outreach and Development department. A graduate of Crescent High School in Joyce and Whatcom Community College, Emma-Lee Hefton is the daughter of Mac Hefton and the late Sandra Hefton, and the partner of Chelsea Bradley.  


Natasha Siepser graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry with a minor in Materials Science and is the Outstanding Graduate of the Chemistry Department. At Western, Siepser received the 2015 Analytical Chemistry Student of the Year Award and the 2013 CRC Press Freshman General Chemistry Award. She has also worked closely with Assistant Chemistry Professor David Rider on research that she presented, most notably, at the 2015 Murdock Science Research Conference and at the 2016 American Chemical Society national meeting. She was proactive in securing funding for her research work and received the Denice (Ambrose) Hougen Chemistry Undergraduate Fellowship, funding a summer research project, and two WWU-sponsored research proposals. She has been active in Western’s Chemistry Club since her freshman year. Next, she’ll head to Indiana University to pursue a Ph.D. in Analytical and Materials Chemistry. A graduate of Kentridge High School, Siepser is the daughter of Randy and Cheryl Siepser.


Meghan Demeter graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Economics/Environmental Studies and French, a minor in Energy Policy and University Honors. She was also the Outstanding Graduate in the Economics Department. For her senior project in the Honors Program, Demeter conducted research on factors related to public support for carbon pricing policies. She completed an internship at the Center for Climate Protection in Santa Rosa, California, working with the executive director to advocate for the cap and dividend method of carbon pricing. She also served as director of the Women in Energy Mentoring Network while researching effective energy curricula and the importance of professional development. Demeter also worked at the Tutoring Center for four years, including two years as the lead peer adviser. She served as the student conservation facilitator to help the Tutoring Center achieve a Gold Level Certification from Western’s Office of Sustainability. Next, she’s heading to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., to pursue a master’s degree in Environmental Resource Policy. A graduate of Lake Washington High School, Demeter is the daughter of Theresa Demeter and Kirk Demeter. 


Danny Chong graduated with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music – Performance and as the Outstanding Graduate in Music. He is known as a brilliant performer in classical piano, chamber music, accompaniment and jazz. He has won regional and statewide competitions that resulted in his performing at Benaroya Hall in Seattle and as a concerto soloist with the Federal Way Symphony Orchestra. He was also selected to perform in the piano master classes of Sanford-Hill Piano Series artists such as Benedetto Lupo, Alessio Bax, the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo, Vaydm Kholodenko and Beatrice Rana. In addition to his study of music, Chong served as an international peer adviser for a year and a half and gained fluency in the Japanese language. A graduate of Henry M. Jackson High School, Danny Chong is the son of Sung Ku Chong and Won Jin Chong. 

Andrew Hollcraft graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Plastics and Composites Engineering, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry, with minors in Materials Science and Business Administration, and as the Outstanding Graduate in Plastics and Composites. Hollcraft completed three internships and 3 ½ years in research and development in high performance thermoset resin chemistry and prepreg processing for Zodiac Aerospace. He was a co-author on a study published earlier this year in Industrial and Engineering Chemistry Research journal. Hollcraft hopes to pursue a career in polymer research after completing graduate school. The son of Jon and Sandra Hollcraft, Andrew Hollcraft is a graduate of Meadowdale High School. 

Federal Way

Anthony Valente graduated in December 2015 magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a Molecular and Cellular emphasis and a minor in Mathematics. He is also the Outstanding Graduate in the Biology Department. He was a member of Associate Professor Lynn Pillitteri’s lab, investigating the genetics of leaf and reproductive development of Arabidopsis thaliana plants. He was also a member of Western’s tango and salsa dance communities and spent two years as co-instructor for Western’s tango club. In September, he’s heading to the University of Washington to pursue a doctorate in the Genome Sciences Department. He plans to pursue a thesis on developing novel statistical learning methodologies for the integration of diverse biomedical data sets. A graduate of Decatur High School in Federal Way, he is the son of Anthony Valente and Susan Trogdon.


Mika Jones graduated magna cum laude with University Honors. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Japanese and Chinese Language and Culture, and as the Outstanding Graduate in both the Japanese and Chinese programs. Jones received two Critical Language Scholarship Awards from the U.S. government for two-month intensive language immersion programs, in 2012 for Japanese at Doshisha University in Kyoto and in 2014 for Chinese at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou. In 2013, she raised money to travel and participate in volunteer relief work in the tsunami- and earthquake-disaster-affected area in the Tohoku region of Japan. During the 2014-15 academic year, she received the Monbukagakusho scholarship from the Japanese government to study at Nagoya University, where she passed the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam at Level 1, the highest level. She also received several scholarships at Western, including the MAP Scholarship, the Patricia Swenson Scholarship, the Women of Western Scholarship and the Karen L. Freeman Language Scholarship. Now, she’s thinking about moving to Japan to work and live, and perhaps attend graduate school. She’d like to live overseas permanently, using her language skills to help bring about positive change and make a difference in the lives of others. Jones, who grew up in the Solomon Islands and graduated from Ferndale High School, is the daughter of Greg and Julie Jones. 

Friday Harbor

Megan Goudie graduated in March with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Recreation and as the Outstanding Graduate in Recreation. Goudie focused on Therapeutic Recreation and volunteered at the Whatcom Center for Early Learning, a Bellingham nonprofit organization that supports young children with developmental delays. She helped facilitate outdoor education trips for youth to the Methow Valley and taught therapeutic horseback riding to people with developmental and physical impairments. She also completed an internship at the Center for Medically Fragile Children at the Providence Child Center in Portland and served as president of Western’s Recreation Club. She spent six weeks in Ladakh, India, with the Institute for Village Studies to collect data on climate change and its impacts on local wildlife.  Since graduation, she has been the cruise director on the Schooner Zodiac, based in Bellingham. She soon hopes to travel to Southeast Asia and apply for graduate school. 


Madelynn Libolt graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Education with certification as an elementary teacher, an endorsement as a Highly Qualified Middle Level Science teacher, and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Elementary Education Department. She interned for three quarters in a third-grade class at Roosevelt Elementary School in Bellingham and completed three practica experiences in science, math and literacy in schools throughout Bellingham. Later this summer, she’ll begin working as a fifth-grade teacher at Everson Elementary in the Nooksack Valley School District. A graduate of Lynden High School and Whatcom Community College, Madelynn Libolt is the wife of Josh Libolt and the daughter of Joel and Teresa Kossmann. 

Mount Vernon

Grace Ermi graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Computer Science Department. At Western, she was a Computer Science/Mathematics Scholar, a Kaiser-Borsari Computer Science Scholarship Recipient, a Washington State Opportunity Scholar and an Association for Women in Computing Grace Hopper Celebration Scholarship recipient. She also conducted research on machine learning under Assistant Professor Brian Hutchinson; the group used 1.8 million New York Times articles to build a neural network to detect patterns to classify newspaper articles. Ermi served as outreach coordinator for the Association for Women in Computing, a section leader in the WWU Viking Band and logistics chair for Relay for life. Off campus, she was a coach for Girls on the Run and YMCA Trailblazers, and a mentor for the Creators and Innovators Club for Middle School Girls. After spending a summer as a counselor at Camp Fire’s Camp Kirby on Samish Island, Ermi will begin her master’s degree in Computer Science at Western in the fall. A graduate of Mount Vernon High School, Ermi is the daughter of Monica and Gordon Hodges, and Mark and Diana Ermi. 

Port Orchard

Elizabeth Colescott graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Education with a double major in Special Education and Elementary Education and as the Outstanding Graduate in Special Education. Colescott served as president of the Student Washington Education Association and was awarded multiple scholarships for future teachers. Those who worked with Colescott during her internship praised her rapport with students and commitment to student-focused teaching. She’ll continue at Western this fall to earn her Elementary Education endorsement, then work as a substitute teacher while looking for a teaching position in the Pacific Northwest. The daughter of Jeff and Cathy Colescott, Elizabeth Colescott is a graduate of South Kitsap High School.  


Anna Wulfekuhle graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts, with University Honors, and as the Outstanding Graduate in Theatre. A graduate of the Honors Program, she focused on two demanding areas, acting and stage management. She performed in “As You Like It,” and “Urintown” and served as a deviser, performer and writer for “/faust.” She was also president of Student Theatre Productions, Western’s student-run theatre company. The daughter of Leslie and Marcus Wulfekuhle, Anna Wulfekuhle is a graduate of Puyallup High School. 

Rock Island

Rine Ray graduated cum laude in March 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with an emphasis in English Literature and as the Outstanding Graduate in the English Department. She’s known by faculty members as “a sophisticated thinker,” “brave,” “articulate,” “unafraid to assert herself,” and “the hardest-working and most intellectually advanced” student in their upper division courses. Among her other honors, she was selected to present her essay at Scholars Week on 18th century debates about animal rights and their intersection with 18th century poetry about animals. In the future, she plans to work critically with literature on animal rights. Ray, the daughter of Kristin and Brian Ray, is a graduate of Eastmont High School in East Wenatchee.


Kyle White graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Manufacturing Engineering and as the Outstanding Graduate of the Manufacturing Engineering Program. White demonstrated an ability to take his knowledge of manufacturing and apply it to real-world problem solving. He was involved with Western’s Formula SAE Team as a lead engineer, planning and executing the CNC machining of parts for the latest version of the car. He also completed an internship at Hexcel Corporation during his senior year and passed the Manufacturing Technology Certification exam for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers with the highest score ever achieved by a Western student. The son of Barbara White and Jeffrey White, Kyle White is a graduate of Shorewood High School. 


Joseph Eason graduated magna cum laude in March 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Accounting and Business Administration with a concentration in Management Information Systems. He is also the 2016 Outstanding Graduate in Decision Sciences and was selected to be the student speaker at his Commencement ceremony. He was a member of the Management Information Systems Association, and vice president of the accounting club, Beta Alpha Psi. He was also selected by faculty to be a member of IT Leadership to educate people about the MIS major in order to encourage more people to get involved. Throughout the 2014-15 school year Eason was an intern with the Washington State Auditor’s office, and spent a summer interning at Symetra Financial in Bellevue. The son of Robert and Brenda Eason and the husband of Anna Fox, Joseph Eason graduated from Spanaway Lake High School and Whatcom Community College. After graduation, he became an information security analyst for Symetra. 


Rhys Gentle graduated cum laude in December 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Cultural History and Literature and as the Outstanding Graduate in Liberal Studies. He’s known for his outstanding abilities as a writer and cultural historical analyst. He also served on the new Liberal Studies Leadership Team, a select group of students in the Humanities major who work to enhance the student experience and promote the study of the Humanities. After graduation, he plans to travel in Europe, particularly France. The son of Ronald Gentle and Elizabeth Fobes, Rhys Gentle is a graduate of Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane. 

Ruthie Jablonsky graduated in December 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Spanish and an interdisciplinary concentration from Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, and as the Outstanding Graduate in Spanish. She was known by faculty for asking provocative, productive questions. Faculty who nominated her said she is “the kind of student that professors love to have:  a creative and critical thinker, a dedicated and exhaustive researcher, a disciplined writer, and a generous person with whom it is a pleasure to have a conversation.” She is now doing research, advocacy and outreach with the American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program in Newark, New Jersey. 

Libby Keller graduated cum laude in March with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism – News/Editorial, a minor in Creative Writing and as the Outstanding Graduate in Journalism. Keller wrote for several publications at Western, receiving the Rookie of the Quarter and Outstanding Contributor awards at the Western Front in fall 2014. She was also published twice in Klipsun magazine, served as an intern at the Bellingham Herald and was nominated to present at Scholars Week. The daughter of Marilyn and Gary Keller, Libby Keller is a graduate of University High School in Spokane and Spokane Community College. 

Benjamin Ratcliff graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Behavioral Neuroscience, a minor in Communication Studies and as the Outstanding Graduate in Behavioral Neuroscience. Ratcliff worked as a resident adviser in University Residences for two years and worked in the Human Cognition and Neural Dynamics Lab. He is co-author of a research paper on how the brain processes infant faces differently than adult faces, now out for review. Ratcliff also studied abroad in India and Nepal to study global health and received the 2015-16 Goldman-Blackwell Scholarship. He was also a member of Western’s Cuong Nhu martial arts club.  Next, he’ll move to Miami to teach Biology through Teach for America, then continue on to graduate school to become a neuropsychologist. A graduate of Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane, Ratcliff is the son of Brad Ratcliff and Robin Hines. 

Spokane Valley


Erin Benson graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology and a Bachelor of Science in Geology, with University Honors, and as the Outstanding Graduate of the Anthropology Department. Benson was involved with archeology research for four years, as part of the Tse-whit-zen Village grant from the National Science Foundation. Her study of urchin harvesting at the Tse-whit-zen village site received an Outstanding Poster Award at Western’s Scholar’s Week. She spent a summer in England working at the archeological site of Thornton Abbey and another summer in geology field camp. Now, she’s heading to Indiana University Bloomington to earn a master’s degree in Economic Geology. A graduate of University High School, Benson is the daughter of Eric and Andrea Benson.



Danara King graduated cum laude in December 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology, a minor in Psychology and as the Outstanding Graduate in Sociology. In 2015 she was the recipient of the Ingeborg Paulus Sociology Scholarship, which recognizes superior academic performance; she was also recently inducted into the Alpha Kappa Delta Sociology Honor Society. In her capstone class, King examined the relationship between educational attainment and willingness to date outside one’s race or ethnicity, analyzing more than 1,500 dating profiles on Match.com. King presented her findings at the Annual Pacific Sociological Meetings in April. She also collaborated on a study with Professor Glenn Tsunokai examining the impact of skin tone on dating preferences, a study they’re preparing for publication. King is now a client services coordinator at Bensussen Deutsch & Associates in Woodinville and preparing to go to graduate school to pursue her doctorate in Sociology. The daughter of Dennis and Damiana King, Danara King is a graduate of Stanwood High School and Skagit Valley College. 

Vancouver, Washington

Taylor Guenther graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders, a minor in Psychology, and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department. In addition to maintaining a very high grade point average, Guenther was captain of Western’s Cross Country and Track Team and volunteered as a coach for Girls on the Run and at the Max Higbee Center. Most recently, she researched the impact of teachers and formal diagnosis on the self-esteem of students with dyslexia. Her many awards in athletics include selections for All-American, All-Academic, All-Conference and All-Region. She was Western’s Scholar Athlete of the Year and named a Great Northwest Athletics Conference All-Star for three years in a row. This fall, she will begin working on her master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology at Western. The daughter of Karen and Bob Guenther, Taylor Guenther is a graduate of Prairie High School and Clark College. 

Mikylah Hunsaker graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, a minor in French and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Mathematics Department. Hunsaker served as a Math Fellow, tutoring fellow students in higher level math concepts, good study skills and work habits. She also helped run the grant-funded eMAP program that had middle school students come to Western for fun math-related activities. Hunsaker was also a recipient of the Math Memorial Scholarship and studied abroad in France for a summer. Next, she’ll return to Western to Woodring College of Education’s Master in Teaching program to earn a teaching certificate and a Mathematics endorsement in order to teach high school mathematics. A graduate of Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, Mikylah Hunsaker is the daughter of Brett and Kecia Hunsaker. 

Michael Reynolds graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Geophysics, minors in Astronomy and Mathematics, and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Geology Department. While at Western, Reynolds presented his research at a Lunar and Planetary Science Conference and created a fully-immersive presentation for Western’s Spanel Planetarium about NASA’s Mars rover Spirit; it was the first research project at Western that utilized the planetarium as a presentation medium. After graduation, he plans to wrap up his research for publication, then attend graduate school to continue his study of planetary system formation and evolution. Eventually, he hopes to teach and conduct research at the college level. The son of Mike and Jennifer Reynolds, Michael Reynolds is a graduate of Mountain View High School in Vancouver. 

Vashon Island

Jolee Nebert graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Design and a minor in User Experience Design and as the Outstanding Graduate in Industrial Design. Nebert completed a yearlong internship with GE Appliance Division, where her “Microkitchen” concept won great acclaim, including coverage in the New York Times, Seattle Times and Good Morning America. She also created a concept for a redesign of a GE dehumidifier and won an award for her design for a countertop ice maker. As an interaction design intern for argodesign in Austin, Texas, she helped design a portable, gesture-controlled projector. She was also a finalist for the Industrial Designers Society of America Senior of the Year award. Next, she’ll move to Paris to work for an augmented reality company, Adok. In the fall, she plans to return to the U.S. to work for an industrial design and user experience consultancy in San Francisco. The daughter of Cynthia Evans and Ronald Nebert, Jolee Nebert is a graduate of Vashon Island High School. 




Kaitlin Dempsey graduated cum laude in March – a quarter early -- with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Anthropology – Archaeology. For her History major, she completed a research paper on how women discussed infant mortality in the U.S. in the late 1800s. In Archaeology, she did a research project involving dating historical artifacts from an archaeological site. She also began paid work on two archaeological lab projects: an analysis of shell midden from the Tse-Whit-Zen village site and a repatriation project with the Lummi Nation. She continues to work on the projects as an archaeological lab technician. Once the projects are complete, she’ll look for museum tech jobs and eventually go to graduate school, most likely for museum studies or something similar. A graduate of Coeur d’Alene High School, Dempsey is the daughter of Dermot and Rene Dempsey.


Rachel Owen graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Physics and Mathematics, with University Honors, as the College of Science and Engineering’s Presidential Scholar and as the Outstanding Graduate in Physics and Astronomy. Owen was engaged with both the Math and Physics departments as a lab teaching assistant and Math Fellow and excelled at research. As a sophomore, Owen studied quantum optics with Senior Instructor Brandon Peden in the Physics Department. She was awarded an appointment in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the University of Maryland for the summer of 2014. Owen did research in chaos nonlinear dynamics during her time there and was awarded funding to present her work at an American Physical Society conference. As a senior, she focused her research on nanophotonics with Physics Associate Professor Janelle Leger, and had the opportunity to not only give a talk at another APS conference, but to submit her work as a first-author peer-reviewed publication, a rare accomplishment for an undergraduate. In addition to her academic research, Owen is involved in promoting diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education through the WWU Women in Physics Club, which addresses the issues of gender disparity in physics. She also helped establish the Out in Science club to promote the inclusion of LGBT students and their allies in the science community.  After graduation, Owen will attend University of Michigan to pursue a doctorate in Physics with the help of significant funding from the Rackham Science Award fellowship. She hopes to someday teach and do research in academia or become a research scientist at a national lab. Owen graduated from Sandpoint High School in Sandpoint, Idaho, and is the daughter of John and Deborah Owen.




Heather Heffelmire graduated in March magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, a minor in Economics, as the Outstanding Graduate in the Political Science Department, and as the first person in her family to graduate from college. Heffelmire was an active member of the Black Student Union (BSU) during her time at Western and served as the Outreach coordinator for the BSU during her junior year. She was also a student lobbyist in Olympia, where she focused on advocating for first-generation and low-income students and students of color. Heffelmire was deeply involved with the Ethnic Student Center (ESC), organizing a rally on campus, and giving a keynote address with another student on campus activism at the 2014 ESC Conference. Throughout her time on Western's campus, Heffelmire said that she “worked to address a lack of representation for students of color at Western and the educational inequities which exist for Black students on campus.” She said she owes a debt of gratitude to other students of color who were her “biggest support system” throughout her academic career. Heffelmire recently moved across the country to teach secondary English in Baltimore City Schools as a 2016 Corps member with Teach For America.




Maya Price graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Business Administration – International Business, and French, and as the Outstanding Graduate in both the French and Management programs. While at Western, Price studied abroad in Pau, France, where she took courses in French and interned at a local bakery. She also spent a month volunteering at an orphanage in Lomé, Togo. She worked as an administrative assistant in Western’s Faculty Senate office and was involved with two task forces focusing on Western’s general education program. She also worked with a student team on an international business analysis project with Darigold which was very well received by the company. After graduation, Price hopes to work abroad in a Francophone country, and eventually earn an international MBA in Europe. 




Rebecca “Kate” Sechrist graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Studio Art and a minor in Anthropology, with University Honors, and as the Outstanding Graduate of the Art Department. Sechrist created large-scale drawings and mixed media fiber installations that made viewers stop and take notice. She presented at Western’s Annual Scholars Week multiple times and received several grants and awards, including the Double Eagle Scholarship, the J Ruth Kelsey Scholarship, the Research and Creative Opportunities Grant for Undergraduate Students and a College of Fine and Performing Arts Grant. She won first place in the 20th Annual Beyond Borders International College Art Exhibition in 2015 and served as the student representative on the Art Department’s search committee for a new ceramics faculty member. After graduation, she plans to apply for grants and residencies to travel and continue to develop her art skills, then pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree. A graduate of Grant High School in Portland, Sechrist is the daughter of Mary Sechrist and Steve Sechrist. 

South Dakota



Neal Digre graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Linguistics, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science, with University Honors, and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Linguistics Program. While maintaining a high grade point average, Digre worked as an undergraduate research assistant and was a leader in the Linguistics Club, serving as an essential liaison between the student club and the Linguistics Program. He also studied abroad at the University of Oslo and served as a peer adviser in Western’s Education Abroad office. He was well known for his enthusiasm, creativity, positive attitude, reliability and drive. Next, he’s heading to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for a master’s degree in Informatics. Digre is a graduate of Brookings High School. 



Kumagaya City

Kana Sorimachi will graduate in August with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies, a minor in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and as the Outstanding Graduate in the Communication Studies Department. Sorimachi conducted research on Japanese international students’ oral participation in U.S. classrooms, research she is preparing for a conference paper. She also worked and volunteered with Japanese exchange students at Western, helping them practice English conversation skills. Sorimachi plans to return to Japan after graduation and find a job to help and encourage more Japanese people to study abroad. Sorimachi earned her associate degree at Skagit Valley College and is a graduate of Kumagaya Upper Secondary School.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016 - 12:11pm