Western Washington University announces the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Awards winners, who will be honored at a ceremony and dinner on May 17 to kick off WWU Alumni Weekend.
This year, the association honors 18 alumni, including five Hall of Fame inductees. The association also recognizes a campus volunteer, a community volunteer, and lifetime achievement. Each recipient’s commitment to excellence and giving back is apparent and their impacts are felt by many, from those on Western’s campus to all around the globe.
The following individuals will be honored at the 2019 Annual Distinguished Alumni Awards & Recognition Celebration on May 17.
Larry “Go Vikings!” Taylor Alumni Service Award – Lisa Wolff Swanson (’95)
Scan the crowd at a men’s soccer game at Western, and you’re likely to see Lisa Wolff Swanson cheering on the Vikings with her husband Brad. Brad is a former WWU men’s soccer coach, and Lisa is a former Viking women’s soccer player. Lisa is the consummate Viking—fan, supporter, and friend to the athletics department, our student-athletes, and our community.
Not only does Lisa cheer on our players, she has served on the Viking Night planning committee for the past three years. “Courtney Stringer (former Associate Athletic Director) invited community members to join, and I had time for it.”
Athletics Hall of Fame, Soccer – Benjamin Dragavon (’07)
As a freshman in 2002, Dragavon propelled the Vikings to a 15-4-1 record, their best in 12 years, and first place in the GNAC with a perfect 4-0-0 record, their first league title in 14 seasons. He had a 0.83 GAA and seven shutouts. As a junior in 2004, Dragavon had a 0.90 GAA and six shutouts for the 13-7-0 Vikings.
Dragavon went on to play professional soccer for the Seattle Sounders from 2005-2008, seeing action in four games in 2007 as they won the United Soccer League First Division championship and the USL First Division Commissioner’s Cup. In 2009, the Sounders moved up to Major League Soccer (MLS) status and Dragavon played for them that year as a member of the MLS-Wide Reserve Goalkeeper Pool. Dragavon made his MLS debut for Seattle on April 11, 2009, in a game against the Kansas City Wizards.
Athletics Hall of Fame, Women’s Rowing – Lindsay Evelyn Mann-King (’07)
Lindsay Mann-King was part of seven straight national championships in women’s rowing at Western, an unprecedented event in NCAA rowing. Three of them came as a rower in the varsity eight shell and four as an assistant coach. Located in the No.7 seat, Mann-King helped the Vikings to NCAA Division II titles from 2005 to 2007. The three consecutive championships were a first for any of the three NCAA rowing divisions at that time. She was a first-team Collegiate Coaches Rowing Association Pocock All-American in each of those campaigns, and is one of just nine Vikings in any sport to earn All-America honors three times.
Athletics Hall of Fame, Men’s Golf – sean Packer (’08)
Sean Packer was the WWU Male Athlete of the Year for 2007-08, tying for third place at the NCAA Division II National Tournament that spring. Packer earned third-team Golf Coaches Association of America All-America honors in 2008, helping the Vikings place eighth at nationals, second at regionals and first in the GNAC with a 72.3 scoring average.
Packer had runner-up finishes at the Seattle Amateur in 2006 and 2017, while winning the Fort Lewis Amateur in 2010 and 2017. At his childhood course of Sumner Meadows Golf Links, he fired a 10-under par 62 in 2007, the course record.
Athletics Hall of Fame, Volleyball – Courtney Schneider (’08)
Courtney Schneider averaged a school-best 7.0 digs per game during her four-year career at WWU, breaking, the NCAA II national record by nearly one dig per game. She finished third nationally among NCAA II career dig leaders with a GNAC and school record of 2,695. She twice led the nation in digs per game, having a NCAA record of 7.74 as a senior. She set a NCAA II Tournament match record with 44 digs and established league and school marks with 50.
She was a unanimous GNAC all-star in each of her four years (2004 to 2007), helping the Vikings to an overall 80-28 record. She led the league in digs all four seasons, finishing with a league and school record of 851 as a senior.
Young Philanthropists of the Year Award – Douglas W. Leek (’98, ’99) and Latonya G. Leek (’00)
Douglas and Latonya Leek are the embodiment of the term college sweethearts. Before attending Western, they met briefly at the annual Students of Color Conference in Seattle. They met again at Western, and were subsequently engaged in 1998. They married in 1999 while they were students. On campus, they were active in their own ways, including student government, Black Student Union, and working in the admissions and financial aid offices. Upon graduation from Western, they moved to Seattle, where Douglas worked in education, most recently as the Director of Admissions and Enrollment, and Latonya, a program manager at McKinstry.
The couple began their venture into philanthropy in small ways by funding to endowment five existing Ethnic Student Center Scholarships. This led them to create their own scholarship, the Cora D. Hill Memorial Scholarship Endowment for Transfer Students, in honor of a dear friend and Western alumna. While that award was great, they wanted to make a more significant impact in the lives of students. As a result, they came up with the Leek Family Job Preparation and Networking Award, two $1000 awards given annually to two graduating students of color to assist with the purchase of professional clothing for job interviews.
At the close of last year, the Leeks decided they wanted to really push the envelope and decided to create the Leek Family Scholarship for undocumented students. The scholarship funds two, 2-year tuition and book awards to high achieving students. They also offered financial support to the Ethnic Student Center Technology Services. Douglas has served on the WWU Alumni Board, served as a virtual mentor for the Morse Institute for Leadership, and is an active ESC alum.
Campus Volunteer Award – Edwin Love
Volunteering is important to Edwin Love, professor of Marketing and Marketing Department Chair at Western. Before Western, he was in the Peace Corps in the Ivory Coast working in small business development and rural health projects—work he’s proud of to this day.
“We did intensive business training for women and got them microcredit from Winrock, an NGO,” he said.
He’s the chess coach for his child’s school, he’s on the board of Cedar Tree Montessori, and, at Western, he gives a great deal of his time and energy to ensuring his students succeed.
One of the ways Ed has been donating his time is through Western Engaged, a new program on campus led by the WWU Alumni Association to engage alumni and campus partners. “We’ve been doing things at the program level to support students, and Western Engaged provides structural support.” Ed’s leadership has connected alumni with each other, and with Western, creating opportunities for mentorship and networking.
Whether he’s finding recent graduates mentors or helping students identify professional opportunities, Ed Love is dedicated to making sure Western students graduate as prepared, educated professionals who can contribute to any organization, while also teaching, serving on advisory boards, and running social media groups that connect students to opportunities. With boundless generosity, Ed offers so much of himself to our students and alumni, and Western is stronger for it.
Community Volunteer Award – Rod Roth and R&D Plastics
Rod Roth was born with a plastic spoon in his mouth. His father, Merrill Roth, spent his whole career in the plastics industry, and Rod followed suit. Merrill started Grant and Roth Plastics in 1946 with a home-built compression press and one customer. At the time, there were only two other plastics processors in the Northwest.
R&D believes in giving back to the community, something Merrill started in 1972 when he established contact with Western through Claude Hill. He helped establish contact with the Murdock Foundation, which supplied a grant to help start the plastics program. In 1978, Grant and Roth Plastics started a summer internship program with WWU that ran until the company was sold. It also hired approximately 24 of the graduates of the program over the next fifteen years. Today, R&D Plastics provides three scholarships at Western, bring in interns every summer, provide guest lecturers, supply free molding material and conduct an industry tour of plastics companies in the Portland area once a year for a busload of students. The company supports the program so strongly because the WWU plastics program emphasizes hands-on learning where the students actually design parts, build molds, and mold parts.
Young Alumni of the Year – Benjamin Gibbard (’98) and Nicholas Scott Harmer (’98)
In 1997, WWU student Ben Gibbard sat down in the living room of his rental house and recorded “You Can Play These Songs Without Chords” on a cassette. He had been in the local band Pinwheel, and this cassette built on Ben’s skills as a serious musician and songwriter. Th e cassette passed from hand-to-hand, party-to-party, and generated buzz from Bellingham to Seattle. Ben gathered some friends, among them bassist Nick Harmer, who had been active in AS Productions on campus, to record some more songs, to get in a little deeper. And deeper they went, playing house parties and shows, recording musically complex and lyrically eloquent albums. In 1998, they recorded “Something About Airplanes” followed quickly by “We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes.”
And now they are immersed in success. Critically acclaimed, internationally recognized, duly celebrated, with six Grammy nominations, Ben, Nick, and the rest of Death Cab for Cutie have arrived. From their humble home studio beginnings, they have put in the hours, the passion, and the tours to make DCFC a consistent, raging success. Lucky for us, they are returning to Bellingham to celebrate with our alumni and students for WWU Alumni Weekend with their fellow alumni and “younger brothers” of music, ODESZA. Double Major is a benefit for the WWU Alumni Scholarship Fund and the biggest live event in the history of Bellingham.
“Bellingham and WWU is where it all began,” says Nick. “And as we have continued on, it’s been amazing to see and hear so much music continue to flow out of Bellingham too. So when we met ODESZA our bond of being ‘from Bellingham’ was an instant connection.”
Death Cab for Cutie has spent much of the past year on the road celebrating their latest studio album, Thank You For Today, their epic schedule highlighted by intimate theatre performances, sold out headline shows, benefit concerts, and top billed sets at festivals across both North and South America. The band also made a series of high profile TV appearances, including performances of “Gold Rush” on CBS’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, The Late Late Show with James Corden, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and the Ellen DeGeneres Show, alongside performances of “Northern Lights” on Late Night with Seth Meyers, The Late Late Show with James Corden, and NPR’s Live From Here.
Entrepreneur of the Year- Stephan Aarstol (’96)
From June 1 to September 30, Stephan Aarstol, founder and CEO of Tower Paddle Boards, wakes up in the morning, goes to his dream office—right on the beach in San Diego—and, along with his team, works until 1:30 p.m. In the afternoon, everyone goes surfing, plays volleyball, relaxes on the beach—whatever is fun.
“We’re a paddle board company and we never had a chance to go out and actually paddle board.” So Stephan had an idea: disrupt the round-the-clock work hours of the start-up culture with a true investment in work-life balance. Employees are expected to meet their goals in those five hours, but Stephan (and others who have adopted this schedule) report that leaving out the downtime of lunch breaks and the afternoon slump makes the workday more productive, the employees happier, and the culture more in tune with the company’s mission. A year into Tower’s workday experiment, Stephan published a book on the topic called “The Five Hour Workday,” which got press in more than 20 countries.
The company’s growth was explosive. They made Inc.’s list of America’s fastest growing companies in 2015, and the success keeps flowing. But Stephan, true to form, is moving into new territory, expanding Tower into electric bikes with TowerElectricBikes.com and launching a new business—NoMiddleman.com, a website that offers shoppers a place to find hundreds of direct-to-consumer brands in one spot. It’s a curated selection of the world’s most disruptive brands.
College of Business and Economics – Christy Johnson (’02)
Christy Johnson founded Artemis Connection to bring full-circle her background as an award-winning teacher with her interest in corporate strategy. An innovator who believes human capital is the key to corporate success, she is a trusted adviser to senior executives in corporations and non-profits, healthcare, technology, and the media. Her work is often a challenge—telling hard truths to powerful executives—but when they listen (and they often do) she sees them succeed.
College of Fine and Performing Arts – Andrew Vallee
Andrew was born in New Hope, Pennsylvania, near the studios of renowned furniture maker George Nakashima, and at a young age was greatly influenced by Nakashima’s work and philosophy. His family moved to Oak Harbor, where he attended high school and met Wesley Smith. He and Wes (‘95) both attended Western, and were close friends throughout school.
Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art, Andrew continued his education apprenticing for noted master furniture maker Alan Rosen of Lummi Island. “I needed a job that would further my art skills while also working with my hands. Even rudimentary things like sanding and finishing wood taught me so much.”
College of Humanities and Social Sciences – Michael Christopher Brown (’00)
Skagit-born Michael Christopher Brown learned photography from his father, who was a surgeon and photographer. Michael used his father’s darkroom at home and drew inspiration from his father’s photographs of patients in orphanages around the world, places like Mexico, Romania, and Haiti. Michael was drawn to the photos, and photographed his own family while a student at Western.
Michael specialized in photographing China, receiving notice for his work profiling industry in the Pearl River Delta on PBS Newshour. In 2010, he began shooting with an iPhone in Libya, Egypt, Congo, Central African Republic, Cuba, and Palestine. His work was published in Time, The New York Times Magazine, and National Geographic. He became known for his work on news outlets’ Instagram accounts, and brought under-reported stories of politics and life to mass audiences.
College of Science and Engineering – Ronald L. Heimark (’70)
Ronald Heimark put his WWU degree in biology and minor in chemistry to good use—as an undergraduate he worked with Professor Don Williams on the environmental contaminants and development of sea urchin embryos. Williams saw promise in Ronald and suggested he go to graduate school, and he was the first in his family to do so. “No one in my family had ever thought about going to graduate school.”
He attained his doctorate at the University of California, Davis in biochemistry and was a researcher at the University of Washington as a postdoctoral fellow in biochemistry and pathology. He left academia to help start ICOS in Seattle, a pharmaceutical company. He was working with a small team of company leaders and scientists to develop a drug for hypertension when he made a discovery: “The drug had…other properties.” The drug is Cialis, the very successful treatment for male erectile dysfunction.
Ronald’s relationship with Western continues today. He has served on the College of Science and Engineering Advancement board and remains close to Western faculty. He’s very supportive of STEM at Western, in part because of the encouragement he received as a student to attend graduate school.
Huxley College of the Environment – Michael West Cox (’81)
After spending a dedicated 30-year career in environmental policy and regulations, Michael Cox was a little fed up. He had spent his career working on environmental issues including writing drinking water rules and working on climate change policy, serving under six Presidents and seeing the development of the EPA. In 2017, he was disappointed in the new direction environmental policy was taking—the current federal administration rolled in with sweeping reforms, many of which would unstitch policies Michael either wrote or upheld during his career. So upon his retirement, he penned an open letter to incoming EPA chief (and now former employee) Scott Pruitt, blasting Pruitt’s denial of climate science, budget cuts, and the appointment to the EPA people who are openly hostile to environmental protection. His letter was covered in the national press.
As a student in 1979 Michael majored in environmental studies and learned a great deal from the intersection of environmental studies and social justice. He went into the Peace Corps and spent time as a teacher in East Africa. He returned to the U.S. and worked at the EPA for four years. In 1991, one of his big projects was working on the national lead and copper drinking water rule. “There was a lead and copper rule and regulation, and I was the manager of the rule.”
Woodring College of Education – Karen Symms Gallgher (’67)
Karen Symms Gallagher and her husband Pat met at Western where she earned her degree in Political Science. When they married, they made a pact—they would move for the best opportunity, hers or his. Along the way, they accumulated four more degrees and experience in classroom teaching, field research, university administration and teacher education. They moved from Seattle to Chapel Hill, NC to Indiana to Illinois to Ohio to Kansas and now Los Angeles. “The move from Ohio to Kansas was for me, and the move from Kansas to Los Angeles was also for me. So we ended up being true to our pact.”
Inspired by the community of teachers who pulled together to send her to college, Karen has dedicated her career to education, championing students who, like her, depended on scholarships and financial aid to attend college. As Dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, she has been an innovative leader in creating opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds.
Lifetime Achievement Award – Hoyt Gier (’80)
Hoyt Gier grew up in Ferndale. A stand-out football player, he attended Western and played wide receiver for the Vikings. He had a distinguished career, helping the Vikings win a NAIA District 1 Championship with a 48-28 win over Pacific Lutheran University, and in 1977 he was an important player in the team pursing a district title in a game played in the Kingdome. As a wide receiver, he was Honorable mention NAIA All-American (1978), NAIA District 1 all-star (1977, 1978), and All-Evergreen Conference (1977, 1978). He set records at Western for receptions in a single game (11), career (148), and in yards receiving in a single game (187) and career (2,321). He caught 16 career touchdown passes and caught at least one pass in all 37 games played. He was inducted into the WWU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993.
At age 40, after sixteen years in the building materials business, he quit his six-figure job in Seattle and moved his family to Hanover, New Hampshire, where he enrolled in Dartmouth’s Tuck School to pursue an M.B.A. Two years later, Hoyt turned down offers to return to the building materials industry—he set his sights on Wall Street.
Hoyt opened the Goldman Sachs Private Wealth Management office in Seattle and worked there until 2010, when he joined Citi Private Bank as Regional Market Manager of the Pacific Northwest. In 2016, he was promoted to oversee both the Northern California and Pacific Northwest markets and has relocated to the firm’s San Francisco office, while continuing to spend time in the Pacific Northwest.