¡Viva México!

On a warm late summer evening, a crowd of people gathered on the lawn at Heritage University. They stood side by side, row by row; their attention focused on a man on the stage holding the flag of México. He is from the Mexican Consulate and traveled halfway across the state of Washington to deliver El Grito de Delores, the Cry of Delores.

“¡Mexicanos! ¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria! ¡Viva Hidalgo!,” he called out.

“¡Viva Hidalgo!” the crowd responded.

“¡Viva Morelos!,” he cried. The crowd called back, “¡Viva Morelos!”

Back and forth they went, the official crying out and the crowd responding:

¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!

¡Viva Allende!

¡Vivan Aldama y Matamoros!

¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!

Until the call reached its crescendo.

Vendors sold everything from handmade traditional crafts to authentic Mexican foods.

“¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!”

The official rang a bell and waved the flag while the crowd cheered. Then, all raised their voices and sang the Mexican national anthem.

“Mexicanos, al grito de guerra el acero aprestad y el bridón. Y retiemble en sus centros la Tierra, al sonoro rugir de el cañón,” the song begins.

The crowd was a sea of emotion. Elderly men and ladies stood with their backs pencil straight, tears streaming down their faces, hands held across their chest in the saludo a la bandera. Parents’ attention was momentarily drawn from their playing children as they were swept away by the moment. It was one of those rare moments when pride, respect and unity were so palatable that they seemed to hang in the air.

This was El Grito de Dolores at Heritage University.


El Grito de Dolores is for Mexico and its citizens what the 4th of July is for the United States. It commemorates the events that sparked the Mexican War of Independence.

In the middle of the night on September 16, 1810, in the city of Dolores, Mexico, Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang the church bell, calling his congregation to assemble. He addressed the crowd, urging them to revolt against Spanish rule. His speech sparked an 11-year war in which Mexico gained independence from Spain. Every year, on September 15, at 11:00 p.m., Mexico’s president reenacts the cry from the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City. The call is simultaneously reenacted in cities and towns, large and small, throughout the country, with each community’s highest-ranking official serving in the place of the president.

Jennifer Renteria-Lopez

“Of all the cultural activities that take place in Mexico, El Grito is one of the most significant,” said Jennifer Renteria-Lopez, director of Heritage University’s High School Equivalency Program and one of the lead organizers of the university’s El Grito celebration.

“For Mexicans, it means we are our own people. We are a single, independent country in control of our own government and direction.”

El Grito brings together communities for celebrations that last for days. There are parades, carnivals, Banda music, street dances and food, lots and lots of food. It’s a whirlwind of color and sounds that culminates with the late- night reenactments.

Once this young celebrator got the mic, there was no getting it back from him.


For people of Mexican descent, like Renteria-Lopez, living in the Yakima Valley, distance and time often lead to a disconnect from their cultural roots. Renteria-Lopez was born in the United States but was taken to Mexico by her mother when she was just three months old. She lived there submerged in her culture until she and her now husband moved to the US when she was 19 years old.

“We were searching for a better life,” she said.

Like so many Mexican nationals who immigrated to the Yakima Valley, Renteria- Lopez came to the country with a strong work ethic but limited English skills. She learned about Heritage’s HEP program, where she could take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and earn a G.E.D. She enrolled and became so connected to the program that she continued to take ESL classes and volunteered to help other students long after she graduated. Before long, her volunteer work turned into a paid position. Her academic journey also progressed.

She enrolled in a local college, earned an associate degree, transferred to a nearby university, and earned a bachelor’s degree in information technology. Eventually, she worked her way to director of the HEP program, and this year, she graduated with a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership.

Renteria-Lopez and her husband built a good life for themselves and their little family which includes two young daughters. However, the longer they lived here in the United States, the more disconnected they became from their cultural heritage. They found themselves spending more time celebrating the customs and holidays of this country than those of the country where they were raised and where much of their family still lives.

The face painting booth was one of the most popular activities.

“We left behind everything when we came to the United States, even our culture,” she said. “When you immigrate to a new country, you are an outsider. You want to fit in with your new home and the people who live here, so you set aside part of yourself and adopt the culture of those in your new home. You walk between two cultures. You are not American or Mexican; you’re a little of both.”

Her story, she said, is not unique. As life gets busy and families integrate into their communities, it is easy to lose sight of traditions, especially for things like El Grito that involved whole communities celebrating in unison, and where there are no such celebrations in your adopted country.

Five years ago, when Heritage’s president, Andrew Sund, announced the university would be hosting an El Grito celebration on campus, Renteria-Lopez signed up to be part of the planning committee.

Young dancers from Grupo Vicio
performed Mexican folk dances.

“There was nothing else like this in the Yakima Valley,” she said. “You’d see Cinco de Mayo events, but those are not as culturally significant as people think they are. They are an Americanized version of a Mexican holiday that is really only celebrated in one region of Mexico.”

El Grito, however, is immensely significant. It’s a point of national pride that involves every citizen in every state, city and town. It is part of the cultural fabric of the nation. And, bringing it to Heritage was huge, she said.

“I’ve lived in the United States for 17 years. This was the first time since I left Mexico that I was able to celebrate El Grito and the first time my children have been able to connect to this part of their cultural heritage,” she said.

Gerardo J. Guiza Vargas from the Mexican Consulate in Seattle performs the El Grito de Dolores.

Renteria-Lopez has been part of the planning committee every year since El Grito was first celebrated at Heritage in 2019. This year’s event brought more than 800 people to the Heritage campus. Children made crafts and got their faces painted. Families played games together, including loteria, a traditional game much like bingo, danced to Banda music, and ate authentic Mexican food before the culminating Cry of Delores.

“It was such an emotional experience, being here on the campus, with others who, like me, have lost touch with this part of themselves, and being part of the team that brought El Grito to the Yakima Valley,” said Renteria-Lopez. “I am very proud of being part of this experience and proud that Heritage is giving Mexican Americans the opportunity to celebrate their heritage and share it with the rest of the community.”


Houdini Was


Once upon a time, a class of second graders at White Bluffs Elementary School in Richland, Wash. became published authors. It all started when their classroom pet – a hamster named Houdini – unexpectedly died. They loved Houdini very much, and they were sad.

The children’s teacher, Christan Connors, thought that if her students could journal about Houdini, they could process their feelings. She was right. “We realized she was so much more than just a hamster,” Connors said.

Connors developed her students’ writings and drawings they made into a book manuscript. They called it Houdini Was – as in, “Houdini was so much more than a classroom pet. She was a superhero, a spy, an escape artist, an athlete, and a clown.”

“She reminded us to eat our vegetables and get exercise, but also other important things like ‘never give up’ and ‘always be nice to your friends,’” Connors said.

Connors submitted the manuscript to a Scholastic book publishing contest for children. Two months later, they got the news: Out of more than 2,000 manuscripts received, Houdini Was won the contest. Scholastic published 1 million copies of the book, and children around the country learned the story of the little pet hamster and all she taught the children who loved her.


Fast forward to 2022, 12 years after the book’s publication. Christan Connors’s parents, Ken and Sharon Smith, had always loved the book. As a Heritage University board member, Ken Smith was aware of the efforts of Yakima Valley Partners for Education’s (YVPE) work to help children meet and exceed third-grade reading proficiency; Heritage’s Collective Impact (CI) division has been the convening and organizing entity for YVPE. The message that helping kids learn to read is everyone’s job resonated with Smith.

“Ken and I talked about how bilingual books help us in our literacy work not just with the children but with parents, too, because many parents and grandparents in the valley don’t speak English,” said Suzy Diaz, Collective Impact director. “If we can support Spanish-speaking parents in reading to their child, there’s the possibility that both will enjoy reading more and that can create at-home literacy habits.”

This summer, Christan Connors and one of her 2010 second graders, Lily Ferguson, read Houdini Was to a class of three- to five-year-olds at Heritage’s Early Learning Center (ELC).

Smith bought the publishing rights to the book, had it redesigned to include Spanish along with English, and had it printed. Since its Spring 2023 publication, YVPE partners Educational Service District (ESD) 105, Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic, and the United Family Center Behavior Health and Family Services have been distributing the book throughout the Valley. Sixteen libraries in the Yakima Public Library System, as well as the bookmobile, received copies.

A life-size Houdini “learning ambassador,” or mascot, was produced and now brings the story to life at many readings.

“We felt a mascot would make it that much more fun for kids and adults,” Diaz said. “So now ESD 105 brings her to the Yakima Farmers Market, Yakima Valley Farmworkers Clinic has made her part of its medical outreach, and the United Family Center is taking her to Yakima Valley Libraries this fall. They distribute copies of Houdini Was as well as other books for new readers.

“It’s been very popular,” Diaz said. “We promote it on our social media, which also gets shared a lot. People tell us they look to our page as a resource – that is progress in terms of keeping excitement for reading going among families.”

“The ripple effect from this book keeps going,” Connors said.


Just as early reading matters for kids, digital literacy is important for adults, and that’s part of YVPE’s work as well. Many adults in families that are served by YVPE lack the basic computer skills necessary to navigate much of modern daily living and caring for a family.

Christan Connors (back center) and Lily Ferguson (back right) pose with Houdini and the children from Heritage’s Early Learning Center (ELC).

As a part of its adult-oriented digital literacy effort, YVPE Food Security Community Liaison Lorena Legorreta developed a curriculum that can be used to teach adults how to use computers. She’s taught instructors how to provide that education.

In the last year, YVPE has opened the online world and all its resources to 160 Spanish-speaking adults who previously lacked computer knowledge and skills. Now, things like applying for public benefits, searching for available food, developing a good food plan, and even finding recipes are possible.

The adults have continuing access to computer labs at Nuestra Casa in Sunnyside and United Family Center in Grandview.

Third-grade literacy progress is slow but steady. YVPE statistics show individual growth and improvement in third-grade reading skills with, so far, slight increases in the overall district-level percentage in some schools.

“In the work we’re doing, we don’t always see the outcome until later,” Diaz said. “We don’t know what the reading scores will look like in

three years, but we know we need everyone to help bring this focus to literacy.

“Our work gets books into homes and can start to get families reading,” Diaz said.

“Looking at the big picture, being readers helps us make sense of the world. Equipping our young people with global skills for citizenship in the 21st century really does start now.


Yakima Valley Partners for Education (YVPE) is comprised of more than 20 organizations across K-12, higher education, healthcare, and housing.

Each organization has a particular focus along the cradle-to-career continuum – of which the pivotal points are kindergarten readiness, third-grade reading, middle school math, high school completion, higher education access, and workforce.

“We meet every month to talk about community- based outreach for literacy,” said Suzy Diaz. “Our purpose is to identify, support and promote family-needed initiatives.”

Two elements – food security and literacy – are always a YVPE focus.

Yakima Valley Partners for Education logo

YVPE’s literacy efforts focus on the following:

Connecting with parents and caregivers: Trying to really reach parents and other family members and caregivers to communicate the importance of developing a culture of reading.

Creating space: Asking parents and caregivers, “Do you have books in your home, space in your home, an ability to create quiet time?”

Providing bilingual offerings: English and Spanish together on the pages of books is very important.

Making books relevant: Books must be 1) culturally relevant and 2) reflect a child’s experience – otherwise, we will lose the connection to them and their lives that is needed to move ahead in reading.

Meeting kids where they are: What do they like and enjoy? What would they like to read about?

Show respect for various cultures: Books that are based on honoring one’s culture, expression, history, and creativity carry a lot of weight



Collaboration as Smart as the Students It Supports

Close up shot of a fresh high quality gold foamy beer poured in a transparent glass on a background of collected biological hop flowers in plantation with a sun shining.


Some of the best ideas take shape over a pint of beer. Take, for example, Heritage Collaboration, a partnership between one of Yakima’s largest hop growers and three craft breweries, all to raise funds for Heritage University scholarships. It began with a spark of an idea.

Heritage University board member Ellen Wallach is known for her hands-on approach to her service to the organizations she supports. A member of Heritage’s fund development committee, she is always trying to find creative ways to help the university build funding streams that can lead to long-term support for the institution and its students. A conversation with a dear friend sparked one such idea. Her friend’s neighbor Manny Chao is the founder and co-owner of Georgetown Brewing, a popular Seattle brewery. She asked her friend if she could introduce her to Chao.


“I had this idea that Georgetown and Heritage could work together to build an income stream for Heritage that would also serve their (Georgetown’s) interests,” she said.

Her friend reached out to Chao and told him a bit about Heritage and the work the university does in the Yakima Valley. Most of the hops that Chao uses to brew his beers come from the areas  surrounding the university. The farmworkers who care for and harvest the hops he depends upon are the families, friends and neighbors of the students who attend Heritage. Chao was intrigued.

“I was attracted by the whole idea of outreach to indigenous and immigrant families,” he said. “I, myself, am an immigrant. My family moved to the United States when I was a child so I could have a better education and more opportunities. There was a natural tie between Georgetown and the Yakima Valley, and providing educational opportunities for the families of the migrant workers who work so hard added to the appeal.”

However, Chao said the impact could be greater than just his brewery producing a single beer. “There are so many breweries in Washington state. I told Ellen we should bring in a hop grower to provide hops to several breweries and bring them on board, which would help spread the word about Heritage further.”

Wallach was on it! She knew just who to call— fellow Heritage board member Bob Gerst.


“Ellen called and told me about her discussion with Manny. She asked if I knew who she could work with to capitalize on the idea,” said Gerst.

He knows a thing or two about the players in the hops and beer game; he is Vice President of Human Resources at John I. Haas, one of the largest hops producers in the state of Washington and, for that matter, the world. Haas has long been a supporter of Heritage University and its students. Over the years, they’ve sponsored the university’s largest fundraising event, Scholarship Dinner, provided student internship opportunities, and hired its graduates.

HBC 1134

He explained that while supporting Heritage and its students feels good, it is really a strategic move.

“Supporting Heritage makes good business sense,” he said. “The more educated we can make the workforce in the Yakima Valley, the better we all are, whether it is in the number of people we (Haas) hire or the environment that is created by an educated population. We are all better off by Heritage being successful.

“My role in this project was connecting the dots.”


Gerst knew about a new experimental hop variety that Haas’s sales force was starting to push out to brewers—HBC1134.

Michael Ferguson is the hop breeder extraordinaire who developed HBC1134. He’s spent several years breeding, growing, testing, and growing and testing again and again new varieties of hops in search of one that would produce a European-style hop but with much better yields that need less land and resources to produce than the hops currently being used. The key was it not only had to meet these production standards, but it also had to have the scent and flavor that matched the old variety, and those results had to be consistent year after year with every generation of cloned and propagated plants. Not an easy task!

“You’re doing well as a breeder if you get one good variety out of every 100,000 plants,” said Ferguson.

HBC1134 looked to be a winner. He sent a small sample to Haas brewmaster Virgil McDonald for the next step in the experiment, developing the recipe.



“We take an innocuous beer, add the hop, and taste the beer to identify the flavors the hop throws,” said McDonald. “Then we catalog it and try it with different yeast strains and malts. You know pretty quickly in the first brew or two if you have something to move forward.”

McDonald liked what he was tasting with HBC1134. It lends itself to a nice pilsner or lager- style beer, he said.

Brewer Max Snider draws a sample of Heritage Collaboration Lager.

At the time he heard the news about the yet- to-be-named Heritage Collaboration, he just happened to be in conversations with Chao about his desire to build a new recipe for a lager. The timing was perfect! Georgetown needed hops and wanted to collaborate. Haas had the hops, wanted to collaborate, and needed brewers to

The first batch is served at Haas’s tasting room.

introduce beers made from the hop to consumers. Plus, both wanted to do something to support Heritage students. All that remained was to bring a few more brewers on board.

Chao reached out to his good friend Kevin Smith. Smith is the owner of Bale Breaker Brewing Company in Yakima. When he heard about the opportunity to create a beer using the new hop and do good for his community, he joined the collaboration.

“We enjoy making these charitable beers to give back to the community,” Smith said. “We were excited about making good beer with friends and supporting Heritage University, an educational institution in our own backyard.”

At the same time, Haas’s sales team reached out to another Yakima brewer, Zack Turner, at Single Hill Brewing. They were the first brewery to release their version of Heritage Collaboration at a launch event in early October.



With the wheels in motion and all the initial players on board, all that was left was to brew up some batches and launch it out into the world. Haas was the first to go live. They hosted a tasting party in late September showcasing the basic brew recipe that the craft brewers would build upon.

The public got its first taste of Heritage Collaboration Lager at Single Hill Brewing in Yakima.

Single Hill followed suit a few weeks later. In mid-October, Heritage hosted an alumni gathering coinciding with the launch day for Heritage Collaboration at Bale Breaker, and a second alumni gathering took place in November at Georgetown for their brew launch. At each brewery, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their version of Heritage Collaboration are directed to Heritage University for scholarships.

Just how far Heritage Collaboration could go and how big an impact it could have on students remains to be seen. It all depends upon consumer tastes and demand for the hop that has yet to be officially named. However, said David Wise, vice president for advancement at Heritage, the impact has the potential to be great.

“Every successful venture started as an idea that grows into action and has a host of people behind it that believed in its power. When you think about it, this is the story of Heritage and our students, how we started, how we grew, and how we’ve been successful,” he said. “We’re all raising our pints, cheering on this grand collaboration, excited about what the future may bring.”

Teaching Through Tech


In the future, the tour guides at your local museum may look a little different. Meet “Astro”, a 17-inch-tall, plastic, metal and microchipped companion being readied by Heritage students to accompany patrons as they make their way through museum displays and collections.

Part “Alexa,” part computer, Astro currently exists as a “household helper/security assistant,” as marketed by its creator, Amazon. Astro is comprised of a computer screen bearing circles that look like eyes, a stem-like portion that resembles a neck, and wheels that seem like a combination of arms and legs. Its programmers note that “he” so sufficiently resembles a human that it’s hard to refer to this little robot as “it.”

A few months ago, Amazon approached Heritage with an opportunity for computer science students to work with the tech company’s project engineers to program Astro for use in museums and cultural centers. The students would add to existing programming to tailor it to museums’ needs with the goal of creating a personalized and interactive experience for patrons and the museum alike.

The content information programmed into Astro would depend upon the museum in which it was serving. In a museum in the Yakima Valley with exhibits about the flora and fauna of the area, for example, patrons may stand in front of a display and see a red-wing black bird sitting on a fence rail. The patron can ask Astro, “What does a red- wing black bird sound like?” On cue, Astro would play an audio file of the bird’s call.

Colton Maybee (left), Robert Barragan (center) and Salvador Ayala (right) run tests on their Astro program.

Three students signed on to the project: Colton Maybee, Robert Barragan and Salvador Ayala. All three are upperclassmen majoring in computer science. They started working on the project this summer and continue to spend at least three days a week using Amazon program language to create their customized audio/command system.

In preparation for their work, Barragan shadowed museum managers to learn more about their organizations’ needs and how they can help Astro meet their needs. “One of the things they identified they’d like was an evacuation drill function that doesn’t have any language barriers,” Barragan said. “That’s a very specific need that we can definitely program in.”

Partnering museums can choose audio from the internet as well as play their own audio files, with the students assisting in programming. Students received instruction from their Amazon mentors at the start of the project. “They’re always there for us for any questions we might have, but mostly, we’ve been free to work on our own, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” said Maybee.

One of the things identified is Astro needs to have prompts programmed that allow it to go from point A to point B, following someone who has asked a specific command, and to keep within three to four feet of a group or tour guide. Maybee explained that when Astro is ready to go to a specific museum, he’ll be programmed with the museum layout and use a laser system, advanced learning algorithms, and sensor fusion to know where he is. Like Alexa, Astro will only respond when specifically asked and only to certain people.

Astro is one of two Amazon-involved projects Heritage students are working on via internships, said David Wise, Heritage’s vice president of advancement and communications. “Amazon had this really brilliant idea to provide museums with this robot to add to the immersive experience of tours, particularly at smaller, rural museums such as the ones you find in the Yakima Valley,” Wise said. “It’s one of two really meaningful projects they’ve committed to this year.”

Astro is programmed to follow the tour group, staying within three or four feet of the party.

Amazon partners say their involvement can help students of all backgrounds to become builders of the future and to be representative of all customers the organization serves. “This partnership is part of an effort to reach students where they’re at and create that bridge to career opportunities and help ensure a future of diverse leaders,” said Lindsey Neby of Amazon. “This may seem small relative to the size and business of Amazon, but the impact is huge for those in this community. We’re first and foremost a customer-centric company, and this is the right thing to do by our customers and our geographic neighbors.”

Ayala, who was born in Mexico, calls the work a “dream come true.” Barragan says it’s the “most fun” project he’s worked on.

Could lots of Astros soon be rolling around museums across the country?

“This will work in the museums around Yakima because their size and numbers of visitors are more modest,” said Maybee. “It’s a good place to start this off. As technology progresses, who knows? This could be a possibility, and we’re the first to be working with it.”

Íkuuk iwá Wának’it, níiptit ku túskaas lkw’i, Wisalíla Álxayxpa…

Ask Alexa for something called the “Ichishkíin flash briefing,” and the first thing you hear is the date. In this case, the statement above translates in English to “Today is Monday, November 27.”

It is followed by a short news and information piece, a weather forecast, and information on a community activity or two, all of which will be in the native language of the Yakama people. You can hear flash briefings on a lot of platforms and about a lot of subjects and places, but until now, none in Ichishkíin. The new briefings are the result of another Heritage-Amazon project, meant to pique interest and challenge Ichishkíin language learners from beginners to moderately skilled to fluent. For those who don’t understand Ichishkíin, there is an English version as well.

Working in Amazon-funded internships, two Heritage students, Shelby Yallup and Angelique Williams, gather information and write short news items. Another project partner at the Yakama Nation, Keegan Livermore, translates their copy into Ichishkíin, then speaks and records it. The students do some light editing and then upload the recording to the Amazon platform.

Twice a week – on Tuesdays and Fridays – a two- to four-minute briefing is available on command via Amazon’s Alexa. It’s a one-of-a-kind learning and “tech” experience for Yallup and Williams – and it’s a significant part of an effort being made by the Yakama tribe to keep the officially “endangered” language of Ichishkíin, also known as Sahaptan, alive, understood, and spoken.

Shelby Yallup (left) and Angelique Williams (center) work with Keegan Livermore to produce the Yakama news briefing that is broadcast in Ichishkíin over Alexa.

Increasingly serious efforts over the last couple of years to teach the language to more young people began with a decision by the Yakama tribal council. “Basically, they said, ‘This is a big deal, and we need to do it right to keep our language going,” Livermore said.


“Doing it right” translated to hiring Livermore as strategic planning manager of the Yakama Nation Language Program and bringing on five full-time staff members he directs. Now a program that had been dormant is making strides.


This is an exciting opportunity for the students to work with cutting edge technology, real-world work experience, [and] Amazon’s culture of Leadership Principles, which provides a mental framework for decision making, problem-solving, and professional growth.–Lindsey Neby, Amazon

Staff members are creating learning materials, instructing community teachers, and passing on their knowledge wherever they can.

“With only a couple dozen speakers currently, that’s important,” Livermore said. “Yakama people with a ‘very high’ proficiency, meaning fluent or near fluent, are our grandparents’ generation. We have a couple of speakers who are a little younger and pretty good at the language, and they’re very involved culturally and with the community. We’re in Head Start, pre-K through 12, and high schools.”

Williams says she believes in the project and what it can do for the Yakama people and others. “Ichishkíin is the first language in this area, and we can be fluent in it again.” “We always ask, ‘How do we push those who have learned a little to use what they know and learn more?’” said Livermore. “This is a great way.”

He appreciates Heritage’s and Amazon’s involvement as critical pieces of the puzzle. “As an Ichishkíin speaker, I value Heritageconnecting on this with the tribe and with Amazon.They are both true community partners.”

Heritage University joins national initiative to boost college completion rates


Heritage University joins national initiative to boost college completion rates 

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University has joined the Complete College America’s (CCA) “Complete College Accelerator,” an ambitious nationwide initiative to improve student success and close gaps in college access and completion. Heritage University is one of 80 colleges and universities from eleven states to join in this effort.

Complete College America is a national, non-profit organization whose mission is to raise postsecondary attainment in the United States. It selected eleven state partners, including the Washington Student Achievement Council (whose membership includes Heritage University) to join the first Complete College Accelerator cohort. Using funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Intermediaries for Scale (IFS) Initiative, CCA will work with the eleven state agencies over the next four years to implement research-based practices geared to dramatically increase college completion on a statewide scale.

“This initiative, dedicated to empowering students to realize their dreams of higher education and degree attainment, will be groundbreaking,” declared Dr. Andrew Sund, President of Heritage University. “The Complete College Accelerator program will significantly enhance our strategies to ensure students are not only successful in their college journey but also excel in their careers. Using funding from the national grant program, Heritage University will work with the Complete College Accelerator program to conduct assessments of institutional performance, build data capacity, and develop and implement strategies to improve student outcomes.”

“While persistence and retention are finally returning to pre-pandemic levels at both two-year and four-year institutions, there are troubling gaps in access, completion, and career outcomes that continue to persist for students from underserved communities,” said Yolanda Watson Spiva, Ph.D., president of CCA. “As institutions and economies continue to shift following the pandemic, acting now is critical to long-term success. Through the Complete College Accelerator, these eleven states and more than eighty participating institutions will build their capacity to scale, implement, and sustain evidence-based practices that improve college completion rates for all students.”

To learn more about Complete College America and Complete College Accelerator, visit completecollege.org. For more information, contact Davidson Mance, media relations coordinator at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

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Native American Actor/Comedian Tatanka Means to appear at Heritage University November 8, 2023


Native American Actor/Comedian Tatanka Means to appear at Heritage University November 8, 2023

Toppenish, Wash. – Native American actor and comedian Tatanka Means, of Oglala Lakota, Omaha, Yankton Dakota and Diné descent, will appear at Heritage University’s Smith Family Hall on Wednesday, November 8, 2023. The event, which begins at 6:30 p.m. is open to the public and admission is free. The Tatanka Means show is presented as part of Heritage’s celebration of Native American Heritage Month.

Means is an award-winning actor and stand-up comedian, who has appeared in numerous film and TV shows. His most recent appearance is in the film “Killers of The Flower Moon” directed by Martin Scorsese, released this month. Means has appeared in films including “A Million Days to Die in the West,” “Tiger Eyes,” and “More Than Frybread.” His TV roles include “Reservation Dogs,” “The Liberator” and “The Son,” to name a few.

Means performs stand-up comedy throughout Indian Country, spreading laughter and messages of motivation and inspiration to all ages. He is one of the busiest and most sought-after touring Native American comedians. Means was named “Entertainer of the Year” by the National Indian Gaming Association. Other awards include Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role award at the Red National Film Festival for “Once Upon a River”; Best Supporting Actor at the American Indian Film Festival for “Tiger Eyes”; and Best Male Actor at the Dream Speakers Film Festival for “Derby Kings.”

For more information on the Tatanka Means event at Heritage University, please contact Maxine Janis at (509) 865-0737 or janis_m@heritage.edu or Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

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Heritage University honors Native American elders, welcomes Indigenous actor/comedian Tatanka Means as highlights of Native American Heritage Month celebrations


Heritage University honors Native American elders, welcomes Indigenous actor/comedian Tatanka Means as highlights of Native American Heritage Month celebrations


Toppenish, Wash. – November is Native American Heritage Month, and Heritage University is celebrating with a variety of events that honor Native Americans in our communities, including the Honoring Our Elders ceremony, taking place on Wednesday, November 8, 2023. During this event, we celebrate four Yakama Nation elders for their lifetime contributions to the Yakama people and their community. This year’s recipients are Marlene Hunt White, Edward Arlen Washines, Gene Sutterlict and Iola Smartlowit Totus.

Marlene Hunt White YaYamptnikt has spent 50 years supporting the health and well-being of the people in her community. Through her work with Yakama Nation’s Public Works department, she ensured that her community had clean drinking water by helping individuals and tribal entities build and maintain viable wells and septic systems.

Wahteshaouct/Shxmyah Edward Arlen Washines has lived his life driven by an unwavering commitment to uplifting his community through the development of education, social services, and employment. As an educator and director of Higher Education, he inspired Yakama Nation youth to graduate from high school, pursue college degrees, and return to their homelands to use their skills and talents to benefit their community.

Wah-Shu-Lums Gene Sutterlict, Sr. is passionate about protecting and preserving the forest of the Yakama Nation and the sacred sites that are located within those lands. He’s spent his lifetime walking the fine line between harvesting renewable timber resources and preserving the woodlands. For almost 40 years he worked in forestry for the Yakama Nation, and the trees harvested brought in revenue that funded tribal services that house, educate, and support the health and well-being of the people of the Yakama Nation.

Iola Smartlowit Totus Kwasa dedicated her life to nurturing and raising nine children. Along her six biological children, she selflessly welcomed three more into her home, creating a loving and expansive family. Iola instilled within her children a deep appreciation for the natural world and an unwavering respect for their rich Yakama culture, passing down invaluable traditions. For years, she and her family journeyed across the powwow circuit, bonding and celebrating their heritage as they danced and shared the beauty of their Yakama culture with the world. In her retirement years, she continues to help Yakama elementary school-aged children connect with their culture by teaching them their traditional language.

The annual Honoring Our Elders ceremony will be held in Heritage University’s Smith Family Hall on Wednesday, November 8, 2023, at 8:30 a.m. This event is by invitation only. Also, their stories are featured in a series of full-page ads, each dedicated to a specific elder, that are running in the Yakama Nation Review through November. Framed copies of these ads are being added to the permanent display of honorees at the university in the Violet Lumley Rau Center.

Other events Heritage is holding in November in observance of Native American Heritage Month as designated by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 include:

November 1 and November 16, 2023, 12:00 p.m. – Native Flute Music by Jeremy Garcia (Yakama)

Jeremy Garcia will perform Native flute music during a noontime concert in the Eagle’s Café at Heritage University on both November 1 and November 16.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023, 8:00 a.m. – Flag-raising Ceremony

Heritage University will raise the flags of the Yakama Nation, the state of Washington and the United States during a ceremony featuring the Yakama Warriors. The ceremony will begin at 8:00 a.m. and will be held at the main campus entrance.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023, 6:30 p.m. – Reclaiming the Stage – Indigenous Style: An Evening with Tatanka Means

Heritage is hosting a performance by Indigenous actor and comedian Tatanka Means called Reclaiming the Stage – Indigenous Style, an Evening with Tatanka Means at 6:30 p.m., also in Smith Family Hall. As an actor, Means is currently appearing in the Martin Scorsese film “Killers of the Flower Moon.” He’s also appeared in the films “A Million Ways to Die in the West” and “More Than Frybread.” His TV roles also include appearances on “Reservation Dogs,” “The Liberator” and “The Son.” Means is also a much sought-after Native American comedian. Means’ performance at Heritage is free and open to the public.

November 14, 2023, 12:00 p.m. – The Painted Teepee Story told by The Artist, Laurie White Horse

The public is invited to hear artist Laurie White Horse speak about the recent painting of the Heritage Teepee. She’ll share information about the symbolism behind the animals, nature and landscapes now seen on the Teepee, and its significance to Indigenous people.

November 15, all day – Rock Your Mocs

Rock Your Mocs is an expression of tribal identity where we invite people to wear moccasins on November 15 as a way to celebrate Indigenous traditions and culture around the world.

November 16, 2023, 12:00 p.m. – Movie Talk – AMÁ

This documentary covers the untold story of the involuntary sterilization of Native American women by Indian Health Services well into the 1970s. This will be shown in the Harry Kent Classroom.

November 17, 2023, 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. – Holiday Bazaar

The Holiday Bazaar will be held in the Patricia Wade Temple Room and is presented by the American Indigenous Business Leaders Chapter at Heritage University.

November 20, 2023, 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. – Fireside Chat with Kip Ramsey

Kip Ramsey shares his perspective of a 2019 United States Supreme Court Case involving his company, Cougar Den vs. the Washington State Department of Licensing. The event will take place in the Barnhill Fireside Room.

November 29, 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. – WAR CRY live podcast: Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women

The public is invited to watch, listen, and participate in a live podcast hosted by Emily Washines, Robyn Pebeahsy and Patricia Whitefoot, with special guest Cissy (Strong) Reyes. This event will take place in the Patricia Wade Temple Room.

November 30, all day – Dr. Virginia Beavert (Tuxámshish) Day at Heritage University

Honoring the esteemed Yakama elder Tuxámshish on her 103rd birthday.

All Native American Heritage Month events at Heritage University are free and open to the public. For more information on these events, contact Maxine Janis at (360) 513-2808 or Janis_M@heritage.edu. For help with interviews, contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@heritage.edu.


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Heritage University and Toppenish School District sign agreement to provide library services for Toppenish High School students

HU VP of Student Affairs Corey Hodge and Toppenish High School teacher Brenda Barragan (holding document) and THS students stand outside the Kathleen Ross, snjm Center, which houses the Donald KC North Library at Heritage University, September 22, 2023


Heritage University and Toppenish School District sign agreement to provide library services for Toppenish High School students

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University is opening the Donald K.C. North Library on its campus to Toppenish High School students after their high school’s library became unavailable. Heritage University and Toppenish School District recently signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) which allows chaperoned Toppenish High students to visit the Heritage library and access resources and borrow library books and other materials.

Brenda Barragan, a teacher at Toppenish High School, said the school’s library closed in 2020 to make room for a new career center. Barragan and others realized students needed a library for research projects, access to books and databases, free internet and computer access, and a quiet space to read, learn and write. Toppenish High staff then approached Heritage University with the request to have their high school students access the Donald K.C. North Library. As a higher education institution, Heritage administration recognized the importance of fostering a spirit of collaboration and community engagement and worked with the Toppenish School District to develop the MOA.

Heritage University Library Director Daniel Liestman knows the importance that access to robust library materials will have for Toppenish High School students. “The opportunity for Heritage to provide access to THS students we saw as a vital link to their education,” said Liestman. “In today’s world of fake news, misinformation, and rampant bias, it is imperative that students in both college and high school, become smart and savvy consumers of information. We are honored to partner with THS and provide enhanced services that their students would not have had access to otherwise.”

Barragan thanked Heritage University for coming to the rescue of Toppenish High School and her students, as this groundbreaking partnership will open the door to a world of knowledge and opportunities for her students. “Access to the rich resources and expertise of the Donald K.C. North Library will empower our students to reach new heights in their academic journeys,” said Barragan. “This opportunity will enable our students to expand their horizons and achieve academic excellence. We deeply appreciate Heritage University for their commitment to educational collaboration and fostering a culture of learning within our community.”

The Donald K.C. North Library is located inside the Kathleen Ross, snjm Center on the Heritage University campus in Toppenish. The MOA between Heritage and Toppenish High School is in effect through the 2023-24 school year. For more information please contact Daniel Liestman, Donald K.C. North Library Director at (509) 865-8520 or liestman_d@heritage.edu, or Brenda Barragan, THS teacher at bbarragan@toppenish.wednet.edu.  For help with interviews, please contact Davidson Mance, Heritage University media relations coordinator, at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

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Heritage University’s new MSW granted pre-candidacy status


Heritage University’s new Master of Social Work program is granted pre-candidacy status

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University’s new Master of Social Work (MSW) program is on its way to becoming officially recognized and accredited by the Council on Social Work Education’s (CSWE) Board of Accreditation. The CSWE has placed HU’s MSW on the June 2024 BOA Agenda for candidacy review and has been granted “pre-candidacy status.”

Students who enter programs in pre-candidacy will be retroactively recognized as having graduated from a CSWE-accredited program once the program earns initial accreditation. The accreditation process can take three years, and there is no guarantee that a program in pre-candidacy will eventually earn candidacy or initial accreditation. Accreditation provides assurance about the quality of the program and the competence of students graduating from the program.

Corey Hodge, MSW, the chair of the Social Work program at Heritage University, is confident the HU MSW will achieve initial accreditation and later full accreditation. “The pre-candidacy is good news. We have passed a major milestone en route to accreditation for our program. Our hard work to prepare documents to support our application for accreditation has paid off,” said Hodge. “Graduates of the BSW program at Heritage who want to continue their education in social work, often have limited opportunities in eastern Washington. Having our own accredited MSW means our students can continue to work and live here with their families while obtaining the education and training needed to serve and support families in our communities.”

The MSW program at Heritage is on track to begin accepting students into classes which will start in the fall of 2024. Heritage expects the MSW to achieve accreditation in June 2026. For more information about the program, please contact Miguel Juarez at (509) 865-0423 or Juarez_M@heritage.edu or Corey Hodge at (509) 865-0411 or Hodge_C@heritage.edu.

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$4 Million Gift from Gaye and Jim Pigott Fuels Equity in Nursing Profession at Seattle Children’s and Heritage University



$4 Million Gift from Gaye and Jim Pigott Fuels Equity in Nursing Profession at Seattle Children’s and Heritage University

Seattle, Wash. – Seattle Children’s and Heritage University are pleased to jointly announce a generous $4 million gift from Gaye and Jim Pigott to advance equity of the nursing workforce in Washington. This transformative gift will propel ongoing initiatives to promote inclusivity, diversity, and accessibility within the nursing field, benefiting both institutions’ educational and healthcare efforts.

Seattle Children’s, ranked as one of the top children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and Heritage University, a leader in higher education fostering inclusion and cultural competency, are poised to collaborate and amplify the impact of the Pigotts’ philanthropic support. The gift will be dedicated to enhancing opportunities for underrepresented individuals pursuing nursing careers, addressing systemic barriers that have historically limited access to quality experience in pediatric nursing education.

Gaye Pigott expressed her passion for this cause, stating, “Nursing is not only a profession but a calling, one that should be accessible to all with the talent and determination to serve. Our hope is that this gift will break down the obstacles that have held back aspiring nurses from diverse backgrounds and provide a meaningful pathway to success.”

Jim Pigott echoed these sentiments, saying, “Through collaboration between Seattle Children’s and Heritage University, we aspire to create a model that not only diversifies the nursing workforce but also enriches healthcare with a broader range of perspectives and experiences.”

The funds will establish the Gaye and Jim Pigott Nursing Endowment at Seattle Children’s and the Gaye and Jim Pigott Endowed Chair of Nursing at Heritage University. These endowments will strengthen a collaboration between the two organizations which began in 2016.

Heritage Nursing students complete pediatric clinical rotations at Seattle Children’s, where they benefit from working alongside world-class clinicians. Heritage students contribute to enhanced cultural competency and situation awareness as it relates to diverse populations which fosters growth from within the Seattle Children’s staff. The funds will also be used to enhance instructional offerings and outreach initiatives, ensuring that individuals from various communities have the support and resources necessary to pursue nursing education. By nurturing a diverse pool of nursing professionals, Seattle Children’s and Heritage University aim to contribute to more culturally competent and patient-centered care.

Dr. Jeff Sperring, chief executive officer, Seattle Children’s, expressed his gratitude, stating, “This extraordinary gift will have a lasting impact on the future of pediatric healthcare. By prioritizing equity in nursing, we are taking a crucial step toward better addressing the needs of our diverse patient population.”

Dr. Andrew Sund, President of Heritage University, added, “Equity and inclusivity lie at the core of our educational mission. This gift will empower us to expand opportunities in the nursing profession, fostering a healthcare workforce that truly represents and serves our communities.”

The partnership between Seattle Children’s and Heritage University stands as a testament to the potential for collaboration between medical institutions and educational establishments to effect meaningful change. The Pigotts’ landmark commitment serves as a call to others who share the vision of a more equitable nursing profession and healthcare landscape.

For inquiries or further information, please contact:

Seattle Children’s Public Relations

Heritage University Communications
David Wise

About Seattle Children’s

Seattle Children’s mission is to provide hope, care and cures to help every child live the healthiest and most fulfilling life possible. Together, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Research Institute and Foundation deliver superior patient care, identify new discoveries and treatments through pediatric research, and raise funds to create better futures for patients.

Ranked as one of the top children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News & World Report, Seattle Children’s serves as the pediatric and adolescent academic medical center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho – the largest region of any children’s hospital in the country. As one of the nation’s top five pediatric research centers, Seattle Children’s Research Institute is internationally recognized for its work in neurosciences, immunology, cancer, infectious disease, injury prevention and much more. Seattle Children’s Foundation, along with Seattle Children’s Guild Association – the largest all volunteer fundraising network for any hospital in the country – works with our generous community to raise funds for lifesaving care and research.

For more information, visit seattlechildrens.org or follow us on TwitterFacebookLinkedInInstagram or on our On the Pulse blog.

About Heritage University

Heritage University is a private, non-profit, regionally accredited institution of higher learning offering undergraduate and graduate education from its primary campus in Toppenish, Wash. and from regional sites in Kennewick, Wash. and Pasco, Wash. Heritage University is located on the Yakama Nation and is both a Hispanic Serving Institution and a Native American-serving Non-Tribal Institution. For more information visit heritage.edu.

About Gaye and Jim Pigott

Gaye and Jim Pigott are philanthropists committed to making a positive impact on healthcare, education, and the well-being of communities. Through their generous support, they aspire to drive positive change and empower future generations.

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