Just Tell Us One Thing We Can’t Do!

It was spring 1980 when this simple sentence ignited the idea that put into motion the actions that launched Heritage University.

The story of the little university that could goes back to the mid-1970s when Martha Yallup and Violet Lumley Rau decided the Yakima Valley needed access to higher education. The two reached out to Fort Wright College in Spokane, a Catholic school operated by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. The college had an extension program that brought credit-bearing courses into rural communities. Yallup and Lumley Rau convinced the administration at Fort Wright to bring classes to Toppenish.

By 1980, ongoing enrollment issues forced Fort Wright to close its doors. Then provost Sr. Kathleen Ross traveled to Toppenish to deliver the news about the closing in person. Neither Yallup nor Lumley Rau were willing to let their community go without access to education. When Ross suggested she would find a replacement university for a similar partnership, Yallup told her they would start their own college. When Ross realized the enormity of that initiative, she told the pair the first thing they needed to do was form a board of directors with community leaders who had connections and could help find the funding necessary for a project of this magnitude. Yallup uttered her now- famous words, “tell us one thing we can’t do.”

Yallup and Lumley Rau didn’t waste a moment. Within a matter of weeks, they had their board of directors. They asked Ross to serve as the college’s inaugural president.

To an outsider, the formation of Heritage College, as it was then called, seemed like a project doomed to fail before it even got started. After all, who would build a college in the middle of a hop field, in a community where the high school dropout rate was higher than the college attainment rate, and during a global recession, nonetheless? Yallup, Lumley Rau and Ross were determined. They knocked down every roadblock that threatened their progress.

A year after the meeting that would have ended college classes in Toppenish, Heritage started operating under the umbrella of Fort Wright. The following year, 1982, it officially began operating under its own power as a private four-year college.

From the beginning, Heritage was an institution like no other. Its mission was, and is, to serve those who had traditionally been left out of higher education—older students, first-generation college students, minorities, and those from low-income households. Heritage opened its doors with 85 students and eight faculty and staff members. Most of the students were older with families and responsibilities beyond their schooling.

Over time, the university grew. It acquired the land upon which it sits today. Capital campaigns raised funds to build buildings for the library, classrooms, offices, student services and a dining commons. Degree programs expanded to include majors in social work, the sciences, humanities and healthcare, and the education and business programs already in place. The name changed from Heritage College to Heritage University to more accurately reflect the level of education provided.

Moreover, the student body grew and changed. By 2010, the average age of a Heritage student dropped from 35 to 28. Today, it is 24.

What has not changed is the university’s mission. Heritage remains grounded in its commitment to ensuring that college education remains accessible to all, regardless of social, cultural, economic or geographic barriers. That mission calls to people and attracts educators from around the world who seek out Heritage for the opportunity to work with its students, and propels those who recognize the power of education to change lives and communities for the better to support the university and its students.

1974 – Fort Wright College starts offering college credit-bearing courses at a remote campus in Toppenish.

1980 – Fort Wright College announces it will close in 18 – 24 months due to financial losses. Martha Yallup and Violet Lumley Rau convince Sr. Kathleen Ross to join them in starting Heritage College.

1981 – Heritage begins offering its first classes as the Heritage Campus of Fort Wright College in a facility rented from the Toppenish School District.

1982 – Heritage College officially opens the day after Fort Wright College officially closes, with 85 students and eight faculty/staff members and official candidacy status from the accrediting association. The first academic offerings include bachelor’s degrees in education, interdisciplinary studies and business administration, and a master’s degree in education.

1984 – Petrie Trust funds the acquisition of the 14- acre Heritage campus to include the former McKinley Elementary School building.

1985 – The first class of Heritage College graduates receive their degrees a ceremony held at the Yakama Nation Cultural Center.

1989 – Heritage University is one of two colleges nationally to receive the American Association of University Women’s “Progress in Equity” award. It grows to a student body of 540, 39 full-time and 60 part-time employees, and 330 graduates.

1993 – Heritage University dedicates the new Library and Learning Resource Center, now called the Kathleen Ross, snjm Center, made possible through a $7 million capital campaign.

1995 – Heritage graduates the 1,000th student, and enrollment tops 1,000.

1999 – Heritage remodels the old McKinley Elementary School to include classrooms, a bookstore, and a student lounge, christened the Jewett Student Center. The building is renamed Petrie Hall.

2001 – Heritage College dedicates its first Student Services Center, a 5,050-square-foot facility.

2003 – Heritage opens a regional site at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington, and starts offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees at this location.

2008 – Heritage raises $27 million in the Heritage for the Future campaign and opens its 35,000 square foot Arts and Sciences Center.

2009 – Dr. Ross announces she will be transitioning from her position of the university president to pursue the formation of a national institute housed at Heritage.

2010 – Dr. John Bassett, former president of Clark University in Massachusetts, is appointed the second president of Heritage University.

2012 – Petrie Hall, the former McKinley Elementary School, is destroyed by fire.

2014 – Heritage opens three new buildings: the new Petrie Hall, with an art gallery, art studio and classrooms; Rick and Myra Gagnier Hall, dedicated to information technology; and the Gaye and Jim Pigott Commons, which houses the cafe and lounge.

2016 – Heritage opens two new buildings named in honor of the university’s founding mothers, the Violet Lumley Rau Center, which houses the university administrative offices as well as its largest classroom; and the Martha B. Yallup Health Sciences Building, which houses offices and a large classroom.

2017 – Dr. Andrew Sund joins Heritage as its third president. He was previously president of St. Augustine College in Chicago, Illinois.

2019 – Heritage forms the workforce development program Heritage@ Work, which provides customized worker training for employers in the university’s service area.

2020 – Heritage leads a partnership of nonprofits and educational organizations to form Yakima Valley Partners for Education, a “cradle to career” initiative to improve academic readiness and success for children in the Yakima Valley.


2022 – Heritage celebrates 40 years of making higher education accessible in the Yakima Valley.

Behavioral Health Grant to fund certificate program at Heritage University


Heritage University receives a $400,000 grant to fund student scholarships for Behavioral Health Aide Education Program

Toppenish, Wash. – Tribal health workers enrolled in a new Heritage University certificate program to expand their skills will receive scholarships for their two years of study thanks to a $400,000 grant from the Greater Columbia Accountable Community of Health (GCACH). The eight students funded by GCACH will be part of the 10 students selected in the first cohort of the Behavioral Health Education Program and will start classes at Heritage in January 2022.

Maxine Janis, Ed.D, president’s liaison for Native American Affairs at Heritage said the award from GCACH very much aligns with the practice transformation initiatives in health care delivery. The funding will support, through scholarship, students seeking to expand their knowledge capacity in health care and provide quality behavioral health services in their tribal communities. These students will participate in innovative holistic and culturally responsive education approaches which are unique to their respective indigenous communities.  “This award will open the door for training tribal members to become Behavioral Health Aides (BHAs) working closely with Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) to address the mental health crisis experienced by many tribal communities.” said Dr. Janis.

The Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB) partnered with Heritage University and Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Wash. to provide funding to develop the curriculum and deliver the two-year BHA Education Program, which will prepare students with the knowledge and skills necessary to be a tribal-based health care provider. Students who complete the program at Heritage will earn a Behavioral Health Aide Certificate, identifying them as a BHA-II. Corey Hodge, the chair of the Department of Social Work at Heritage, said the new certification program offers students a pathway to also earn a bachelor’s degree in social work from Heritage. “The curriculum of the Behavioral Health Education Program falls in line with the philosophy of social work ideals in that the degree empowers students to help others thrive and to overcome challenges,” said Hodge.

The students who complete the certificate programs offered by Heritage and Northwest Indian College must pass the Portland area Community Health Aide Program Certification Board (PACCB) exam. When successful, they will continue their careers as BHAs for their respective tribal health programs in the Pacific Northwest region. For more information, contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@heritage.edu.

# # #


Connecting Kids in Crisis

Norma Chaidez, wife of Heritage president Dr. Andrew Sund, remembers coming to the U.S. as a young woman, longing for an education and opportunity. Now she’s making a difference in the lives of children escaping far more desperate situations.

Chaidez serves as the Family Reunification Regional Supervisor with Bethany Christian Services. The organization is a global nonprofit that supports children and families with world-class social services, all designed to help families thrive. Bethany’s work began over 75 years ago with serving a single child. Today, they work in more than 30 states and around the world, impacting tens of thousands of lives every year.

Chaidez is charged to provide home study and post- release services to place minors in home settings in six states – Washington, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota and Montana. She reunites kids with family or trusted sponsors who can meet their needs and help them thrive. She’s had the opportunity to meet children from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and other countries, like Juan, Pedro and José – whose real names cannot be used for privacy purposes.

Norma Chaidez


Juan looks far younger than his years. He was nine years old when he arrived in the United States, but looked about five.

Five-year-old Pedro came to the United States so traumatized by the murder of his father that he stopped speaking.

José was 17. When he refused to sell drugs, the drug dealers punished him by breaking both of his legs.

These are just three of the more than 50,000 people served by Bethany annually. The organization works to find kids around the world who don’t have a permanent home, family-based settings, emergency care and foster care.


Their journey has been tumultuous, often life-threatening.

Parents in countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are sometimes so desperate to get their children to a better place that they often send them to the border alone. Some have a little money to get a guide; most do not.

Chaidez says 95% of the children arrive here having experienced some degree of trauma.

“Talking to families, I heard the stories of poverty, violence, organized crime, human and drug trafficking,” she said. “Despite their situations, they’re very resilient.”

Undocumented minors’ experience in this country starts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. They turn the children over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which works with Bethany and a handful of organizations like it whose dedicated staffers get the kids situated with guardians, whether relatives or other sponsors.

“We provide case management services to unaccompanied children who crossed into the United States without legal guardianship and who do not have legal status in this country. Our team conducts home studies of potential sponsors for unaccompanied children and provides support to ease the adjustment process for both the children and their sponsor, “ said Chaidez. “We secure clothing, food or furniture, from community resources or donors. And inspect homes, do follow-up calls, make sure the caregivers have what they need to support the children.

“We start them on their way to a better life.”


Though her situation was not so extreme when she came to the U.S. in 1998, Chaidez identifies with her clients’ desperate wish for a better life.

“I came to the U.S. in search of an education and for gender equality. There was no opportunity to go to college in Mexico. But in the U.S., women have more opportunities to go to college, have a voice and rights.”

Language and culture presented a steep learning curve. Chaidez said she wouldn’t have made it if not for the kindness of new friends.

“I was able to rent a family friend’s basement apartment for $175 a month. With my neighbor’s support, I was able to find a job at a local dry cleaner.

“My chosen family motivated me; I was finally able to dream about having a career.”

Because of the support of close friends and her husband, she earned an associate degree from St. Augustine College in
Chicago, then a bachelor’s in psychology, and three master’s degrees– one in forensic psychology from Argosy University in Dallas, one in philosophy from Walden University in Minneapolis, and another in clinical mental health in counseling from Adler University in Chicago. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in forensic psychology at Walden University.


Chaidez remembers her struggles with English, which led her to teach ESL classes to several students every Saturday morning.

One day, Juan looked sad. Chaidez asked him what was wrong. He said he wanted to play with the other kids on the playground, but he didn’t know how to make friends. He didn’t speak English.

“I told him, ‘You just say this, say hi! Do you want to play with me?’ He practiced saying it.”

The next week, Chaidez said, Juan came to his lesson smiling again.

“’They said, ‘Yes, let’s play!’ he said.”

“He was so happy. Now every Saturday I talk with him, he’s always so happy because he has new friends, lives with his parents and attends school.”

“He has what every child needs and deserves.” page25image59241888

Class Notes



Cindy Sholtys- Cromwell

Cindy Sholtys- Cromwell (Professional Development) was recently chosen as the National Association ofSecondary School Principals 2021 National Digital Principal. This award was given for her demonstration of continuous bold, creative leadership in her drive to harness the potential of new technologies to further learning goals. Cindy is starting her 22nd year as an administrator with the Kelso School District.






Rachel Gonzalez-Garcia

Rachel Gonzalez-Garcia (Professional Development in ESL) recently completed The National Institute for STEM Education (NISE) certification. NISE is a competency-based, academic portfolio of work that demonstrates proficiency across STEM teacher actions. She completed this work with her Yakima School District STEAM team.

Magaly Solis (Elementary Education) was appointed by the Las Casa Hogar Board of Directors to serve as the non- profit’s Executive Director. Solis began her work at the organization as a volunteer in 2013 before being hired to serve as the Wapato and Citizenship Program Coordinator. She was subsequently promoted to be the program’s manager, a role she served in until her most recent appointment.



Submit Your Class Notes

Did you get married? Have a baby? Get your dream job, an award or even a promotion? If you have good news to share with your fellow alums, let us help.

Send us your submission for Class Notes. It’s easy. Just visit heritage.edu/alumni, complete the submission form and upload your picture. Be sure to include a valid email address so we can contact you if we have any questions.


You are an important part of the university family, and we want to make sure that you are fully informed of all the great opportunities that are available to you through Alumni Connections. There are lots of great ways to stay connected:

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Sign up to receive Heritage’s e-newsletter HUNow.

• Visit us online at heritage.edu/alumni

Of course, the best way to stay connected is to make sure your contact information is up to date. Please be sure to let us know if your address, e-mail or phone number changes. You can submit your changes online through heritage.edu/alumni, e-mail us at alumni@heritage.edu or give us a call at (509) 865-8644.


News Briefs

Students explore systemic racism in the nursing profession

Heritage University BSN students meet with Dr. Peggy Chinn and Dr. Lucinda Canty

A visit by leaders in nursing is taking Heritage students’ voices to a national audience. In October, two nursing educators who are at the forefront of a movement to address issues of racism in the field of nursing visited Heritage to meet with students.

Dr. Peggy Chinn and Dr. Lucinda Canty traveled to Heritage to spend the day with students in advance of addressing colleagues at the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing. The pair, along with Heritage’s director of the Nursing program, Dr. Christina Nyirati, and Valorie Taylor, clinical director at Tacoma’s MultiCare Health System, are organizers of Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing. The initiative, which launched in September 2020, aims to open discussion that focuses on coming to terms
with racism in the field of nursing, to elevate the voices of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other nurses of color, and to inspire changes that address racism on a national level.

“We wanted to represent the voices of nursing students as part of our keynote address at the Commission,” said Nyirati. “Drs. Chinn and Canty suggested visiting Heritage to hear from our students about how the university is standing up to fulfill our mission of creating a just society for all.”

The pair spent several hours with students, faculty and administrators, including time spent at a Blessing of the Hands and Hearts ceremony at the Heritage Teepee, in an informal listening session with the students. page14image59142544

Heritage professors join boards of directors

Two Heritage professors recently joined the boards of directors at Washington state organizations and non-profits.

Miguel Juarez in class

Miguel Juarez in class

Social Work Field Director and Associate Professor Miguel Juarez, Ed.D., joined the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) Washington Chapter Board of Directors. NASW appointed Juarez to serve as the chapter’s first vice president. He will oversee the chapter’s diversity plan as part of his duties.

Kristin James-Dunn


Assistant Professor Kirstin James-Dunn, Ph.D., joined the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s board of directors. James-Dunn is the first board member from eastern Washington and will act as primary representative and vital liaison to Washington arts communities for “all points east of the Cascades.” page27image58999408



Multimillion dollar grant to bring expantion of Nursing and enhance STEM programs

The U.S. Department of Education Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions (DHSI) branch awarded a $3 million grant to Heritage University to expand its Nursing program and upgrade its science laboratories.

The grant will allow Heritage to expand its current nursing program to allow registered nurses who are currently working in the field but do not have a bachelor’s degree to go back to school to earn that degree.

“The faculty at Heritage have worked very hard to establish a world-class BSN program at Heritage. This award by the Department of Education to expand the program validates their accomplishments. The grant will allow for a significant expansion of the program resulting in even more highly qualified nurses ready to serve the people of the Valley,” said President Andrew Sund, Ph.D.

In addition to the RN to BSN degree pathway development, the university’s science technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) offerings will expand with new laboratories for environmental, health and physical sciences. The existing biology, chemistry and physics laboratories at Heritage will be redesigned and equipped to meet the rigorous demands for effective STEM degree programs instruction.

The grant also allows for upgrades to the university’s information technology services, improvements to its institutional data collection and analysis, and the development of a financial literacy program for undergraduates.

Federal grant allocates funds for STEM Education Center on campus

A $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will expand outreach to high school students to prepare them to pursue college studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and help Heritage build a new 4,700
square foot STEM Education Center on the Toppenish campus.

The five-year grant will allow the university to employ mentors to work with high school students interested in STEM fields as a means to increase the number of college graduates entering into technical fields in the Yakima Valley.

The soon-to-be-constructed education center will include laboratories, learning spaces and state-of-the-art equipment to support STEM programs. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in late 2022.

Campus mourns loss of friend and volunteer

On November 15, 2021 Sister Marina Rose Parisi (nee Virginia Catherine Parisi), passed away unexpectedly at Trios Kennewick Hospital. Parisi was a long-time supporter of Heritage University and a volunteer singing teacher who with worked children in the university’s Early Learning Center.

Parisi was a member of the Catholic order of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) for more than 66 years. Through SNJM, she devoted herself to teaching children, mostly those who were poor and from underserved communities,

as well as teaching religion and sacramental preparation. She spent 19 years working with children in Western Washington and Oregon before moving to Peru, where she spent 17 years working as a teacher and principal in Arequipa. When she returned to the United States, she moved to Wapato and worked as the director of religious education for 14 years. Her work at Heritage began after retiring from a career that spanned 40 years and two continents.


Early Learning Center to get new home

The generosity of two anonymous private donors is improving learning for Heritage’s youngest eagles. The university broke ground on a new state-of- the-art Early Learning Center on December 3. The new $3.2 million facility will contain five classrooms, It will serve children between the ages of 12 months and kindergarten, providing pre-kindergarten instruction known to be invaluable in later years of scholastic achievement.

“Our early learning programs are designed to offer experiences that enhance and enrich each child’s cognitive, language, social, emotional, physical and creative development,” said ELC Executive Director Claudette Lindquist. “Our basic philosophy is one of freedom to learn, grow and make choices and we have structured the environment to reflect that belief.”

The center is slated to open in the winter of 2022. The new ELC will allow Heritage to increase the number of children served from 75 to 90.



In the United States, there are only two universities designated by the United States Department of Education as both a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and a Native American Serving Non- Tribal Institution (NASNTI). Heritage is one of them.

An HSI is an accredited, degree-granting, public or private nonprofit institution of higher education with 25% or more of its total full-time enrolled students who identify as Hispanic. A NASNTI is a postsecondary institution not affiliated with American Indian and Native Alaskan tribes and has an enrollment of 10% or more of its full-time students who identify as Native American. In the fall of 2020, the undergraduate student population consisted of 67% Hispanic/Latino and 10% American Indian or Alaska Native students.

Being and an HSI and NASNTI qualify for additional funding that can pay for programming that benefits the university and all of its students, regardless of race or culture.

STEM(ming) the Tide of Pollution

Heritage STEM students get valuable experience through applied learning while working on environmental issues in collaboration with students and researchers from other colleges.

Thirty-five Heritage students, called “EAGLES Scholars,” are working with and benefitting from the National Science Foundation’s S-STEM Program grant for internships and research experiences. With a focus on studying environmental pollution, the $5 million grant was awarded to Heritage University and Portland State University in a partnership model built largely on each university’s location within the Columbia River Basin.

As EAGLES Scholars – the acronym comes from “Engagement Achievement and Graduation for Low-incomE Students” – students selected to take part have ongoing academic support and guidance for research and internship applications as well as presentations for conferences. Ultimately, they get connected to job possibilities at graduation.

Their research internships are giving them valuable real-world skills – and life experiences they never anticipated.

Mayra Diaz-Acevedo


Mayra Diaz-Acevedo’s first EAGLES-related research internship centered on numerical analysis. It took place over eight weeks last summer at Los Angeles’s Occidental College. It was completely math-focused. But in interacting with her fellow interns there, she learned how math concepts can be applied to a subject she’s passionate about: the environment.

She also learned she can operate successfully in settings other than what she’s been used to close to home.

“It was a numerical analysis internship that involved applying nonstandard finite difference schemes to differential equations,” Diaz- Acevedo said. “I focused on data science, number theory, numerical analysis, and positional game theory.

“But it was working with the other students at Oxy and getting to see how passionate they were that really inspired me.”

Diaz-Acevedo said she’s still amazed that she actually went to L.A. and at how much she learned from the experience of being away, something about which she initially felt somewhat fearful.

“I got to learn so much more about different places in those two months. Now I’m interested in going to new places, and I’m not afraid to go farther.”

Diaz-Acevedo is considering the possibility of graduate school, continuing in mathematics or applied math. She’s currently looking at internships for summer 2022 that involve environmental science with applied math or physics.

“I’ve always really wanted to see how I could contribute to helping the environment through my field of study. Now I know there are so many ways that it can be applied to the environment.”

Colton Maybee


After graduating from West Valley High School in 2018, Heritage junior Colton Maybee got a job as a low-voltage electrician apprentice. He thought he might go to technical school. He didn’t think much about college.

But a family friend suggested he look at Heritage and its EAGLES Scholarship program. Between the EAGLES funding and other aid, he could get a full-ride if he was accepted.

Fast forward two years, and Maybee, a computer science major, already has an internship in computational modeling under his belt. Through a 10-week summer program at Portland State University, virtual because of the pandemic, he’s now had his hand in computer science work he never imagined he’d have – all because of his EAGLES scholarship.

“My section was monitoring trail hazards using path-finding algorithms that guide hikers along 70 miles of trails through the Portland State Forest,” said Maybee. “My job was to develop a mobile app that would enable trail users to report hazards anywhere along the trails.“

At PSU’s final symposium on computations modeling serving the city of Portland, Maybee presented “Digitally reporting trail obstructions in Forest Park.” His 16 fellow interns presented on a wealth of mostly environment- and city- related issues in subjects that included Portland’s water quality and environmental factors affecting humpback whales.

None of the interns had any previous experience in what they relatively quickly became adept at discussing.

Maybee, who’s taken just four computer science courses to date, said though he didn’t have quite enough time to get devices communicating with each other, he did get the app’s framework up and running.

He said that a big takeaway from the internship was the concept of recognizing when you’re going in the wrong direction.

“I thought everything would be coded in Python, so I watched all kinds of YouTube tutorials. Then when I actually got to the internship, I realized it would all be in Java.

“I learned you can’t keep trudging down a trail if it’s not getting you anywhere. You have to realize when you need to start over and not be frustrated by wasted time.”

Maybee said that’s important because, while he’ll graduate with a massive body of computer science knowledge, it’s a rapidly changing field.

“I’ll always be learning.”

Gustavo Mendez-Soto


Heritage sophomore Gustavo Mendez-Soto has always observed what’s going on around him.

He chose his computer science major because he was inspired by his brother. He wanted to follow in his footsteps and thought programming sounded like fun.

After he enrolled at Heritage, he applied for and was excepted to the EAGLES scholarship program. Last summer, he did his first internship, examining the impact of groundwater on the sustainability and resilience of the Yakima River Basin during drought years, through Washington State University. It was online due to the pandemic.

“I was assigned to work with a project studying the impact of the drought years on the groundwater in the Yakima River basin,” Mendez-Soto said.

Droughts have a large impact on the basin, its fisheries and agricultural land, Mendez-Soto noted. Droughts mean lower rivers and streams, dying fish, forests burning and overall water shortages.

He employed the “STAR” calculator – for SusTainability And Resilience – to evaluate three different drought years and their impact in the Yakima River Basin.

“I learned to work with a programming system that allowed us to insert and visualize data, kind of like an Excel spreadsheet but more advanced. I did a lot of data searching, which was the hardest part, and then making sense of all that data.”

Now Mendez-Soto dreams of getting a job at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to help with environmental clean-up. He hopes to get an internship with PNNL this summer, an experience that can make his dream of working there one day more likely.


Andrea Mendoza

Andrea Mendoza wants other students to see the fun in biology, even though what she considers her first experience with it – having her appendix out at age 10 – wasn’t fun at all.

“But from that, I realized there’s more to life than what you see on the outside,” she said.

Upon graduating from high school, she knew she wanted to pursue a STEM subject. She enrolled at Heritage, where her professor Alex Alexiades suggested she apply for the EAGLES scholarship program. She was accepted. She’s currently a junior – and a biology major.

Mendoza did her summer 2021 internship in entomology research at USDA-ARS Temperate Tree Fruit & Vegetable Research Unit in Wapato, Washington. Her research contributed to knowledge about the efficacy of using natural predators to kill off insects.

For their daily fieldwork, interns and project leaders met at the lab, then drove to the site together in a work vehicle. Fieldwork involved setting up plots, collecting insects, and changing various traps. Lab work involved counting and identifying insects and mites with the use of a microscope.

“We found earwigs were beneficial in apple orchards, versus in cherry orchards where they ruined the cherries,” said Mendoza. “In apple orchards, they became the top predator killing off what was damaging to the apples.”

Many STEM students find the combination of field and laboratory work useful during a time they’re in the process of discerning their research preferences. Based on whatever internship she gets this summer, Mendoza said she’s looking forward to learning whether she prefers an outdoor science setting or a lab experience.

“I think internships are a great connection to the real world of STEM careers. You’re not just in the books – you have conversations.

“I’m learning, and I really like that.”

As the first person in her family to study science, Mendoza feels like a role model for other family members.

“I’m over here testing the waters, not quite knowing what I’m doing. It’s nice that you know you’re not supposed to be perfect or know everything.”

Mendoza dreams of sharing her love for biology as a teacher at her alma mater: Yakima’s Davis High School.


Scores of universities across the nation compete for NSF grants, said Natural Sciences Associate Professor Alex Alexiades, who spearheaded the effort.

“The NSF grant focuses on studying environmental pollution and, in particular, aquatic pollution. With PSU at the mouth of the Columbia Basin and Heritage at the headwaters, we get the full watershed scope.

“The grant lets us take advantage of that and so much more.”

“These research experiences with an emphasis on the environment open students’ minds to the possibilities,” said Julie Conley, EAGLES project coordinator and adjunct faculty member in the environmental science program.

“They begin to step out of their comfort zone and ultimately to see themselves in a more professional role as scientists and researchers.” page14image64821552


Honoring the First Peoples

Heritage University’s relationship with the Yakama Nation is rooted in its history and intricately tied to its future. It is the college founded by two Yakama women, situated on the ancestral lands of the Yakama Nation, and the academic home to hundreds of Native American students and alumni.

Each year, the university celebrates this relationship and honors Native Americans everywhere through its events and activities during Native American Heritage Month, which is recognized nationally every November.

This year’s celebrations were especially meaningful given that it was among the first on-campus activities held since March 2020. As always, the celebration kicked off with a flag-raising ceremony with the Yakama Warriors Association. Additionally, we honored five Native American elders for their lifetime contributions to their communities. And, we formalized our recognition of indigenous peoples from time immemorial as the stewards of the land upon which the university now inhabits with the signing of the university’s Land Acknowledgement statement.

Long before the ground was turned to within these documents to best reflect Heritage and construct the first building that would one day become Heritage University, the land upon which the college sits was occupied and cared for by the indigenous people of the Columbia River Basin. On November 10, President Andrew Sund, Ph.D. and Kip Ramsey, board member and chair of the university’s Tribal Relations Committee, signed a formal Land Acknowledgement Statement that recognizes and respects those who were the traditional stewards of the land and the enduring relationship that exists between the Yakamas and their traditional territory.

“It is important that we acknowledge the tribes and their place as stewards of this land, of the entire continent, since time immemorial,” said Ramsey. “In acknowledging their role, we acknowledge our responsibility to understand our past and to carry on their stewardship for the benefit of our children and our children’s children.”

Andrew Sund, Ph.D., president of Heritage University (left) and Kip Ramsey, Heritage University board member and chair of the board’s Tribal Relations Committee (right), sign copies of the Land Acknowledgement Statement during a ceremony held next to the Heritage University TeePee November 10, 2021.

The acknowledgment was created by a committee of Indigenous faculty and staff members at Heritage University with input from Yakama Nation tribal leaders. The process was a year in the making. Committee members explored similar documents established at other colleges and universities and adapted the language and themes within these documents to best reflect Heritage and the Yakama people. Once written, the initial draft was presented to Yakama Nation tribal leaders for their input.

The entire process ended with the official document, two abbreviated statements for everyday use, as well as an action plan with short and long- term suggestions to maximize the significance of the acknowledgment. That plan includes the public display of the document, reading acknowledgment at the start of university events, hosting “learning circles” on Yakama culture and traditions for faculty, staff and administrators, and enhancing the university’s existing American Indian Studies program, so the university becomes an education destination for indigenous students from throughout the region.

“We know that education is intricately woven into the Yakama culture, as tribal elders share their knowledge with their children and younger tribal members. Heritage was created to bring higher education to this land and to serve as a complement to the education systems that  already exist within the Nation,” said Sund.

The official, signed document is now framed and on display on campus. page14image64587808

Heritage University Land Acknowledgement Statement


The Science of Tradition

When Environmental Sciences student Agnes Meninick was completing her internship project last summer, she had no idea she was engaged in a relatively new method of science teaching and learning. An educational movement incorporating Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) into western science curriculums is finding growing support on college campuses. Heritage University is at the forefront of this movement.

“Traditional Ecological Knowledge is a recognition that the people who have been on these lands, whose lives have been deeply connected to their environment, since time immemorial, have a voice and a perspective that deserves to be heard,” said Dr. Jessica Black, chair of the Sciences Department. “It is bringing those voices into the classroom and our students’ experiences.”

Agnes Meninick

While TEK may sound like a radical departure from the way science curriculum is traditionally taught in colleges, Black explains that it and western science are not mutually exclusive. They complement each other, especially when it comes to the field of environmental science.

“So much of western science is based on concepts held by indigenous peoples throughout the world,” she said. “There are many areas where western scientists can’t collect data. In these areas, indigenous populations are the knowledge holders. They have historical perspectives that western science lacks and often have an innate understanding of how organisms and ecosystems interact.

“Native American tribes are leading the way on much of the work around conservation and environmental protection and policy. They need graduates who are western science trained, but who also have a real respect for tribal practices.”

Take the work being done by tribes in Washington state around salmon restoration, for example, said Dr. Alex Alexiades, associate professor of natural science.

The Columbia River Basin is the traditional fishing ground for the Yakama people. Starting in the mid-1930s and running to the 1970s, the Army Corp of Engineers built hydroelectric dams up and down the river.

“From the western perspective, the dams brought reliable, clean power. However, from the tribal perspective, they disconnected the sacred river and the species that require the use of that watershed,” he said.

Indeed, the dams did provide power, but the unintended impact on fish that could no longer reach their spawning grounds was devastating. Salmon populations declined rapidly.

“The tribes have and continue to take a central role in finding solutions to mitigate the negative impact that dams made to the salmon population,” he said.

Alexiades stresses that while students who study in programs with a TEK focus are better prepared for careers working with tribal agencies, far more significant benefits positively impact all students, regardless of their career destinations. He explains that western science tends to look at things at a granular level—a geologist studying a specific rock or a biologist concentrating on a single species, for example. However, in nature, all of these pieces are elements within a larger whole of the ecosystem. They all relate to each other, and what happens to one impacts others. TEK is a reverence and understanding of all of the elements of the environment and recognizing the need for a more holistic approach when working within the environment.


Integrating TEK into the environmental science curriculum was both intentional and collaborative. When Dr. Kazuhiro Sonoda, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, came to Heritage and became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, he enlisted the help of Black to introduce TEK to the curriculum.

“Heritage is located on the ancestral tribal lands of the Yakama people. Our strength is our location and our relationship with the Yakama Nation,” he said. “Building the program began with our relationship with the tribe, with being intentional and respecting the culture.”

The university built its relationship with tribal elders, scientists and leaders within the Yakama Nation’s environmental programs. They were invited into the classrooms to share stories and to talk about the work they were doing. Students were placed in internships and research experiences with tribal agencies. Additionally, Heritage developed intergenerational programs that connected high school students with college students, tribal leaders and elders, such as its annual People of the Big River class that takes students on a two-week academic excursion to visit tribes up and down the Columbia River Basin. That work continues today.

Sonoda stresses that TEK isn’t a substitution for western sciences; it is an addition. Students still participate in rigorous biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics curriculum, just with a broader perspective.


TEK may have started the environmental science program, but it is expanding into other programs.

A little over a year ago, Sol Neely. Ph.D., a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, joined Heritage’s English Language Arts faculty. He is currently the director of English composition. He is working with Humanities Program Chair Dr. Blake Slonecker on revitalizing the university’s American Indian Studies program into something he calls a “transdisciplinary studies program.” TEK, he says, plays a role in academia across curriculums.

“Indigenized work isn’t divided into disciplines,” he said. “When you look at a bentwood box being made by a Tlingit artist, the person working on the box is as much a scientist as he is an artist. He has to have all the biological knowledge about the wood—the cell structure, how to store it, how steam works to soften it so it can bend. All of these endeavors go into crafting the box that tells the stories.”

He explains that ensuring that American Indian Studies students get a complete, well-rounded education on the Native experience means they will need to study a wide array of disciplines through the lens of indigenous peoples.


Meninick is enrolled Yakama and a junior majoring in environmental science who hopes to one day go into geology. She was going to school at a community college in Las Vegas when she decided it was time for her to “come home.” The college she attended didn’t talk a lot about Native culture or the indigenous people from the area. Meninick had graduated from the Yakama Nation Tribal School, so an education without the inclusion of Native voices seemed unusual and a bit uncomfortable. When she started at Heritage, the inclusion of TEK felt so normal that it wasn’t really anything she noticed.

“It was just so much more comfortable for me here,” she said.

Last summer Meninick participated in an internship with Yakama Nation Water Resources. The department participates in educational outreach with students at the tribal school. Part of their goal is to encourage kids to explore careers in the sciences. Meninick was asked to translate a water cycle graphic into Sahaptin, the traditional language of the Yakama people, for use in their outreach materials.

“It was great to have this opportunity because it gives kids an opportunity to learn both science and our language,” she said. “A lot of this information has been handed down for generations. I believe that our people are starting to forget a lot of the stories. Bringing this to the schools brings it back to the community.”

Meninick presented the translated water cycle at the national American Indian Science and Engineering Society Conference earlier this year.

“I had a lot of people compliment me on my work, especially younger people,” she said. “They found it inspirational.”

Her work will continue to inspire future Native scientists as Water Resources use it at the tribal school for years to come. page14image64587808

Honoring Our Elders


Every year, for the past six years, Heritage University has recognized Native American elders for their lifetimes of significant contributions to their communities as part of its Native American Heritage Month celebration. This year, our honorees include a cultural preservationist and mentor, Grammy-nominated musicians, an award-winning educator and an elected official.

NED TILLEQUOTES JR. “KWOI-UMA-IL-PILP” spent a lifetime ensuring the safety and viability of the Yakama Nation and its people. As a tribal police officer, he helped individuals and families during times of their greatest vulnerability by enforcing laws to protect the welfare of others. Then, as an elected official serving on the Tribal Code of Ethics Board, he ensured that those in power fulfilled their duties with integrity. Today, as a member of the Yakama Nation General Council, he serves his people by assuring the prosperity and integrity of the tribe and its treaty rights.

NAKUMPTW PRISCILLA SALUSKIN BLACKWOLF is enrolled Yakama and Wishxum Colville. Growing up, her parents and grandparents taught her the importance of family, love and forgiveness. However, cultural and spiritual connections through traditional crafts, food gathering and ancestral language were something she had to seek out on her own as an adult. She found her way to the longhouse and made a connection that was so powerful that Priscilla dedicated much of her adult life to helping other indigenous people find their own connections to their culture. To this day, she serves as a voluntary mentor, teaching Ichishkiin and taking young people food gathering using traditional ways steeped in ceremony. Because of her, many men and women who were disconnected from their traditional ways are re-engaged with their culture and are passing it along to their children and grandchildren.

KENNY “APA-IKANI” AND LOUISE “TIYUMTK” SCABBY ROBE live their lives dedicated to faith, family and culture. Both grew up, raised
in their cultural traditions. Kenny, a member of the Blackfeet Nation and Louise, who is enrolled Yakama, were both hoop dancers who competed against one another at powwows throughout the west. Many years later, when they met as adults and fell in love, the couple made the conscious decision that they would raise their 12 children with reverence for God and a connection to their cultural heritage through music and dance. That commitment led to the formation of the multi Grammy-nominated drum group Black Lodge Singers whose members include Kenny, Louise and their 12 sons. Since its formation, Black Lodge has served as a cultural ambassador and a source of pride and inspiration for Native Americans everywhere. They have traveled the world, connecting people from different lands, cultures and points of view through the universal spiritual language of music.

GARY “GIIWEDINANANG” DECOTEAU is enrolled Turtle Mountain Chippewa, who settled in the Yakima Valley and dedicated his life to helping youth achieve their greatest potential through education. He spent 38 years as an educator, first as a teacher at the Yakama Tribal School and then at the Toppenish Middle School, before earning his principal credentials from Heritage University. He went on to serve ten years as the middle school’s principal, earning the prestigious recognition as the Regional State Principal of the Year in 2008. After his retirement, he turned his attention to helping adults achieve their academic dreams when he joined the faculty at Heritage University, where he taught classes and mentored Native American college students. page14image64587808

Before They Walked, Eagles Soared!

It was a long time coming. For some, almost two years. On Saturday, October 30, graduates from the Class of 2020 and the Class of 2021 finally had their moment in the sun when they walked across the stage to receive their hard-earned diplomas.

For more than 600 graduates, the end of their academic careers was somewhat anticlimactic. COVID restrictions closed the campus to in-person learning and activities. The Class of 2020 went away for spring break and never came back. They finished off their last six weeks of college online. For the Class of 2021, online learning was even longer. They spent their entire senior year in a virtual world. For both classes, celebrating earning their degree with family and friends at Commencement seemed impossible.

“COVID robbed our graduates of some of the best parts about going to college. Their final weeks, and for our Class of 2021, their final year at college was completely different than anyone expected,” said Dr. Kazuhiro Sonoda, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “They all showed great resiliency and grit as they stayed focused on their studies and graduated under these extremely challenging conditions. It was important to all of us to find a way to make Commencement possible.”

This summer, as COVID seemed to be loosening its grip on the nation and more and more people were vaccinated against the illness, school administration felt confident enough to set a date for the rescheduled celebration. October 30 gave everyone enough time to organize the event and was still early enough in the year to avoid winter conditions that could hamper families’ travel plans. However, as the date approached, the Delta strain reared its ugly head.

“We essentially had three choices,” said Sonoda. “We could move the date again, cancel it altogether, or do something radically different.”

They choose the final option. Commencement moved on campus and online. It was set up outside, where chairs and people could be set six feet apart in the open air. It was open only to graduates and those who had a role during the ceremony, such as faculty, speakers and volunteers. A local station, Hispanavision, televised the ceremony so that family and friends could watch the proceedings safely from their own homes.

“Safety was first and foremost on our minds,” said Sonoda. “That and ensuring that our graduates’ experiences were as close to ‘normal’ as possible.”

Of the more than 600 graduates over the two years, roughly a quarter participated in the celebration, including Irwin Godinez-Cruz, B.A., English.

“Being able to celebrate my graduation with a cap and gown was a great honor to my family and me. It was a symbol of all the hard work and sacrifice I put into my academic career. Work and dedication that may have been overseen due to the pandemic, but not forgotten by our institution. The great staff of Heritage University made our dream of having a graduation ceremony a reality. As a first-generation student, this was the greatest of honors,” he said.

Aside from the change in location and limited access, the rest of the event proceeded much like usual. Heritage University founder Dr. Kathleen Ross, snjm presented the Commencement address. Maria Riveria, B.A., Psychology and History, and Godinez- Cruz presented the undergraduate Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 address, respectively. Raymandeep Aujla, M.A., Medical Sciences, and Maggie Lai, M.A., Medical Sciences, presented the graduate addresses for 2020 and 2021. Maria Soto, B.S.W., Social Work and B.A., History, received the 2020 President’s Award of Distinction, and Paola Herrera, B.S.W., Social Work, received the honor for the Class of 2021. After the graduates received their diplomas, the multi- Grammy nominated Native American drum group, Black Lodge Singers, sang an honor song. And, at the end of the long-awaited ceremony, the graduates marched and danced out to celebrate some more with their loved ones awaiting their arrival back home. page5image64606896