Heritage University to Dedicate New Early Learning Center


Heritage University to Dedicate New Early Learning Center 

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University will hold a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new $4.1 million state-of-the-art Early Learning Center (ELC) made possible through the generosity of an anonymous donor. The ELC project also received a grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce. The ceremony will take place Friday, December 16, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. on the Heritage University campus.

The new five-classroom ELC is scheduled to open in January. The ELC will serve children between the ages of 12 months and kindergarten, providing pre-kindergarten learning known to be invaluable in later years of scholastic achievement. This new facility will allow the ELC to increase its licensed enrollment from 74 to 90 students.

The university’s ELC shares the Heritage University mission of making higher education accessible regardless of economic, cultural, or social barriers and will strive to help families with similar access and financial challenges to prepare their children for success in kindergarten and beyond. “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. “We believe that good childcare is good family care. However, our basic philosophy is one of freedom to learn, grow and make choices and we have structured the environment to reflect that belief.”

The ELC also prepares current Heritage students for their future careers through work-study opportunities that provide them valuable experience in their chosen fields. “We have employed social work and nursing students who perform a wide variety of important roles as assistants at the ELC,” said Lindquist. “They get to use what they’ve learned in the classroom here, earn a paycheck while in school, and obtain skills and experience coveted by employers.”

Heritage began construction of the new center in March and invited the community to watch the project’s progress through a camera connected to the university’s website (https://heritage.edu/eagle-cam/).

For more information, contact Claudette Lindquist at (509) 865-0723 or Lindquist_C@heritage.edu. For help with interviews, please contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@heritage.edu.

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Heritage University honors Native American tribal elders as highlight of Native American Heritage Month celebrations


Heritage University honors Native American tribal elders as highlight of Native American Heritage Month celebrations

Toppenish, Wash. – November is Native American Heritage Month, and Heritage University is celebrating by honoring four Native American elders for their lifetime contributions to the Yakama people and their community. This year’s recipients are Gil Calac, Carrie Schuster, Ted Strong and Tallulah Pinkham.

Chimshowa Gil Calac is a Paiute from Susanville Indian Rancheria in California. As a Bronze Star decorated Vietnam war veteran, he is passionate about helping those whose voices are often unheard. He spent two years working as a case manager for Yakama Nation Behavioral Health Services before moving to Fort Simcoe Job Corp to help at-risk youth. After he retired, Gil turned his attention to advocating for veterans in hospice care. He is a member of the Yakama Warriors, where he led the Washington state effort for establishing March 30 as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, and is a member of the Yakama Nation Tribal Advisory Board. Gil maintains a deep reverence for traditional values, which guides him in everything that he does.

Aiiyuttonmii Carrie Chapman Schuster is the matriarch of the Snake River Palouse Tribe and is a Heritage University alumna. She grew up learning tribal history and culture from family matriarchs on The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. She has served as a judge in the Yakama Nation’s courts, as the original news director for the Yakama Nation Review, as an educator working with at-risk middle school kids and preschool children, and as a cultural ambassador connecting the Yakama people with tribal communities globally. At each step, she works to prepare those she serves to find their place in their community, to be rightful stewards over the land and people, and to respect the generational teachings of those who came before.

Taninsh Ted Strong is a 4/4 enrolled Yakama whose life work has helped tribes throughout the United States and indigenous people worldwide strengthen their sovereignty. His lifelong command from elders was, “Fill your heart with compassion and your mind with knowledge.”  In the early 1970s he designed the first computer network linking tribes in Montana, North and South Dakota and Wyoming. Immediately following, he led the restructuring of the Yakama Nation to a centralized administration and financial management system, allowing the tribe to take control of practices formerly run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He advocated and fought for treaty rights, salmon recovery, water rights and environmental management at the state and national levels while serving as the executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. President Clinton appointed Taninsh to the President’s Council on Sustainable Development, where he advocated for social equity, economic vitality, and environmental justice. He counts being Chief Judge for the Yakama Nation as the most challenging yet most rewarding experience of his career.

Cawmit Tallulah Pinkham is a full-blooded, enrolled Yakama who has a heart for helping those who struggle with mental illness, addiction and abuse. She spent 23 years advocating for patients at Indian Health Services, where she met with individuals and families to get to know them on a human level so she could help connect them with the programs and services they needed. She encouraged patients to learn the traditional practices of their culture and family as a way to find connection and purpose in their lives. When she saw the generational destruction that comes from domestic violence and child abuse, she worked behind the scenes through Native Women’s Association to support the passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

The four elders are being recognized during the eighth annual Honoring Our Elders ceremony at Heritage University on Wednesday, November 9, 2022, at 9:00 a.m. in Smith Family Hall. 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 throughout November.  Framed copies of these ads are being added to the permanent display of honorees at the university in the Violet Lumley Rau Building.

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

November 2, 2022, 8:30 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 8:30 a.m. and will be held at the main campus entrance.

November 30, 2022, All Day – Dr. Virginia Beavert (Tuxámshish) Day at Heritage University

Heritage University recognizes and honors the esteemed Yakama Nation elder and language teacher on her birthday.

Other Native American Heritage Month events at Heritage will include:

Wapaas Basket Weaving (November 8, 14 & 15)
Roc Your Mocs Week (November 13-19)
Frybread Fundraiser (November 21)
Movie Night (November 21)
Yoga Time (November 28 & 29)
De-stress Workshop (November 30)

For more information on these events, contact Maxine Janis at (509) 865-0737 or janis_m@heritage.edu or Julia Polk at (509) 865-8610 or polk_j@heritage.edu.

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Heritage University to hold El Grito de Independencia celebration


Heritage University to hold El Grito de Independencia celebration

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University will host an El Grito de Independencia celebration on Friday, September 16, 2022 from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at its Toppenish campus in recognition of Mexican Independence Day. El Grito de Independencia commemorates the “Cry of Dolores,” a historical event in Mexico that set off the Mexican war of Independence from Spain and will be re-enacted at 7:30 p.m.

The festival will be hosted Manny DJ and feature performances by Group Proyecto 2020 and Raises de Mi Pueblo Folklorico Group. There will be fun for the entire family, including loteria (games), kid crafts, food and beverages, traditional dancers, live music and a resource fair. The El Grito will be performed by the Titular Consul of the Mexican Consulate in Seattle Hector Ivan Goday Priske. The event is free and open to the public.

El Grito de Independencia will have vendor opportunities. For those interested in registering as a vendor, contact Martin Valadez at valadez_m@heritage.edu. For more information, contact Davidson Mance at mance_d@heritage.edu.

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Heritage University to hold Eagle Giving Day and 40th Homecoming Events


Heritage University to commemorate 40th anniversary with
Eagle Giving Day and Homecoming Event

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University is marking its 40th year of providing higher education opportunities to Yakima Valley residents with two events. The first is Eagle Giving Day, a day set aside to raise funds for student scholarships. The second is Homecoming 2022, an event to reunite alumni, faculty and staff past and present and current students.

Eagle Giving Day is scheduled for Friday, September 9, 2022. Friends and alumni are encouraged to help Heritage University continue its mission of making a college education accessible to anyone with the talent and drive to pursue a degree. “As we look back at our 40-year history, one thing is clear. It is our generous donors who have made it possible for more than 10,000 students to graduate and go on to meaningful careers,” said Heritage University president Andrew Sund, Ph.D. “Gifts received on ‘Eagle Giving Day’ will ensure that future generations of Eagles have the same level of support by providing funding for scholarships, programs, internships, technology upgrades and more.”

Heritage University alumni have an exceptional reason to give back to their alma mater on Eagle Giving Day. An anonymous alumni donor has agreed to match every $40 gift from alumni up to the first $5,000, which means that $40 gift instantly becomes $80 for student scholarships. Their generosity will help make it possible for students to achieve their dreams like they did. HU alumna Adriana Villafan, who graduated in 2015 with her B.A. degree in business administration with a concentration in Human Resources, and is now the director of the TRIO program at Heritage. Villafan said she plans to participate in Eagle Giving Day. “Scholarships and mentoring are part of the support I received when I was a student at Heritage,” Villafan said. “Heritage helped me get to where I am today, and now that I am in a position to give back, ‘Eagle Giving Day’ is the perfect opportunity for me and other alumni to return the favor.”  

The giving doesn’t need to wait until Eagle Giving Day. Each gift received before September 9 will count towards the day’s final total. For more information on Eagle Giving Day and to make a gift online, please visit heritage.edu/eaglegivingday.

Homecoming 2022 will be held on the Heritage University campus on September 9 from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. It is open to Heritage alumni and current students as well as current and former faculty and staff and friends of the university. People are encouraged to RSVP at heritage.edu/homecoming.

For more information, please contact Davidson Mance, media relations coordinator at (509) 969-6084 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

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Eagle Giving Day badge over campus image

Pacific Power Foundation gives $5,000 grant to Heritage University for student scholarships


Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University is pleased to announce it has once again been awarded a $5,000 grant from the Pacific Power Foundation. This is the fourth year in a row Heritage has received the grant, which will be used to fund scholarships for students pursuing degrees in the health sciences and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields.

David Wise, VP of Advancement and Marketing for Heritage, was presented with a grant check from John Hodkinson, area distribution manager for Pacific Power on July 13, 2022. “I am grateful for Pacific Power Foundation’s continued support of Heritage University’s mission of providing educational opportunities for students of the Yakima Valley. This generous grant will help the students who have the drive but not the financial means to obtain the education that prepares them for exciting and rewarding careers in health sciences and STEM, two of the fastest-growing industries today,” said Wise.

Pacific Power Regional Business Manager Toni Petty said Pacific Power Foundation supports Heritage University’s mission of making a college education accessible. “We’ve seen how communities across the nation strive to bolster their ranks of technology and healthcare workers. We are happy to support Heritage and its work to prepare students to thrive in these important fields,” said Petty.

For more information, contact Davidson Mance at (509) 865-0731 or mance_d@heritage.edu.

About the Pacific Power Foundation

The Pacific Power Foundation is part of the PacifiCorp Foundation, one of the largest utility-endowed foundations in the United States. The foundation was created in 1988 by PacifiCorp, an electric utility serving 2 million customers in six Western states as Pacific Power (Oregon, Washington, and California) and Rocky Mountain Power (Utah, Wyoming and Idaho). The foundation’s mission, through charitable investments, is to support the growth and vitality of the communities served by Pacific Power and Rocky Mountain Power. For more information, visit www.pacificpower.net/foundation.

Heritage University Vice President of Advancement David Wise accepts a check from Pacific Power Area Distribution Manager John Hodkinson at the Heritage University campus in Toppenish, Wash.

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News Briefs

Heritage students present research and psychological association conference

Heritage University students present research at the 102nd annual Western Psychological Association (WPA) conference held in Portland, Ore. in late April.

Three Heritage students were among the many that presented their research at the 102nd annual Western Psychological Association (WPA) conference held in Portland, Ore. in late April. Melanie Montejano and Zahira Flores presented “Experiences Applying to Graduate Programs in Experimental Psychology” and Mira Cardozo presented “Latina Transfer Students’ Academic and Socio-Cultural Resource Use and Persistence” with Dr. Kayden Vargas.

The convention is an annual occurrence that brings together students, researchers and other professionals for the scholarly exchange of scientific ideas in behavioral science research. page17image35220448

Poet Laureate presents poetry reading and writing workshop at Heritage

Washington Poet Laureate Rena Priest holds a writers’ workshop as part of a two day visit to Heritage University in April of this year.

In April, Washington Poet Laureate Rena Priest spent two days at Heritage University, where she presented a poetry reading and conducted a writing workshop for students, faculty and staff.

Priest is a poet and an enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. She was appointed to serve as the Washington state poet laureate for the April 2021-2023 term. She is a Vadon Foundation Fellow and recipient of an Allied Arts Foundation Professional Poets Award. Her debut collection, Patriarchy Blues, published by Moonpath Press, received an American Book Award. page17image35220448

Former faculty’s works join University’s permanent art collection

Heritage’s permanent art collection grew this spring when retired Heritage University Fine Arts Chair Carolyn Nelson donated two of her works. The gift includes the oil on canvas “Her Blue Jacket” and the sculpture “Learning to Heal.” The pieces were included in the spring exhibit of Nelson’s works that were in the Virginia S. Hislop Gallery through the end of the semester.

Carolyn Nelson

Nelson was the founding chair of the Fine Arts Department. She joined the university faculty in 1993 and taught for 22 years before retiring in 2015 and returning to working as an artist full-time. Over the past 40 years, she’s exhibited her ceramic sculpture, paintings and drawings throughout the Northwest region. page17image35220448

Generosity and Gratitude

Heritage University students reveal the night’s total raised during the 36th Annual Bounty of the Valley scholarship fundraiser held on campus June 4, 2022.

The first live, in-person Bounty of the Valley Gathering for Scholarships and Paddle Raise in three years was a resounding success, bringing in nearly three-quarters of a million dollars that evening! That amount continues to rise as contributions come in online.

“To say we are grateful is an understatement,” said David Wise, vice president for Advancement. “Our students depend upon scholarships to make their dreams of earning their degrees a reality. It is incredibly heartwarming to see so many like-minded people in one room raising their paddles high to ensure that higher education remains accessible.”

Scenes from the 36th Annual Bounty of the Valley scholarship fundraiser at Heritage University held June 4, 2022.

The event occurred on Saturday, June 4, on the Heritage University campus in Toppenish. Organizers shook things up a bit from previous pre-COVID events.

“One thing that makes this event special is the way it brings together our students, friends and supporters. Historically, getting people from the reception to the dinner was challenging because they were having such a good time socializing,” said Dana Eliason, senior director of development. “We decided to do a bit of restructuring so our guests could have more time to interact and enjoy the evening.”

The format change replaced the formal, multi-course served meal with an open buffet of gourmet favorites, such as beef tenderloin, salmon, and jumbo prawns, served at the reception in the university’s Jim and Gaye Pigott Commons. The traditional cocktail hour was extended to two hours. Then the guests moved to Smith Family Hall in the building next door for dessert and the program and paddle raise. Additionally, the program portion of the evening, where guests hear from students who have benefited from the scholarships funded through their support, was live- streamed on the Heritage website.

“The format was a bit of an experiment,” said Eliason. “And, it worked! Our guests loved having more time to mingle with each other at the reception, the broad selection of food, and the casual elegance that this format affords. Plus, guests who could not be with us in person for whatever reason were able to still participate from the safety and comfort of their own home.”

The Bounty of the Valley is the single largest fundraising event at the university. All of the money raised goes directly to support student scholarships. Since its inception, the event has raised more than $9 million.



There is still time to give. Watch the program online, see the student video, and make a gift online by going to:

HERITAGE.EDU/BOUNTY page17image35220448

The Courage to Stand Up

Growing up, Courtney Hernandez always felt a little out of place in her small hometown of Selah, Washington. She wasn’t like the other little girls with their blond pigtails and fair skin. Her complexion was decidedly darker, her hair a mass of chocolate curls. She was the only little girl in her school district whose parents were African American and Hispanic. And while she did all the same things as the other children—played sports, went to school, did her chores at home—she knew she was different. And so did those around her.

“At times, I was treated a little differently by my teachers, peers, and other kids’ families,” she said. “Until they got to know me.”

It wasn’t until Hernandez graduated from high school and moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington that she fully appreciated what she experienced growing up in a community where racial and cultural diversity was limited. She was double majoring in social work and American ethnic studies. On one of her first days on campus, she walked into her African American Studies 101 class, and, for the first time in her life, she sat in a classroom full of students that looked like her and a teacher who looked like her.

“It was such a surreal experience,” she said. “It felt so empowering. When my teacher got up in front of the classroom and started to speak so powerfully, I was almost in tears, I was so touched by the experience. I felt like I was getting down to my roots and learning my cultural history for the very first time.”

That first class, and the variety of other ethnic studies courses with concentrations in other cultures, such as Native and Mexican American, opened her eyes to how much history was left out of her K-12 learning. There was so much about the American experience of ethnic minorities that she didn’t know, even within her own culture. Hernandez soaked in those lessons like a sponge.

“I was so eager to learn,” she said. “So many people are afraid to learn about those who are different, or they look down on them and think that education that includes their history and perspectives is dangerous or wrong, but diversity in education is a good thing. The more we learn about other cultures, and the history and the experiences of those different than ourselves, the more caring and understanding we can be of other people”.

Four years later, Hernandez graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work in 2014. She couldn’t find a position as a social worker, so she started teaching in a Seattle-area preschool. There, she learned her heart was really being in a classroom. Three years later, she moved back to Selah and enrolled in Heritage’s Master in Teaching program. She started teaching at Mount Adams Middle School while attending her graduate program. After graduating, she took a position at Lewis and Clark Middle School in Yakima, where she taught until she moved to Davis High School in fall 2021.


Davis High School and Hernandez’s alma mater Selah High School are a mere 5.8 miles apart. Despite their close geographic proximity, the student makeup is decidedly different. Davis’s population of students of color tops 88%, while Selah’s student body is nearly 64% white. Additionally, a little more than three-quarters of Davis’s students receive free or discounted lunch compared to less than half of Selah’s students.

When Hernandez started teaching at the school, she remembered her experience sitting in her first African American studies course all those years ago.

“Back then, I was shocked by how much I didn’t know,” she said. “It impacts the way I teach my kids today. I like to supplement their learning as we go through the curriculum as things come up. For example, we were learning about activism and civil rights, and Emmett Till was mentioned. The very short explanation in the book didn’t really explain much about who he was, what happened to him and, the impact of his death, and the kids were interested, so we did a little bit of a deeper dive on him and his story.

“I think it is important that we look at history from multiple angles. Hopefully, I’m changing the typical Eurocentric learning kids have been getting.”

A few months after joining the Davis faculty, the school principal approached her with an idea. The school’s Black Student Union (BSU) needed an advisor. It had been inactive for several years and would take some work getting it up and running. The club supports African American youth at the school, provides a safe place where students can talk about their experiences and gives them an outlet to educate the rest of the student body about black culture and history. Hernandez and a newly-hired school counselor decided it was a task they needed to take on.

“The Black Student Union is a club for all that encourages cultural diversity with special regard to those of African American descent. In BSU we teach lessons and lead discussions on topics such as microaggressions, slavery, the “N” word, Black history, colorism and more. We also plan and implement events and activities for Martin Luther King Jr. Day as well as Black History Month in February. We do fundraisers, go to cultural events happening in the community, partake in community service, and overall we support our members and give them a safe space to talk about their lives, and how they are treated in the school and community and how they navigate living in a world as a person of color.”


On May 25, 2020, in a city 1,500 miles away, a man she had never met was killed. The death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer sparked protests across the country. Sitting in her living room, watching the news, Hernandez was heartbroken.

“I was really struggling. George Floyd’s death was just one of many in a string of deaths where a black person was killed. I saw so many people around me just going on with their lives as if their deaths didn’t matter. It was like they were saying, ‘it doesn’t affect my life in any way, so who cares,’” she said. “Then I saw all the protests and the candlelight vigils and the rallies in other parts of the country, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Hernandez ran into an old friend from high school and learned that there was a similar rally scheduled in Yakima the following week. He asked for her help, and Hernandez responded with a resounding “yes!” The event was a success. Two hundred people turned out. There were speakers who shared their stories

and a march that went down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It was a peaceful gathering, one that Hernandez wanted to repeat in her small town of Selah.

The reaction she got from both those she invited to participate, and the City of Selah was night and day to what happened at the Yakima event.

“It was really intimidating. Some of the speakers that spoke in Yakima would not speak in Selah. They said it was too scary and too much of a risk to speak in Selah. We moved ahead with our plans anyway,” she said. “Then the community heard about what we were planning, and things went crazy.”

In the days leading up to the protest in early June, rumblings in the community intensified. Social media posts falsely warned that militant protesters were planning riots and burning down buildings in the town. There were even death threats levied against the event organizers. Hernandez and her fellow organizers carried on with their plans. They attempted to arrange for a police escort at the event to ensure everyone’s safety as they had done in Yakima, but their calls to the department went unreturned.

On the day of the protest, more than 150 people showed up to peacefully assemble in support of Black Lives Matter. Most of the gatherers were white, which was not surprising for a community that is 87% white and less than 1% African American. Cars sped past the activists, the drivers blasting their horns, making obscene gestures and yelling profanity out the windows. One city leader, who was an especially vocal opponent of the cause, stood aggressively staring at the group with his hand on his hip, insinuating the presence of a weapon.

The protest was the opening act for a series of confrontations that lasted for months. Community residents who supported the movement with chalk art drawings on the sidewalk outside their homes had their artwork removed and were threatened with fines. The city leader who so aggressively countered the protest in June insisted that Selah didn’t have a problem with racism and publicly denounced the protesters as outside agitators and a “neo-Marxist organization.” Hernandez’s group responded by formally organizing into the Selah Alliance for Equity (SAFE). They purchased and posted lawn signs promoting Black Lives Matter and calling for the removal of the city official from office. The city removed those signs from public areas while leaving other such signs not associated with the movement.

“Things got so ugly. Many people were unhappy with us. We weren’t trying to cause problems; we were trying to raise awareness that racism exists, even in our community,” said Hernandez. “I knew that what I was doing was the right thing. I wanted people to care and to know that there are black people who live here in Selah. And, I wanted the people of color who live here to know that we see you, we feel you, and we care about you.”

As things escalated, SAFE decided it was time to take legal action. They sued the city for violating their First Amendment rights. The two parties went into mediation. The City settled with SAFE for a monetary sum and agreed to meet several of their demands. The agreement includes renaming a park after a person of color, the creation of a welcoming diversity mural at the entrance of town, and measures to diversify the city workforce and diversity training for all city employees, including police officers.

“Selah can be a pretty exclusive community. It can feel like if you’re new here or different, you don’t belong. Our goal all along was to change hearts and minds so that minorities feel safe, accepted and welcome. It’s a slow process, and Selah still needs a lot of work, but it is a start,” said Hernandez.

Now that the spotlight has dimmed a bit on the Selah protests, Hernandez and other SAFE founders are working on forming a 501(c)(3) to oversee the management of the settlement funds and to continue the work they started in a more formal manner.


In May, Heritage University recognized Hernandez with the 2022 Violet Lumley Rau Alumna of the Year award.

“It’s one thing to stand up against injustice when you are one voice in a chorus of thousands. It’s quite another to be one of a few holding a mirror up to your neighbors’ face and showing them a truth they don’t want to see,” said David Wise, vice president for Advancement at Heritage University. “Courtney’s courage and her grace as she remained resolute as so many people in her own community were casting aspersions on her, her beliefs, and her character are in perfect resonance with the Heritage mission and why she so richly deserves this honor.”

“I am extremely humbled and grateful to be awarded the Violet Lumley Rau Alumna of the Year Award. I hope my work in the community and in education can inspire or encourage even one person to keep moving forward and to stand up for what is right,” she said.

Hernandez continues to be a contributor to SAFE and an educator at Davis. In the fall, she will start a new position. She is the high school’s newest college and career specialist.

“I’m looking forward to helping kids get into college, trade schools, and apprenticeships after they graduate. It will be rewarding helping them make sure they are taking that next step so that they can be on the path to living a successful, fulfilling and happy life,” she said. page17image35220448

Graduate’s Calculated Career in Medical Science

When Karly Beth Serrano was a small child, she would go with her mother to pick cherries. Her mom would climb the ladders and pick the fruit up high, and Serrano would pick the fruit from the bottom of the tree. She remembered the orchard owner coming around at lunchtime, passing out candy bars and cold bottles of water. That was the start of many years of working in the fields and warehouses to help support her family.

Karly Beth Serrano at the 40th annual Heritage University Commence held May 14, 2022 at the Yakima Valley SunDome in Yakima, Wash.

For a long time, it was just her and her mother. Ten years ago, her little sister was born. Around that same time, her mom developed a serious yet manageable illness that needed to be monitored by a primary care physician. However, her mother struggled to find reliable healthcare. She went five or six years without treatment before learning about the clinic at the Union Gospel Mission.

The Union Gospel Mission clinic provides medical services to patients who are uninsured and don’t have the means to pay. Many, like Serrano’s mom, don’t speak English. Children frequently take the role of interpreter, helping their parents and doctors communicate. Such was the case with Serrano and her mom. For two or three years, she would go with her mother to her appointments. Later, Serrano started volunteering her translation services for other Spanish-monolingual patients. At first, she went weekly, then as her schedule allowed her. Serrano got a great deal of personal satisfaction with the volunteer work and still provides translation services from time to time.

If there are two primary influencers that led Serrano to go to college and choose to major in biomedical science, they are her experiences working in agriculture and her time spent helping her mother with her medical condition. Serrano was still in high school when she decided she wanted to go to college and major in science.

“My mom always told me, ‘if you don’t want to work like a donkey, go to school!’” she said. “My family came from nothing. It’s my responsibility to provide for them and give back for all that they gave to me.”

Serrano knew she wanted a career that was far outside of the agriculture industry. The volunteer work she did with the Mission gave her the opportunity to “dip her toes in the medical field,” she said.

“Growing up first-generation, you only know about nurses and doctors. But there are so many other career options out there. I came to Heritage thinking I wanted to become a physician assistant,” she said. “But, once I got here, I decided to explore other options.”

Serrano was accepted into the McNair Scholars program, which prepares first-generation, minority and low-income students for graduate and doctoral studies. Their aim is to increase the number of minorities in academia. Serrano participated in two summer research projects. One at John I. Haas where she experimented on hop plant growth, and a second at the University of Washington, where she worked on a study looking at treating type 1 diabetes through generated cell growth in the pancreas. She presented this research at numerous scientific conferences, including the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.

“Those experiences got me thinking about what path I wanted to take after I graduate, either going into direct patient care, which will have me going to medical school, or becoming a medical researcher,” she said.

Graduation day for Serrano was in May, and with it came a surprise. Each year, the university selects one graduate to receive the President’s Council Award of Distinction. The award is bestowed upon a graduate with both a stellar academic record and a history of service to the campus community. Serrano graduated magna cum laude. Along with her volunteer work at the mission, and her research experiences, she also served as a mentor for students in the CRESCENT program.

“I was amazed that I received the award. The last three years of my undergraduate degree were super busy. Working from one project to another, I never really sat down and reflected on my accomplishments. With the award in my hand, I had a moment of realization; Wow, I really have accomplished a lot.”

While Serrano knew all along that she wanted a career in medicine, where she will end up is still a plan in the works. She is all about trying jobs on for size. She entered the medical field while still in college when she became a phlebotomist. The experience taught her that her desired career field is the right fit with her, and gave her some great material for her resume. However, she isn’t sure if she wants to be on the research side of medicine or in patent care. She was considering returning to Heritage to get her Medical Laboratory Science certification so she could work in a hospital lab for a few years to see if that was a good fit. But then, an opportunity that was too good to pass up came her way.

In July, Serrano is heading to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Fisk University. She was accepted into the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-PhD Bridge Program. She received full funding to earn a Master of Science in Chemistry at Fisk with the option to transition to a Ph.D. program at either Vanderbilt or another university.

Regardless of the career she ends up entering, Serrano is set on remaining in the Yakima Valley.

“The need is so great here,” she said. “This is my home, and I want to serve the people who live here. page17image35220448

Caring for Mother Earth

Dehlia Wolftail at the 40th annual Heritage University Commence held May 14, 2022 at the Yakima Valley SunDome in Yakima, Wash.

Dehlia Wolftail has always dealt with life head-on. She hasn’t really had a choice.

“I’ve always needed to think on my feet,” she said. “It turns out the need to survive really helped me navigate my future self.”

Wolftail took that same approach to the climate change throughout her environmental science studies at Heritage University: Do all you can. We don’t have another choice.

Now with a bachelor’s degree under her belt, she’s on her way to the University of Oregon to pursue a fully funded-doctoral degree. She wants to do something to help the people of the Yakima Valley affected by the increasing effects of climate change – what she considers the biggest issue in the history of humankind.


Wolftail’s realistic approach to life was based on needing to make it through a turbulent childhood, one marked by homelessness and uncertainty. She and her two siblings left their parents to live with an aunt in Toppenish when she was nine. Both her mother and father died three years later. Her life was in the hands of the foster care system until she turned 18.

Wolftail wasn’t thinking about college when she graduated from Toppenish High School in 2004. She went to work in retail – what seemed the most logical choice at the time – but soon realized it wouldn’t help her improve her life or the lives of her family members.

So in 2009, she switched gears, doing the one thing she knew would make the biggest difference for her future: She joined the Marines.

“I went in on the G.I. Bill – I did it for the education I would be able to get afterward,” she said. “Those four years of my life paid for my tuition, books and a monthly stipend.”

From the moment she put her feet on “those yellow airport security footprints” to the day she got out, Wolftail says, it was hard. She served four years in active duty, one of them in Afghanistan.

“Everything about you is being adjusted to act like a Marine. You can’t move at will. You can’t wipe your nose, or you get push-ups. You move when they say move.

“When you live through such a tough way of life, and then you return to civilian life, you really appreciate your freedoms and your liberties. You learn never to take anything for granted.”

Wolftail says she took to heart the Marines’ saying, “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.”

“I had to think tactically at all times. In doing that, I gained more ability to create more structure in my life.”


To make good decisions, Wolftail says, it’s important to think ten steps ahead. She took advantage of available paralegal training while in the Marines, knowing it would benefit her once she was out. She hoped to pursue a law degree.

Back in Toppenish, she enrolled at Yakima Valley College, earned an associate degree, then enrolled at Heritage to continue her education.

“I love geology, so one course I took was a geology course,” she said. “And there was a lot about the earth and climate change.

“I had been looking at the multitude of social injustice issues on which a person can focus their law degree. All those issues are important, but climate change is even bigger. It’s affecting this entire planet and everyone on it.

“The more I learned, the more motivated I was to try to help.”

As her ideas continued to take shape, Wolftail was determined to make the most of her time at Heritage, which meant doing as many internships as possible. She did four in two years, all during the pandemic, taking advantage of three long-standing Heritage grants – the McNair Scholars program, the Culturally Responsive Education in STEM (CRESCENT) program, and the EAGLES STEM Scholarship Program.

In her internships, Wolftail studied the effects of the organic fertilizer biochar on tree growth in orchards in a water-stressed region. She mentored Yakama Nation tribal students in STEM in the EnvironMentors program, a science education and national college access program.

She worked with Washington State University on the food- energy-water nexus, studying water adjudications for the Colville and Spokane tribes. She then presented that research at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) national conference, winning first prize in the undergraduate student poster competition.

She did an internship with EPA Region 10 that helped raise tribal college students’ awareness about air quality on the reservation and presented her findings at the National Tribal Forum on Air Quality.

She found each internship helped her fine-tune her interest. She’s still deciding about a career but knows that continuing her education is key to finding her answers.


Wolftail is concerned for those people of the Valley who are less able to “pivot” when environmental change occurs.

“Increased temperatures and extreme droughts would heavily impact our agricultural industry, which is the main source of income for many families here. Growers would lose their crops and, with that, their ability to pay workers.

“In terms of importance, on a scale of one to 10, I put climate change at a 20. Change needs to happen now. It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue; it’s not just up to the President or one individual or group. It needs to be humanity as a whole to realize we only have one earth, and the work is for all of us and our future generations.

“Especially in this area, changes in our climate are hitting people who, often, their home is all they have. They don’t have money or the means to move if they lose their home to a wildfire or if natural resources dry up.

“Whatever I do for my doctorate, my work will be climate change- focused. Hopefully, the work I do will help many people, including my own.” page17image35220448