Class Notes



Angela (Dillman) Birney (M.Ed., Professional Development) was elected mayor of the City of Redmond, Washington. She started her term in January and will be in her position through December 2023. Before becoming mayor, she served as a member of the Redmond City Council, having been elected to the position in 2015.




Shirley Pleasant Sutton (M.Ed., Community and Human Resource Development) serves on the Lynnwood Washington City Council. She was elected to the position in 2015 and started her four-year term in January 2016. Sutton built a career in K-12 and higher education administration prior to entering into city government. She worked in several director positions in Yakima-area school districts before moving to Lynnwood to be the Executive Director of Diversity Affairs at Edmonds Community College. She retired from education in 2013.


Carol (Powell) Ellingson (B.A., English/Language Arts) taught at Fort Simcoe Job Corps from the time she graduated from Heritage until her retirement. She is active in the Republican Party and worked on the campaign to elect Donald Trump. She is now running for secretary of the Republican Women of Grant County. Ellingson reconnected with her high school sweetheart and the two were married in 2010.



Marie Avalos Guerrero (BSW, Social Work) is the owner and clinical director of the Innovation Resource Center, which provides outpatient substance abuse treatment to clients living in Yakima and surrounding counties. Avalos Guerrero opened the clinic in September 2011.


Jenny (Sutter) TeGrotenhuis (M.Ed., Counseling) is a certified Gottman Relationship Therapist and Clinical Trauma Professional working in private practice in the Tri-Cities and through distance therapy. In addition to her practice, she manages the mental health wellness blog and newsletter Ask Jenny T, is the author the ebook Draw the Line with the One You Love: Set a Boundary That Can Strengthen Your Bond, and is a contributing writer to The Gottman Relationship Blog and Thrive Global.


Allison Nystrom (M.Ed., Counseling) joined Community Health of Central Washington-Ellensburg as a behavioral health consultant. She is a designated mental health professional with experience in family support services advocacy, mental health case management and mental health therapy.


Kelsey Carrigan (B.A. Ed., Elementary Education) is teaching first grade at a public charter school in Phoenix, Arizona through Teach for America and was offered another position teaching special education at the same school next year.




April (Kent) Holmes (B.A., Business Administration) works in the finance department as a revenue auditor at Legends Casino Hotel in Toppenish, Washington. In September she married Cleo Holmes.


Champion for the Nation

Elizabeth Nason (aka “Walaxus’ta), enrolled member of the Yakama Nation, is a mother, grandmother, attorney, college and law school graduate, softball and basketball coach and enthusiastic fan. She is also the highest-ranking administrative leader in the Yakama Nation, serving as the Tribal Administrative Director since 2013. This humble yet accomplished woman followed an impressive path of hard work, discipline and perseverance to get to where she is today.

Nason was the first in her family to go on to higher education, the first Yakama woman to become a practicing attorney, graduating from the Gonzaga University School of Law, and the first female chief justice for her tribe – all while maintaining a busy household, often as a single mom. How did she achieve so much? She laughs that sometimes she looks back and wonders the same thing because her childhood, while happy, was not easy.


When Nason was born, her mom was just 16, so her grandparents stepped into the parental roles, as they did for a number of her cousins that she affectionately refers to as her brothers and sisters. Her grandmother was a go-getter, and Nason admits she probably learned her tenacious, self-reliant ways by living under her influence.

“Growing up, I had to work each year in the berry fields with my grandmother and the rest of my brothers and sisters,” said Nason. “I had no choice, and this happened until I was in eighth grade.

We worked picking strawberries on the coast and then raspberries in Oregon. My grandmother was a hard worker, caring for sometimes more than 10 of us grandchildren at a time. She dried our traditional fish, canned fruits and berries, crocheted and had her garden. With the little resources they had, they provided.”

Her grandmother was an influential role model, and both of her grandparents encouraged her to pursue her education. She admitted she loved school, loved achieving and being recognized for her accomplishments. Her grandparents insisted she obtain her education not for them, but for her. It’s a mantra she repeats to her own grandchildren today.


During an aptitude test in high school, she learned she had skills for training as an executive secretary. When her husband joined the military after high school, however, she moved with him. Her education was put on hold until they returned to their home town. Once back, she followed the path laid out for her and earned an Executive Secretary Certificate from Yakima Business College.

In 1978, while working as a legal secretary for the Yakama Nation Public Defenders’ office, she learned of the National Indian Paralegal Training Program. She applied and got one of the coveted spots, which required travel during the program.

Her first training site was Washington D. C. She packed up her four-year-old daughter, two-year-old son and a relative to watch them while she was in class. It was then that she decided to go to college. She earned an associate degree and started her undergraduate studies, first at a college in New Mexico, then she moved back to the Yakima Valley and enrolled at Central Washington University, located some 60 miles away from her home. However, the hour-long commute combined with working full-time while managing her household and children was just

too much. She reluctantly withdrew from college. One day, she was driving down Fort Road toward Toppenish and spied Heritage University. She applied and was accepted.

“When I went for registration I met with a counselor who saw my drive and did everything to help me succeed.”

Although she can’t remember his name all these years later, he was the first to pointedly ask her, based on her work background, if she would like to go to law school. Although it hadn’t been on her radar before, she thought about it and answered, “Yes, I think I would.”

From then on, said Nason, the Heritage faculty and her advisor carefully guided her, ensuring she was taking the right coursework for law school. They even brought in tutors for her and another student to prepare for the LSATs.

“Heritage provided support for me in more ways than one,” said Nason.

By then she had four children: Shannon, Kenneth, Aaron and Adreanne. She would work all day, take night classes at Heritage while her sisters watched the kids and return home at 9:00 p.m. to spend time with them. Then after bedtime, she began her homework and started the whole thing again the next morning! If she left work early to attend class, that time came off her paycheck. She gratefully acknowledges that former Heritage President Sister Kathleen Ross and Bertha Ortega, retired chair of general studies, offered her moral and emotional support and strength.

“There were times I wanted to throw in the towel,” admitted Nason. “They became more than administrators; they were also my friends.”


Law school is a daunting amount of work for any student, but especially for a mom with a full load of responsibilities. She remembers hearing a man comment that she would never make it through law school because he barely did it, without kids.

“Well,” laughed Nason, “I made it!” She found time to study, even if it was scrolling through note cards while waiting somewhere with her kids.

“Even when they are in leadership, women don’t give up other roles,” added Nason, who was a master multitasker. “We are caregivers and cook dinner, get groceries and do laundry. I used to joke with the male attorneys in our office that I wished I had a wife or nanny to take care of my kids, too. But you just deal with it!”

After graduating from Gonzaga with her Juris Doctorate, she worked first for Colville Legal Services with the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Colville Nation, in Nespelem, Washington representing minors. After two years, she joined the Yakama Nation first as an associate attorney and then a lead attorney for the Office of Legal Counsel. She left to work in private practice for several years before returning as the first female chief judge for the tribe in 2002. After her four-year term ended, she took a hiatus from law and took over the tribal diabetes program as its director.

“This was a nice change as it was a positive program that could have life-sustaining outcomes,” she recalled. “ I was able to be part of the design and construction of the diabetes wellness center, which I will forever be grateful to have been a part of.”

Nason’s days are filled with meetings, like this one with her departments’ deputy directors.


One day, former Tribal Chairman Harry Smiskin requested to meet with her. He told her the tribal administrative director had resigned, and he needed someone, looking pointedly at her!

Nason was shocked and asked if she could think about it. “No,” he answered. “I need someone now.”

The diabetes program was running well, so she agreed to an interim position… that was seven years ago!

Today Nason oversees 1,145 tribal employees from six departments: Department of Natural Resources, Department of Finance, Department of Human Services, Department of Justice Services, Department of Public Safety, and 10 programs directly under Tribal Administration.

“The daily responsibilities are to provide leadership, administration and management of the Yakama Nation’s governmental organization in the administrative realm,” said Nason. “As the liaison between the Yakama Nation leadership and the employees, I spend a significant amount of time in meetings with our elected leaders as well… I don’t think I have ever had a day where there is a normal routine. It’s interesting, though, because since I’ve been in this capacity, I have learned so much in areas I was not aware of.”

Nason leans heavily on her deputy directors to be her experts in each respective area.

“I can’t know everything,” said Nason. “I joke that only my kids think I know everything! I want to empower all of my employees, and I want them to know I appreciate them, and I hear their feedback. I want them to enjoy coming to work to help our government and our people.”


It’s a message she shares with the younger generation, too. The Yakama Nation now offers educational leave to working students so they don’t have to worry like she did about losing pay when they leave work for a class. She urges her employees to take advantage of that opportunity, even if they start with just one class.

Nason has enjoyed a highly successful professional career, making a powerful impact on her tribe and her people by being the first woman to hold many high-level positions. She’s served as a role model to coworkers, not always with intention or overt words, but by carving out her own path, though challenging, through college, law school, in the courtroom and now in administration for her tribe. When asked about her proudest achievements, however, it always comes back to family.

Like her grandmother, Nason has helped raise a number of her alas (Sahaptin for grandchildren). She’s given them the same talk she received as a kid about the importance of education. She’s also passed on a love of basketball and softball, born from her childhood days of playing with her brothers on a homemade dirt-floor basketball court.

Her oldest grandson, her pride and joy, is a high school graduate. Her other grandkids are on the honor roll. She sees more and more tribal members earning associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and she’s happy it’s becoming more of the norm. Some still believe they have too many obstacles to pursue education, and she urges them to rethink that.

“Don’t say ‘can’t’,” she urges them. “I never want to hear ‘can’t’. Leave yourself options and never stop.”

Leading for the Children

Picture a “typical” four-year-old. She’s curious, she likes playing with other children, and she understands taking turns. She can pay attention, say how she feels, and empathize with others. That is most of what’s required to be kindergarten-ready.

However, in the communities surrounding Heritage University, barely a quarter of four-year-olds start their educational career kindergarten ready.

Readiness is measured across six areas of development and learning: social-emotional, physical, language, cognitive, literacy and math. Like falling dominoes, the result of starting school at a disadvantage can determine the entire trajectory of a young life. If a child, her teachers and the school system never stop playing catch-up, traditional markers, such as appropriate third-grade reading skills and fifth-grade math competency, may not be met. The transition to higher grades means continuing setbacks.

And what about high school graduation? College- readiness? Education attainment in the Yakima Valley lags behind that of the rest of Washington state and the nation. More than a quarter of Yakima County students drop out of high school. Less than half ever enroll in college, and of those that do, half are academically unprepared for the rigors of college study and require developmental coursework before they begin the real work of college. The greater the student’s deficiency, the more likely he or she is to drop out. In the end, only 15% of Yakima students complete a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The lack of educational attainment in the Yakima Valley is rooted in poverty, language barriers and a myriad of other challenges. New parents must access and utilize support systems, social service programs must keep at-risk children from falling through the cracks, and beleaguered school systems must attempt to successfully educate every child in their ranks.

Expecting it all to work together seamlessly simply isn’t working. The Yakima Valley needs a new approach to education.

Dreama Gentry, executive director of Partners for Education at Berea College talks about the Collective Impact model during a meeting of the Yakima Valley partners in January.


Heritage University entered into a partnership with community organizations, school districts and families to tackle the complex issue of educational attainment. Called Collective Impact, it’s a multifaceted partnership that involves shared vision, combined effort and strong leadership.

It all started in the summer of 2018 when Korynne Wright, a friend and supporter of Heritage, reached out to the university with an invitation to a gathering at her home to learn about an approach she believed could have a significant effect on education in the Valley.

“The meeting came to be known as the ‘kitchen cabinet,’” said David Wise, vice president for advancement at Heritage. “It was an informal setting, but the discussion and what came of it was transformative.”

Wright introduced Heritage to a group of key representatives of several organizations that, using the Collective Impact model, actively work to improve childhood outcomes: Save the Children, Strive Together and Berea College – Partners for Education, the latter of which had implemented the “cradle to career” approach to effective education some 20 years earlier.

Yakima Valley’s Collective Impact partners include leaders in education, social services, law enforcement, business, health care, philanthropy, and government sectors. Representatives came together in January to start the work of building the initiative’s mission, vision, structures, goals and processes.

“We learned how the Collective Impact model helps organizations work together toward their common goal,” said Wise. “It involves communication, collaboration, shared vision, planning, data-based decision making and holding each other accountable to achieve the agreed- upon goals.

“It’s all brought together by a strong backbone organization that leads the collective.”

Wise went on to meet with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he was introduced to the book Place-Based Community Engagement in Higher Education, which further broadened his thinking.

Suzy Diaz

Wise believed the Collective Impact model had significant merit for improved educational outcomes in Yakima County and that Heritage needed to be part of it.

“I knew Heritage could be the leader that was needed. And I knew Suzy Diaz, then the director of corporate and foundation relations at Heritage, was the right person to lead the backbone effort,” he said. “With more than 20 years experience working in health care, social services, academia and philanthropy in rural settings, she has a perspective on the challenges that face our communities and the assets that exist.”

In spring 2019, Wise and Diaz, along with Heritage President Andrew Sund, board member Ellen Wallach, and former board chair Steve Altmayer flew to Berea College in Kentucky to see its work in action.

“We are grateful to have Berea’s Partners for Education and their nearly 25 years of Collective Impact experience mentoring Heritage through this process. We share the rural lens, geographic challenges and need for resources. Of course, most importantly, we share the common goal of improving educational outcomes for our communities,” said Diaz.

Photo provided by Save the Children.

“We went on in-home visits where new parents and their children met with staff members from Save the Children, who help parents better understand the developmental and learning stages of their child by sharing ways to initiate learning through play, reading and everyday tasks. Parents asked questions about their children’s behavior and provided feedback on how their children are progressing through the learning period,” she said.

“We made classroom visits and saw how literacy supports are integrated into the student’s day.”

Berea College-Partners for Education became the model for Collective Impact in the Yakima Valley, and its team mentors for Heritage.


A year after that first “kitchen cabinet” meeting, Heritage was ready to begin formalizing Collective Impact. The University Board of Directors gave its full approval to move forward. Funding was secured through a $100,000 planning grant awarded to Heritage by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Save the Children came on formally as a major funder, through the support of the Balmer Group, for the first 15 months of the effort and as a planning and execution partner.

Shortly afterward, Diaz presented the cooperative concept to the Grandview School District. When she asked “Who else would benefit from this work?” those present nominated the communities of Mabton and Sunnyside. Given the proximity to Grandview, it was a natural fit to join with all three school districts and form cohort one of this process.

“We learned we were all naturally aligned with the purpose of this work,” said Diaz.

An official convening of partners took place in Grandview in January. There the school districts, partners working within the school districts, local agencies and other stakeholders began discussions about developing a mission, vision, structures, setting goals and implementing processes.

The initiative was officially up and running, with Heritage as the backbone of the Yakima Valley cradle- to-career education continuum.

Danielle Gettings, Grandview School District, makes notes during a group brainstorming session at the January meeting of the Collective Impact partners.


Key local partners in the Collective Impact undertaking in the Valley currently include the school districts of Grandview, Sunnyside and Mabton. Partnering organizations include social service providers, immigrant community providers, law enforcement, the private business sector, philanthropy, health services, higher education, civic-government organizations and Educational Service District 105.

“Within the Yakima Valley, there are 15 school districts including the Yakama Nation that we hope to partner with over time,” said Diaz. “Students often transfer between neighboring school districts, which is another reason to work together – so students can succeed through transitions.”

While Heritage University will serve as the backbone organization, two leadership bodies will guide the supports for this initial cohort and will be comprised of representatives within and outside the education sector, a key component of collective impact. Two advisory bodies will be composed of a cross-sector and countywide representation that will guide the administrative functions of this work.

“This process involves anyone who shares the belief that we can improve educational outcomes together,” said Diaz.

“The goal is that more children enter the school systems ready to learn and achieve the most significant milestones along the way, so that learning continues and it is more likely that each child will reach graduation prepared for college, persist in college and, ultimately, successfully enter a meaningful career,” said Wise.

“By taking this role, we can impact students’ well-being, whether they go to Harvard or Heritage or anywhere in between,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about the good of all, and that’s why Heritage University exists.”


Great things can come from serendipitous moments. Collective Impact is a prime example.

Since its founding 100 years ago, Save the Children has changed the lives of more than 1 billion children in the United States and around the world, ensuring children grow up healthy, educated and safe. After years of working

in rural America, in Kentucky’s Appalachia region, they turned their attention to the Yakima Valley, focusing their efforts on children age zero through third grade. It was their initiative that led to Heritage’s introduction to Collective Impact, and their ongoing leadership and mentorship throughout the exploration and planning period that allowed Collective Impact to form and launch in 2020.

“There are many stops along the way when a child can be guided to achieve their highest educational capacity. We start with the question: ‘Who can improve education outcomes for children?’ The answer is everyone,” said Diaz. “It’s absolutely necessary that organizations that serve children and families collaborate to improve educational outcomes. It really does begin at birth.”

Cradle-to-Career is defined at each step along the continuum.

EARLY LEARNING: “It all begins with early, in-home learning,” Diaz said. “This work includes parent-educator coordinators who visit the homes of parents with children age zero to three to insure educational learning and developmental milestones are reached.”

PRE-K AND EARLY-EDUCATION SUPPORT: In- home learning and child development are followed by supports in high quality, early learning programs and centers to support kinder-readiness. From kindergarten to third grade, markers like reading and math are measured. Healthy socio-emotional development is also important and cultivated.

MIDDLE SCHOOL SUPPORT: This, said Diaz, requires support in attendance, math, science, reading and writing, along with continued supports for social and emotional health that serve to ensure successful transitions into high school.

HIGH SCHOOL AND POST-HIGH SCHOOL TRANSITIONS: In high school, the focus turns to ninth grade success, high school completion, college-readiness and post-high school transitions.

CAREER READINESS: Lastly, career readiness and success are measured by employment and wage-earning data, which help measure the economic vitality of an individual.

This Is a Woman’s World

When Kim Bellamy-Thompson went into law enforcement 36 years ago, she knew she was entering a man’s world.

Kim Bellamy-Thompson spent 23 years working as a police officer for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Orlando, Florida

“You had to prove yourself,” said Bellamy- Thompson, chair of Heritage’s Criminal Justice program. It was Orange County, Florida, 1984. “I proved myself, and I went on to have a really meaningful career.”

When Sergeant First Class Syvilla Reynolds enlisted in the Army in 1989, she saw a similar challenge.

“I knew I had to work twice as hard and keep my nose to the grindstone, always driving for bigger and better things,” said Reynolds, who’s now in the physician assistant program at Heritage.

Thirty years later, Dawn Waheneka, an HU history major and Mellon Fellow, didn’t pay much attention to other people’s expectations. She entered the U.S. Navy to better herself.

“I grew from the experience, not knowing at the beginning how big it would be. I 100-percent bettered myself,” she said.

History major Dawn Waheneka constructs a wall framework for a new building at a military base in Afghanistan as part of her job as a Navy Seabee.

Times have changed for women in the military and law enforcement. There are fewer hurdles, the pay is good, career paths are solid, and there can be help with college tuition during or after service.

There are opportunities in these careers,
these women said. You do meaningful work. You overcome a myriad challenges. But most of all, you learn a lot about who you really are.


Throughout her career in law enforcement, Bellamy-Thompson had many assignments. She was a patrol officer. She was a narcotics agent. She investigated white-collar crimes, sex crimes and elder abuse.

She wasn’t all about arresting people, “grabbing people and throwing them on the ground.” Although that’s what’s often seen on television and in social media today, it didn’t represent her experience, she said.

What was important to Bellamy-Thompson was making a difference in people’s lives. She did it every day when she helped someone in distress while on patrol, investigated her way to the truth about who committed a crime, or helped bring an offender to justice.

Sergeant First Class Syvilla Reynolds at Camp Najaf-Adair in Oregon doing medevac loading exercises on Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters.

“Mostly, law enforcement is really smart people making sound decisions to make the community a better place,” she said.

For Bellamy-Thompson, her desire to help people – what she calls providing good “customer service” on behalf of a community – was fulfilled in her law enforcement career. She brought her care, communication skills and professionalism to a job that needed it.

Bellamy-Thompson thinks women have ways of dealing with difficult situations that come naturally to them. When the issue is one of domestic violence or sexual abuse, for example, the ‘soft skills’ that women lead with help the victim and help find a resolution.

“Instead of showing up looking stoic and militaristic, I found women typically approach a problem with a desire to resolve things. We communicate our way through issues.”


Reynolds was the kind of kid who signed up for first aid classes at summer camp. She was the kid who dragged animals home and patched them up – whether they needed it or not.

Growing up in Poulsbo, Washington, Reynolds’s grandfather was a doctor, her brother an army medic. Her decision at age 18 to join the Army and work in the operating room seemed preordained.

After leaving her law enforcement career, Bellamy-Thompson came to Heritage to help other men and women prepare for careers in law and justice.

Her choice was an unorthodox one for a woman at the time, but Reynolds said the Army-medical path was the perfect one for her.

“It really is kind of like what you see on M*A*S*H— organized chaos. It gets your adrenaline pumping. I love that.”

While enlisted in the Army, Reynolds worked with elite Forward Surgical Teams (FSTs) for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. She now serves one weekend a month in the reserves where she’s the company first sergeant of B Company, 396th Combat Support Hospital in Vancouver, Washington.

Reynolds and the teams she works with provide medical support for injured troops once they’re back in the States. She’s also responsible for
the training and management of soldiers on the operating team.

That’s a significant amount of responsibility, proving how much things have changed for women over Reynolds’s time in the service.

“In the ‘80s, women were almost always in support roles – administrative, supply, nursing. Today, we even have women going through ranger school. Rangers are trained in combat. They lead soldiers on difficult missions,” she said.

Dawn Waheneka traded camouflage for a book bag when she enrolled at Heritage after her military service.


Growing up on the Yakama reservation, the furthest Waheneka had ever ventured from home was Nevada. But, at age 17, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy. A few months later, she arrived in Spain on her first deployment.

Her second was to Afghanistan, her third split between Africa and Croatia, and her fourth Japan.

“I enlisted to better myself, and to see the world,” says Waheneka. “And I did both those things.”

As a Seabee, Waheneka’s team built complexes for U.S. Marines and roads for people in rural Afghanistan. In Africa, she was on a crew that built a maternity home for the women of a small village.

She is excited about the subject of female empowerment. She feels her personal growth through her Navy experience, combined with her Heritage education, gives her the skills to be able to help her people, especially girls and young women.

“I want to take what I’ve experienced and what I’ve learned and help Yakama youth develop a more positive sense of who they are.”


Today, women represent 15 percent of law enforcement professionals nationwide and 14 percent of active duty military. These organizations recognize the need to include women in their ranks and their leadership.

Clearly, said Bellamy-Thompson, there’s room for improvement in those numbers. But more and more, she said, both industries are working to ensure they more fully reflect the nation’s population. Bellamy-Thompson has found local agencies are very eager to create internships with the university, which has opened doors for female students.

Reynolds prepares surgical instrumentation prior to a case in the operating room.

Now, every semester, she places 10 Heritage students in internships. Their majors have included criminal justice, social work, psychology, even some of the sciences.

For 120 hours over the course of a semester, students have real-world experiences that give them a head start on the careers they’ll choose after graduation.

“I have students who are helping domestic violence victims get into shelters. There are some teaching citizenship classes as part of their internship. Often an intern moves around within the department, working with a patrol officer, then maybe in probation, then maybe in juvenile services. It all intertwines.

“One student was a biology major with a criminal justice minor who was interested in forensics. We got her an internship in the coroner’s office.”

Students who’ve had internships tend to find jobs more readily, said Bellamy-Thompson. The Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, Washington State Patrol and Washington State Department of Corrections have all hired Heritage grads who worked internships.

Women like Waheneka, Bellamy-Thompson and Reynolds paved the road for younger women today. Where they go from there is all possibility.

Women Power!

Back in 1982 when Sr. Kathleen Ross, Violet Lumley Rau and Martha Yallup started Heritage University, they began something truly rare—a co-ed college founded by women, run by women, with classes taught by women. Back in the university’s early days, the proverbial glass ceiling was solidly in place over academia with women making up only 9% of college presidencies and 27% of the professoriate nationally.

While the role of women in higher education leadership has expanded in this country over the past 30 years, a significant gap between the genders remains, with 86% of university leadership and 75% of professors being male. However, it is a different story at Heritage. The university started by women continues to break the curve when it comes to female representation in the professoriate. Nearly 60% of the academic program chairs and half the full-time faculty at Heritage are women.

“I don’t find this too surprising for my generation,” said Dr. Melissa Hill, Heritage’s vice president of student affairs. “Diversity is a core value for our institution; that includes gender diversity. Keep in mind that our student body is overwhelmingly female—70% of our students are women. One of the benefits of having so many women in leadership positions is how they become role models for their students, many of whom have had limited exposure to the wide range of opportunities that are open to them as future college graduates.”



For many of Heritage’s female faculty members, the memories of being a young woman filled with dreams and doubts are vividly etched in their minds. They can relate to students’ experiences juggling complex lives filled with multiple demands on top of the stress that comes from being a college student because they’ve been there. It is a common bond that helps faculty connect with their students’ and empowers students who see in their professors someone who’s been through similar situations, persisted and reached their goals. Mary James, one of the university’s longest-tenured faculty members who co-facilitates the Center for Intercultural Learning and Teaching and is the special assistant for logistics and evaluation recalls the challenges of being a young, professional woman in the early 1970s. It was a time of change for women; coming off the heels of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination based on sex and ethnicity, and the Title IX Education Amendments of 1972 that provided protections for women on college campuses.

“I remember applying for a car loan back in 1972 and being denied because I was of ‘child-bearing age,’” she said. “When I went back to college to earn my master’s degree in English, there wasn’t a single faculty member who was a woman in that department.”

James was determined to have a voice and to help build equity for all people. She joined women’s political movements and became a strategist. In 1984,  she led a campaign for a woman who was a long shot, an outsider running for superior court judge. She won! James built a political career in the Washington state capital of Olympia, lobbying for safety nets, such as domestic violence laws, to protect women. She was passionate about empowering young women, particularly those who were indigenous and immigrants. She wanted to have a more direct impact on individuals. James left her career in politics and joined Heritage.

“I never want to presume that I know what is best for our students. My job isn’t to tell them what to do with their lives,” she said. “I am here to help students grow their skills so that they can accomplish their goals.”

Dr. Christina Nyirati, director of Heritage’s Nursing Program, can relate to James’s experience of being a woman learning in a male-dominated environment. However, in her case, she found a mentor in Dr. Grayce Sills, then a giant in the field of psychiatric nursing who led the nursing program at The Ohio State University.

“Dr. Sills’ lessons were monumental for me because she was deliberate in her choice to mentor me,” said Nyirati.

She and Sills spoke often about the power differentials between women and men. At that time, men dominated medical schools while nursing was mainly made up of women. Many nurses were afraid of speaking up, and at times, felt implicit pressure to tell medical doctors, who were mostly men, what they wanted to hear rather than what the nurses understood from their experience and knowledge.

Those conversations and the lessons of perseverance and taking risks that she learned as she built her career stuck with Nyirati. She uses these today with her own students and is as intentional in her mentoring of young women as her mentor was those years ago.

“My students are my junior colleagues,” she said. “Just this week, a young nursing student came in to see me. She explained her self-doubt. I know what this woman is capable of! She asked me, ‘Do you think I can do this?’ I told her, ‘I will work as hard as you do on your behalf to support your success.’ They’ve not often had people who believe in them and tell them they can do it. It makes all the difference in their worlds.”


Women in academia aren’t just good for other women, said Hill, it benefits everyone.

“It’s about balance,” she said. “Our job is to provide a quality education that challenges all of our students and prepares them to be leaders in their communities after they graduate. The reality of our world is that we are a diverse network of people from many different genders, ethnicities, backgrounds and beliefs. We all bring different skills and talents to the table and we need everyone to be present, to have a voice, in order to thrive. We can’t do this if only one perspective, male or female, is represented.

“Do we need more women in higher education? Yes! Just like we need more women in leadership positions across every industry,” she said. “If we start in academia, where men and women learn to think critically and build their world view, we can affect change far beyond our classrooms.

Those conversations and the lessons of perseverance and taking risks that she learned as she built her career stuck with Nyirati. She uses these today with her own students and is as intentional in her mentoring of young women as her mentor was those years ago.

“My students are my junior colleagues,” she said. “Just this week, a young nursing student came in to need everyone to be present, to have a voice, in order to thrive. We can’t do this if only one perspective, male or female, is represented.

“Do we need more women in higher education? Yes! Just like we need more women in leadership positions across every industry,” she said. “If we start in academia, where men and women learn to think critically and build their world view, we can affect change far beyond our classrooms.”

News Briefs – WINGS Fall 2019



This summer the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) reaffirmed Heritage University’s accreditation. The commission awards accreditation in recognition of educational institutions’ performance, integrity and quality. NWCCU accredited colleges and universities, such as Heritage complete an intensive self-evaluation and peer review every seven years.

A team of eight evaluators visited Heritage for five days in April to review the university’s self- evaluation. Following their visit, the team commented on Heritage in five areas:

• The deep commitment of its faculty, staff and administrators to the mission of the university, which guides them in outstanding support of transformative, student- centered education, developing leaders who embrace social justice and community engagement.

• Its dedicated, data-driven efforts to support student access and equity, as exemplified by the summer Math Bridge and English Academy programs that have enabled hundreds of students to advance from developmental to college-level study.

• The Center for Intercultural Learning and Teaching’s (CILT) dedication to the delivery of high quality and continuous faculty development in areas of program review and assessment, the use of classroom technology, cultural responsiveness and care of students, and pedagogy that supports academic excellence for all students.

• The culture of assessment among its professionally accredited undergraduate and graduate-level majors and programs.

• Its Board of Directors for advancing the mission of Heritage University through its strong leadership, engagement, advocacy, philanthropic support and discerning recruitment of new members to the Board.

“It is a reflection of our faculty and staff’s ongoing commitment to achieving the Heritage mission and that we meet the Commission’s expectations for complying with the accreditation criteria,” said Dr. Andrew Sund, Heritage University president. “The accreditation renewal reinforces our conviction in the Heritage mission to empower a multicultural and inclusive student body to overcome the social, cultural, economic and geographic barriers that limit access to higher education embracing a transformational student-centered education that cultivates leadership and a commitment to the promotion of a more just society. We will continue to support the initiatives that made the university what it is and develop new programs that are responsive to the needs of students and the communities we serve.” page24image48852560


Amarilis Santiago was driving home one night when a drunk driver careened into the side of the car she had borrowed. Thankfully, she was uninjured. But, that one moment almost derailed her education.

“It wasn’t my car and I had the responsibility to pay for the damage and find transportation for myself. I was at the point where I had to decide whether to finish out the school year or dropped out to get a job because I had bills that needed to be paid,” she said.

Fortunately, Heritage had recently launched its Student Emergency Fund, a resource for students like Santiago who are facing temporary and unforeseen financial hardships that can have dire consequences on their college completion. It is one spoke in the university’s HU Cares program, which also includes advocacy and mental health counseling, ride-sharing and even an on-campus food pantry.

“So many of our students’ finances are razor-thin. What seems like a minor bill can be catastrophic for them. A couple hundred dollars shouldn’t be what causes them to drop out of college,” said Melissa Hill, Heritage vice president for student affairs.

Last December, as the Emergency Fund was just being formed, Hill met with the congregation of the Selah Covenant Church to talk about the university and its students. Each year the church’s congregation chooses three causes to support during their holiday fund drive. Each member pledges to contribute 10% of their total holiday giving to the church’s fundraising efforts. That year, they choose Heritage and the Emergency Fund. The group raised $8,353.59 for Heritage students, a third of the total amount contributed overall.

“I’m thankful for the emergency fund,” said Santiago. “Without that support, I would have dropped out.”

Contributions to the Emergency Fund and HU Cares have an immediate impact when the need is at its highest. You can help. Go to to make your gift, or call (509) 865-0700. page23image48835552


Hispanic and Native American students from the communities surrounding Heritage University spent the summer learning about health sciences during the Summer Program for Yakama Students research experience (SPYS).

SPYS is a collaboration between Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences and Heritage to teach students from the Mt. Adams School District and Yakama Nation Tribal School about health sciences and its career opportunities. The students spend 40 hours a week for seven weeks immersed in science and culture at the two universities. Their experience culminates with a public poster presentation of their individual research, much like their college counterparts do as part of their course of study.

This is the second year Heritage and PNWU have offered the program. In all, 15 students participated in this year’s experience. page28image48803200


HU Associate Professor Alex Alexiades, Ph.D. received his second Fulbright Fellowship award this summer. He traveled to Colombia to conduct stream biogeochemistry research at the Pedagogical and Technological University of Columbia in Tunja and to train other scientists on his research methodology.

In 2014, Alexiades received his first Fulbright Fellowship to support research in Ecuador. He and his colleagues undertook a collaborative research on flow ecology and the effects of water withdrawals on aquatic fauna in the Napo River Basin.

“These streams have not been well documented and many aspects of their ecology remain poorly understood,” he said.

The results of the Ecuador study was published in the academic journal, Hydrobiologia in July. page28image48803200


Former Heritage faculty member Greg Hinze (64) passed away on Saturday, July 13, 2019. Hinze taught history and geography at the university for 8 years, starting in 2008.

Hinze spent 25 years working as a sign hanger before deciding to go to college. He earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Central Washington University. His master’s thesis on the movement of Arkansas farm workers into the Wenatchee Valley between the 1930s and 1960s was published by the Wenatchee World Press into the book Take Hold. He later researched and wrote a biography of a Yakima Valley orchardist’s family.

Following his years at Heritage, Hinze taught at Yakima Valley Community College and received the student-nominated Faculty of the Year award in 2018.

Greg is survived by his wife of 33 years, Heather (Chittock) Hinze, brother Curtis Hinze, sister Kristi Beers (Gary), son Jason Hinze and grandson Colin Hinze. page28image48803200


Dr. Alex Alexiades and his students examine fish fry captured through stream shocking collection methods.

A pair of National Science Foundation (NSF) grants totaling $12.5 million, will help Heritage and its partnering institutions increase the number of low-income and minority students preparing to enter careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

In July, the university announced that it was awarded $2.5 million from the NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic Serving Institutions Program. The funds will be used

to support the university’s Cultural Responsive Education in STEM (CRESCENT) initiative. CRESCENT aims to increase the number of Hispanics and Native Americans in the STEM workforce by bolstering student supports and hands-on research opportunities, as well as faculty professional development and institutional partnerships.

“We have many talented and driven students in our region who are interested in pursuing STEM careers but can sometimes struggle on their journeys and become discouraged. The CRESCENT program is designed to support these students throughout their pathway from high school to graduate school,” said Dr. Jessica Black, chair of the sciences programs. “CRESCENT program activities will also empower faculty to develop innovative teaching strategies for instructing our diverse students and prepare the next generation of global citizens with a breadth of knowledge and essential life skills to succeed in the rapidly changing environment of the 21st century.”

The following month, Heritage received word that it and Portland State University (PSU) will share in a $5 million NSF grant to increase the number of low-income, high- achieving students majoring in STEM subjects through the Engagement Achievement and Graduation for Low- incomE Students (EAGLES) program. Through the program, the grant will provide scholarships to students in STEM studies at either Heritage or PSU whose career goals include working to address environmental pollution, as well as mentoring and research opportunities. Students at both universities will also participate in shared research experiences, coursework and cross-campus networking. In addition, pre- engineering students at Heritage who wish to pursue bachelor’s degrees in civil and environmental engineering at PSU will have access to that university’s career placement services and graduate programs for more a seamless transferring process.

“The research and service- learning activities conducted by our students will address authentic local and regional issues and strengthen community connections, and these results will demonstrate a model worthy of national replication for increasing enrollment, retention, and graduation in STEM majors and development of the sense of science identity needed in further studies and/or careers in the environmental sciences and engineering,” said Dr. Alexander Alexiades, associate professor and the principal investigator for the grant at Heritage.

Both the EAGLES and the CRESCENT programs are funded through 2024. In addition to their direct impacts for students, they will each include plans to build culturally responsive learning procedures aimed at developing undergraduate students’ science identity and their sense of community as a mechanism to increase academic outcomes and expand success beyond the bounds of the grants. page28image48803200


Visitors to the Central Washington State Fair could get a side of the flu shot to go along with their corn dogs and fried candy bars. Heritage nursing and physician assistant students were part of a team of volunteers administering flu shots for Howard’s Drug of Selah and the Yakima Health District to fairgoers of all ages. All totaled, 1,400 flu shots were given. page23image7003664





Heritage University Enactus members and alumni started a new project to empower women in the Yakima Valley. Women Rise Up, is a
three-year initiative being conducted in partnership with the Yakima Housing Authority that aims to teach participants financial literacy skills. After they complete the project, participants have the opportunity to receive financial help towards home ownership.

During the first event at the WorkSource office in Union Gap, Washington, Heritage faculty member Vicky Swank introduced budgeting practices to the participants. Each of the women received a 12-month calendar and a budget planner to help them get started. Enactus members and alumni are serving as mentors to the women during the span of the project. page23image7003664



Believe it or not, some savvy individuals are already considering how to make smart decisions when supporting their favorite nonprofits before the end of the year. One opportunity that has grown in popularity is making a donation through an IRA. Often called an IRA Charitable Rollover, there are many benefits of this type of contribution.

A qualified charitable distribution (QCD) is a direct transfer from an IRA to a charity. This giving strategy is available to individuals who are 70 1⁄2 and older which is the same group that is subject to required annual minimum distributions (RMD) from their IRA. When a transfer is made from the plan’s administrator directly to the charity, the transfer satisfies the RMD and it is also excluded from the individuals’ income which decreases their adjusted gross income.

While this giving strategy is a clever way to optimize your 2019 donations, it also benefits a nonprofit such as Heritage University by helping to further the work and mission of our organization. Visit for more information. page23image7003664

Alumni Connections and Class Notes

Heritage alumni welcome to your special section of Wings! Here you will find feature stories on alumni doing great things in their communities, updates on what other alums are up to in their careers and personal lives, and news from Alumni Connections about upcoming events and opportunities.

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:

•  Like us on Facebook (

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

•  Visit us online at

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, e-mail us at or give us a call at (509) 865-8588.

Richard “Dick” Welch (M.Ed., Educational Administration with Principal Credentials) passed away on August 12, 2019. He was 74. Prior to his retirement in 1990, he was the athletic director and attendance administrator for West Valley High School.

Laurence Keeler (M.Ed., Professional Development) passed away at the age of 74 on July 26, 2019. Before his retirement in 2001, he taught for 30 years in the Yakima School District.

Jim Williams (MA.Ed., Professional Development) and his wife Kirsten opened the Public House of Yakima earlier this year. The Public House is an intimate restaurant and taproom that features locally made craft beers and fine wines.

Suheil (Guzman) Walker (B.A., Business Administration) was hired by Anthem, Inc. to serve as the senior technical recruiter. Anthem provides health insurance to 40 million members across the United States.

Mario Uribe Saldana (M.Ed., Elementary Education) is the vice principal at McLoughlin High School in Milton Freewater, Oregon.

Daylen Isaac (B.S., Environmental Science) is a statistician with the Yakama Nation Fisheries. Isaac graduated from Washington State University with a master’s degree in horticulture.

Aleesa Bryant
(B.S., Biomedical Science) joined the USDA’s Agriculture Research Service division as a biological science technician in May.

Shahin Carter (M.S., Physician Assistant) was selected for the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance advanced practice provider fellowship in oncology and bone marrow transplant. She is one of three recent physician assistant or nurse practitioner graduates selected for the program, which operates in partnership
with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington.

Alejandra Haro (B.A., Business Administration) opened Local Beet Meal Prep, a meal preparation service that focuses on serving healthy, plant- based meals. Haro collaborated with another Yakima startup company, Healthy Eats Nutrition Services, which teaches healthy cooking using plant-based recipes.
The partners celebrated the grand opening of their retail space in July.

Michael Valdez (M.S., Physician Assistant) is a physician assistant at The Center Orthopedic & Neurosurgical Care in Bend, Oregon in the orthopedics department.


Christie Fiander (B.A., Environmental Studies) is working to protect endangered species as a wildlife biologist with the Yakama Nation Environmental Restoration and Waste Management Program.

Brenda Lewis (B.A., Business Administration) is a compliance officer with the Yakama Nation Department of Revenue.

Maria Lara (B.A.Ed., Elementary Education) is teaching 6th grade English development at Captain Gray STEM Elementary School in Pasco, Washington.


Submit Your Class Notes

Send us your submission for Class Notes. It’s easy. Just visit, 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. page23image48835552



Alumni Spotlight: Leveling the Educational Playing Field


Glenn Jenkins with his class of fifth-graders at Dick Scobee Elementary School in Auburn, Washington. In his class of 23 students, there are eight different cultures represented.

Students win with the academic approach that weaves culture and racial equity into the classroom.

Glenn Jenkins’ first brush with higher education started very early. He attended college at the age of eight!
Yes, he was extremely bright, but this Heritage alumnus was actually tagging along with his mom as she took courses towards her bachelor’s degree in interior design. Jenkins laughs boisterously as he recalls the day he made his presence well known to a professor, by raising his hand with the correct answer to a question thrown out to students in his mom’s college-level English class.

“After that, I did all of my mom’s English homework,” chuckles Jenkins conspiratorially, admitting he also became the family’s go-to handyman after mom learned she could throw him a DIY book, and he would teach himself how to wire electrical outlets and clear drains.

Education was seemingly infused into Jenkins’ DNA at birth. His passion for education as an equalizer for children of color led him to become an elementary school teacher in the Auburn School District in western Washington state. He was also elected a year ago to the board of the Washington Education Association Representative Assembly (WEARA) in the role of Equity-At-Large Board Director. Over the past year, Jenkins has become the implicit bias trainer, conducting professional development in the areas of race, gender and disability, believing that until educators themselves are exposed to racial equality in education they can’t nurture it in their classrooms.


Born in Detroit, Michigan, Jenkins attended a rigorous STEM-focused magnet high school, Cass Technical High School, which counts songstress Diana Ross, comedian and actress Lily Tomlin, and automaker and manufacturer of the time-traveling car in the Back to the Future movies, John DeLorean, as former students. He jokes that he and his friends were “nerds, but cool nerds,” taking tough classes like chemistry, biology and engineering while maintaining the mandatory 3.0-grade-point average.

He was working as a freelance writer for the Michigan Citizen newspaper in 1996 after graduation when he decided he wanted to try somewhere new.

With no destination in mind, he opened an atlas, closed his eyes, and pointed. His finger landed on Tacoma, Washington. Within three months, he moved cross- country and was working in the Pacific Northwest.

“I’ve had about 37 jobs in my lifetime,” said Jenkins. “I write them on the board for the kids every year to show them that success is not a straight line.”

New telecommunications companies were opening their doors almost daily then, and he worked for a number of them in various engineering roles. He eventually joined one that was building out the fiber network in Seattle.

“I became known as the go-to guy,” he said.

One time, his boss called him at five in the morning and said the entire state of Alaska was down, and he had six hours to fix it. And he did! However, when he was passed over for a promotion solely because some of his coworkers were uncomfortable with his skin color, Jenkins decided it was time for a change. That overt racism drove him into education.

He stumbled upon the teaching program at Heritage accidentally, after finishing his associate degree at South Seattle Community College. At the time, the university operated a satellite teacher preparation bachelor’s degree program at the community college.

“The social justice framework of Heritage was exactly what I was looking for if I was going to be a teacher,” said Jenkins, who graduated from Heritage in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in education and an English as a Second Language endorsement. “Their openness to cultural representation was really important to me.”


Jenkins assists students Angel Cabral, Gabriel Hernandez-Garza, Feisa Hussein and Jasmine Perry as they work on the math assignment, a house building project.


Jenkins runs a tough classroom, but the kids see he cares. He makes a point of being inclusive and curious about their cultures. He shared his own ethnicity in cultural nights at school and encourages his students to share theirs. He asks for help with his Spanish and works hard to get the pronunciation of every child’s name exactly right because he sees that as a sign of respect.

Njeri Bañuelos was a student of Jenkins when he was teaching fourth, fifth and sixth grades in a split classroom. She struggled with English and other coursework, particularly math. Jenkins saw that, and knew instinctively that he had to draw her out to break down the barriers to her learning.

“I was terrible at math,” said Njeri, now an eighth-grader. “I didn’t want to be there, but Mr. Jenkins pushed me to get better. I would be mad at myself and frustrated, but I didn’t want to ask questions. He told me not to be embarrassed because no one ever stops learning. It’s true!”

Njeri’s mom, Guadeloupe, explained that her daughter practically brought Mr. Jenkins home every day – by talking about him so often to the family. Njeri would quote facts about topics like space junk, and after a while, her brothers would simply say, “Let me guess, Mr. Jenkins?”

“My whole classroom is based on the fact that I know you don’t know,” he explained. “But you have to feel comfortable enough in order to ask questions. The best way to make you feel comfortable is to be sure the math, science, history and reading lessons have someone in it that mirrors who you are.”

He gives an example of a long-standing math scavenger hunt in which the clues were always white mathematicians, even though the classroom was comprised of 80% children of color.

“I turned the scavenger hunt into a cultural scavenger hunt that had mathematics tied to it,” he said.

He changed the clues to mathematicians from the countries his students came from, and with 18 different nationalities, including the Marshall Islands and Guam, it wasn’t easy! Students were tasked with learning more about their person, and connecting with that shared background. Now there was excitement! Today, the entire district has adopted his scavenger hunt.

“I’m really happy to be in the district I’m in, they are as culturally responsive as they can possibly be,” said Jenkins.

Another example is the impact he had on the district’s teaching of the Oregon Trail. Most history books leave out the heroics of York, an African slave who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their expedition and who saved the men hundreds of times.

Jenkins said he asks people to tell him who was on the trip, and the most common responses are Sacagawea and the dog. Most don’t know anything about York because he wasn’t written about. Once the district heard Jenkins speak about this, it purchased the book, York, by Brad Phillips, and made it mandatory reading for fourth graders.

“Elementary-aged kids get it,” said Jenkins. “They don’t want to treat people badly, especially when it comes to race.”


Adults are more of a challenge, however. In addition to his position on the board of the Representative Assembly, he’s on a state work team for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) working on phase-ins of additional components to the state’s curriculum. The state recently added an ethnic studies elective to middle and high school, but Jenkins would like to see it start in pre-k and be a required part of the coursework. He would also like ethnic studies mandatory for state educators.

“With optional training, you get people who really want to take it, not the people who need to be in the room,” he said. “If we get the people who have not been in the room in the room, they will see.”

Jenkins believes the push for equity is actually a push for excellence because data shows if students and their ethnicity are treated with respect, the opportunity gap closes. Njeri would agree with that. She was recently invited to be a leader student in the school, mentoring sixth graders.

“Mr. Jenkins changed me in a good way,“ said Njeri. “He inspired me to advocate for myself. I still talk about him to my friends, and they all say they wish they had him too.”

This impact, on kids of color in his classroom, is what he’s most proud of in his diverse and powerful body of work.

“Students who are now in high school come back and tell me they are taking physics or AP math,” said Jenkins. “They realized in my classroom, knowledge was the equalizer. It’s something no one can ever take from you.” page23image48835552.

Saving the Language

Zelda Tinnier leads kids from the Yakama Tribal School through Ichishkíin language exercises during the Yakama Nation’s Summer Language Boot Camp.


In those few words, Gregory Sutterlict’s great- grandfather told of the deeply felt grief among Yakama elders over losing their native language.

Today, Sutterlict, the Mellon-endowed chair of Heritage University’s Sahaptin Language Department and Director of the Heritage University Language Center (HULC), is part of a contingent of Yakama people, schools and organizations working to revitalize the language.

The Ichishkíin Language Alliance teaches the Yakama native tongue to kids in kindergarten through grade 12 and beyond – where the future of the language lies.
The Alliance is comprised of educators, elders and leaders from the Yakama Nation, area school districts and the university. In addition to Heritage, it includes representation from the Yakama Tribal School, the Mt. Adams School District, the Zillah School District, the Yakama Nation Sahaptin Language Group, the Wapato School District, Yakama Nation Headstart and many individuals.

It’s important work: Ichishkíin has been at risk of “endangerment” for several decades.

There are nine stages of language endangerment, said Sutterlict, and in the late 20th century, Ichishkíin was at the stage linguists call “no one under child-bearing age” speaking the language. When young parents don’t know the language they can’t teach their young children, and the language dies. But a language can be revived. With work, it can be brought back to life.


Suttlerlict remembers hearing Ichishkíin as a boy along with the stories and lessons of the elders. He always wanted to learn more.

As an undergraduate, he took classes at Heritage, studying under Virginia Beavert, who holds two Ph.D.s in linguistics and is the author of The Sahaptin Practical Dictionary for Yakama, considered the most advanced volume on the Ichishkíin language.

Beavert’s stepfather, Alexander Saluskin, whose Yakama name was Chief Wiy’awikt, spent his life chronicling the language. When his health declined, he prevailed upon Beavert to take up the gauntlet and continue his work. Beavert wrote the dictionary with co-author Sharon Hargus, a linguist at the University of Washington. A second volume is currently in the works.

“The book is not just a dictionary, it’s grammar, morphology, phonology, semantics, phonetics – everything. It’s one of the top 10 books of its kind ever,” Sutterlict said.

Sutterlict earned his bachelor’s degree at Heritage in 2004 and did his master’s work in linguistics at the University of Washington. He’s currently working toward his Ph.D. at the University of Oregon.

Sutterlict’s work and the work of the Alliance focuses on language preservation, revitalization and promotion.

“Preservation is documenting things. Revitalization is bringing it back to life. And promotion is putting it out there into the community,” said Sutterlict.

“Promotion is why we’re on Facebook and why we do YouTube videos – so everyone can access it, so teachers can use it in their classrooms, people can watch it, everyone can access it.”

Olivia Underwood, left, and Marvel Aguilar learn Ichishkin (the Yakama Indian language) in a class July 18, 2019 in White Swan, Wash. (GORDON KING/Gordon King Photography)


Members of the Alliance are passionate about the work they do. Classes are held at schools throughout the Yakama Nation and in its surrounding communities. For its part, Heritage’s initiatives include:

• An Ichishkíin-focused 2- and 3-year-old classroom at the university’s Early Learning Center

• College-level Ichishkíin classes, which are also open to the Yakama community to attend free of charge

• The Zillah after-school Ichishkíin Language and Culture Club providing an opportunity to use Ichishkíin in conversation, games and presentations

Sutterlict teaches “Sahaptin101” and “Sahaptin 102” each semester – “Sahaptin” is the scientific and English word for the Ichishkíin language – and estimates that anywhere from 10 to 20 students take the courses and can speak, read, and write the language by the end of the year.

Some Yakama elders still speak Ichishkíin but don’t write it. Sutterlict’s students are typically able to listen to an elder speak and then write what they’re saying.


Natural language-learning geniuses: That’s what Sutterlict call kids.

“All they need is exposure to it, and they get it,” he said. “After puberty, only about 10 percent of us retain the ability to easily learn a language.”

This is why members of the Alliance concentrate their efforts on youth activities. Sutterlict and others teach children using pictures of things, skipping any reference to English words.

“For little kids, it’s seeing and hearing, verbal and repetitive,” he said.

For grade school students, teachers, parents and community volunteers help organize Ichishkíin language competitions, helping with PowerPoint support and judging. Think “spelling bee” but with pictures to encourage answers.

The steady groundswell of support even led to a Yakama Nation supported, month-long Ichishkíin “boot camp” this summer that was run through the tribe’s youth programs. Children from pre-school through middle school spent several hours a day learning the language through a combination of reading and writing exercises, as well as traditional teachings, such as storytelling, song and beading. The idea was to immerse the children in the language through activities that engage them in the learning process.

Alliance members would love to see all Yakama kindergarten-age children learn Ichishkíin.

“We don’t have an elementary level at the tribal school, but that would be a dream come true,” said Sutterlict.

Roger Jacob and Rosemary Miller, both of whom studied under Virginia Beavert at Heritage, teach Ichishkíin at Wapato and Toppenish high schools, respectively. Prior to 2010, there was no Ichishkíin taught in area high schools.

Like the other organizations in the Alliance, Jacob and Miller utilize the learning materials created for Alliance use.

Between the two high schools, 15 to 20 students graduate able to speak Ichishkíin.

Pre-kinder students touch a stuffed toy sturgeon held by Greg Sutterlicht as he teaches Ichishkin (the Yakama Indian language) to the youngsters July 18, 2019 in White Swan, Wash. (GORDON KING/Gordon King Photography)


A few years ago, Greg Sutterlict sat on a panel at a Seattle event discussing language. Someone mentioned a universal language would be nice, that easier communication would make life simpler.

“I said ‘I hope we never think of language as being only a communication tool. The fact is language and culture can’t be separated. Language is part of what helps us know what’s important to our people,’” said Sutterlict. “Our young people need to know our language and our history instead of how it’s always been told. I want our children to know and love their culture, a very old culture that’s extremely connected to the land, to the animals and the food, one of respect and honor for them as well as ourselves and our families. Our language speaks of all of that.”


“My dad tells us, ‘When I was a kid, no one wanted to speak Ichishkíin. No one wanted a braid. Now they want to learn, and they want a braid,’” said Sutterlict. “Today, when my students sing Ichishkíin songs, other students hearing them ask to sing, too. At home, the children sing the songs they’ve learned.

“I tell new students, ‘Repeat after me, Wash nash Yakamaknik. I am Yakama,’” he said. “They learn the language and sing the songs. When they start to learn their culture, you can see the change. Their roots get stronger.” page7image27916096

El Grito de Independencia

Heritage students hosted activity booths such as making paper flowers, coloring luchadores masks, and constructing mini piñatas.

Heritage’s Great Lawn was awash in color this fall as nearly 500 people came out for the 2nd annual El Grito de Independencia Cultural Fiesta.

Farid Alejandro Soberanis Garcia from the Mexican Consulate waves the flag following his delivery of the Cry of Dolores.

El Grito de Dolores is an important national holiday for the people of Mexico, much like America’s 4th of July. It is celebrated on September 15 to commemorate the start of the Mexican War for Independence. Each year at 11:00 p.m., Mexico’s president rings a bell at the National Palace in Mexico City and shouts out a call of patriotism based on the Cry of Dolores, the call out made two centuries ago by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla that started the war for independence. This call is replicated in cities and towns throughout Mexico with the highest-ranking government official making the call. Here at Heritage, Farid Alejandro Soberanis Garcia from the Mexican Consulate in Seattle led the crowd through the Cry of Dolores.

“It was a very moving and emotional moment that reminds us just how important these kinds of cultural connections are for the people in our community,” said Dr. Melissa Hill, vice president for student affairs. “The people who gathered are proud of their Mexican heritage and of the sacrifices that their forefathers made to build the country that sustained their families for generations. It was evident that even when we travel away from home, a piece of our homeland remains deep in our hearts.”

Heritage’s El Grito de Independencia celebration featured traditional foods and beverages, music, dancing, games and hands-on activities for the entire family. Los Luceros de Durango performed traditional and contemporary music for the crowd and dancers from Busy Bee’s Folklorical performed several dances.

Dancers from Busy bees Folklorical.

During the program, Dr. Andrew Sund awarded retired Heritage administrator Bertha Ortega with the Heritage University Community Service Award. Ortega worked for Heritage from the university’s founding until her retirement in 2014. In addition to her dedication to the university and its students, she’s been an active fixture in the community serving on numerous community boards including Northwest Learning and Achievement Group, Eastern Washington University, Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Yakima and the Central Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This is the first of what organizers expect to be an annual award. page7image21820000

Bertha Ortega, recipient of the 2019 Heritage University Community Service Award.