Generosity for Health and Education


Gaye and Jim Pigott


The number of lives impacted by Jim and Gaye Pigotts’ philanthropy is immeasurable. Throughout their lifetimes, they’ve supported countless organizations through their charitable giving and volunteer services throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Amidst their broad generosity, two areas top their list of important causes to support–education and healthcare.

So, they were intrigued when David Wise, vice president of Advancement and Marketing at Heritage University, told them about a new partnership with Children’s Hospital of Seattle. “Good health and a good education, without both of these things, individuals will have a tough time,” said Jim.

The Pigotts invited Wise and his counterpart at Children’s Hospital, Ruben Mayes, to visit them on their ranch in Winthrop, Washington, to tell them more. The two pulled together a traveling party from both institutions: Heritage’s current president, Andrew Sund, and its founding president, Sr. Kathleen Ross, and from Children’s, James Policar, senior director of development for pediatric cancer; Doug Picha, a consultant on special projects and relationships; and Bonnie Fryzlewicz, senior vice president and chief nursing officer. The team shared how the partnership not only has an immediate impact on Heritage University nursing students who complete a four-week clinical rotation in pediatrics at one of the country’s top children’s hospitals but also how it is changing the face of nursing in Washington State.

“Heritage is a leader in higher education fostering inclusion and cultural competency,” said Wise. “Children’s Hospital is determined to help build inclusivity, diversity and accessibility within the nursing field. By working together, our students benefit by learning from world-class clinicians, and they contribute to enhanced cultural competency and situational awareness as it relates to diverse populations, which fosters growth within the Seattle Children’s staff.”

Heritage nursing students learn alongside the medical staff at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

Those students, many of whom are Latinx or Native American, graduate and enter their careers, diversifying the workforce and bringing with them a broader range of perspectives and experiences, he explained.

The Pigotts were intrigued. They were already familiar with the good work being done by both institutions, having been long-time supporters of each of them. In fact, Jim spent six years serving on the university’s board of directors. Additionally, they understood the critical need in healthcare for more highly trained, skilled practitioners.

“We hear it all the time on the news: hospitals are having a hard time finding nurses, which negatively impacts the quality of care that patients receive,” said Gaye.

The Heritage and Children’s Hospital partnership addresses this need and provides the kind of hands-on training that Jim sees as critical to bridging the school-to-work gap. “This program is timely and relevant; it does a lot of what I’d like to see more of, that is integrating academia with the real world to get students working with real work situations,” said Jim.

Early this fall, the Pigotts officially announced their support for the partnership– a $4 million gift, half of which will go to establishing the Gaye and Jim Pigott Nursing Endowment at Seattle Children’s and the other half funding the Gaye and Jim Pigott Endowed Chair of Nursing at Heritage.

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

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

Both Heritage and Children’s Hospital will use the Pigotts’ gifts as the foundation for ongoing fundraising to support both endowments, which will secure the partnership program for the future.

Honoring Our Elders

Left to right: Arlen Washines, Marlene White, Gene Sutterlict Sr., Iola Totus.

E‌very year Heritage University recognizes Native American elders for their lifetimes of significant contributions to their communities as part of its Native American Heritage Month celebration. Please join us in celebrating these four individuals.


Wahteshaouct/Shxmyah Edward Arlen Washines has lived his life driven by an unwavering commitment to uplifting his community through the development of education, social services, and employment. As an educator and director of Higher Education, he inspired Yakama Nation youth to graduate from high school, pursue college degrees, and return to their homelands to use their skills and talents to benefit their community. His work overseeing Yakama Nation’s Human Services helped ensure holistic well-being and quality of life for individuals and families at all stages of life.

During his service on Tribal Council, he helped build tribal enterprises that bolstered economic prosperity and increased living wage jobs, transforming the prospects of the Yakama Nation and all who live within its homelands.


Marlene Hunt White, YaYamptnikt has spent 50 years supporting the health and well-being of the people in her community. Through her work with Yakama Nation’s Public Works department, she ensured that her community had clean drinking water by helping individuals and tribal entities build and maintain viable wells and septic systems. Outside of her professional career, she channeled her energy into healing herself and her family from the deep scars of historical trauma, and by doing so, was able to help others in her community do the same through extensive volunteer work and the sharing of traditional teachings, bringing about a restored sense of cultural identity and resilience. Her legacy is a testament to the transformative power of dedication and love for one’s people and the land they call home.


Wah-Shu-Lums Gene Sutterlict is passionate about protecting and preserving the forest of the Yakama Nation and the sacred sites that are located within those lands. He’s spent his lifetime walking the fine line between harvesting renewable timber resources and preserving the woodlands.

For almost 40 years, he worked in forestry for the Yakama Nation. The trees harvested brought in revenue that funded tribal services that house, educate, and support the health and well-being of the people of the Yakama Nation. His leadership on Tribal Council provided oversight to the management of these natural resources so that they continue to thrive and provide for the people who depend upon them for generations to come.


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


¡Viva México!

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

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

“¡Viva Hidalgo!” the crowd responded.

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

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

¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!

¡Viva Allende!

¡Vivan Aldama y Matamoros!

¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!

Until the call reached its crescendo.

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

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

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

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

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

This was El Grito de Dolores at Heritage University.


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

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

Jennifer Renteria-Lopez

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young dancers from Grupo Vicio
performed Mexican folk dances.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Houdini Was


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Yakima Valley Partners for Education logo

YVPE’s literacy efforts focus on the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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



Collaboration as Smart as the Students It Supports

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

HBC 1134

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

Brewer Max Snider draws a sample of Heritage Collaboration Lager.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Teaching Through Tech


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

In Memoriam – WINGS Summer 2023

Dr. Robert (Bob) Plumb

One of Heritage University’s first full-time faculty members, Dr. Robert (Bob) Plumb, passed away on April 18, 2023. He was 82 years old.

Plumb joined Heritage in 1982, coming from a faculty position at York College in Pennsylvania. He served as a professor, assistant dean of students and dean of the teacher education program until his retirement. He was known for his strong commitment to helping each student, whether it was academically, finding financial support, or even providing a safe place in his home until they were able to get on their feet.

“Bob always found a positive way to look at difficulties that Heritage or individuals were facing. His generosity shone out, especially in hosting events in his home, both to support Heritage University fundraising and also to build strong community ties among Heritage employees,” said Kathleen Ross SNJM, Heritage president emerita. “Many teachers in schools throughout the Yakima Valley will remember Bob as one of their favorite professors.”

Plumb is survived by his spouse Alfredo “Fred” Fontanilla, son Hylon Plumb IV (Anita), and grandchildren Hylon “Teron” Plumb V and Arlo Plumb.

The family requested gifts in lieu of flowers be made to the Dr. Robert G. Plumb Memorial Scholarship at Heritage. page28image35534656


Alfredo Arreguín

Seattle painter and long-time friend of Heritage University Alfredo Arreguín passed away on April 24, 2023.

Arreguín was a prolific and influential artist who emigrated from Mexico in 1956. He studied art at the University of Washington. His vivid painting blended flora and fauna iconography with a nod to his cultural heritage.

His works hang in the permanent collections at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art and National Portrait Gallery and Heritage University. His portrait of the Virgin Mary, La Virgen Azul, hangs in the Arts and Sciences Center. When founding president Dr. Kathleen Ross SNJM retired, he painted the portrait that sits in the building that shares her name.

Arreguin was 88 years old. page29image35332016

NEWS BRIEFS – Wings Summer 2023

World Class hops grower and breweries collaborate to brew scholarships for HU students

A newly developed varietal of hop created by John I Haas and named for Heritage University is making its way into Pacific Northwest craft beers that will help raise money for student scholarships.

Seattle’s Georgetown Brewing Company and Yakima-based Bale Breaker Brewery are partnering with John I Haas to use their new varietal to brew limited-edition lagers. Each brewery will unveil its craft brew this fall, with a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the beer going to Heritage University for student scholarships.

The brew masters are busy finalizing their recipes and flavor profiles, preparing to brew their first batch. Heritage friends and family can expect a sneak peek at special tasting events this fall. Details will be coming your way soon. page26image35615120


Nursing program director receives professional award from state organization

Christina Nyirati, Ph.D., accepting the 2023 Nursing Educator Award from the Washington State Nurses Association in May, 2023.

Nursing program director Christina Nyirati, Ph.D., RN, was recently recognized by the Washington State Nurses Association for her nursing education work. During their May convention, the association awarded Nyirati the 2023 Nurse Educator award.

The awards are made biennially in celebration of individuals who have made substantial contributions positively impacting the nursing profession, the association, and the advancement of nurses. Nyirati was one of ten individuals recognized at this year’s event. page26image35615120






Heritage AIBL chapter places in top three at national business competition

From left to right: Shelby Yallup and Lillie Wesley

The Heritage Chapter of the American Indigenous Business Leaders (AIBL) took home third place at the national competition in April. Students Shelby Yallup and Lillie Wesley presented the chapter’s business plan for its project, Career Closet. The project provides business attire to college students so they are ready for their internships and interviews.

AIBL is a national non-profit organization empowering Indigenous youth through business exploration and practices. While its focus is on business, it is open to students from all majors. page26image35615120



Vertical farming project for hands-on learning with a side of salad

HU student Eva Cervantes checks on the vegetables growing in a hydroponic machine located in the Eagle’s Cafe dining room at Heritage University.

When you think about a crop of lettuce growing for commercial consumption, a wall of greens encased in a plastic tower that resembles a tanning bed standing on end might not be the first image to come to mind. However, in Heritage’s Eagles Café, this vertical “field” of fresh lettuce is part of the university’s Environmental Science 101 class and a source of fresh lettuce for hungry students.

This spring, a single Flex Farm vertical hydroponic unit was installed in the university’s cafeteria. This self-contained unit takes up only 10 square feet of space and can grow 288 plants, up to 394 pounds of food. It has its own water system, LED light tower, and water flow pump.

“This unit provides our students with a unique experiential learning opportunity,” said Jessica Black, Ph.D., professor of environmental science and studies. “Students in our 101 and 102

classes will investigate the increasingly important role of vertical farming in agriculture, encompassing themes of both preparing for a sustainable future in water-stressed regions of the world and agrotechnology.”

The first crop of lettuce was harvested in early June and served in the café’s salads.  page26image35615120


Heritage Enactus chapter and leadership recognized at national event

Enactus Heritage University president Andrea Ceja

When Heritage’s Enactus team traveled to Richardson, Texas, for the organization’s national exposition in April, they had no idea that they were about to be singled out from the pool of 223 chapters and 6,473 students nationwide.

HU Enactus received the award for Excellence in Efforts to Address the Sustainable Development Goals. The award came in response to four of its projects: Pantry of Hope, a food distribution program that happens in the winter; Women Rise Up, a women’s leadership program; Camp S.E.E.D., a youth financial and entrepreneurship summer day camp; and VITA, a volunteer tax preparation program for low-income community members.

In addition to their team’s recognition, HU Enactus President Andrea Ceja, a senior majoring in Business Administration, received the Enactus Executive Leader of the Year award.

Enactus is an international student organization where university chapters use innovation and entrepreneurship to identify and solve areas of need. page26image35615120


Bountiful Generosity – WINGS Summer 2023

Gifts to Heritage’s annual Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner breaks records and tops last year’s total raised by more than $100,000!

It was a record-breaking year for Heritage’s annual Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner. The event brought in $872,549 for student scholarships, nudging out the previous record set in 2020.

“Words simply cannot express how grateful we are for all the support our friends and donors give to this university and our students,” said David Wise, vice president for Advancement and Marketing. “Our students depend upon the scholarships they receive in order to earn their degrees. Having so many people step up to provide the funding that makes their education possible has a dual effect. Not only does it reduce the barrier that the cost of going to college could have for students, but it also gives them and huge psychological boost knowing that others believe in their capability.”

Scholarship Dinner is the university’s single largest fundraising event. Since it began 37 years ago, it has raised more than $9 million, with every dime going directly to support Heritage University students.

Student speaker Miguel Mendoza

“It is undeniable that the support our students receive from the community is what allows them to earn their college degrees. For more than 40 years, it is the amazing support of donors that has created the opportunity for nearly 11,000 people to earn their degrees at Heritage. Eleven thousand people who have then gone on from here to serve the community as educators, business leaders, healthcare professionals and more throughout the Valley. We are grateful for their incredible support,” said Andrew Sund, Ph.D., president of Heritage University.

For the second year in a row, the event occurred both in person and virtually. The program portion was live-streamed online, allowing those who were unable to attend the ability to participate from the comfort of their homes. Virtual guests were able to “raise their paddles” with just a click of a button on their computer.

“We have several supporters who have difficulties traveling. Some have been coming to Scholarship Dinner for years, and they are committed to our students. They’ve told me how much they enjoy being able to still participate, even if they are not physically in the same room,” said event organizer Dana Eliason, senior development director. “It is heartwarming to see their commitment to this university and our students.”

This year’s event program is available to watch online, and contributions are still being accepted. Visit to view the video and click “Raise Your Paddle” to make your gift.

Rosie Saldaña’s Heritage story came full circle this year when she was selected to paint the artwork for the Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner. As an undergraduate at Heritage, she depended upon scholarships to help her fund her education.

“I’m tremendously overjoyed by the honor of being asked to paint this work,” she said.

Her painting, entitled Bounty of the Valley, portrays images and symbols of the Yakima Valley and Heritage University—fields of apples, workers bringing in the crops, Mt. Adams, and the statue at the university’s entrance.

“I also incorporated butterflies in the painting, a symbol of becoming something better than when we started,” she said. “I think a lot of students can relate to this. We start at school not really knowing what we want to do, we go through the process, and we blossom into butterflies, and we’re into this new career.”

Saldaña graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Visual Arts in 2017. Today she is a working artist and Artistic Director at Mighty Tieton. In May, she received her Master of Arts in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University. page23image35661776

Class Notes – WINGS Summer 2023


Cialita Keys (B.A., Environmental Studies) joined the Community Development team with the City of The Dalles in Oregon, where she is working as a planning technician. Prior to this, she worked for the Yakama Nation Environmental Management as a resource coordinator.





Gabriel Antunez (A.S., Pre- Engineering) graduated from Washington State University with a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering in May.

Jose Ortiz-Garcia, Ph.D. (B.S.) graduated from the University of Connecticut with a Doctor of Philosophy in Physical Chemistry in May. In June, he joined Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where he is a physical chemist and a postdoctoral research associate doing catalysis on metal oxide surfaces for the activation of C-H bonds.





Jose Carrillo (B.A., Business Administration) joined the Business and Professions Division at the Washington State Department of Licensing, where he is working as an excise tax examiner. Prior to this, he was a financial aid program coordinator at Heritage University.

Maria Diaz (B.A., Psychology) started a new position at the Yakama Nation Tribal School. She is the school’s new counselor. Maria spent four years prior to this working as the enrollment services coordinator at Heritage University in the Admissions department. Additionally, she earned a Master of Arts in Psychology from Fisher College in May 2022.




Brenda Lewis (B.A., Business Administration) joined Heritage University’s Admissions team in May. She is working as a transfer student admissions counselor. Prior to this, she spent two years working as a general ledger accountant for the Yakama Nation.






Perla Bolaños-Zapian (B.A., Business Administration) joined the Heritage University Advancement Team as the Donor Events and Stewardship Coordinator. page8image35677536