Persistence, Grit and Determination – HERITAGE CLASS OF 2020

For Heritage graduating class of 2020, more than 300 strong, there was no Pomp and Circumstance, no family and friends gathering to celebrate, no crossing the stage to get their hard- earned diploma. A virus stole their moment of glory. However, it does not diminish their accomplishment in the least.

LisaLyn Tormey, B.S.N., Nursing shows off her diploma with a socially- distant celebration.

“We are always proud of our graduates. This year even more so,” said Dr. Andrew Sund, Heritage University president. “The Class of 2020 faced challenges far beyond anything we ever could imagine. They showed incredible resiliency, determination and grace as they completed their studies under the added pressure of a global pandemic.”

When COVID-19 shut down much of Washington state in mid-March, it quickly became clear that Commencement would have to be postponed. Sund made the announcement on April 1.

“It was a difficult announcement to make because we all understand the importance of Commencement. It is the most powerful opportunity for students to celebrate their accomplishments with their loved ones. It is also one of the happiest days for us, the staff and faculty. We work hard to see our graduates accomplish their goals and the spirit of celebration is present in all of us,” he said.

Rosana Guadalupe Montes, B.A., Mathematics

Sund carefully pointed out that the celebration wasn’t outright canceled.

“We will hold Commencement for the Class of 2020 as soon as it is feasible to do so,” he said, noting that the timing will depend upon the status of Yakima County in keeping with the directives of the Health Department and Governor’s Office.

Since graduates couldn’t come to the celebration, Heritage’s Alumni Connections decided to take the celebration to them. Typically, the program welcomes graduates to their new role of alumni with a celebratory reception on the main campus and another in Pasco, Washington, on the Columbia Basin College campus for our Tri-Cities cohort in the days before Commencement. These too were canceled.

“When students graduate from Heritage, they remain a vital member of the university family,” said David Wise, vice president for Advancement and Marketing. “Their role shifts. They become mentors, advisors and ambassadors whose experiences inspire students to envision their own futures, and they build the professional network for all graduates. Alumni Connections is here to help facilitate all of this.”

Instead, the program produced custom gift boxes filled with a Heritage Alumni 2020 hoodie, a university seal embossed portfolio and a Heritage University Alumni license plate frame. Graduates who were planning on attending Commencement and who ordered their caps and gowns also received their regalia in their gift boxes.

“We realize that a hoodie or a license plate frame will never replace the experience of hearing your name called and walking across that stage, but we hope it takes away a little bit of the sting of disappointment and lets our graduates know that we care about them and are extremely proud of everything that they accomplished,” said Wise.



It was a seemingly impossible task, re-imagine the valley’s most successful and time-honored fundraising event in the middle of a global pandemic when standard operating procedures are anything but standard. On June 6, Heritage University’s Office of Advancement proved they were up to the challenge in a big way. The team didn’t just meet their goal; they blew it out of the water. This year’s Scholarship Dinner brought in a record-breaking $851,807.

“Scholarships are critical to ensuring access to higher education, particularly for Heritage students, most of whom are first-generation college students and come from families where money for college is scarce,” said Vice President for Advancement David Wise. “The need for scholarships this year is especially acute as so many students and their families have lost their jobs because of coronavirus, making their dream of a college education even more challenging.”

The 2020 Scholarship Dinner was unlike any other event in the university’s history. The state of the nation precluded any sort of in-person event. There could be no grand party, no gathering with friends, and no dinner. Senior Development Director Dana Eliason explained that planning for the event began months in advance.

“The save the date cards went out in February, and we were just about to send the formal invitations to print when things started to shut down because of the coronavirus,” she said. “Everything, and I mean everything, we planned had to change, fast!”

With no way to bring people together physically, the team began looking at other options to create something that could meet people where they were and where they were was in their homes. The team decided they had to create a virtual Scholarship Dinner, one that would include the signature moments that are the hallmark of the traditional event.

“Whatever we came up with, we knew it had to be memorable and inspirational,” said Eliason. “And, we wanted everyone to feel like they were part of something meaningful. We started our thinking with ‘how can we replicate the magic of the dinner?’”

The team quickly decided to host the virtual event on the same day as originally planned. “Scholarship Dinner is always the first Saturday in June, we wanted to continue that now 34-year tradition,” said Eliason.

They then turned their attention to how they could build something that contained elements of the traditional event in a virtual setting that was engaging and made people feel like they were part of something special. Some things were obvious, like having students share their stories and giving thanks.

“Scholarship Dinner is all about our students. Our donors give to Heritage because they recognize the transformative power of higher education. At the Scholarship Dinner, they realize the returns on those investments through the stories of our students. Hearing about their lives, what they are doing in school, and their hopes for their future,” said Eliason.

Other things took a bit more creative thinking, such as producing the entire program and airing it on an accessible platform. The team already knew they would air the program online, and that would be terrific for its devoted friends, but it seemed that this year presented an opportunity to share the miracle that is Heritage more broadly. Wise decided to shoot for the moon and called one of Yakima’s television stations, KAPP-35 TV, with whom the university has a strong relationship, to see if they would be open to airing the program.

Davidson Mance – front – and David Wise share a moment of levity during the show when the cameras cut away to another segment.

“KAPP is very community-minded and are strong believers in the Heritage mission,” said Wise. “Still, I thought it was a stretch. I was both elated and terrified when they came on board. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to tell the Heritage story to their vast audience, but that meant we had to produce a one-hour prime time television show!”

Thankfully the team had a ringer. Davidson Mance, the university’s media relations coordinator, has a long history as a television reporter and a solid understanding of production elements and how to ensure good flow to the programming. “We could not have done it without him,” said Wise.

With the station’s commitment to air the event in both the greater Yakima and Tri-Cities markets, their support to help produce the program, the team got busy scheduling all of the elements that went into the program.

President Andrew Sund, as seen by the camera during the telethon filming.

“When you watch a one-hour program, you don’t see the hundreds of hours of production time that goes into creating the show,” said Wise. “It was important for us to fill the time with interesting, meaningful content that spoke to the entire Heritage story. We had the student stories, of course, and we brought in others, like President Sund, founding president Sister Kathleen Ross, our sponsors, political leaders, long-time donors and members of the board.”

To make the experience interactive, the team included bid cards in the 3-dimensional event invitation mailed out to previous Scholarship Dinner donors. Each was asked to “raise the paddle” and send in selfies with their bid number to be included in the event.

“The interaction of all the members of the Heritage family—the students, donors, faculty and staff, and board members—is what makes Scholarship Dinner successful year after year,” said Eliason. “We were very intentional in building a virtual event that maintained this element.”

It took two months of meticulous work to transform the event. The team promoted it heavily through social media, direct mail and personal phone calls.

Student speaker Maria Soto tells the story of her academic journey during the telethon.

“Even though we spoke to many of our supporters in advance, we really didn’t have any idea how well it would go on the evening of the show,” said Eliason. “There were a lot of factors that could have interfered with our success. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, the economy is a factor, and there is a lot competing for everyone’s time and attention.”

Then, on June 6 at 7:00 p.m., it was go time. The lights came on, the cameras started rolling and everyone in the room waited with nervous anticipation. Then it happened. The pledges started coming in. They came online, through text and over the phone. The total grew. $450,000! $575,000! $685,000! The team was close to their goal, but not quite there. With seven minutes left in the program, a call came in with a major gift that pushed the total past the $700,000 mark. GOAL! The entire room erupted in cheers of joy.

Scholarship Dinner organizer Dana Eliason can’t contain her enthusiasm when the total is revealed at the end of the telethon.

“All that work. All that planning and uncertainty and we did it,” said Wise. “Our small but mighty team, made much bigger and much mightier by all of those who participated in the event, pushed through and did something none of us ever imagined we could do.”

In the final moments of the program, Heritage University had raised $734,755! The total climbed to more than $850,000 in the weeks following the airing of Scholarship Dinner. It is the most the event has ever raised for student scholarships at Heritage!


“We are all beyond humbled by the magnitude of the support shown by our many generous friends,” said Wise. “The success of this event is inspirational in so many ways. Not only is it illustrative of the level of caring for our students and the commitment to ensuring that college degrees remain accessible to students in our community, but it demonstrates how much good we can do when we work together, especially during trying times.”

Preparing for the Front Line

When COVID-19 hit Washington State, Karina Borges was a few weeks away from completing her first year of study in the Physician Assistant program. Heritage University shut down its campus in compliance with orders from the governor’s office. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, everything she and her cohort were working towards was now uncertain. How would they finish their courses so they could move into their clinical rotations? And, what would happen to those rotations? Would hospitals and medical clinics want to have students in their practices during a global pandemic?

“When the pandemic started, we were on spring break. We were ready to go back to campus to take two more exams and leave for clinicals, well that didn’t happen,” said Borges. “We didn’t get a chance to get back to campus and say goodbye to our classmates that we probably will not see until graduation; it was hard.”

Heritage University’s Physician Assistant cohort at the start of their first year of study in fall semester 2019.

Borges’s story is a familiar one as colleges nationwide shuttered their campuses and sent faculty, staff and students home to shelter in place following directives from state officials. While campuses closed, classes didn’t end. Like many colleges, Heritage shifted its classrooms from a physical location to a virtual platform, moving lectures and discussions online through Zoom. While this dramatic change provides challenges for all, some majors, such as those preparing students for careers in health care, have complexities that make remote education particularly daunting.

There are four degree programs at Heritage specifically geared towards preparing students for health care careers: Nursing, Medical Laboratory Sciences (MLS), Physician Assistant (PA) and Master of Arts in Medical Sciences (MAMs). All but the Master in Arts in Medical Sciences, which is a one-year didactic program designed to help students bolster their applications for medical, dental and other post-graduate health sciences schools, require a combination of classroom lectures, hands-on labs and clinical rotations. Transferring classroom lectures into the virtual space, while not ideal for all, is has been accomplished with some modifications. However, lab work is much more difficult. And, the clinical rotations where students meet with real patients in medical facilities under the supervision of licensed professionals is not only critical for preparing students, it is also required by the programs’ various accrediting bodies.

When issuing the order to stay home and stay safe, Washington’s governor included provisions for essential business to function and its workers to continue to go to work. Education in the broad sense was not included in these provisions; however, certain academic programs such as those training health care professionals received special dispensation. This gave Heritage’s nursing, MLS and PA programs greater leeway in academic delivery.

The impact felt by students in these three programs depends upon the program in which they are enrolled and their academic year within that program.


There are 60 students studying to become nurses at Heritage, between those who have been accepted into the program and those who are pre-nursing, which means they have declared nursing as their major and are taking some nursing classes, but have not yet been accepted into the program.

Last September, nursing student Anitramarina Reyna assisted with the flu shot clinic at the Central Washington State Fair.

In Nursing, graduating seniors like Anitramarina Reyna were the luckiest of their peers. Senior-level nursing students complete 160 hours of clinical practicums during their final two semesters. In their final semester, they have to pass a comprehensive skills assessment exam called the HESI before they can graduate. Seniors completed all of their clinical rotations prior to the shutdown and only had didactic course work and their final exam left to complete.

“We were supposed to take the test when we returned to campus after spring break, but that was when all of the shutdowns began. We weren’t sure when, or if, we’d be able to take the test. Our professors were telling us ‘just keep studying, you will be taking it as soon as we figure out the logistics,’” said Reyna. “It was a very stressful situation, but one that we understood couldn’t be avoided.”

Junior and sophomore nursing students, on the other hand, were a bit more impacted. Several juniors’ clinical rotations ended early, meaning they have to make up the lost hours during their senior year. Additionally, Heritage pulled all sophomores from their rotations and scheduled them to make up those hours over the summer months. This started in June when students traveled to Seattle to spend time at Children’s Hospital.

“Our primary concern was for the safety of our students,” said Christina Nyirati, chair of the Nursing Program. “We told them to stay home and stay safe. We just didn’t have enough scientific data yet.”

Once word came from the governor’s office that health sciences programs could continue to operate in person with safety protocols in place, Nyirati and her team got to work building a plan to minimize academic interruptions and to get students to graduation on time. They developed a plan where on-campus activities, such as labs and seniors’ exit exams, could take place with strict hygiene, mandatory masks and social distancing guidelines. Nyirati worked with the program’s partnering healthcare facilities to reschedule clinical rotations. Only a very few partners dropped out because they are unable to accept students.

“Our clinical partners have been amazing! Particularly our rural hospitals,” she said. “They believe that we all, together, are responsible for raising up highly-skilled, competent, safe and effective nurses. They also see our students as part of the movement to create safe and effective care for our communities.”

Only a very few partners dropped out because they are unable to accept students.

“Our clinical partners have been amazing! Particularly our rural hospitals,” she said. “They believe that we all, together, are responsible for raising up highly-skilled, competent, safe and effective nurses. They also see our students as part of the movement to create safe and effective care for our communities.”


For Medical Lab Science students, the pandemic brought a unique learning opportunity and a chance to be part of the fight against COVID-19. Students in this one-year program completed their on-campus course work in December and were deep into their clinical rotations in labs at area hospitals several months before COVID-19 shut down nonessential businesses.

Medical Laboratory Science student Lauren Breymeyer at her practicum at Kadlec Regional Medical Center.

Medical laboratory scientists process tissue, blood and other bodily fluid samples to aid physicians in diagnosing diseases. Labs throughout Central Washington are stretched thin as COVID-19 testing increases the demands placed on these scientists.

“What makes us different from other medical professionals is that we deal with infectious materials every day. This is our job. The labs where our students are placed never asked us to leave because this is what we do. They realized that our students are highly-trained and can be a lot of help as the demand for lab services increases,” said Terese Abreu, director of the MLS program.

For their part, the students report that they feel like they are getting an education unlike any other. They are working as part of the team of lab professionals, guiding the proper collection of samples for COVID testing, assisting with the validation of new equipment and testing protocols, and processing units of convalescent plasma for transfusion to critically ill patients, among other activities, which are needed to support the work of the providers and nurses.

“This year has turned out to be a lot more than I expected. Being in the medical field during a pandemic has definitely been interesting and has opened my eyes to some of the intricacies of the healthcare field in America. It has only strengthened my passion for what I am doing and my passion for public health and lab medicine,” said MLS student Lauren Breymeyer.

This year’s cohort graduates in August, and next year’s cohort begins at the same time. The challenge for Abreu really lies with the incoming class. As in years past, the program will start with lectures and on-campus labs. However, students will attend classes virtually and meet on campus once every two weeks instead of the previous all- day, every-day model. In January, when they enter into their practicum, they will spend six weeks in a lab and one week on campus receiving “just in time” training around specific study areas. With only three or four students in a study area at a time, this will limit the number of students in classrooms and campus labs at a time.

“What our program is known for, why students seek us out, is the intense, hands-on community-based training that we provide, and the individualized training. If anything, they will be getting more of both,” said Abreu.


The Master of Science in Physician Assistant is a two-year program that has students on campus during their first year, then in clinical rotations
for their final year of study. Because Heritage’s program took a year off from enrolling students to build improvements in administrative practices, there was only one cohort enrolled in March. They were a few months away from completing their didactic studies and most were placed and ready to start their clinical rotations in mid-May. When the COVID-19 shut down began, the didactic portion of their studies went online. While online classes are challenging for some who prefer face- to-face models, the greater challenge is the clinical rotations. Students complete rotations in a variety of study areas: primary care, maternal health, pediatrics, emergent care, among others. Some practices chose to close their clinics to students in the wake of COVID.

“A third of our students’ primary care rotations were delayed and five were outright canceled. With a clinical cohort of 30 students, half were left without a clinical rotation at the start of the summer. We had to get creative and worked closely with our accrediting agency to ensure that the alternatives we came up with would still meet their requirements,” said Dr. Linda Dale, chair of the Physician Assistant Program.

Borges was one of the third whose clinical rotations were interrupted.

“I was supposed to start my primary care rotation at Farmworkers Clinic on May 18. As we were approaching my start date, I got an email saying that due to COVID-19 my rotation was delayed until June, then in June, I got another email stating that I was delayed until August. It was very heart breaking. Farmworkers clinic was my top choice to do my primary care rotation since I was going to serve a high number of Spanish-speaking patients,” she said.

Dale and her team scrambled to help students like Borges find alternatives. In her case, she was able to move to a rotation at the Union Gospel Mission in Yakima. Others were placed in rotations in other specialty areas. Where those couldn’t be found, the team got creative. One of the faculty members, Holly Clark, PA-C, MPH, developed a COVID-19 clinical rotation that addresses the specifics of the pandemic. Additionally, the program contracted with PA Excel, a national provider of virtual rotations that is approved by the PA Programs’ accrediting agency.

Through virtual rotations, the teaching physician sees a patient in the morning. The doctor will write notes about the case and send them to students. The students then spend the afternoon researching the case and writing what is essentially a medical chart note with their observations and suggested treatment plans. The entire cohort then meets virtually to critique three of the submitted notes chosen at random.

“This is a stop-gap,” said Dale. “We’re looking at this company as a possibility for our obstetrics and pediatric rotations. These are both extremely difficult to get students placed into during normal times. You can imagine the difficulty now when clinics want to limit the number of people coming in contact with their patients. The beauty of our clinical year is that our students see kids and women’s health patients during their family practice rotation, so they do get the experience. The online program can supplement this and help us meet accreditation standards.”

For students entering the program in May, Dale and her team established similar protocols as those set by Nursing and MLS. Lectures will take place online; the hands-on labs and testing will take place on campus using strict distancing and hygiene guidelines. The newest cohort has already expressed discontent with the online education and are eager to return to campus where they can build relationships with their classmates and support each other through this rigorous program.


Dale, Abreu and Nyirati all agree that the work they are doing, what their students are doing, is critical to the health and well-being of the entire community.

“This thing (COVID-19) isn’t going away anytime soon,” said Dale. “I’m afraid that physicians, physician assistants, nurses, our lab scientists, are going to get burned out. Even worse, some will fall ill, maybe even fatally. We need to get replacements, our students, trained and well prepared so they can be there to protect us all.”

Heritage in the time of Coronavirus

Dining rooms and bedrooms become classrooms as COVID-19 forces Heritage to take student learning online through Zoom. Here, Professor Corey Hodge leads one of her social work classes.

Dr. Melissa Hill, vice president orders limiting gatherings of more that all non-essential businesses for student services, vividly recalls the days leading up to the closure of Heritage University’s campus in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. On February 27, she and her fellow vice presidents and President Andrew Sund were traveling to Seattle for a leadership conference. Just two days prior, Seattle and King County officials confirmed the first United States COVID-19-related death of a patient in a nursing facility. By the time the team returned to campus a few days later, the number of cases had climbed to 14, and deaths associated with the disease had increased to six. News reports were filled with stories of concerned citizens calling for the closure of Seattle-area businesses, schools and universities.

“We realized that we were entering into an unprecedented time and that we needed to move rapidly to build our plan of action,” said Hill.

The university’s leadership team started meeting daily to prepare a contingency plan in case they had to close the campus. As they worked to figure out how to minimize the impact on students’ education, the rate of infection in western Washington state continued to climb. On Friday, March 6, three Puget Sound area colleges announced they were closing their campuses and moving instruction online, just as Heritage students were wrapping up their midterms and heading off to spring break. By the following Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, and Washington’s governor made his first orders limiting gatherings of more than 200 people.

“We were watching things escalate pretty rapidly in western Washington,” said Hill. “As the number of cases climbed higher and higher in the Seattle area, we seemed pretty isolated here in the Yakima Valley. Still, we knew it was just a matter of time before it would come across the Cascades and into our community.”

By the end of spring break, it was clear that the university had to move instruction online, at least for the short term. Sund announced on Friday, March 13, that spring break was extended by one week to give faculty and students time to prepare to move to small group meetings, where social distancing could be observed, and remote learning. The plan was to resume the semester on Monday, March 23, with campus offices open and staff in place, but almost all instruction online for the next two weeks. However, on the day classes were slated to begin, the governor issued an executive order that all non-essential businesses were to close their physical spaces, and workers were to stay home. By 11:00 that morning, everyone was sent home, the campus was shut down, and all classes and business functions were moved online.

“One of the things that we did well was responding rapidly when it became clear that we were going to have to dramatically change the way we do business,” said Sund. “Things were shifting daily, sometimes hourly, and we needed to be flexible. We had to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, and we needed to build ways that everyone could remain safe and complete their education.”

Miles apart but still close together, Heritage’s various departments continue to operate through virtual meetings.


Moving from traditional classrooms to remote learning took a team of individuals with varying specialties. Luckily, much of the infrastructure was in place for distance learning and telecommuting. The university’s Information Technology (IT) department rebuilt its infrastructure following the 2013 fire that destroyed Petrie Hall. The new system contained redundancies to protect critical data from future catastrophes. A by-product of this precaution is that there is more than enough space available to handle the demands of an entire campus working remotely.

Remote learning and telecommuting had been in existence on some level for years at Heritage. Many faculty and staff could already access their desktop computers remotely. MyHeritage, the university’s academic platform, was in place and used to varying levels of its full capacity by faculty and students. Much of the work preparing for the campus closure was training those who were not already familiar with remote access and assisting full time and adjunct faculty who were not fully utilizing MyHeritage with moving their entire curriculum onto the platform. While the university’s Center for Intercultural Learning & Teaching provided MyHeritage training and support, IT secured Zoom accounts for all faculty, staff and students to use for meetings, team projects and group study, and virtual classrooms.

Dr. Yusuf Incetas – photo right – and his ED 496 Senior Capstone students meet virtually online through Zoom.

“By far, our biggest challenge was ensuring that everyone had access to computers and Wi-Fi from off-campus,” said Aaron Krantz, director of IT. “We distributed every laptop we had at our disposal, and we’re purchasing additional laptops for distribution when fall semester opens.”

Aside from the academic challenges, Heritage had to build its strategies surrounding student services. Even during normal times, the demand for student services such as the Academic Skills Center (ASC) and tutoring, CAMP and TRIO, and the HU Cares program is high.

“Many of our students need these extra supports to succeed in college. Tutoring is critical and our ASC moved rapidly to open virtual face-to-face tutoring,” said Hill. “As the semester progressed with virtual classrooms, we received an increasing number of referrals to HU Cares (a safety-net program that assists students in crisis with extra support such as emergency funding, mental health counseling, food and transportation assistance.)”

Hill explained that the issues students faced varied from food insecurity to greater need for assistance with mental health issues, to struggling with being able to work well in the new environment.

“A major challenge for our students is identifying a safe and quiet place to study,” said Hill. “Not only were they at home trying to stay connected and learn, many of our students have school-aged children or younger siblings who were also home needing to access computers and study areas to do their work. When we would ask students, ‘where is your quiet space to do your work?’ we were frequently told, ‘I don’t have one.’ It’s a real challenge when you share a small space with your active family, juggling everyone’s needs.

“On top of that, we have a higher number of students who share their homes with essential workers, particularly in agriculture. This is an area that is being particularly hard- hit by the pandemic. We saw an increase in mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety as students dealt with these pressures.”

Heritage addressed these needs through a variety of means. The university contracted with a licensed therapist to provide additional mental health services through remote access. Funds received from the government’s CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund helped address food insecurity. Every Heritage student received $500 to assist with financial hardships brought on by the pandemic. The money came from a combination of private contributions to the university’s Emergency Fund and funding received from the federal government’s CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. DACA students, who were explicitly excluded from receiving assistance through the CARES act, were provided assistance through giving by several private donors who wanted to ensure they had the same level of support as non-DACA students.

Throughout it all, communication was, and remains, key throughout the shutdown. Heritage hosted several live Zoom information sessions in both English and Spanish. Some were specific to university operations and academic delivery during the shutdown. Others focused on the virus and safety precautions everyone can take to limit its spread.

Enzo Eagle helps Heritage Admissions distribute new student welcome packets during a drive up session at the university.


It isn’t just the current class of Heritage students impacted by the pandemic. At the time of the campus closure, admissions counselors were hard at work bringing in the upcoming class of Heritage Eagles. While many universities’ application and acceptance periods were passed, Heritage maintains open admissions. Students can and do, apply for admission throughout the year, sometimes as close as a few days before the start of the semester.

The months before high school graduations tend to be among the busiest for Heritage recruiters as they help incoming students complete their application requirements and reach out to other prospective students who are just beginning to consider their options.

The order to close campus meant admissions counselors could no longer meet prospective students in person, on campus. However, it didn’t mean the face-to-face meetings stopped. Counselors and student ambassadors moved their work into their home offices, meeting with future Eagles virtually through Zoom.

Additionally, the university modified some admissions requirements to remove barriers that could keep students from enrolling. For example, the university changed the requirement for official transcripts. The closure of school districts made it difficult for students to access official transcripts. However, they do have access to an online grade book that shows the courses taken and the grades received throughout their high school career. Heritage is now using these in place of the transcripts until official transcripts can be acquired. Additionally, the requirement for placement testing to determine students’ level of college readiness is waived. Instead, placement for math and English are being determined through SAT or ACT scores, when available, or through documents being used as transcripts.

Incoming students like Viviana Phillips, from A.C. Davis High Schoo, took advantage of Admissions’ drive-up pick-up option to receive their new student welcome packets over the summer.

“The burden of these times shouldn’t be placed on these students’ shoulders,” said Gabriel Piñon, director of Admissions. “Heritage University is all about access and equity. We are going to do everything we can to ensure that those who want to earn a college degree can do so.”

Where things got a little tricky for Admissions was the public celebrations of full-ride scholarship recipients that’s become a tradition for the university.
Each year in the early spring, Heritage makes surprise visits to the homes and schools of the winners of its full-ride scholarships to announce their award. Each recipient is celebrated and presented with an oversized check in front of an audience of their family, teachers and peers. That couldn’t happen this year. What also couldn’t happen was in-person, on-campus presentations of college starter gift boxes to every accepted and enrolled new student.

“These personal, high-touch interactions with our incoming class are an important part of welcoming students and getting them introduced to the campus culture,” said Piñon.

The Admissions team adjusted to the “new normal” by setting up drive-up awards. Recipients came to Heritage with their families in their cars to receive their accolades and gifts. Heritage shared their stories with the rest of the HU community through social media postings.

Despite the challenges, the outlook for new student enrollment is good. The university is on course to enroll 350 new students for fall 2020. This is 10% above last year’s incoming class.


While the changes to business practices and academic delivery had to happen rapidly and did cause some disruption in the short-term, some of the outcomes have the potential to be beneficial to students in the future.

Dr. Kazu Sonoda, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, points to the university’s growing ability to implement blended models of traditional, in-person classrooms with synchronous and non- synchronous course delivery.

Working from home is the new normal for Heritage faculty and staff, including Enedeo Garza III, one of our student ambassadors who work in Admissions.

“Our students have a lot of challenges and demands on their time that can interfere with their schooling. For example, a broken- down car can make it difficult for a student to get to a class,” he said. “If a student misses one or two classes, it can be challenging to catch up. Being able to provide a blended model of education, where students can attend class in real-time in person or online, or to revisit the class virtually at another time, can keep them engaged and keep them from falling behind.”

The university is working with an outside consultant this summer to make improvements to its distance learning delivery both to address the immediate needs as well as for planning for future applications.


In late spring and early summer, much of Washington state began to see cases of COVID-19 flatten. Counties were able to move into Phase 2, meaning some businesses could start to open. However, such was not the case in Yakima County, where Heritage is situated. In June, Yakima had the dubious distinction of having the highest infection rate in the western United States. What this means for the university’s ability to return to business, as usual, remains unknown.

“We are watching this situation very closely and following the directives put forth by the governor,” said Sund. “Heritage will definitely have classes in session this fall. We’re working on contingencies for every possibility, from continuing with online courses to transitioning back into the classroom. Ultimately our goal is to provide a quality academic experience for our students so that they can remain on track to earn their degrees and begin their careers.”

Incoming freshman and Soar Scholarship recipient Bryana Soto-Guillen and her family drove up to Heritage to receive her big celebratory check from Admissions Director Gabriel Piñon.

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