Heritage Grads Here to Serve

Social work is one of Heritage’s most popular majors, with 146 students currently enrolled in the program. The bulk of these students remain in their hometowns after graduation, where they tackle some of their communities’ most pressing issues: homelessness, healthcare, children and family services, mental health and criminal justice, to name a few. Heritage social workers are found in virtually every specialization and in a wide array of agencies throughout Washington state. Here are a few of their stories.


Olga Zuniga

Olga Zuniga’s social work career led her back to the elementary school where she was once a student.

Olga Zuniga took on the role of caregiver when she was still a child. Her parents were migrant farm workers and they needed her to care for her siblings.

As an adult, after her youngest son’s premature birth, it was she who needed help. His medically fragile condition necessitated she live near the hospital for three months.

There, she met a woman who would be her lifeline: Anna, a hospital social worker who helped her with temporary housing, meals, and child care for her other children.

Three years later, her son was thriving, and she was ready to return to work.

“That’s when I thought about my experience and what a difference a social worker made for me,” she said. “I realized that was my calling.”

Many who decide to go into social work do so out of a strong desire to give back, said Corey Hodge, chair of the Social Work Program at Heritage.

“Everyone who chooses to pursue a degree in social work is there for a reason,” said Hodge. “Many have had someone in their lives who believed in them and helped them, and they want to give back.”

Heritage’s social work program has graduated more than 500, and Hodge said almost all have remained in the Yakima Valley. They work for the state and for non-profit organizations. They work in rehab centers and health care, for victims of domestic violence and substance abuse.

The work done by these Heritage University alumni and hundreds of others has effects throughout the region.

For Zuniga, that calling she felt brought her back to her roots. She’s a school social worker, and the building she works out of used to be her elementary school. She is seeing a lot of insecurity around food and housing among her students.

“We have students who may not have breakfast or dinner and students whose families are homeless.”

Sometimes traumatic experiences are deeply embedded in children’s lives. That’s when a social worker taps more comprehensive service providers.

She works regularly with food banks, financial assistance programs, housing assistance programs, mental health providers, medical providers and crisis intervention programs. She calls them “lifelines” for the students she serves.

“Our job is never done. But we make progress, one student and one family at a time.”


Salomon Carrasco has counseled a lot of people in distress. Sometimes it’s the result of mental illness, sometimes drug use or alcohol abuse. He’s worked at treatment centers and at the Pasco County Jail.

It’s helped make him effective in his current role. Carrasco spends each workday riding with Pasco police officers as a Designated Crisis Responder, in a cooperative effort between his employer – Lourdes Crisis Services – and the Pasco Police Department.

The program’s goal is to identify repeat offenders, de-escalate crises, get people off the streets, and get them help.

Washington’s Tri-Cities area has three DCRs in total – one in each of its three cities of Pasco, Richland, and Kennewick. This “Mobile Outreach Team” works with all nine law enforcement agencies in Benton and Franklin counties.

Every weekday following the daily shift briefing, Carrasco hops in a patrol car with whichever officer he’s assigned to shadow. Whenever a mental health or behavioral health-related call comes in, the officer turns the vehicle toward the problem.

Once on the scene, Carrasco talks with family members and assesses the client. His goals are to establish safety, offer resources, and run through a plan should concerns arise.

If the client needs treatment, Carrasco calls ahead to Lourdes. Once there, the client receives care immediately, which wasn’t previously the case.

Sometimes situations are more acute – and possibly threatening. Then, police officers, who are trained to make initial contact, secure the area around the client, and engage Carrasco’s expertise.

“I look up their history, and I evaluate the individual: Are they of potential harm to themselves or others? Are they making threats? Do they understand what they’re doing? I can counsel them and de-escalate the situation.”

The client can talk to the police officer or to him, Carrasco said. “Some people are afraid I’m going to put them in a psych ward. But some see me as a counselor, and I am.”

Back at precinct headquarters, another critical part of Carrasco’s work is participating in training law enforcement on the psychology and process of de- escalation.

Salomon Carrasco

Salomon Carrasco goes out on calls with the Pasco Police Department to provide mental or behavioral health assessments.

“We talk about introducing yourself and tell them you’re there to help them. You listen, keep good eye contact, stay calm, express empathy, acknowledge their concerns, and just allow the person to vent without interrupting.”

The joint effort has helped Pasco meet its goal of decreasing incarceration at a time when mental health issues have increased. Pasco police refer an average of 50 clients to the Mobile Outreach Team every month.

“It’s working,” said Carrasco. “We’re seeing people who need help getting connected with resources having fewer interactions with police, and sometimes eliminating those interactions entirely.”

Lourdes has funding to continue to provide the service through 2020. Carrasco said Pasco city commissioners are talking about how to get funding if Lourdes doesn’t get re-funded in 2021.

“Because it’s making a difference,” said Carrasco.


In her youth, Cynthia Jones made what she calls a series of poor choices, including dropping out of high school and abusing alcohol.

But at age 17, while living in Seattle, Jones saw an ad for a community college. She took the bus there, met with an advisor, and told her she wanted to enroll though she had no income.

Cynthia Decoteau

Cynthia Jones helps Yakama women, teens and children break the cycle of the adverse effects of generational trauma.

The advisor gave her a business card. On it was the name and phone number of a social worker who had funding for Jones for everything from bus tickets to tuition and childcare.

“She was my salvation,” said Jones. “I knew right there I wanted to do something like what she did.”

For those who decide to go into social work, it’s often about giving back in appreciation of what others did for you.

Jones credits many with helping keep her on her path, including fellow students and faculty at Heritage where, in addition to her full-time job, she now teaches as an adjunct professor.

“When my youngest was born prematurely, my classmates took notes for me and would check on me, and my instructors would always say, ‘Don’t let not having childcare keep you from coming to class.'”

Heritage instructor Gregorio Ochoa was one of those people Jones met who made it his business to help other people. She calls him an “old-school” social worker.

“He’s the male version of Mother Theresa,” said Jones. “He went to the people, and he spent time with them. I wanted to be like him.”

After graduating from Heritage, Jones went to work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor with the Yakama Nation. She did job skills training and helped her clients find jobs, at the same time she also pursued a master’s degree.

In 2017, she was offered a position with Yakama Nation Behavioral Health as a behavioral health therapist. She provides one-on-one mental health counseling to women, teens and children experiencing trauma, depression and anxiety.

She said an essential part of her work is helping clients understand that the losses their people have endured affect their lives today.

“Children were taken away, women were sterilized, we couldn’t speak our language, and we continue
to bear the legacy of this. We’re in a time of healing now, but we can’t help ourselves until we understand this societal trauma.

“After that, we start to work on the personal trauma,” said Jones. “You need to be with the person and their story. You need to hear it, really hear it – and you also have to help them see the good they have been able to do. I ask people, ‘What are your strengths? How is that you’re still here?’ And I tell them the blood flowing through our veins is that of the resiliency of our ancestors, and that we honor them by doing good. I work to communicate a sense of strength and pride that can build hope.”

Jones often incorporates Native spiritual practices into therapy. “We start with prayer, with a moment of silence, lighting sweetgrass or sage or a candle.”

She said it’s important for people in social work professions to make sure they’re OK, too. She releases her day by spending time in her garden – what she calls her “place of healing.”

“Before we can help others, we have to heal, and that can be a long process.”

Jones recalls visiting a homeless encampment on the Yakama reservation years ago. She saw someone she ran away with when they were teens.

“I remember thinking, ‘That could have been me.'”

Other people from the past show up from time to time, too — people whose lives she helped make better. To this day, she said, people stop into her office at Vocational Rehabilitation looking for her. They want to tell her how they’re doing, that they’re still at the job she helped them get or they’re still drug-free. They want to thank her.

“I think about how it’s one thing after another that leads to where you end up. The difference for me was that I was I’ve had people who care.

“I’ve been able to heal. And healed people heal people.”


Leo López loves remembering the way his dad met people.

“He’d always say, ‘Mucho gusto. Lionel López – aquí para servirte.’ It meant, ‘Happy to meet you. I’m here to serve,’ “It’s how he lived his entire life,” said López.

López learned early on the impact one caring person could have on many people.

Growing up in a close-knit family, López started working in the fields and orchards at age four. Migrant students’ education included “migrant school” – several hours every day after the other students went home – to make up for the time they had been out working.

It was extra time and attention that ensured he had a quality education.

After high school, López knew he wanted a job working with children. He enrolled at Heritage, deciding to pursue a degree in social work. Washington state didn’t have school social workers in 1990, so López went into juvenile rehabilitation, working with adjudicated youth ages 12 to 21.

Leo López

Leo López’s career helping children took him from Washington state to Washington, DC and back again.

It was an eye-opener, more a criminal system than rehabilitation, he said. He learned that systems sometimes don’t serve the people in them very well.

He got his master’s degree and, in 1999, got a job with Head Start’s Migrant/ Seasonal program in their Washington D.C. headquarters. Head Start is a national organization that promotes the school readiness of preschool-aged children from low-income families.

It was in this role that López began to be able to impact more far-reaching improvements in systems affecting children.

“It was all about engaging families and encouraging them to work at what they want for their children – specifically a good educational foundation and keeping them in school,” said López. “This program made sure that wherever a family migrated to, children wouldn’t lose the credits they’d earned toward the grade placement they were at.”

Working with an organization he knew made a difference in children’s lives – children with a background just like his – López felt life had come full circle.

López wasn’t looking to leave Head Start in 2007 when he got a call from friends about a job that seemed tailor-made for him. It was in Yakima – a short commute from his home base of Sunnyside – and, once again, he’d be doing meaningful child- centric work.

Today, López is director of Casey Family Programs’ Yakima office, a national organization whose focus is to reduce the number of children in foster care in the U.S.

Working closely with Washington’s Department of Children, Youth and Family, López and his staff of 17 – mostly master’s-level social workers – are responsible for Casey’s work throughout the state of Washington.

He said some of his most rewarding work is with the Yakama Nation’s Nak-Nu-We-Sha foster program. He admires the way it weaves Yakama culture into its practice with the individual children and families it serves. Understanding a community is something he said is key to any social service program’s success.

There’s high-level interaction in the job as well. López works closely with consultants and lawmakers in New York, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. He guides partnerships with multiple states and jurisdictions on research that affects public policy.

He’s even developed training for the Mexican Consulate and the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) that helps reunify children with their families in Mexico and parts of the United States.

López said he sees every day the ways positive change can happen on the micro and macro levels.

“I do think it begins with that one person who believes they can make a difference. For me, it started with what I saw every day at home – though I don’t feel I’m even close to what my dad did every single day. But I keep trying.”

The American Dream – Alumnus helps Latinx families move towards citizenship

Magaly Solis builds bridges. Not physical structures made of steel and concrete. Her bridges are metaphorical. She connects people to their dreams and a lifetime of opportunities. Solis is the citizenship program manager at La Casa Hogar, a non-profit organization that partners with Yakima Valley immigrant families and offers culturally & linguistically responsive early learning, adult education, civic engagement, and citizenship services. She is this year’s Violet Lumely Rau Alumna of the Year recipient.

“Magaly exemplifies the ideals and values of Heritage University—excellence, inclusion, perseverance, leadership and service,” said David Wise, vice president of Advancement. “She demonstrates her commitment to helping others and building communities every day in her personal and professional life. We are so proud of her and proud to call her an Eagle.”

Solis graduated from Heritage in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in education. She was a substitute teacher for the Toppenish School District and an interpreter helping injured farmworkers in the lower Yakima Valley communicate with their medical providers when she noticed the great need for adult education, particularly for this population.

“These workers were injured and had little to no way, that wasn’t physical labor, to support themselves and their families,” said Solis. “My own experience taught me that education was something that could open up opportunities for them. I started volunteering in the lower valley, teaching adult education classes in Spanish, English classes and computer literacy classes.”

Solis continued to volunteer with the program for several years before connecting with La Casa Hogar. She learned about the citizenship program and volunteered to teach some of their courses. The experience was so personally rewarding that she joined the team as a part- time employee and later took on the program’s full-time coordinator position.

“I think that coming directly from the immigrant community and having that firsthand experience, I see the needs that we have, and I want to do whatever I can to support those who have that need for education, connection and belonging,” said Solis. “That is why I get involved.”

Solis immigrated into the United States with her family when she was just 12 years old. They settled in the small town of Mabton and she enrolled in school. Her academic experience was challenging. Not only did she have to learn the required curriculum, but she also had to do it while learning a new language, an experience that many in the immigrant community share.

“I knew that education and learning English were the pathway to accessing opportunities,” said Solis. “There were lots of challenges, I had to work really hard, and I feel like I was privileged to have the opportunity to earn my college degree. That isn’t something that is easy for many to access when facing financial and language barriers.”

Today, Solis pays forward the opportunities she received by helping others do the same.

The citizenship program she oversees supports immigrants as they complete the long and arduous process of becoming a United States citizen. It can take years to complete from start to finish. An applicant must first be a lawful permanent resident for a minimum of five years, and be in compliance with other residency requirements, such as time living in the state where the application is being filed and time in country. They must have sufficient English proficiency and pass a U.S. history and civics test. Some applicants are exempt from the English test but still have to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and civics. And, they have to have good moral character and demonstrate their attachment to the United States and its constitution. The process requires classes, lots of paperwork, testing and a naturalization interview with an immigration officer. It can be very intimidating, confusing and frustrating, especially for those whose education level is rudimentary at best.

“Our program offers combined citizenship education, English and naturalization legal services. We have created a safe, welcoming space where learning and celebration go hand-in-hand. We want to remove barriers for people to naturalize. We work with them and meet them where they are and support them from the initial screening to their oath ceremony,” she said.

Immigration law is very complex and intimidating.

Our goal is to support our students’ confidence in navigating the naturalization process and achieve their goal of becoming proud U.S. citizens. In class, we talk about their rights and responsibilities as citizens and the importance of civic engagement.”

Under Solis’s leadership, the program has grown significantly. Staffing increased from her part-time position to an office of three staff members and a volunteer bank of 50 people. She used her Heritage training to write the program’s first comprehensive curriculum, which provides a clear plan and a process for evaluating and sharing students’ progress. Most importantly, the number of people who completed the program and are now citizens rose from a few hundred to more than 1,200.

When Solis enrolled at Heritage as a freshman, she never imagined the life that she leads today. She thought she would be teaching bright, young students in a K-12 classroom. While she didn’t end up in an elementary school, she found a calling that makes a deep and lasting impact.

“When someone becomes a U.S. citizen, you see this overwhelming emotion on their face, it is the most rewarding feeling seeing this,” she said. “So many of the people I work with want to become a citizen because the United States has been their home for many years. For some, it is about peace of mind, belonging, safety and family unity. And, by being a citizen, they can engage civically, use their voice, and uplift their community. This is what keeps me motivated.”


News Briefs – WINGS Summer 2020

HU grads selected for Latino health fellowship program

Social work major Israel Cervantes Rodriguez and nursing major Dulce Dominguez are among ten students selected statewide to participate in the University of Washington (UW) Latino Center for Health’s inaugural Student Scholars Fellowship Program. The two were in the final semester of their senior year when selected.

Israel Cervantes Rodriguez

The program seeks to advance the field of Latino health by building capacity to address current and emerging health issues facing diverse Latinx communities in Washington state.

“The overall aim of this program is to support the next generation of leaders and scholars who promote the health and well-being of Latinx communities in our state,” said Dr. Gino Aisenberg, associate professor in the UW School of Social Work and co-director of the Latino Center for Health. “Under the leadership of Mikaela Freundlich, Program Coordinator, this fellowship program provides crucial funding to students as well as programmatic activities that promote community and engagement with the faculty and staff of the Center.”

Dulce Dominguez

The students selected for the program came from both Heritage and the UW.

“The recipients of the Latino Center for Health Student Scholars Fellowship Program are the future leaders of Latino communities in our state and region,” said Dr. Leo Morales, professor and chief diversity officer of the UW School of Medicine and co-director of the Latino Center for Health. “They are the most important aspect of the Latino Center for Health’s aspirations and vision.”

Ag industry executive takes the lead of Heritage@Work

Yakima Valley agriculture industry leader John Reeves, Ph.D., joined Heritage University in June to serve as the director of Heritage@Work, the university’s workforce development program.

John Reeves, Ph.D.

Reeves is an agriculture business consultant who works with a number of companies including Pink Lady America, a company that directs the marking for the Pink Lady brand of apples; Roy Farms, which produces hops, apples, cherries and blueberries; and Fall Creek Farm and Nursery, a blueberry breeding company. He has also worked with Anheuser-Busch, Frito-Lay, and is the former vice president of research and new products at Earth Grains and Yakima Chief.

“John was an early advocate for establishing Heritage@Work while serving on the university board of directors,” said David Wise, vice president of Advancement and Marketing, who also oversees Heritage@Work. “His extensive knowledge of the agriculture industry, especially as it relates to their needs surrounding employee education, made him the ideal candidate to take leadership position filled when previous director Martín Valadez transitioned to head the university’s Tri- Cities campus at Columbia Basin College.”

Physician Assistant students awarded scholarships

Two students in the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Program received scholarships from national institutions.

Bassanio Martinez, Jr.

Bassanio Martinez Jr. received the Sgt. Craig Ivory Memorial Scholarship by the Veterans Caucus. The caucus is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the interests and contributions of veterans through service, education and fraternity, particularly as it relates to health care. The scholarship was established at the Caucus by Pat and Terri Ivory to honor the memory of their son Craig, an Army medic who passed away in Iraq.

Heather McKnight

Heather (Mayer) McKnight received the American Academy of Physician Assistants Foundation’s Rural Health Caucus Scholarship. AAPA is a national organization that represents all PAs in the United States. The scholarship McKnight received is a competitive award given to students from

rural communities who are committed to serving in rural communities once they earn their degrees and credentials.

Heritage awards record number of full-tuition scholarships

For 58 students, how to pay for college is one less thing they need to worry about this year. All are the recipients of a full-ride scholarship.

“These are among the best and brightest students in our communities,” said Gabriel Piñon, director of Admissions. “We can’t wait to see all the good they will accomplish here at our university.”


This year’s recipients are:


Perla Bolanos, Toppenish High School
Gissel Garcia, East Valley High School
Yesenia Garcia, White Swan High School
Arely Osorio, Toppenish High School
Raehyun Park, Eisenhower High School
Vivianna Phillips, AC Davis High School
Angel Ramirez, Toppenish High School
Leonardo Rios, Granger High School
Emanuel Valdez Santacruz, Eisenhower High School
Elvia Valdovinos, Eisenhower High School


Yamilca Coria Zaragoza, Pasco High School
Joaquin Padilla, Heritage University


Gustavo Mendez Soto, Selah High School
Colton Maybee, West Valley High School
Miguel Ayala, Sunnyside Senior High School
Andrea Mendoza, Heritage University
Maria Vaca, Heritage University
Indys Lindgren, West Valley High School
Jeffrey Brannon, Yakima Valley College
Anthony Brooks, Concordia University
Stephanie Rabanales, Heritage University
Yoana Torres, Heritage University
Yaritza Maravilla, Heritage University
Anna Diaz, West Valley High School
Cristian Cruz Sanchez, Eisenhower High School
Mayra Diaz Acevedo, AC Davis High School
Michael Gonzalez, Angeles Film School
Elizabeth Juarez, Washington State University


Israel Bentancourt, Granger High School
Christopher Berk, Sunnyside High School
Richard Corona, Zillah High School
Gizela Gaspar, Wapato High School

Yvett Corona, Grandview High School
Liliana Hernandez, Granger High School
Gabriela Madrigal, Yakima Valley College
Norma Manzanarez, AC Davis High School
Luis Medrano Espinoza, Prosser High School
Bryana Soto-Guillen, Wapato High School


Madison Candanoza, Sunnyside Christian
Rachel Guerrero, Sunnyside Senior High School
Carolina Herrera, AC Davis High School
Hunter Jacob, Yakima Valley College
Jasmine Martinez, Toppenish High School


Mariela Corona, Sunnyside High School
Maira Hernandez-Gonzalez, Heritage University
Carolina Moran, Granger High School
Jessica Robles Rios, Zillah High School
Katellin Santiago, Heritage University

GOODBYE DEAR FRIENDS: Heritage family loses two of its finest


Judge Michael McCarthy

Judge Michael McCarthy, a beloved member of the Heritage University adjunct faculty for the Criminal Justice Program, passed away on February 21, 2020, following an extended illness.

McCarthy had a long and distinguished career working in the legal field. He was a criminal prosecutor for the Yakima County Prosecutor’s Office from 1980 until 1998 when he started focusing on civil cases. He left the Prosecutor’s Office in 2001 when he joined the Yakima District Court Judicial Bench. He was appointed by the Governor to serve on the Superior Court Bench in 2008, and remained in that position until his death. McCarthy joined Heritage as an adjunct professor in 2012, teaching criminal justice and law courses.

A celebration of life was held in March, and the family requested that donations be made to Heritage University in lieu of flowers.


Dr. Apanakhi (Butterfly Woman) Buckley

Dr. Apanakhi (Butterfly Woman) Buckley passed away peacefully surrounded by family on July 4, 2020. Buckley was a teacher, colleague, and most importantly, a friend to many. She taught in the College of Education from 2000 to 2016 until her illness forced her to retire.

“Apanakhi was an exceptional teacher and mentor to many education students. She was more than a faculty member. She fixed a nutritious dinner for each class for her night students. She sang in the Heritage choir and led the multicultural dance troupe for years. She was faculty senate president and always pushed everyone to remember that staff and students were at the heart of our mission,” said friend and former colleague Pam Root. “Many of the teachers we have in the Valley today owe some of their inspiration and the compassion that they show their own students to her example.”

Buckley held a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction in Science Education from the University of Washington, where she completed her dissertation: Beginning the Medicine Path: American Indian and Alaska Native Medical Students. She was passionate about her Choctaw heritage and about building social justice through the inclusivity of multicultural education. Her extensive background in multicultural and scientific education included serving as the director of the Kutkutlama teacher education project and teaching environmental data collection for Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment before joining the Heritage faculty.

In 2018, Heritage named Petrie Hall room 1112 The Professor Apanakhi Buckley Collaborative Classroom, honoring her vision of teaching and learning as a reciprocal process. She received the 2013 Heritage University Board of Directors Faculty Teaching Award from Heritage.

Honoring her wishes, her family created the Memorial for Apanakhi Jeri Buckley Facebook group, which can be accessed via the link www.facebook.com/groups/apanakhi.

Before her passing, she wrote a message and asked that it be shared with all of those whose life was touched by her.

“Remember to recognize that you are happy when you are happy because ‘we were happy then’ doesn’t work. ‘Happy then’ is not happiness. It is regret. I am happy now, and it’s because of you. You have helped me find joy and happiness at the end of my life. I love you!” she wrote. “I wish you joy. Please continue to show the kindness to each other that you have always so generously given me.”

Buckley requested that memorial gifts be given in lieu of flowers to one of the organizations “near and dear to my heart:” American Civil Liberties Union, Defenders of Wildlife, Seattle Shakespeare Company, and the Pam Root and Apanakhi Friendship Scholarship at Heritage University.

Class Notes

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

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


Marylu (Roche) Martin (M.Ed., Guidance and Counseling) worked in the Omak School District for several years before moving to Alaska to serve as an itinerant school counselor for the Yukon Flats School District, which is about the the size of the state of Washington above the Arctic Circle. She spent five years flying in bush planes to 11 villages; carrying her food, clothing and counseling supplies; sleeping in cabins, teacher housing, and on wrestling mats on classroom floors; and had many adventures. She even helped cut up a moose head for a funeral dinner and did a 10-day river rafting trip down the Kongakut River to the very top of Alaska.

Martin then moved to Moses Lake to be near her son and taught special education for one year. During that year one of her students who had autism was evaluated by a HANDLE (Holistic Approach to Neurodevelopment and Learning Efficiency) practitioner. Martin was so impressed by the work that she studied with the HANDLE Institute to work with people with neurological challenges such as traumatic brain injuries, autism, and learning disabilities. She is now a screening intern and wishes she had this knowledge when she was teaching special education.


Gerardo Rueleas (B.A., Business Administration) was promoted to IT Director – International Operations and Solution Delivery at Costco Wholesale.



Nicole St. Mary-Franson (M.I.T., Elementary Education) is the executive director of the Central Washington Catholic Foundation. Prior to joining the foundation, she served as a teacher, principal and executive principal for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Seattle.


Kathryn Dozier Quinn (B.A.E.D., Elementary Education) joined Avenues: The World School in Shenzhen, China where she teaches English.


Mario Uribe (M.I.T., Elmentary Education, 2019 Ed. Admin./ Principal Certification) is the interim principal at McLoughlin High School in Milton Freewater, Oregon. Prior to his appointment, he served as the school’s vice-principal.


Debra Whitefoot (B.A., Business Administration) is the executive director of Nch’I Wana Housing in The Dalles, Oregon. Nch’L Wana Housing is a newly established nonprofit organization focused on housing and community development for indigenous people living on and near the Columbia River.



Juan Aguliar (B.A., Business Administration) is the property management coordinator for Comprehensive Healthcare in Yakima, Washington. Prior to accepting this role, he served as a case manager for the same organization.



Meadow Rodriguez Jr. (B.S., Computer Science) earned his Security+ certification, which attests to his proficiency to protect networks and sensitive data. Additionally, he was promoted to IT Compliance Analyst 3 at Costco Wholesale. He is an IT change advocate within Costco’s IT division, which means he acts as a liaison between the company’s IT upper management and its employees during its continued transformation of the IT division.



Marcus Morales (B.A., Mathematics) joined Amazon pathways operations program with Amazon operations management position internship in their fulfillment centers.

Amber Ortiz-Diaz (B.S., Biomedical Science) was named by the Yakima Herald Republic as one of the 39 under 39. Ortiz-Diaz is the Yakima Valley site director of Act Six and the Ready to Rise Program, a leadership development and college access program that brings together diverse, multicultural cadres of emerging urban leaders who want to use their college education to make a difference on campus and in their communities at home.



Jacob Billy
Sr. (B.A., Environmental Studies) graduated from Oregon State University with a Master of Education.







Amalia Akagi (B.A., English) joined Sealaska Corporation as the project coordinator of the company’s intern program. In her position, she travels to colleges around Washington and attends conferences like AISESto recruit for our program. “I love being a member of our intern team because the program connects students with the unique and vibrant cultures of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people.”



Brandon Berk (B.A., Mathematics) graduated from Whitworth College with a Master in Teaching. He will start teaching in the Sunnyside School District in the fall.



Submit Your Class Notes

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

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

Understanding Dyslexia

Sharon Bloome with her granddaughter Townsend Gantz Taft.

Sharon Bloome sees herself in the child left behind – the one who can’t read like her classmates and doesn’t understand why.

She was in her 30s before she learned the name for it: dyslexia, defined as “a general term for disorders that involve difficulty in learning to read or interpret words, letters, and other symbols, but that does not affect general intelligence.”

“I didn’t know why I’d lose space on the page or drop word endings. Reading out loud was embarrassing because I never knew when something wouldn’t come out right.”

Bloome learned how to come up with a word by making sense of context. Though she didn’t have the critical teaching expertise that can be available today, she did well in high school, achieving high honors and graduating at age 16. She ultimately went on to become vice president of a Fortune 500 company and founder of three national non-profit groups.

Bloome’s 12-year-old granddaughter also has dyslexia – but she was diagnosed early.

“Early diagnosis and good educational opportunities have made all the difference for her,” said Bloome.

Bloome’s personal experiences moved her to donate to Heritage to get its new Master of Inclusive Education program started.

“It’s help I would have benefited from,” said Bloome. “And it’s exciting to be able to make a difference.”

Kari Terjeson, chair of the university’s Teacher Preparation Program, understands the struggle and its impact from her own teaching experience and from her experience as a mother: All three of her children have dyslexia. It’s not only the children with dyslexia who experience frustration, she said. Parents and teachers do as well because they don’t know how to help them.

Terjeson said Bloome’s way of making it through reading is common for children with dyslexia.

“Up to third or fourth grade, a lot of their ability to read comes from memorizing words,” she said. “As reading requirements ramp up, their challenges come to light.”

Many people think of dyslexia as perceiving reversed letters, such as seeing “b” when the letter is “d.”

“It’s a neurological condition that’s more an inability to ‘hear’ individual sounds within words,” said Terjeson.

Like Bloome, Terjeson also knows from personal experience that children with dyslexia, when it’s identified early and the right help is there, can excel.

“They can achieve wonderful things,” said Terjeson. “Samantha and Allie (her daughters) are both teachers now.

“Early intervention followed by explicit instruction can have a powerful impact.”

Teaching the TEACHERS

As the COVID-19 pandemic became a worldwide reality last spring, teachers throughout the Yakima Valley found themselves delivering their students’ education from a distance. While they rose to the challenge, many also found themselves with unexpected downtime – and some decided to do some distance learning of their own.

One of them is Kayli Chavez Berk. She’s a teacher in the Sunnyside School District, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Education from Heritage in 2018. She was taking some courses to earn her English Language Learner (ELL) certification when she learned about the university’s newest master’s degree program in inclusive education.

“I was intrigued by the fact that the program was titled M.Ed in Inclusive Education, and I wanted to learn more about what exactly the program had to offer. When I learned that it would include coursework covering ELL, dyslexia, and cultural competence, I was immediately hooked. These are areas I am personally passionate about in regard to teaching practices and assessment,” she said.

Chavez Berk is one of the earliest adopters of Heritage University’s new master’s degree program, one that can be completed entirely online – or involve no class time at all.

When they’ve earned their degree, Chavez Berk and other master’s-level teachers will have two endorsements: the first, English as Second Language (ESL), English Language Learner (ELL), or Bilingual Language Educator (BLE); and the second, a Reading Endorsement.

The ESL/BLE Endorsement includes a strong focus on building a culturally competent teaching practice; the Reading Endorsement features a heavy emphasis in both assessment and instruction for students with dyslexia.

For their higher level of education and advanced teaching ability, educators will receive an immediate and significant boost on their school district’s salary schedule, as well as enhanced job security.

Most important, when they are finally reunited with their students, they will have a greater depth of knowledge to help the growing population of students who need teachers with the most effective teaching skills.


As difficult as the “great pause” has been, the break in teachers’ schedules could not have come at a better time for this online educational opportunity, said Kari Terjeson, chair of Heritage’s Teacher Preparation Program.

Two years ago, Washington lawmakers passed a bill that, among other things, requires school districts statewide to screen children for signs of dyslexia. They are required to start doing so beginning the this fall.

The bill had a bit of its genesis more than 20 years ago in Seattle when seven-year-old Eileen Pollet was diagnosed with severe dyslexia. It was a relatively early diagnosis, and she was fortunate to have had more help available than many students receive. Yet despite her teacher’s dedicated effort, she wasn’t learning to read.

“Her teacher devoted 30 minutes a day three times a week before school to helping her learn to read,” said Eileen’s father, Gerry Pollet. “But she simply had never been given the training to teach a child with dyslexia how to read.”

As a member of the Washington House of Representatives representing the 46th District, Pollet’s experience as a parent led him to champion numerous education bills over his 20-year political career. Working closely with the Washington Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, the State Superintendent of Public Schools and others, Pollet drafted Washington Senate Bill 6162. It was voted into law in 2018, requiring every child from kindergarten through second grade to be progressively assessed for reading challenges and those with dyslexia provided with multi-tiered teaching support.

Screening tools and a road map for teaching students with learning challenges have been identified and quantified, Pollet said.

“Now, teachers have to be trained.”

The vast majority of colleges and universities are not yet beginning to plan for how – or if – they will provide the training.

That’s why Pollet finds Heritage’s early adoption of teaching the necessary skills so encouraging.

“Heritage not only understands the research and recognizes the need for this additional training, but faculty and administration are willing to put it into action.”

Because the ultimate responsibility to train teachers to identify and be able to teach children with dyslexia is with the school districts, teachers who come prepared with the training will be in demand.

In addition to the more thorough identification process, teachers in fall 2020 and beyond will need to work with students differently. School districts will be required to teach children with dyslexia in the regular classroom, not in a special education classroom.


Heritage is one of only two universities in the West Coast region to offer this master’s degree program. That’s unique, said Terjeson, but it’s not surprising.

“Heritage has always done what it takes to train teachers, especially to be able to teach marginalized students. Innovation in education is part of the tradition of our College of Education. It’s part of the Heritage mission and vision, the basic heart of Heritage.”

It applies to the other endorsement as well, which prepares teachers to teach students with a variety of language challenges. The degree offers both the ELL endorsement in which a teacher does not speak Spanish but works with non-English speaking students, as well as the BLE endorsement for teachers who are literate in both languages.

“This master’s degree is really about a multitude of language barriers. The ELL/BLE endorsement that’s offered as part of this degree is designed to ensure that all students with language challenges, due to second language acquisition difficulty, are considered,” said Terjeson. “And, because we serve indigenous and Latinx communities, it’s imperative that cultural competency is embedded in everything we do.”

It is this comprehensive approach to building teachers’ skills to work with students facing a multitude of language barriers that attracted Chavez Berk to the program. In the two years that she’s been teaching, she’s worked with many students who struggle to learn.

“Within the classroom, it is very common to work with students who have learning challenges and reading difficulties due to their way of processing information as well as their diverse language backgrounds. I have seen firsthand how many try so hard to succeed but are unable to because they are not given a chance to do so, or are not supported in the way that they need. As a result, they are not able to learn to their fullest potential,” she said. “Learning how to help these students overcome their specific challenges is definitely a motivating factor for me to enroll in this program. I choose to be part of this program not just to add another degree to my resume or bump me up on the pay scale. I am doing this to help increase my knowledge and skills to enhance the education can provide for my students. They are what matter most to me, and they deserve the best.”


With total cost through the competency-based option of Heritage’s new master’s program at just under $15,000, it’s an investment that provides significant returns. In the State of Washington, a teacher with a master’s degree earns on average $10,000 more per year than his or her counterparts without one.

Teachers already in the classroom are best positioned to benefit from the additional education, said Terjeson.

“They are uniquely prepared to identify students with reading difficulties, understand the appropriate interventions, and be able to implement best practices for designing and delivering instruction. It behooves all teachers to have this training/ education, not just those who teach reading. It provides professional development and growth opportunities.”

Heritage’s accrediting body approved the program to be offered through a variety of models: face-to-face, online and competency-based, meaning teachers almost anywhere can take the courses and earn this degree. How students complete each course offering is interchangeable.

“Students can take classes online, and they can do face-to-face coursework, but there’s also an option to actually not take the courses,” says Terjeson. “If you believe you already have the training and experience to challenge the competencies for one or more of the micro-credentials in each course, there’s an option to prepare portfolio evidence and pass an objective exam to demonstrate mastery of the associate competencies. You can essentially challenge the requirements.”

In addition to the master’s degree offering, candidates can also take an endorsement-only route. Each endorsement consists of 16 credits.

For more information on this program, visit heritage.edu/inclusive-education.

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.”