Yakima Valley Partners for Education and Save the Children use digital resources to expand reading opportunities for elementary students


Yakima Valley Partners for Education and Save the Children work to develop enhanced reading habits in third-graders by providing access to digital books library.

Toppenish, Wash.– Yakima Valley Partners for Education (YVPE) and Save the Children are working to grow the reading skills of third-graders in the lower Yakima Valley by connecting them to digital reading. About 400 students in the Sunnyside, Mabton and Grandview School Districts have received access to the “myON” digital library, a resource with more than 6,000 digital books. Also, students can use a public library provided by Unite for Literacy.

This effort started on November 1, 2021 with literacy outreach rallies in each school district, and focused on the importance of children reading at least 20 minutes a day. “We realize this is a challenging task for many families to accomplish,” said YVPE Director Suzy Diaz. “That is why we are making these additional resources available to encourage student reading in the home with language and narration options to meet their individual needs.”

Jared Lind, director of instructional improvement for the Grandview School District in Grandview, Wash., said not only is this initiative an effort to increase the time students read each day, it prepares them for future learning. “With access to a digital library and an extensive choice of books outside of the school day, students will have the opportunity to establish reading habits that will promote essential skills necessary for school and beyond,” said Lind.

YVPE and Save the Children will monitor use of myON in November and December to track student progress. To reduce possible screen fatigue, users can access narration options in both English and Spanish. For more information, contact David Mance at 509-969-6084 or mance_D@heritage.edu.

About Save the Children

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

Save the Children is a central program partner, with three Early Learning Coordinators placed in the Grandview School District, serving 150 children locally through home visiting, book bag exchanges, and various food, learning materials, and essential resource distributions. They have also provided catalytic financial and technical investments to help launch this work.

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Virginia Beavert Day Proclamation

Heritage University’s Early Learning Center to offer expanded range of services in new state-of-the-art facility


Heritage University’s Early Learning Center to offer expanded range of services in new state-of-the-art facility

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University President Andrew Sund, Ph.D. announced today that thanks to the generosity of an anonymous private donor, it will break ground on December 3, 2021 on a new $3.2 million state-of-the-art Early Learning Facility to serve the needs of the community. The new five-classroom facility will serve children between the ages of 12 months and kindergarten, providing pre-kindergarten instruction known to be invaluable in later years of scholastic achievement.  The center is scheduled to open in the winter of 2022. The groundbreaking ceremony will start at 12:00 p.m.   

Heritage University’s mission of making higher education accessible regardless of economic, cultural or social barriers, is also shared by the university’s Early Learning Center (ELC). The university’s ELC strives to help families with similar access and financial challenges, to prepare their children for success in kindergarten and beyond. “Our early learning programs are designed to offer experiences that enhance and enrich each child’s cognitive, language, social, emotional, physical and creative development,” said ELC Executive Director Claudette Lindquist. “We believe that good child care is good family care. However, our basic philosophy is one of freedom to learn, grow and make choices and we have structured the environment to reflect that belief.”

Quality early learning experiences help prepare children for success in kindergarten, leading to improved educational outcomes during their middle school, high school, and college years. It’s a strategy embraced by Yakima Valley Partners for Education, a Collective Impact initiative started by Heritage University and supported by collaborations with schools and communities throughout the lower Yakima Valley. “We have a deep understanding of the formative role of early education as well as the need to build on the resilience and skills of youth throughout their educational journey,” said Collective Impact Director Suzy Diaz. “We take a cradle-to-career view of improving educational outcomes so that our youth develop into thriving members of our community, and it’s a view wholeheartedly embraced by Heritage University’s ELC.”

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

In addition to serving the lower Yakima Valley community year-round, the ELC also extends its services to Heritage students, faculty and staff. The ELC is currently licensed to enroll 74 students; the expansion will increase that number to 90. For more information, contact Claudette Lindquist at (509) 865-0723 or Lindquist_C@Heritage.edu. For help with interviews, please contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@Heritage.edu.

Heritage University Early Learning Center rendering by Graham Baba Architects

Heritage University Presents a Land Acknowledgement Statement to the Yakama Nation Recognizing and Respecting the Indigenous Peoples Who Stewarded the Land on which the University Now Resides


Heritage University Presents a Land Acknowledgement Statement to the Yakama Nation Recognizing and Respecting the Indigenous Peoples Who Stewarded the Land on which the University Now Resides

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University (HU) signed a formal Land Acknowledgement Statement (LAS) that recognizes and respects the Indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of the land in central Washington where Heritage is located, and the enduring relationship that exists between the Yakama Nation and their traditional territory. Kip Ramsey, a tribal elder and chair of HU’s Tribal Relations Committee, and Heritage president Andrew Sund, Ph.D. signed the LAS at a ceremony held at the Heritage University Teepee on Wednesday, November 10, 2021.

The Land Acknowledgement Statement in full, reads as follows:

Heritage University occupies its home on the traditional lands of the Yakama People. These ancestral homelands are the Yakama, Palouse, Pisquouse, Wenatshapam, Klikatat, Klinquit, Kow- was-say-ee, Li-ay-was, Skin-pah, Wish-ham, Shyiks, Ochechotes, Kah-milt-pa, and Se-ap-cat, who today are represented by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation [TREATY OF 1855] and, whose relationship with this land continues to this day. Heritage University, grounded in the vision of the two Yakama women founders, respects Indigenous peoples as traditional guardians of the lands and the enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous peoples and their traditional territories.  We offer gratitude for the land itself, for those who have stewarded it for generations, and for the opportunity to study, learn, work, and be in community on this land. We acknowledge that our University’s history, like many others, is fundamentally tied to the first colonial developments in the Yakima Valley. Finally, we respectfully acknowledge and honor past, present, and future Indigenous students who will journey through this home called Heritage University.

Maxine Janis, Ed.D., professor and the President’s Liaison for Native American Affairs at Heritage and a member of the Oglala Latoka nation said over the years Heritage has had various land acknowledgement statements used by various individuals but nothing officially authored by the University. “This signed document gives us an official, consistent message of land acknowledgment,” said Dr. Janis. “It’s a message that we truly recognize and respect the privilege it is to have a university on this land.”

Yakama Nation Tribal Council Chairman Delano Saluskin (left) and Yakama Nation General Council Chairman Roger Fiander (middle left) and Heritage University Board of Directors Tribal Relations Committee Chair Kip Ramsey (right) look on as Heritage president Andrew Sund, Ph.d. (middle right) signs a Land Acknowledgement Statement recognizing Indigenous Peoples as traditional stewards of the land on which Heritage University now resides.

Sol Neely, Ph.D., associate professor of English at Heritage and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who helped write the statement, said the LAS is an important step in further strengthening the long-standing relationship between the Yakama Nation and Heritage University. “Establishing a protocol for delivering the Land Acknowledgement Statement elevates public awareness of both Yakama Nation histories and futures across our campus and the broader community,” said Dr. Neely. “The LAS also includes recommended short and mid-term as well as long-range actions that, when implemented, will ensure meaningful change to benefit Indigenous students.”

Some of the short and mid-term actions include: posting a plaque or framed version of the full Land Acknowledgement Statement in prominent locations on campus; starting all campus events with one of the official Land Acknowledgement Statement(s); organizing “learning circles” on Yakama culture and traditions for all faculty, staff, and administrators and require new faculty, administrators and staff to attend; inventory Ichishkiin language preservation and revitalization resources at Heritage in order to build a “Dr. Virginia Beavert Collection” at the university’s Donald North Library that contains historical, cultural and linguistic materials for educational purposes, to name a few. Long-range actions include updating American Indian Studies (AIS) A.A. and B.A. programs so that Heritage becomes an “education destination” for students across the region; recruiting and retaining an additional Indigenous faculty member to contribute to the AIS programs; investing in and sustaining support for the Heritage University Language Center (HULC).

The Indigenous-led effort to develop the LAS began during the fall 2020 semester at HU when faculty members started talking about the growing number of LAS’s being established by other universities in Canada and the U.S. As support for the Heritage LAS grew, Dr. Janis created a committee of Indigenous faculty including Winona Wynn, Ph.D., Greg Sutterlict, Ph.D. candidate and the previously mentioned Dr. Neely, as well as Yakama Nation Higher Education Program Manager Elese Washines, Ph.D. to write the LAS. Neely, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who has worked with other universities on their own LAS’s, incorporated a LAS between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nations (EBCI) and the University of North Carolina Asheville (UNC-Ashville). During the spring, the draft LAS was endorsed by the HU Board’s Tribal Relations Committee and then presented to the Yakama Nation Tribal Council this past August, where it was warmly received and lauded and called a “landmark moment.”

Dr. Sund said the LAS signing is a very important day for recognizing Heritage’s history and mission with the Yakama Nation. “We know that education has been part of the Yakama Nation since time immemorial, as tribal elders share their knowledge with their children and younger tribal members. Heritage was created to bring higher education to this land and to serve as a complement to the education systems that already exist within the Nation,” said Sund.

Plans are underway to frame and display the Land Acknowledgement Statement on campus. For more information, contact Davidson Mance at 509-969-6084 or at mance_d@heritage.edu.


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Heritage University awarded five-year $3 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education to expand university’s BSN program and upgrade science labs


Heritage University awarded five-year $3 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education to expand university’s BSN program and upgrade science labs


Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University has received a five-year, $3 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions (DHSI) branch to expand its Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and make upgrades to campus science laboratories.

HU Associate Professor Melvin Simoyi, Ph.D. says an expanded BSN program will create a path that allows current working registered nurses to go back to school and earn their four-year degree in nursing. “As hospitals and other healthcare institutions start requiring their nurses to earn a bachelor’s as a condition for employment, this grant will allow Heritage to help the local community and beyond meet a dire need for healthcare professionals, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact communities locally and globally,” said Dr. Simoyi.

Heritage University President Andrew Sund, Ph.D. is proud of the Heritage faculty that wrote such a thoughtful and comprehensive grant application. “The faculty at Heritage have worked very hard to establish a world-class BSN program at Heritage. This award by the Department of Education to expand the program validates their accomplishments. The grant will allow for a significant expansion of the program resulting in even more highly qualified nurses ready to serve the people of the Valley,” said Dr. Sund.

In addition to the RN to BSN degree pathway development, Heritage University’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) offerings will expand with new laboratories for environmental, health and physical sciences. The existing biology, chemistry and physics laboratories at Heritage will be redesigned and equipped to meet the rigorous demands for effective STEM degree programs instruction.

Dr. Simoyi says the grant will allow Heritage to continue delivering high-quality education to even more students. “Technology doesn’t stand still. Updates and improvements are always required, and we at Heritage have the desire to always keep up with the times to ensure we are delivering the best education possible to our students. We are very grateful to the Dept. of Education for its support to help us build on our successes.”

This new grant will also be used to upgrade the university’s information technology services and enable Heritage to improve institutional data collection and analysis by hiring an institutional research report writer and eventually establishing an Institutional Research Office. This project will also develop a financial literacy course with the goal of establishing the course as a General University Course Requirement (GUCR). Finally, this Title V “SHIRE-FIT” project will provide $1,000 stipends to 10 students every year to participate in research internships as work-based learning experiences.

This $3 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education which started October 1, 2021, is the second multi-million-dollar award recently announced by Heritage University. Earlier this month, Heritage received a $4.5 million grant, also from the Dept. of Education, to expand STEM studies in the Yakima Valley. For more information, contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@Heritage.edu.


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Heritage University receives $4.5 million grant to expand STEM studies in the Yakima Valley


Heritage University receives five-year $4.5 million grant from U.S. Dept. of Education to expand STEM studies in the Yakima Valley

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University has received a five-year, $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Education to expand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies in the Yakima Valley. This program will employ mentors and role models for high school students interested in STEM careers and help students navigate a path for studying STEM in college, supplying the Valley with the next generation of scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians. This grant will also allow Heritage to build a 4,700 square foot STEM Education Center on its Toppenish campus, complete with laboratories, learning spaces and equipment to support STEM learning programs.

Heritage president Andrew Sund, Ph.D. is proud of the faculty who made this compelling application to the Dept. of Education, and grateful for U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s ongoing efforts to support STEM Education in Washington State. “As the chair for the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, Senator Murray knows the importance STEM education will play in helping students remain on the cutting edge of innovation in Washington State,” said Dr. Sund. “Because of this award, more students will be able to achieve STEM degrees and fulfill the needs of employers for whom the demand for STEM graduates continues to soar.”

Sund is also thankful to the RGI Corporation of Sunnyside, Wash., the firm who collaborated with Heritage faculty to prepare the grant application. “RGI was masterful in distilling the unique role that Heritage will play in increasing STEM graduates in the valley,” said Sund.

Heritage University Natural Science Department Chair Jessica Black, Ph.D., who will serve as the principal investigator for the grant, is excited for the opportunity to be able to build the capacity to better serve Heritage’s STEM students and the community. “We will focus on empowering our students to overcome barriers that often limit access to higher education. Heritage STEM students will graduate as leaders,” said Dr. Black.

The grant period began October 1, 2021 and will run for five years. Construction of the new STEM Education Center will begin in late 2022. For more information, contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@Heritage.edu.



News Briefs – Wings Summer 2021

Heritage returns to in-person instruction this fall

A year and a half after Heritage moved to remote learning and working in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic, students, faculty and staff are returning to the campus.

Faculty and staff return to working on campus starting August 2 with students arriving at the start of the semester on August 24.

Heritage University students sit outside the Kathleen Ross, snjm Center during the beginning of the fall 2020 semester

Heritage University students sit outside the Kathleen Ross, snjm Center during the beginning of the fall 2020 semester

“The biggest responsibility we have as an administration is to assure that we can provide a safe environment for everyone to work and study at Heritage,” said Sund.

He stressed that Heritage is doing every they can to meet that responsibility, maintaining all pandemic precautions, including mask-wearing inside buildings, social distancing, and enhanced cleaning protocols. Additionally, the university requires all faculty, staff and students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“This decision follows vaccination recommendations by the Yakima County Health District, the State of Washington, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” said Sund. “Overwhelming scientific evidence shows that vaccines are effective and safe, and failure to require vaccinations would legally and ethically constitute a direct threat to the safety of staff, faculty, and students.”

Exceptions to the vaccination requirement will be made for people who have medical conditions, religious beliefs, or extenuating circumstances that prevent them from being vaccinated. Sund also said reasonable accommodations would be made for people who fall into those categories. The university will collect vaccination information and proceed with enforcement of the vaccination policy.

Sund stresses that the university is working closely with Yakima County Health District in its safe opening planning. Changes to the progress being made to tackle the pandemic locally and throughout the state of Washington could force the university to change its course of direction. For the most recent information on Heritage’s COVID-19 response, visit heritage.edu/COVID.


Online tool available to assist with planned giving

A screen capture of the MyGiving webpage on the Heritage University website

A screen capture of the MyGiving webpage on the Heritage University website

Individuals interested in learning more about planned giving have an informative new tool available to them 24 hours a day to help them get started. Heritage University recently launched its planned giving website, mylegacy.heritage.edu.

“Planned giving is something that people at a wide range of income levels can and should consider,” said Mary Bohmke, Heritage major gifts officer. “There are many different ways that you can attend to causes that you care about in your estate plans that don’t require you to be a multimillionaire.”

The website includes helpful information on a wide array of ways to give, as well as information on wills and personal stories from some of Heritage’s supporters. Readers can also sign up to receive a free estate planning guide or sign up for a weekly e-newsletter.


Campus mourns loss of alumna, friend, colleague and mentor

Heritage alum and staff member Laura Aguiar Garibay passed away on June 9, 2021, following a long illness. She was the Assistant Director of Financial Aid and graduated from Heritage in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. As a student, she was the definition of a student leader. She was active
in the Associated Student Body (ASB), serving two terms as the president, where she led the restructuring of the ASB into the more formal Student Government Association. She was an advocate for education, lending her voice to recruiting and fundraising efforts to raise awareness for the need for accessible higher education and scholarships. Aguiar Garibay was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and the undergraduate student speaker who voiced her classmates’ desire for equity.

Laura Aguiar Garibay

Laura Aguiar Garibay

Aguiar Garibay was passionate about helping access higher education. She understood firsthand the challenges that undocumented
students face in earning their college degrees. After graduation, she joined the Heritage University staff, working in the financial aid office to help students access higher education. She was so dedicated to students that she worked from her hospital bed until shortly before her passing. She also continued her advocacy for undocumented students, sharing her story nationally in many publications, including the New York Times.

Laura is survived by her wife Crystal, whom she met at Heritage; her mother Antonia Garibay Hernandez and father Lugerio Aguiar Hernandez; her sisters Maria Del Carmen Aguiar, Sofia Aguiar, and Evelyn Aguiar; brothers Javier Alejandro Aguiar and Raul David Aguiar; and many nieces and nephews. Her family requested contributions be made to the scholarship fund established in her memory at Heritage University in lieu of flowers.

Bountiful Generosity, Boundless Gratitude – Wings Summer 2021

A collage of those who raised a virtual paddle for the Bounty of the Valley Virtual Scholarship Dinner

As the university prepared for its 35th Annual Bounty of the Valley Scholarship Dinner, David Wise, vice president for Advancement, knew the goal of raising $750,000 was ambitious.

“Three quarters of a million dollars is a significant amount of money to raise at a single event, even during normal times,” said Wise. “However, the challenges of this past year have hit students especially hard, making the need for scholarships even more pronounced.”

Heritage University student Maritza Alvarez receives a camera cue during the Bounty of the Valley Virtual Scholarship Dinner June 5, 2021

Heritage University student Maritza Alvarez receives a camera cue during the Bounty of the Valley Virtual Scholarship Dinner June 5, 2021

Adding to the challenge was the event would once again have to be held remotely.

“Even though we were seeing a great deal of progress on tackling COVID-19 on a state and national level, the restrictions around large gatherings, plus our concern for the health and welfare of our students, staff and supporters, made us realize that it was entirely too early to go back to our traditional dinner and paddle raise,” said Wise.

The team put their heads together to come up with a virtual event that captured spirit of the live event.

“One of the things that we miss most is the camaraderie of being together and hearing from all of our students,” said Dana Eliason, senior development director. “Our challenge was how do we replicate this in the virtual space?”

The answer came from the students themselves.

Heritage University students serve as phone operators during the Bounty of the Valley Virtual Scholarship Dinner June 5, 2021

Heritage University students serve as phone operators during the Bounty of the Valley Virtual Scholarship Dinner June 5, 2021

“This year we called upon our students to take the lead on our event. Not only did they share their stories in some of our videos, two of
them, Enedeo Garza-Ramirez and Maritza Alvarez hosted the live, real-time telecast. They did an amazing job!” The response? This year’s event broke all records; $872,500 raised to support Heritage students!

Heritage University alumni Laura Quintero pauses during taping of her student speaker segment that aired during the Bounty of the Valley Virtual Scholarship Dinner on June 5, 2021

Heritage University alumni Laura Quintero pauses during taping of her student speaker segment that aired during the Bounty of the Valley Virtual Scholarship Dinner on June 5, 2021

“To say we are overwhelmed by the generosity of so many is an understatement,” said Wise.

“This university is truly blessed with many extremely gracious and generous donors, sponsors and friends,” said Eliason. “There were so many things that made this event special, starting with our wonderful students who graciously shared their stories and volunteered countless hours to make the evening successful. They and some added touches contributed by the community, such as the donated wine and chocolates that went out to those who RSVP’d and the special Bounty of the Valley meal that Provisions Restaurant offered made a memorable evening.”

The beauty of a virtual event, is that even if you missed it live on June 5, you can still watch it any time. Visit heritage.edu/sd2021.

Class Notes – Wings Summer 2021


Christine Murphy Switzer (M.A., Multicultural English Language and Literature) joined the faculty at Lewis and Clark Middle School in the Yakima School District. Prior to this, she worked at the West Valley School District in Yakima.


Ida Moses-Hyipeer (B.A., Business Administration) joined Heritage University to serve as the Program Coordinator for the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions Grant. In her role, Moses-Hyipeer assists with the coordination of services for Native American students at the university.

Noemi Sanchez (B.A., History) is an Advocacy and Community Engagement Specialist for Columbia Legal Services (CLS). She joined the non-profit organization in May. CLS provides advocacy and free legal services to individuals facing poverty and oppression who, for reasons of institutionalization or immigration status, are otherwise unable to access representation.

Adam Strom (Education, B.A.Ed., M.A.Ed.) joined Haskell University as the new women’s basketball head coach. Before his appointment, Strom spent five years as the women’s basketball coach for Yakima Community College. He led the team to win 21 games and qualify for the Northwest Athletic Conference finals during his last year.


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

• Like us on Facebook (facebook.com/ HeritageUniversityAlumni)

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

• Visit us online at heritage. edu/alumni

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.

Moving to the Front of the Class – Wings Summer 2021

Heritage alumni’s careers come full circle when they join the university’s faculty and teach in the programs where they earned their undergraduate degrees.


In 2001, when Heritage University joined elite colleges like Cornell, Columbia and Duke University to provide the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship program, Miguel Juarez was the first student to enroll. He was a nontraditional student and social work major who had returned to school later in life with the hope of building a more lucrative and meaningful career. At the time, Juarez had no idea that his Heritage story would come full circle.

Miguel Juarez in class

Miguel Juarez in class

The Mellon Fellowship is the central program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. It aims to increase diversity in the professoriate by encouraging students of color to pursue Ph.D.- level studies. Undergraduates received mentorship and funding to participate in advanced research opportunities. They attend workshops, seminars and conferences, all designed to help them prepare for graduate school. Mellon Fellows’ connection to the program doesn’t end after they earn their bachelor’s degree. The program continues to provide support and resources as they move through graduate and post-graduate studies.

Juarez graduated from Heritage in 2002 and immediately went to Eastern Washington University to earn his master’s degree in social work. He went on to build a successful career managing social programs tied to early childhood development for families of migrant and sessional workers in central Washington, Oregon and on the national level in Washington D.C. However, it is in his most recent role that he finds his greatest satisfaction. Juarez is the field director and associate professor in Heritage’s Social Work program.

To fully understand Juarez’s story, you have to go back to the beginning when he was a young man, fresh out of high school longing for adventure and the riches that he heard awaited him in the United States. Juarez grew up poor in Michoacan, Mexico. At 19, he crossed the border into America.

“When you are poor in Mexico, it means you don’t have a passport. You don’t have access to what you need to enter the United States legally. You come here undocumented. You, or someone close to you, pays coyotes (smugglers who move people over the border) to bring you to this country,” he said. “These are not good people. They are dangerous people, and your life is in their hands.”

Juarez’s trip to the United States reads like a Hollywood script. It was 1986. He had friends living in the U.S. who promised to pay the $1,500 fee to bring him into the country. The coyotes bringing him over the border were returning with human cargo after running a load of guns into Mexico. These were, as Juarez said, “bad people!” When they got to the states, and the smugglers called for their money, nobody would pay. The coyotes threatened, “We will kill him,” still nobody would pay. Eventually nobody would even answer the phone. Juarez was taken to Mt. Vernon, Washington and forced into six months of indentured servitude. He lived with the coyotes in appalling conditions and worked in the fields picking strawberries. In the winter, when there was no fieldwork, he was forced to wash cars in the freezing cold mornings. His captors would take his weekly checks to pay off the debt and the expenses they claimed for room and board, even though the only food he got was what he received from the food banks. When, at last, he was freed, he made his way to central Washington, where he spent the next seven years working in agriculture, first in the fields, then for a dairy.

The dairy work was long and hard, but ultimately in a strange way, it is what put him on his path to Heritage. Juarez and a coworker were frustrated with a directive given to them by their supervisor; the two were told to milk 2,000 cows in just six hours.

In 2016 Miguel Juarez was named the Violet Lumley Rau Alumnus of the Year. He's pictured with the graduate alumnus of the year Kevin Chase.

In 2016 Miguel Juarez was named the Violet Lumley Rau Alumnus of the Year. He’s pictured with the graduate alumnus of the year Kevin Chase.

“We were told, ‘if you don’t like it, leave.’ So we left,” he said. “We thought that meant we were fired.”

The two filed for unemployment, which was granted. However, a few months later, they were told there was a mistake, and they had to pay back the money. Convinced they were in the right, the two requested a hearing, which they lost. The judge ordered them to pay back the money unless they enrolled in a jobs program. That program paid for schooling and some living expenses as well as waived the repayment order. Juarez jumped onboard.

Education and hard work were always something that Juarez’s family encouraged. All through school, he worked odd jobs and kept up with his studies. His high school diploma wasn’t recognized by most entities in the United States because it was from Mexico. Juarez enrolled in GED classes at a local community college. He moved through the lessons quickly and with ease, graduating in just three months.

“I was not going back to the fields and not going back to the diary. I was going to be somebody. I was angry that I didn’t speak English. Angry about being exploited and hungry for an education,” he said.

He went on to earn an associate degree and was working for a labor union in the lower Yakima valley when he heard about Heritage. The then director of Admissions lived in Sunnyside and was well known in the community. He kept pushing Juarez to check out the university and consider getting a bachelor’s degree. When he finally visited Heritage, it was as if he had come home.

“The first time I came to Heritage, I saw all these people who looked like me. I was introduced to others who spoke my language. I felt welcomed like I belonged,” he said. “I thought ‘this is my place.’”

He enrolled in the social work program focused on getting his degree as quickly as possible. After graduating in 2002, he went to work as a case manager at Central Washington Comprehensive Mental Health and earned his master’s degree. A chance meeting with the university’s then chair of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Jim Falco, brought him back to Heritage to teach in the social work program for a few years. Although he loved teaching, he was ambitious and wanted to build his experience outside of academia. He left Heritage and built the career that took him from one side of the country to the other.

Miguel Juarez and a college hold up Heritage University T-shirts at Heritage's regional branch at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash.

Miguel Juarez and a college hold up Heritage University T-shirts at Heritage’s regional branch at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash.

In 2014, tired of the long hours, of traveling back and forth between his home in Sunnyside and Washington, D.C., and tired of putting his family second behind his career, Juarez decided to return home. He left his job and came back to central Washington. He started working for Heritage again as an adjunct instructor, mostly out of the Tri-Cities location. Within a year, he was once again a member of the full-time faculty as an assistant professor in the program.

“I see so many students here at Heritage who look like me when I came here the first time as a student,” he said. “I see students who need help. Who need someone they can trust. It feels good when they spend time with me talking about their dreams and their families. Now it has been many years since my first students have graduated. I see them working, some as directors and supervisors; sometimes, they oversee my current students who are completing their practicums. I even have two students now whose parents were my students all those years ago. It feels very good knowing that we are making an impact.”

Not only has Juarez’s career come full circle, so has his education. In April, the university’s first Mellon Fellow became the latest to earn his doctorate when he graduated from Northcentral University with a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership.

Juarez is not the only Heritage Mellon Fellow to go on to earn their doctoral degree. Nor is he the only one to return to Heritage as part of the faculty. This fall, Yesenia Hunter will become the latest H.U. and Mellon alum to lead the class. She graduated from Heritage with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a focus on cultural studies and social policy in 2016. This spring, she completed the course work for her Ph.D.

Hunter immigrated to the United States from Mexico when she was just a child. She and her family were migrant farmworkers for much of her youth, traveling between the Skagit Valley to pick strawberries and cucumbers and the Yakima Valley to pick hops. They settled in Wapato, where she grew up, graduated from high school, got married and started a family. Then, in 2006 she and her husband and children moved to Seattle, so he could go to school. That move precipitated a passion that inspired Hunter to dream of a career in academics and spurred her into action.

Art and music were a big part of the couple’s lives. While in Seattle, they attended a workshop on son jarocho, folk music that originated in Veracruz, Mexico, and has Spanish and African influences. Hunter was hooked! Although Spanish was her first language, she felt somehow disconnected from the beauty and romance of the language. Through son jarocho, she found a connection.

“The language is so colloquial, and many times I would think, ‘That’s something my mom would say to me!’ The music touched on everyday conversations. It talked about falling in love and about being hurt. There was a depth to the music,” she said.

When they returned to the Yakima Valley a few years later, the pair brought son jarocho and their love of building community through the arts with them. They founded a local Fandango community, started hosting son jarocho gatherings and poetry workshops. Hunter, who was working for the Department of Social and Health Services, decided it was time to go back to school.

In 2018, Yesenia (right) visited Heritage to present a guest lecture as part of the RadLab project. She met with students like Cecilia De la Mora (left) and spoke about migration in the Yakima Valley.

In 2018, Yesenia (right) visited Heritage to present a guest lecture as part of the RadLab project. She met with students like Cecilia De la Mora (left) and spoke about migration in the Yakima Valley.

“I was in my 30s, and I knew I wanted to be a college professor, but I didn’t know how I could do that or what it really meant. I thought about myself as being a public historian or a publicly engaged academic. I was in a community of people, the other artists with whom we worked and created our art, who were academics. It shaped the way I responded to my own work. I wanted to think about these really big questions about life, about belonging, and about place, not just through music or art, but in a research-based, academic way.”

Hunter enrolled at Heritage and started her studies in the social work program. Her professor, Corey Hodge, encouraged her to explore the Mellon Mays Fellowship Program. The program became a huge influence and helped her find her path to her Ph.D.

“Dr. Winona Wynn (Heritage’s Mellon Mays Fellowship program director) is the most amazing mentor,” said Hunter. “She was someone to dream with, and she didn’t just give me advice, but resonated the things I had in my heart but was too afraid to say out loud. She really confirmed some of those big dreams.”

Visiting other college campuses and interacting with peers and graduate students at these other schools helped her envision herself succeeding in those environments. She felt emboldened by the mentoring and training she received through the workshops and seminars.

“Mentorship is so important. I came into the program with big questions and lots of interests. I didn’t know how to shape or even pick out the key ingredients to focus my research,” she said. “I was interested in women, in labor, in dancing, in art. My mentor said, ‘you should think about history.’
I didn’t know I wanted to be a historian until that moment. With the help of my mentors, I came to realize that what I really care about place. About how people make place and its role in history.”

It was Hunter’s senior year. She and her Heritage University advisors rebuilt her academic plan so that she could graduate on time and with a degree that would take her directly from earning her bachelor’s into a Ph.D. program in history. A few months after graduating from Heritage in May 2016, Hunter and her family moved to Los Angeles, where she studied at the University of Southern California (USC).

Throughout her studies at USC, Hunter kept coming back to this notion of place. She remembered being a child and riding in the car as her parents drove through the lower Yakima Valley to get to the hop fields.

“Driving through those fields, looking at the rows and rows of hops, and at Mt. Adams was important to me,” she said.

Yesenia Hunter

Yesenia Hunter

She thought about the people of the valley-of the farmworkers and the indigenous people of the Yakama Nation, of their stories and how those stories are sometimes lost in the narrative of the mainstream historical teachings.

“These last few years, I’ve been thinking about the power structures, the hierarchies that are embedded in the way we do academia,” she said. “Traditionally, academia has someone who is the knowledge bearer; they disseminate the knowledge, and then the students take the test. I’ve been thinking a lot about the community as being the knowledge bearers. There is a shared responsibility of gaining knowledge and giving it back to the groups. It is complicated and messy, but it gives us a fuller view of what happened from many people’s perspectives and voices.”

Hunter blended these two thoughts, place and community, for her Ph.D. dissertation “Entangled Histories of Land and Labor on the Yakama Reservation in the 20th Century.” She is currently writing the paper and expects to defend it in the spring.

In the meantime, she prepares for her new role, Associate Professor of History at Heritage.

“I’m most excited to work with students who are like I was when I was in their shoes, those who haven’t quite sorted out what they really want to do, who haven’t asked themselves the big questions,” she said. “I want to tell them I was where you are five years ago. You can do this, and it doesn’t take that long. You are important. Your questions are important. And your dreams are important.”