Caring for Mother Earth

Dehlia Wolftail at the 40th annual Heritage University Commence held May 14, 2022 at the Yakima Valley SunDome in Yakima, Wash.

Dehlia Wolftail has always dealt with life head-on. She hasn’t really had a choice.

“I’ve always needed to think on my feet,” she said. “It turns out the need to survive really helped me navigate my future self.”

Wolftail took that same approach to the climate change throughout her environmental science studies at Heritage University: Do all you can. We don’t have another choice.

Now with a bachelor’s degree under her belt, she’s on her way to the University of Oregon to pursue a fully funded-doctoral degree. She wants to do something to help the people of the Yakima Valley affected by the increasing effects of climate change – what she considers the biggest issue in the history of humankind.


Wolftail’s realistic approach to life was based on needing to make it through a turbulent childhood, one marked by homelessness and uncertainty. She and her two siblings left their parents to live with an aunt in Toppenish when she was nine. Both her mother and father died three years later. Her life was in the hands of the foster care system until she turned 18.

Wolftail wasn’t thinking about college when she graduated from Toppenish High School in 2004. She went to work in retail – what seemed the most logical choice at the time – but soon realized it wouldn’t help her improve her life or the lives of her family members.

So in 2009, she switched gears, doing the one thing she knew would make the biggest difference for her future: She joined the Marines.

“I went in on the G.I. Bill – I did it for the education I would be able to get afterward,” she said. “Those four years of my life paid for my tuition, books and a monthly stipend.”

From the moment she put her feet on “those yellow airport security footprints” to the day she got out, Wolftail says, it was hard. She served four years in active duty, one of them in Afghanistan.

“Everything about you is being adjusted to act like a Marine. You can’t move at will. You can’t wipe your nose, or you get push-ups. You move when they say move.

“When you live through such a tough way of life, and then you return to civilian life, you really appreciate your freedoms and your liberties. You learn never to take anything for granted.”

Wolftail says she took to heart the Marines’ saying, “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.”

“I had to think tactically at all times. In doing that, I gained more ability to create more structure in my life.”


To make good decisions, Wolftail says, it’s important to think ten steps ahead. She took advantage of available paralegal training while in the Marines, knowing it would benefit her once she was out. She hoped to pursue a law degree.

Back in Toppenish, she enrolled at Yakima Valley College, earned an associate degree, then enrolled at Heritage to continue her education.

“I love geology, so one course I took was a geology course,” she said. “And there was a lot about the earth and climate change.

“I had been looking at the multitude of social injustice issues on which a person can focus their law degree. All those issues are important, but climate change is even bigger. It’s affecting this entire planet and everyone on it.

“The more I learned, the more motivated I was to try to help.”

As her ideas continued to take shape, Wolftail was determined to make the most of her time at Heritage, which meant doing as many internships as possible. She did four in two years, all during the pandemic, taking advantage of three long-standing Heritage grants – the McNair Scholars program, the Culturally Responsive Education in STEM (CRESCENT) program, and the EAGLES STEM Scholarship Program.

In her internships, Wolftail studied the effects of the organic fertilizer biochar on tree growth in orchards in a water-stressed region. She mentored Yakama Nation tribal students in STEM in the EnvironMentors program, a science education and national college access program.

She worked with Washington State University on the food- energy-water nexus, studying water adjudications for the Colville and Spokane tribes. She then presented that research at the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) national conference, winning first prize in the undergraduate student poster competition.

She did an internship with EPA Region 10 that helped raise tribal college students’ awareness about air quality on the reservation and presented her findings at the National Tribal Forum on Air Quality.

She found each internship helped her fine-tune her interest. She’s still deciding about a career but knows that continuing her education is key to finding her answers.


Wolftail is concerned for those people of the Valley who are less able to “pivot” when environmental change occurs.

“Increased temperatures and extreme droughts would heavily impact our agricultural industry, which is the main source of income for many families here. Growers would lose their crops and, with that, their ability to pay workers.

“In terms of importance, on a scale of one to 10, I put climate change at a 20. Change needs to happen now. It’s not a Democrat or Republican issue; it’s not just up to the President or one individual or group. It needs to be humanity as a whole to realize we only have one earth, and the work is for all of us and our future generations.

“Especially in this area, changes in our climate are hitting people who, often, their home is all they have. They don’t have money or the means to move if they lose their home to a wildfire or if natural resources dry up.

“Whatever I do for my doctorate, my work will be climate change- focused. Hopefully, the work I do will help many people, including my own.” page17image35220448

From Teen Mom to College Grad

Nansi Iniguez holds her daughter during a recent video recording session at Heritage University.


Sometimes the greatest blessings come from moments of uncertainty. It is a truth that recent Heritage graduate Nansi Iniguez knows well. After all, her path from high school student to college graduate wasn’t an easy straight line. It was more like a magical labyrinth where dead ends morphed into doorways as opportunities melted away obstacles that blocked her path.

Iniguez is the second of four siblings. The only sister in a close-knit family. Her parents are farmworkers who immigrated to the United States from Mexico to California before moving to the Yakima Valley. Growing up, Iniguez and her older brother sometimes work alongside her parents in the fields. Her parents would tell them about how they came to America so their children could have a better life and how education was the key to accessing a world of opportunities.

“My brother and I are pretty close in age, and we were very competitive,” said Iniguez. “We both excelled in school. When we thought about our future, there was no question that we would go to college after graduating.”

While college was expected, exactly how the two would get there wasn’t quite as certain. The family’s modest means didn’t leave a lot of money available to pay for tuition and books. A Washington state program that gives high-achieving students the chance to earn college credits for free while completing their high school education was one solution. Iniguez enrolled in the University of Washington’s University in the High School program and completed several credit-bearing math and English courses before graduating.

The second solution was scholarships.

“I still have flashbacks to the conversations we had with my parents encouraging us to get good grades in school so we could get scholarships. They always talked about how tiring their jobs were but that they couldn’t stop because they had to send not one of us to college but both. They wanted to provide us both with the opportunity to thrive and be educated, but they knew it was an expensive route. One thing that they taught us was a strong work ethic and perseverance, so I applied that to the search for scholarships. I spent months planning and preparing scholarship applications.”

Iniguez was doing all she could to set herself up for a successful transition from high school student to college co-ed when she got the news that jeopardized all her plans. The 18-year-old high school senior was going to be a mommy. She hit the first wall in the labyrinth.

“I thought, ‘ok, this is it. No college for me,'” she said. “There is so much pressure on teen moms, so much doubt. I felt like I had failed everyone, my parents, siblings, and community.

“The funny thing is it was around the same time I was breaking the news about my pregnancy to my parents that I got the call that I was being awarded the Sinegal Scholarship.”

Just like that, the roadblock in the labyrinth disappeared, and a new pathway opened.

Nansi Iniguez poses for a picture with Heritage University President Dr. Andrew Sund during the 40th annual Heritage University Commencement held May 14, 2022 at the Yakima Valley SunDome in Yakima, Wash.

One of the scholarships that Iniguez had applied for several months prior was the Sinegal Family Foundation Scholarship. This full-tuition award pays for up to four years of study pursuant to a bachelor’s degree at Heritage.

Costco co-founder Jim Sinegal and his wife Jan established the scholarship in 2018. Iniguez was one of five students selected as part of the second cohort of scholars. Since its foundation, 19 students have attended Heritage on this scholarship. The fifth cohort of Sinegal Scholars is slated to begin their course of study in the fall.

“It was such an overwhelming experience,” said Iniguez. “They saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself at that moment. They were part of the community of people who helped me get back on track to pursue my dream.”

Iniguez enrolled at Heritage and declared psychology as her major. Her daughter Clarissa was born a little more than a month before starting her freshman year. It took a bit of juggling and a lot of support from her family, but when classes began that fall, Iniguez was there. She enrolled full- time taking five classes that semester, and earned an A in every one of them. In January, when spring semester started, Iniguez was back in the classroom.

Then in March, the labyrinth shifted again when COVID brought in-person learning to a screeching halt, and everything moved online. The change was more of a blessing than a curse for Iniguez. She was in the middle of the tug- a-war that plays on every working mother’s heart—dividing her attention between caring for her baby and taking care of business, or in her case, going to school.

“Most of the time, sacrificed time with my daughter to focus on exams, studying and homework. I would put her to bed and stay up until 2:00 in the morning to work. Or, I would wake up at 5:00 a.m. to get ahead on work,” said Iniguez. “The advantage of being online was that most of the time, the course work was already posted. We just had to learn, apply and work through it on our own schedule. I would wake up earlier than Clarissa and do hours of work. Then, I could make time for her during the day.”

Iniguez thrived in this online environment. She earned a perfect 4.0-grade-point average every semester. When she graduated in May, she was one of 19 students to receive the Board of Director’s Excellence Award, which is presented to undergraduates who earned a 4.0 every semester throughout their study at Heritage.

During the summers, when she wasn’t in school, Iniguez worked in the fields to earn and save money to help her and her husband make it through the rest of the year. The work is hard—it’s physically grueling laboring for long hours in the Central Washington heat. Before the summer between her junior and senior years, she decided she needed to find another option. She sent a message to her professor, Amy Nusbaum, to see if she knew of anyone who was hiring. Nusbaum sent her several leads; among them was a position working as a bilingual screener with the Northwest Justice Project. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Iniguez’s career goal at that time was to become an attorney. The job would give her some experience in the legal field.

Moreover, the position required the employee to work remotely from home. Iniguez could work and be home with her child, plus she could work her class schedule around her job schedule. She applied for the position, was hired and started the job in June 2021.

The blessing of the job led to yet another shift in her pathway. Hearing the stories from the people who called the eviction hotline she worked, plus the insight that comes from being a mother, got her thinking about how she can make a bigger impact on her community.

“I want to be more hands-on with people and have a more direct impact. Perhaps working with children in the schools as a psychologist,” said Iniguez.

For now, she said, that decision can wait. The number of calls on the eviction hotline she monitors is so high that her temporary position is now permanent. She plans to stay with the Northwest Justice Project for a few more years until her daughter starts school. Then she wants to return to school to earn a master’s degree.

If there is one thing that Iniguez’s journey through college taught her, it’s that no matter what surprises life has in store, the path she is on will inevitably shift. The opportunities that come from the twists and turns will be magical and take her exactly where she is meant to be. page17image35220448

Congratulations Class of 2022



Social Science
Jacqueline Garcia-Hernandez


American Indian Studies
Ida Velvet Shock •

Amarilis Mariflor Santiago

Business Administration
Gissell Aguilar
Juan Diego Aguilar
Maritza Alvarez Herrera
Latonia Andy ‘Káyx Wawkikuk’
Alonso Anthony Arroyo
Arturo Ayala
Diana Borges
Leslie Castillo
Joseph Cochran
Sandra Feria
Gissel Garcia Silva
Roman Garcia
Raul Gurrola
Alondra Belen Guzman
Jalisa Lopez
Tania Lopez
Edgar Maranon
Victor Manuel Monreal
Priscilla Montiel Sanchez
Tanya Rae Peters
Juan Manuel Quintero Macias, Jr.
Fatima V. Regla
Pablo Gerardo Vera Rivera

Criminal Justice
Emillo C. Avila
Raven Curtis Bolen
Briseida Carbajal-Prudencio
Dalia Chavez
Artemio Flores
Francisco Juan Gonzalez
Alejandra Gonzalez Herrera
Richard Henry Hazenberg
Sydney Lee Hill
Alicia G. Ibarra
Karina Padilla
Oscar Ponce
Jennifer Ramos
Kayla Hope Renschen
Dustin Michael Rogers
Yenifer Samantha Ruelas
Abigail Santos
Jerrilyn Stevens
Thalia Crystal Zamora

Yosi Barajas
Shannon M. Ozog
Lupe Rosales

Environmental Studies
Alexander Martinez Chavez
Dehlia Darlene Wolftail

Jami Lynn Hanks
Hunter Michael Jacob
Shaina Marie Longee
Elena Danielle Maltos
Carolina Moran

Information Technology
Manuel Anaya

Interdisciplinary Contract
April Cristine Wimble

Nelson R. Avila-Mendoza
Heather Kay Chronister
Sonia Guerrero
Audrey Igiraneza
Nansi Banessa Iniguez
Norma Imelda Manzanarez
Liliana Marquez
Elizabeth Orozco
Fredis C. Ramirez
Katia Sanchez Gutuerrez
Monserrat Torres-Becerril


Elementary Education
Lorena Alvarez
Andrea G. Barajas
Molly Elizabeth Baylor
Jennifer Bacerra
Faith Linnae Bold
Jasmine Castillo
Salvador Kale Cobar
Gustavo Arturo Contreras
Richard J. Corona
Joliana Alexandria Correa
Oscar Daniel Curiel
Esperanza Arely Delgado
Laura Yetsy Delgado
Mayra Yanet Delgado
Kassandra Lynn Espada
Bianca Lucero Gonzalez Estrada
Denise Guzman
Kyrsten Joelle Harris
Karely Jaime
Janeli Miranda Llamas
Armando Aranda Lopez
Freddy Omar Martinez
Leidy Martinez
Chantal Mejia
Elizabeth Carole Grover
Brenda Guadarrama-Cervantes
Silvia Guendulein Cruz
Angela N. Guerrero
Yazmine Alexiz Guido
Cecilia Joanna Guillen
Yuli Guzman Palacios
Tayler Lee Hill
Tasia Rai Hoptowit
Melissa Sue Kelly
Veronica Lopez
Gabriela Madrigal
Guadalupe Magallan
Kimberly Guadalupe Magana
Edward Martinez
Ariana Annett Martinez-Saldana
Kathleen Marie McIntosh
Angeles Olvera
Fernanda Yaeli Ortiz
Joaquin Padilla
Rebecca Pendell (Guizar)
Julia Faye Polk
Maria Santos Quezada Antunez
Inari Marie Raines
Edith Ramirez
Ramon Razo
Marely Rivera Morales
Andrea Marlene Robertson
Jocelyn Robles
Elizabeth Rachel Rodriguez
Jasmine Nicole Romero
Janele Arianna Rosales
Alondra Ruiz
Sharla M. Sloppy
April Elisa Smith
Diosalen Valdez
Christian Lili Valladares
Citlaly Mairely Villegas-Gil
Ashley Whitefoot-Erickson
Cambrie Ann Nechanicky
Daydrian Noyola
Ana Laura Olivares
Turquesa Paz
Rylee Malyn Pickel
Zaida Editt Ramirez
Yessica Regis-Vega
Ashley Elizabeth Rodriguez
Lidsey Rae Rodriguez
Veronica Rodriguez Mendoza
Nayeli Sabalsa
Laura Sandoval
Katelyn Marie Schell
Dane Craver Small
Alexander Marie Veloz
Eimeeli Yoselin Villa Farias
Nicole Zavala

Middle-Level Education
Jennifer Guadalupe Castaneda
Kely Reyes
Jacqueline Tlatelpa


Ryan M. Akers
Yarizza Alvarez
Sandra Canales
Alexandra Marie Davey
Omar Diaz
Carlos Daniel Iraheta
Tina Marie Janes
Herlinda Yakelin Montemayor
Kendra Jean Nies
Pdeh Wah Paw
Joanna Perez Espinoza
Mitzi Doraly Ramirez Deniz
Diana Iris Rios
Sara Gabriela Sanchez
April Renee Shelden

Antonio Franco
Reina Margarita Luna
Marissa Mendoza
Stephanie Rabanales
Alfredo Reyes
Karly Beth Serrano
Daniela Alejandra Solis
Yoana Torres
Rudy Velasquez
Alondra Zaragoza-Mendoza

Computer Science
Alvaro Diaz
Enrique Martinez

Environmental Science
Xavier Martinez Chavez
Orlando Pelcastre


Brisel Aurora Acuna
Jennifer Rose Cantu
Roma Galitea Cantu
Marlene Castillo
Quincey Marie Christenson
Heather Sue DeLozier
McKenzie Danielle Durand
Taylor Nicole Ebbelaar
Leticia Garcia
Luis Fernando Garcia
Tashae J. Gomez-Jones
Kaylyn E. Gunnier
Elisa Mariscal
Andrea Martinez-Santiago
Kailyn McKenzie Mendez
Payton Angelica Moore
Camryn Elise Newell
Dennise Quebrado Martin
Viviana Belen Rico
Alayna Faith Vanover
Alexis N. Wolfley


Social Work
Valerie Aispuro
Carina Alvarez Barajas
Brissi Alvarez Delgado
Yamilet Aquino Prado
Victoria Barajas
Tiffany Ann Barney
Crystal Bednarski
Elizabeth Desiree Belieu
Lynette Renee Brewer
Amanda Marie Brown
Yesenia Cardenas
Bianca Elizabeth De Trinidad Chavez
Elida Alejandra Chavez
Deanna Candice Chief
Elizabeth Cisneros
Erica Gabriela Diaz
Tania Dominguez Hernandez
Sophie Larraine Elwell
Alejandra Estrada
Zinai Farias
Sylvia Angelica Flores
Rachael Marie Gale
Javier Manuel Galindo
Yunuenn Jimena Garcia
Dominic Garza
Briseida Gonzalez
Gladys Leslie Gonzalez Lopez
Veronica Gonzalez
Elizabeth Carole Grover
Brenda Guadarrama-Cervantes
Silvia Guendulein Cruz
Angela N. Guerrero
Yazmine Alexiz Guido
Cecilia Joanna Guillen
Yuri Guzman Palacios
Tayler Lee Hill
Tasia Rai Hoptowit
Melissa Sue Kelly
Veronica Lopez
Gabriela Madrigal
Guadalupe Magallan
Kimberly Guadalupe Magana
Edward Martinez
Ariana Annett Martinez-Saldana
Kathleen Marie McIntosh
Angeles Olvera
Fernanda Yaeli Ortiz
Joaquin Padilla
Rebecca Pendell (Guizar)
Julia Faye Polk
Maria Santos Quezada Antunez
Inari Marie Raines
Edith Ramirez
Ramon Razo
Marely Rivera Morales
Andrea Marlene Robertson
Jocelyn Robles
Elizabeth Rachel Rodriguez
Jasmine Nicole Romero
Janele Arianna Rosales
Alondra Ruiz
Sharla M. Sloppy
April Elisa Smith
Diosalen Valdez
Christian Lili Valladares
Citlaly Mairely Villegas-Gil
Ashley Whitefoot-Erickson


Elementary Education
Sina Ari Bigelow
Jeremiah Lee Jordan
Steffanie Cecilia Mata
Cassandra Marie Rodriguez

Elementary Education Specialization in Bilingual Education
Cecilia Cardenas-Tellez
Zane Tyler Dellinger
Ingrid Adelaida Gallegos
Yaritza Morales Erika Sanchez

Elementary Education Specialization in English Language Learners
Christopher James Howell
Joyce M. Johnson
Rosalina Guadalupe Martinez
Monica Selene Neri
Melissa Ramirez

Elementary Education Specialization in Special Education
Saul Anton Arambul
Savanna M. Barrera
Grace Jessica Brewer
Jessica Maria Caballero
Antonio Camposeco
Gabriela Clara
Kody Levi Dotson
Karla Jean Flores
Rita Isabel Gonzalez
Lisa Marie Henson
Daicee Raylene Humphrey
Kayla Christine Johnson
Kylie Desiree Salgado Lopez
Shaina Mumtaz Mirza
Rachel Marie Pinkerton
Jasmin T. RiveraMaricruz Sauceda
Cassandra Saucedo
Shawn Leonard Scabby Robe
Laura Mae Smith


Multicultural English Literature & Language
Marla Allsopp
Debra Ann Hall
SaraBecca Martin
Michael McNeill-Martinez
Trenton Carl Mendelson


Educational Administration (Principal)
Guadalupe Garibay
Mary JoAnn Nelson

Inclusive Education
Josefina Martinez Chavez
Marinella Alexis Chvatal
Noemi Reyes Tule page15image35206144

Simply Unstoppable!

Commencement is always a joyous occasion for Heritage University students and their families. This year it was doubly so. It was the first time in three years that the event took place in person and as scheduled.

All totaled, 274 students graduated with bachelor’s or master’s degrees from Heritage during the 2021/22 academic year. The majority of these graduates celebrated their accomplishments with friends and families at the 40th Annual Commencement held at the Yakima Valley SunDome.

“Our students displayed remarkable grit and dedication to their education during unprecedented difficulties,” said Dr. Kazuhiro Sonoda, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs. “They could have given up or said they would take time off from school until things got back to normal, but they didn’t. They shifted gears and doubled down on their studies because their education was a priority. Their work ethic and tenacity is an inspiration to us all.”

This year’s keynote address was presented by Washington state Representative Debra Lekanoff of the 40th legislative district, which includes parts of Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties. Sworn into the Washington State House of Representatives in January 2019, Rep. Lekanoff is the only Native American woman currently serving in the Legislature. She is Vice-Chair of the House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee and sits on the Appropriations Committee and the Rural Development, Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.

In addition to Lekanoff’s address, two graduating students gave their remarks. Ashley Whitefoot-Erickson (B.S.W., Social Work) presented the baccalaureate student address and Monica Neri (M.I.T., Elementary Education) gave the master’s degree student address.

Twenty students and one alumna were recognized with special awards during the event. Courtney Hernandez (M.I.T., 2018) received the Violet Lumley Rau Alumna of the Year award. Karly Beth Serrano, Biology, received the President’s Council Award of Distinction, which is presented to a graduate with both an exceptional academic record as well as a history of service to the campus community. The Board of Directors Academic Excellence Award, which goes to students who graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA, was presented to 19 graduates. This year’s recipients were: Sandra Feria, Business Administration; Shannon Ozog, English; Nansi Iniguez, Psychology; Norma Manzanarez, Psychology; Mayra Delgado, Education; Richard Corona, Education; Turquesa Paz, Education; Faith Bold, Education; Valerie Aispuro, Social Work; Joaquin Padilla, Social Work; Melissa Kelly, Social Work; Silvia Guendulein, Social Work; Crystal Bednarski, Social Work; Kathleen McIntosh, Social Work; Rachael Gale, Social Work; Yamilet Aquino, Social Work; Veronica Lopez, Social Work; Angela Guerrero, Social Work; and Elizabeth Rodriguez, Social Work. page15image35206144


Revving Up S.T.E.M.

With the demand to build the diversity of STEM professionals increasing, Heritage is ramping up efforts to recruit and maximize the success of area students.


STEM-trained professionals – those who work in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math – are in great demand today. Those who come from minority backgrounds are needed even more. It’s been a white male-dominated world that doesn’t represent the actual world, say STEM experts like Kazuhiro Sonoda, Ph.D., provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at Heritage.

Heritage has been working for years to change that. Now, a new grant is helping the university do even more to engage potential STEM students before they’re college-age, find academic success, and make sure they’re ready for whatever path they choose following graduation.

A $5 million “HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institution) Title III” grant from the U.S. Department of Education directs two-thirds of the funds toward hiring staff who’ll focus on attracting Hispanic students into Heritage STEM and working with them throughout their student experience, as well as developing programs to serve these students’ needs. The grant also makes possible the first steps of building a new STEM learning center and purchasing its equipment.

“There are very few Hispanics and African Americans and even fewer Native Americans in STEM professions,” said Sonoda. “The male- female component has been getting better, but ethnicity is skewed white.”

With 70 percent of Heritage’s student population Hispanic and 11 percent Native American, Sonoda noted: “We are perfectly positioned to put more minorities into STEM professions.”

New STEM-focused staff will conduct specialized outreach to area high schools with large Hispanic- student populations. Summer STEM bridge programs, dual enrollment and articulation agreements witharea schools to Heritage will increase students’ readiness for college courses.

Sonoda says a big part of recruiting students means sharing what STEM opportunities are available.

“Students in our area see people in medical professions, law enforcement and social work, for example, so they know those are professions they can pursue. They need to know about other career paths, like scientists and engineers, so they see those STEM professions as opportunities as well.

“They need to start to experience a shared belief that they can do this so that while they’re still in high school, they can take the appropriate courses and work to be ready for college-level STEM courses.”


Four long-standing grant-funded programs have added to Heritage’s success in increasing enrollment, retention, academic success, and graduation of Heritage’s minority students: the McNair Scholars Program and three National Science Foundation (NSF) grants – the EAGLES STEM Scholarship Program, the Culturally Responsive Education in STEM (CRESCENT) program, and the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU).

The new HSI grant model now expands the student-serving provisions of existing programs. In addition to high school outreach, once at Heritage, each student will be assigned a STEM coach, a professional retention specialist who’ll connect them with academic and support services like tutoring and counseling. This person will serve as a mentor, role model and career advisor. STEM coaches will work hand in hand with academic advisors and faculty.

“Many students come to Heritage needing help getting up to speed in math and science, and there are those that don’t make it,” said Sonoda. “Part of what’s going to happen involves working with high school students to be ready for college-level STEM courses before they come here, and we need to make sure new freshmen don’t drop out if they don’t find immediate success in entry-level courses.”

In addition to leading students to needed academic support, STEM coaches will address their social and mental health needs, connecting them with internal and external services, referred to as “full wrap-around” services. The adaptation of this case management model will be rigorously studied for its effectiveness and modified as needed.

Students work on math problems at the Academic Skills Center at Heritage University

STEM coaches will follow up with students if they miss class or homework is delayed, if they have financial burdens, their transportation isn’t working, or if there are family needs.

“This has always been done at Heritage out of care for students’ well-being and academic success, but this model formalizes it,” Sonoda said. “The concept is to bridge the gap by identifying what each student needs and providing it.”

A significant part of the Heritage experience for students – professional internships – will also find support from HSI grant-supported staff to help students identify their desired post- graduation opportunities, whether with job possibilities or graduate studies.

“Our track record for connecting students to internships is excellent,” said Jessica Black, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental science at Heritage University and director for the Center for Indigenous Health, Culture & the Environment (CIHCE).

“One hundred percent of STEM students at Heritage who wish to have paid summer research experiences get them, and the HSI grant will support this kind of active learning so important to their success. It lets them incorporate scientific research into their program and transition successfully into more advanced roles along the way to their professional path.”


Professional experience via internships expands students’ vision of possibilities for their future, including graduate studies and post-graduation jobs, said Black.

“There’s no limit to what Heritage’s STEM students can do,” she said.

Black noted that Heritage grads have gone on to graduate programs in biology, computer science and engineering. They’ve completed medical lab science programs, physician assistant programs, veterinary school and medical school. They’ve earned doctorates in pharmacology, chemistry, microbiology, and environmental climate policy. They’re working as science teachers and at area labs in the Yakima Valley. They work for the Yakama Nation and natural resources and fisheries for Yakama Power and Yakima Forestry.

A student works on an experiment in a laboratory at Heritage University.

“They very often go to work back in their communities where they’re able to serve as role models and do meaningful work that really makes a difference for people.

“This grant means we do more to support our students and specifically their careers in STEM, and that’s why we’re here.”


Look at any building on the Heritage campus, and you’ll see a dream that’s become a reality. The university’s next big dream – its new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math center, being called the “STEM Learning Center” – is set to become the next dream come true.

On the southeast corner of campus, where the wide green lawn stretches to the hop fields beyond, adjacent to the Martha B. Yallup Health Sciences Building – this is where this long-awaited home to continued ingenuity and discovery in STEM will take shape.

The HSI grant is allowing plans for the new STEM structure to begin.

Early plans depict a simple, elegant building – low-slung, sleek- looking, with electricity-generating solar panels to power the entire facility and heat its water. Its thick windows will conserve energy; its walls will contain phase change materials for thermal energy storage.

Stepping inside the oversized entrance – one that seems to say “Welcome” in a very big way – visitors will experience the feel of a future STEM workplace, as fully outfitted, state-of-the-art labs and open-concept spaces welcome visitors, engender conversation, spark imagination, and facilitate learning.

Significantly located on the Yakama Reservation, it will be the first wholly STEM-focused learning center in the Yakima Valley.

Students have dubbed the project “Adelante STEM,” Spanish for “Forward STEM.”


Heritage’s current STEM space is limited. Seven STEM majors – biology, mathematics, computer science, pre- engineering, environmental science, nursing and pre-med studies share five labs and 30 classrooms.

With 5,000 square feet of space, spacious labs, break-out rooms, multiple study areas and state-of-the- art equipment, Heritage’s new STEM building will revolutionize current offerings, making it possible for Heritage to increase its STEM student capacity to 350 students.

Artist rendering of the proposed STEM Center planned for Heritage University.

In creating this space, Heritage will join a STEM-learning emphasis taking place in major universities across the country.

“Combined STEM-focused study is what major universities are doing,” said Provost Sonoda. “Most have a science building where all STEM students study in the same area, not separate. STEM-oriented areas create camaraderie and enhance through shared learning opportunities.

“We want to make all the tools available, and this is the start of making it real – what has been the dream of leadership, faculty and students for ten years.”


Nuclear engineer Michael Durst was enjoying retirement in 2014 when Sonoda asked him to develop a pre-engineering program at Heritage. He decided to embrace that challenge and is taking his passion to the next step.

“When Dr. Sonoda asked me to direct the design and construction of the STEM building, I just had to say yes,” said Durst. “It was what I had come to Heritage for.”

Durst and other Heritage leaders are working with area architects on preliminary design concepts.

Durst’s illustrious career includes the receipt of a Nobel Peace Prize for his work reducing nuclear materials following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, followed by the design- build of the largest observatory and planetarium in the Pacific Northwest – the Moore Observatory at Columbia Basin College.

Yet he sites experiences working with middle schoolers in Washington’s Tri-Cities as among the most striking memories in his 50-year career.

The observatory had purchased a new scanning electron microscope, and Durst and others took it to middle schools in the area as part of their student outreach program.

“We demonstrated to students what their world looks like when they can see things ten times the size of an atom,” said Durst.

“They were absolutely incredulous. Watching them respond was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.”


Durst says he’s excited to witness similar reactions among students of all ages when the STEM building is up and running.

“This will attract students to Heritage. It’ll ignite their energy to get involved with STEM. Students who apply themselves will be able to use this building to do anything they want to do to learn.

“We want students to feel the cross-cutting nature of sciences and technology. For example, the hot water solar collectors will provide hot water not only for building usage but also as potential feedstock in other areas of usage such as agro-farming and material sciences.”

In addition to class and lab time for Heritage students, Durst and other Heritage faculty plan to host pre-college-age students at the center. With a space designated for STEM outreach and STEM educator training for area K-12 school systems, they’d love to welcome students by the busload.

“We’ll have lots of lab space where students of all ages can learn how to do things and make mistakes in a safe manner,” Durst said. “There’s no end to what students will be able to learn.”

Durst sites vertical, sustainable farming, expected to take an increasingly central role in Washington’s and the world’s future, as just one of the areas that can be studied and showcased.

Connections with area businesses are also being made and are expected to be good for student internships as well as job possibilities following graduation.

“The building will be like a business hub for Heritage,” Durst said. “It will act as a hub for students moving in and out of internships and will play an integral role in real-work experience in solar electric, solar hot water, wastewater treatment technologies, agriculture and so much more.

“In a very real sense, this building is the first phase of building a full Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics study complex.

“We want it to be sized and built in such a way that in the future, we can add on to it for additional expanded capability for our STEM programs and an ever-growing number of STEM students.” page15image35206144

Law school pipeline program for Central Washington students to launch at Heritage University


Law school pipeline program for Central Washington students to launch at Heritage University

Toppenish, Wash. – Legal educators, lawyers, and judges from across Washington state will lead a program at Heritage University designed to prepare Central Washington students for the rigors of law school and a legal career. The program, funded by a grant from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program, is an innovative partnership between the law schools at Seattle University, the University of Washington and Gonzaga University and Heritage that aims to make a law degree more accessible to diverse students, especially Latino/Latina/Latinx and Indigenous students.

To teach specific program topics, the program will host highly acclaimed legal professionals from across the state, including:

  • Stephen C. Gonzalez – chief justice, Washington Supreme Court
  • Helen Whitener – justice, Washington Supreme Court
  • Annette Clark – dean and professor of law, Seattle University School of Law.
  • César Torres – executive director, Northwest Justice Project in Yakima, Wash.
  • Sonia Rodriguez-True – Yakima County Superior Court commissioner in Yakima, Wash.
  • Bree Black Horse – senior associate with Seattle law firm Kilpatrick Townsend and Seminole Nation of Oklahoma citizen.
  • Fé LopezGaetke – director, LSAC diversity, equity & inclusion programs & operations.
  • Jaime “Jr.” Cuevas – general council, Ramsey Companies in White Swan, Wash.
  • Lola Velazquez – attorney, Northwest Justice Project.

The LSAC PLUS Program kicks off the three-week program on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, with in-person classes at Heritage three days each week. Key aspects are designed to help the 37 enrolled students envision themselves as lawyers, with a visit by Washington Supreme Court justices, a mock law school class, roundtable discussions with leaders of minority bar associations, and modules that provide helpful information to demystify the application process and the law school experience. Students may also visit one of the Washington law schools. A shorter, follow-up program component will take place in October.

By the end of the program, students will have a better understanding of what it takes to apply to and become accepted by a law school, thrive as a law student, and ultimately a career as a lawyer. Students will make valuable connections with diverse attorneys and judges in their community who are invested in their future success.

For additional background information, visit:

Media are invited to report on the first day of the LSAC PLUS Program, with opportunities to interview students, instructors and program coordinators during a break scheduled for 4:30 p.m. For more information, contact Davidson Mance, Heritage University media relations coordinator, at (509) 969-6084 or

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This project received funding from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). The opinions and conclusions contained in this document are the opinions and conclusions of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of LSAC.

Heritage University’s Annual Scholarship Fundraiser raises $723,085 in return to in-person event

Heritage University students hold placards to reveal $723,085 as the amount raised during the 36th Annual Bounty of the Valley Gathering for Scholarships and Paddle Raise held at the Heritage University campus in Toppenish, Wash. on June 4, 2022.


Heritage University’s annual “Bounty of the Valley” Scholarship Dinner returns as an in-person event, raises $723,085 for student scholarships

Toppenish, Wash. – Heritage University’s 36th annual Bounty of the Valley Gathering for Scholarships, held this past weekend, brought in $723,085 during the event. The premier fundraiser for student scholarships at Heritage returned as an in-person event following two years of being held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was also live-streamed for those who wished to attend remotely.

This year the Bounty of the Valley featured hosts, Alex Vera and Gerardo Ruelas, two Heritage alumni and Valley natives who have gone onto much success in their careers at Costco Wholesale in the company’s headquarters in Issaquah, Wash.

Heritage University alumna Yuli Guzman, who recently graduated from Heritage with a B.A. in social work, served as student speaker. Guzman graduated from Davis High School in 2018. She’s completed practicum experiences at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital, Comprehensive Healthcare, the Yakima Police Department and the Central Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Her future plans include attending graduate school to earn a Master of Social Work.

This year marks the first time in three years Heritage celebrated its students and generous donors raised their paddles for scholarships on the university’s campus. Heritage University president Andrew Sund, Ph.D. expressed his gratitude for the many donors, longtime and new, who showed unwavering support for Heritage during the pandemic. “When I think back on the many lessons I learned during the COVID times, one of the most endearing is just how blessed this university and our students are to have the unwavering support of all of you,” said Dr. Sund. “Your commitment to ensuring that higher education remains accessible means our students continued their academic pursuits uninterrupted. Moreover, it means that future generations of Heritage Eagles can count on the university being here in the Yakima Valley when they are ready to enter college.”

The live-streamed portion of Bounty of the Valley can be viewed by visiting Donations to student scholarships can be made on the same page by clicking on the “Raise Your Paddle” button. For more information, contact Dana Eliason at (509) 865-0441 or or Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or

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News Briefs

Science student selected for Neurotechnology research at the University of Washington

Miguel Mendoza

Heritage University student and McNair Program scholar Miguel Mendoza will spend this summer on a research project with the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle. Mendoza will participate in the 2022 Center for Neurotechnology Research Experience for Undergraduates Program and will work in the “GRIDlab” at UW.

“I believe this opportunity with Drs. Raj Rao, Jeff Ojemann, Jeffrey Herron at GRIDlab will help me grow as an individual and will allow me to dive into the field of neurosurgery, which is a great fit for me as I continue my journey towards becoming a doctor,” said Mendoza.

The McNair program prepares first-generation, minority and low-income students to enter into doctoral studies after graduating from Heritage. Students participate in specialized research, mentoring and other scholarly activities.

Student traveling to Johns Hopkins University for humanities research this summer

Melissa “Millie” Land


Heritage University student Melissa “Millie” Land will spend part of this summer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, after being selected for a Leadership Alliance Summer Research-Early Identification Program (SR-EIP). Land’s internship conducting research in humanities will run from May 30 to August 5, 2022, and she will receive a $5,700 fellowship payment plus travel and housing expenses.

Along with conducting research, Land will participate in social and professional development activities with other students. The SR-EIP provides training and mentoring and prepares them to pursue competitive applications to PhD or MD- PhD programs.


Law school partnership program brings legal career prep to Heritage students

A new partnership program at Heritage is helping students and alumni explore careers in the legal field. The Law School Admission Council Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program is an innovative partnership among Washington’s three law schools – Seattle University School of Law, University of Washington School of Law, and Gonzaga University School of Law – and Heritage University.

It seeks to make a law degree more accessible to diverse students, especially Latino, Latina, Latinx and Indigenous students.

This three-week, summer program helps students realize that getting admitted to law school and launching a legal career are achievable goals. By the end of the program, they will have a better understanding of what it takes to apply to and become accepted by a law school, how to thrive as a law student, and what it is like to work as a lawyer. In the process, students will make valuable connections with diverse attorneys and judges in their community who are invested in their future success.

More information is available at https://law. inclusion/lsac-plus-program/


Angela Guerrero

Student selected for fellowship program

The Latino Center for Health has named Heritage social work major Angela Guerrero as one of the recipients of its third annual Student Scholars Fellowship Program. Guerrero is one of eleven students selected from health sciences programs in universities across Washington state for this crucial financial and community support opportunity.

The fellowship program helps meet the demand for Latinx and Spanish-speaking healthcare workers in WA state by providing financial and community support to students in the health sciences.


Heritage breaks ground for new Early Learning Center opening next year

New ELC groundbreaking

Heritage University broke ground on a new state-of- the-art Early Learning Center on December 3. The new $3.2 million facility will contain five classrooms, and will serve children between the ages of 12 months and kindergarten.

Construction is expected to take eight months, with the center scheduled to open in December 2022. The new ELC will allow Heritage to increase the number of children served from 75 to 90.

The new facility is made possible by a generous contribution from an anonymous donor. See the construction progress by visiting


Five Heritage alums selected among top young leaders to watch in Yakima County

Since 2018, the Yakima Herald- Republic recognizes 39 men and women under 39 years old as up and coming community leaders to watch. This year, five Heritage grads were among those honored. They are: Andrea Flores, Amy Hamilton, Courtney Hernandez, Cindy Lemus and Corbin Schuster.

Flores was recognized for her work in public service. She graduated from Heritage in 2016 with a degree in accounting. She completed her degree in just three years while working full-time. After graduating, she worked in the accounting departments at both Yakima Regional Medical Center and Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital before joining the city of Yakima, where she works as a level two accountant.

Hamilton was recognized for her work in health and medicine. She earned her degree in criminal justice from Heritage in 2018. She was working as a care provider at Total Care Home Health, which is now Avenna Healthcare, while going to school. After graduating, she stayed with the company and worked her way through the ranks. Today, she is the area operations director for Central and Eastern Washington.

Hernandez was recognized for her work in nonprofits and advocacy. She is an English teacher at Davis High School and a community organizer who helped create the Selah Alliance for Equality. Her work, along with others in the grass-roots organization, led the city to agree to changes to improved diversity and conversations around equity and First Amendment rights. Hernandez graduated from Heritage in 2018 with a Master in Teaching.

Lemus was recognized in the category of education. She is an artist and teacher in the Toppenish School District. She teaches art to grade school children from kindergarten through fifth grade and is involved in several community art projects. He earned her degree in art education in 2018.

Schuster was also recognized in the education category. He graduated from Heritage with a degree in biomedical science in 2018 and went to Oregon State University, where he earned a Ph.D. in microbiology. Today, he is a researcher for the Zebrafish International Resource Center at the University of Oregon and an adjunct professor at Heritage.

Heritage University community mourns the loss of a leader and good friend

Long-time supporter and former member of the Heritage University Board of Directors, William “Bill” Rich, passed away on February 25, 2022. He was 87.

William Rich

Rich served on the board for ten years until 2014. During that time, he was part of the Advancement Committee and was Vice-Chair of the Executive and Tribal Relations committees. Through his leadership, Rich helped raise funding to construct the Arts and Sciences Center; hired the university’s second president, Dr. John Bassett; and helped the university rebuild its campus following the 2012 fire that destroyed Petrie Hall.

In addition to his service to Heritage, Rich was an active Rotarian who was part of the Yakima Downtown Rotary since 1984. He spent 30 years working at Jack Frost Fruit Company and Marley Orchards before retiring as the general manager in 1996.

Rich was an avid outdoorsman who loved fishing and hunting. He was also a talented woodcarver who took inspiration from nature, carving wildlife and Native American-style masks.

Rich is survived by his wife of 64 years, Sue; his children Doug and Kitty; and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Class Notes



Phillip J. Vasquez (Principal Certification) recently retired from the Yakima School District. Vasquez spent 18 years working in school administration in the district. During his career he served as an assistant principal in an elementary school and as a principal at both the elementary and middle school levels.





Melissa Vickers (B.S., Computer Science) recently earned a master’s degree in library and information science from San Jose State University. Vickers is the information technology manager at Yakima Valley Libraries.


Rachel Gonzalez- Garza (M.Ed., Professional Development in ESL) recently completed The National Institute for STEM Education (NISE) certification. NISE is a competency-based, academic portfolio of work that demonstrates proficiency across STEM teacher actions.




Sagrario Bernal (B.A., Business Administration) was promoted to Area Manager for central Washington at Enterprise in December. Bernal joined Enterprise in 2016 as part of their management training program. Since then, she’s spent the past five years working as an assistant manager or branch manager at locations across Washington state.

Lizbet Maceda (B.A., Business Administration) started a new position as a regional prevention specialist at ESD105 in Yakima. Prior to this position, she served as community prevention coordinator at the ESD.


Patrick Feller (B.A., Environmental Studies) joined Darigold to serve as a production supervisor in their whey plant in Sunnyside, Washington. He previously served as a field science technician for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.



Elisa Cantu (B.A., Criminal Justice) recently completed the APR 6 Law Clerk Program. This is a four-year program that is an alternative to attending law school. Those who complete the program are eligible to take the Washington state lawyer bar exam.


Corbin Schuster, PhD (B.S., Biomedical Sciences) earned a doctoral degree in microbiology from Oregon State University in December. His thesis was “Expanding Diagnostic Assays for Pseudoloma Neurophilia and Description of the Progression of Infection in Adult Zebrafish Populations.”


Edith Zarogoza (M.A., Physician Assistant) joined Miramar Health Center in Pasco, where she is working as a physician assistant. Miramar is a Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic subsidiary.

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

For the Love of the Game


For Coach Adam Strom (BA.Ed., 2015, M.A.Ed., 2019), every loss is a choice “to be bitter or better.” He doesn’t harp on what his team did wrong. Instead, he tells his players to think about one thing they did right and feel good about it.

It’s an attitude that’s propelled him from part-time high school basketball coach to the fulfillment of a dream: head women’s basketball coach at National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics-level (NAIA) Haskell Indian Nations University.

“My dad always said you give the players the credit when they win, and you take it on the chin when you lose. I ask myself how I can be better,” he said. “And I remember what my dad told me ‘always let your team know before they leave the locker room: I believe in you.’”


Ted and Phyllis Strom instilled values of family, faith and education in their eight children. Mom was straightforward, Dad was philosophical, but both came from a place of great love, said Strom.

Ted Strom, who passed away in 2014, was his son’s most significant life coach and “coaching coach.”

In fall 1996, Strom was at the University of Washington on a pre-engineering track when his dad had a heart attack.  Strom rushed home to be by his dad’s side.

“Dad had to take it easy for a while, so he said I was going to be his assistant coach – which was his way of saying he was still coach, but I was going to do the work,” Strom laughed.

Strom loved coaching and decided to pursue it. He transferred from UW to Yakima Valley College and a couple of years later, took over girls’ varsity at White Swan High School, his alma mater.

“I then understood why my dad would be up at night watching game film. I found myself doing the same thing, reading books, talking to other coaches. I was a student of the game.

“I questioned myself a lot, but I was always able to lean on my huge passion for others to achieve.”

Working to excel meant playing and practicing all year, including about 60 games a summer. Fun was a by-product, said Strom, and girls came to White Swan to be part of its culture.

Adam Strom

Every new challenge had him questioning his abilities, but Strom stepped outside his comfort zone every time. In his second year at Hermiston, his team won conference title.


“I was riding my high horse – coaching, doing what I wanted to do,” recalled Strom. “And I received a challenge to do more.”

It was 2012, and Strom’s wife Relyn was principal at Yakama Nation Tribal School. She talked with him about teaching. Strom agreed to meet with the school’s superintendent.

“’These are struggling learners,’ she told me. ‘You’re needed in the classroom as well as on the court.’ The clarity of her approach reminded me of my mom. I accepted the invitation.”

Strom needed to finish the mid-level math program he’d begun at UW. He enrolled at Heritage and became a full-time math teacher at the Tribal School.

“I was ready to give to these students and to be a student again myself.”


Where Strom’s basketball players had always been excited to be under his tutelage, his pre- algebra students at the Tribal School were not. Three years behind grade level, he said they felt little sense of belonging.

Again, his dad’s words echoed: “Let them know you believe in them.”

“I’d greet them at the door every day. In class, we’d talk about the relationship between school and life. I let them know my classroom was a safe place. They knew I cared, and they did better.”

In 2017, two years after joining the Tribal School, Strom received his master’s degree in school administration from Heritage and was appointed principal. In 2020, he was named superintendent. His appointment was announced to the students with the statement, “If nobody told you they loved you, Mr. Strom loves you!”

In 2016, for the first time in the school’s history, his boys team made it to the state playoffs.

Two months later, Strom also found himself on the shortlist to be head women’s basketball coach at Yakima Valley College, a move from a 1B school to community college ranks. He took the job and in his first year, his team qualified for the NWAC division playoffs.


Once again, Strom was happy coaching his team. Then one day in spring 2021, a player showed him a Facebook post about an opening for head women’s basketball coach at Haskell Indian Nations University.

“This should be your next job,” she said.

“My dad told me early in my coaching career, ‘You’re going to make a great college coach someday.’ I wanted to be able to say, ‘Look, Dad – I did it.’”

Strom applied and got the job.

Third-highest level of college basketball, 100 percent native, and coaching women: Strom’s job at Haskell University checks all his boxes.

The family moved to Lawrence, Kansas Relyn got an assistant principal job in Topeka. Two of their three sons are students at Haskell – one plays for the college’s men’s team.

Strom said he’ll be a school administrator again one day. But for now, he’s living his absolute dream and modeling his trademark positive attitude.

Before every game, he tells his team: “There are two things you can control: your attitude and your effort. Making the ball go through the hoop is at best a 50-50 chance. But 110 percent effort is up to you as an individual.

“Take this attitude from the court into life, and there’s no doubt you’ll succeed,” he said. “And you’ll be happy.”