Taking Flight

Heritage launches campaign for the Ross Institute for Student Success

In 2009, when Sr. Kathleen Ross announced she was retiring from the presidency of Heritage University, she promised her work at the institution was far from over. She was compelled to expand the work started in rural Toppenish, Washington, to colleges and universities in towns big and small throughout the United States. Ross took her wisdom from the president’s office and into a newly-founded institute that would allow her to build on all that she and other educators had learned about working with students that she called the “New Majority.”

As colleges and universities throughout the United States diversify, more students who have traditionally been left out of higher education are pursuing degrees. They are the “New Majority,” those who are the first in their families to go to college. More often than not, they are from lower-income, working- class backgrounds and are often Latino/a, African American, Native American or from other cultural and racial minorities. They are just as bright, capable and driven as their traditional student peers, but through no fault of their own, they are often either underprepared for college or lack some of the skills that help students thrive in a college environment.

Heritage University was founded precisely to help New Majority students. In the 29 years under Ross’s leadership, much was learned about working with these students to break through barriers that keep them from success. Ross compiled these learnings in her book Breakthrough Strategies Classroom-based Practices to Support New Majority College Students. This book gives educators real, practical tools that Ross and other Heritage educators found to be successful in helping students thrive and persist through earning their degrees.

When current Heritage president Andrew Sund, Ph.D., arrived at the university, he was gifted a copy of Ross’s book. The tools he found within were powerful and insightful. More had to be done to expand on this work, both for the students at Heritage and beyond. It was time to direct resources towards the small one-woman institute that Ross operated under and build it into a research center that would provide development and training for Heritage faculty to enhance classroom practices and teaching methods. Additionally, the institute would conduct new research into effective practices and methods developed at Heritage and institutions elsewhere. The knowledge gained would be shared widely through visiting scholars, symposiums and other similar efforts.

“The lifelong work of Heritage University co-founder and President Emerita Kathleen Ross inspires me to follow in her footsteps and advance the mission of providing higher education to underserved student populations,” said Sund. “In addition to preserving the legacy of Dr. Ross, this new institute will continue her groundbreaking work, form collaborative and strategic partnerships, and, most importantly, make new research-based discoveries that will transform the lives of first-generation college students everywhere.”

In April 2022, Heritage launched its campaign to raise the funds needed to build the Ross Institute for Student Success. The announcement came at Ross’s 80th birthday celebration on April 7. A donor provided a $1 million cornerstone gift to launch the effort.

“The institute is a lasting legacy to a woman who dedicated much of her life to helping men and women rise to their fullest potential, regardless of the roadblocks they face,” said David Wise, vice president for Advancement. “We see the proof of how important equitable access to higher education is to individuals, families and communities every day. The work Kathleen started all those years ago, and that Heritage does to this day, only scratches the surface of the need. The institute will allow us to do so much more, for so many more.”

To learn more about the Ross Institute for Student Success or to make your gift, go to heritage.edu/RossInstitute.

Building the Foundation to Thrive

Three years after its founding, YVPE’s organizations and individuals are working together to help students – and have early results to show for it.

Aligning resources and people, and prioritizing meeting students’ needs, Yakima Valley Partners in Education (YVPE) has made significant progress toward improving educational outcomes for the children of the Yakima Valley.

“Through community listening sessions, we identified the educational challenges students face and formed groups of professionals and community members who wanted to address these,” said Suzy Diaz, Heritage’s Collective Impact director for YVPE.

Significantly, said Diaz, three of the Valley’s school districts – Sunnyside, Mabton and Grandview – are working collaboratively on their shared concerns for their students, their futures and the related well-being of the community. YVPE plans to include other school districts as the work progresses and funding is made available.

“We’ve seen school districts willing to collaborate cross-sectors to solve challenges to benefit students.”

Children entering school arrive with varying reading abilities, home lives that may impact attendance, food insecurity, health needs, transportation challenges, even homelessness.

“Teachers dedicate themselves to teaching and do a wonderful job, but students carry so much with them as they enter the classroom.”

The challenges faced by students impact achievement rates in the Valley. According to yakimavalleytrends.org, 20 percent of young people here fail to complete high school. College attainment rates are low, with only 8.2 percent of students getting two-year degree and 11.1 percent earning a four-year degree.

“One of our first goals is that children enter school kinder-ready, improving their chances to meet the educational milestones that follow and enter the workforce with increased success,” said Diaz.


YVPE’s focus for the three school districts is on a significant milestone in a student’s future success: reading at or above grade level by third grade.

In its first year, YVPE members established the “Rural Accelerator Leadership Program” to positively address the varied issues affecting literacy achievement, especially in rural communities. Members include school district leaders, community members, and professionals from community- based organizations. Each works in one of four active workgroups: Health, Digital Connectivity, Partnerships and Resources, and Parent-Family Engagement.

Helping make reading to grade level by third grade a reality, a program called “Early Steps to School Success” was implemented in the Grandview School District in the 2019-20 academic year. It’s an early-learning support program run by Save the Children, one of YVPE’s founding partners and funders.

In addition, in a step Diaz calls “very significant for our goals,” place-based, full-time staff have been hired to coordinate early-learning family- support activities.

Families were so eager to receive support from the early steps team that a waitlist was generated. Organizers are adding additional coordinators in Grandview, Mabton, and Sunnyside in 2022 to meet the demand for services.

The coordinators partner with parents to screen children for developmental progress using an evidence-based curriculum to ensure early- learning milestones are reached. When a need is identified, the coordinator connects the family to resources. Seventy children have been served to date; 10 percent of them have needed referrals for developmental services.

“If a child receives support early, they’ll be more likely to enter school kinder-ready,” said Diaz. “It’s an opportunity for a family to raise questions and get the needed school-based supports.”


The Health workgroup focuses on increasing access to healthcare for families of students pre- school to third grade. The goal is to increase attendance by reducing health issues that keep students from attending school, thereby increasing students’ chances for achievement.

“Part of our work is trying to understand whether there are healthcare needs that aren’t being met that are a barrier to attendance or success in the classroom,” said Josie Chase, human resources director with Grandview School District and Health workgroup liaison.

“You have to get your information from families themselves to understand what’s happening at this moment in time. Maybe it’s the affordability of healthcare; maybe it’s a type of provider needed or undiagnosed conditions.

“When we understand and help meet their needs, and they’re in school, there’s a greater likelihood that children will be on pace to meet grade-level milestones.”

A YVPE community health fair served 250 families in fall 2021, providing free healthy food via a food truck, meetings with a mental health provider and emergency services, plus coordination for sports physicals, dental screenings, COVID vaccinations and school immunizations.

Families who completed attendance surveys received free food voucher. In total, 600 surveys were completed, giving the Health workgroup excellent data to help them develop student- centered strategies. More than 150 students have since been enrolled in free telehealth services.

Grandview Early Steps to School Success family; bonding and teaching the youngest members of the family through play

“When students are able to come to school every day, they’ll be on grade level,” said BJ Wilson, Grandview’s director of special education and a member of the Health workgroup.

“Removing barriers for students this young truly opens up their future.”


The pandemic has demonstrated the necessity of connectivity in our homes, said Jared Lind, director of instructional improvement and assessment for the Grandview School District and liaison for the Digital Connectivity workgroup.

“And it revealed early on the inequities that exist in our communities.”

Digital connectivity is all about making sure students are connected virtually to their schools, teachers and outside sources of information necessary for their education. This means equipment, wireless connection and ensuring users have the skills they need to use their devices.

“It’s also really important that our students are given the option to read what’s of interest to them.”

In 2020, Save The Children provided “MyOn Digital Library” subscriptions to every third grade student in Grandview, Mabton and Sunnyside, thus providing access to both fiction and nonfiction digital books. They have optional reading supports like narration options and language choices that allow them to connect further with what they’re reading.

“It makes reading that’s of interest for students available to them in their homes any time day or evening,” said Lind.

The long-term goal is to increase access for all grades. Ultimately all students will have access to more than 7,000 books.

“The MyOn system keeps track of students’ time spent reading so we can celebrate it,” said Lind. “We’re doing incentive programs with school librarians taking the lead on that.

“We’re seeing a change in reading habits and an increased joy in reading.”


Increasing alignment between food access, transportation and homelessness is the primary goal of the Partnerships and Resources Alignment workgroup.

Many challenges to education are related to one another, said Faviola Ochoa, lead associate for the State of Washington with the Early Childhood Program of Save the Children and liaison for this group.

“Food insecurity is a consequence of poverty as well as lack of transportation, especially for people in rural communities. Sometimes there are multiple issues so that family dynamics focus on just surviving. It doesn’t leave much time for the parent or caregiver to seek out resources for other things.

“It has to be about the long-term, so people know what’s available on an ongoing basis. We need to give them the tools to empower them, whether that’s sharing it online or laying out all the resources in flyers at resource events.”

The group has also organized the distribution of staple items directly to schools during parent nights and drive-through events, literally “meeting people where they are.” Local grocers and food banks partnered with YVPE to provide families with gift cards purchased with funds collected from nonprofit organizations, allowing families food choices and the freedom to shop at their convenience.

“Normally, families have to go to the school for one thing and then the food bank,” said Ochoa. “This is about integrating multiple things at once to minimize the transactional busyness families are often up against.”


The Parent and Family Engagement group has acknowledged the importance of involvement beyond attendance at parent-teacher conferences and open houses. “Parental involvement” must reflect the lived experience, i.e., what makes sense for families in the reality of their actual lives, said Gloria Jones-Dance, assistant professor of teacher preparation at Heritage.

“Family engagement is making sure your kids get to school every day, making sure they have housing, making sure they have food, making sure your kids get to bed so they can be ready for school,” said Jones-Dance. “Parents need to be able to interact with teachers and school staff outside the traditional 8 to 5. How that will look is different for each community.”

Jones-Dance said her group has made a lot of inquiry and listening about what engagement means.

“I was talking with a Grandview parent who’s really involved in her kids’ lives. She said all many parents can do right now, as it relates to school, is drop their kids off. For them, that’s engagement right now.

“We are looking at ways to reach families outside of the schools, possibly some community events in parks this summer, read-aloud opportunities, how we can partner with schools and understand better the backgrounds of the families in these communities.”


The work of getting all students to thrive in school requires everyone, said Diaz.

“Our true north is to invite people to improve educational outcomes by recognizing what they can contribute to the solutions. It’s a trusted adult picking up a book and reading with a child. It’s parents asking what their children are learning. It’s employers allowing flexibility so parents can be present for their children.”

Henry Strom, superintendent of the Grandview School District and a YVPE partner, wants more school districts to become involved.

While districts’ work has always overlapped, he said YVPE gives them the means to take that work to another level.

“In education, if a concept is solid, you look for other areas to implement it. We’re now seeing that includes superintendents.

“And imagine the potential for our region if we were all bold enough to bring the data to the table and function like our teachers do to improve student outcomes. That’s what we’ve started doing.

“We’re interested in all students in the Yakima Valley, and that means we are as concerned for other districts as we are for our own,” said José Rivera, Grandview’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning and a YVPE collaborator. “With YVPE, we’re no longer siloed.”

Strom and Rivera say the holistic- helping approach of YVPE increases families’ trust levels. Parents see unified efforts that make a difference in their lives.

“The healthier the household, the healthier the community,” said Strom. “That’s really what we’re going for. We want students to want to come back and raise a family here, contribute to our region and our economy.

“I believe we all have a moral imperative to make our communities better. That means schools, businesses, people, all of us. No one’s going to come and save us, and we don’t need anyone to. We have expertise right here.

“My dad was a P.E. teacher and a coach, and he had a saying, ‘Create a place of being,’ meaning a place that kids want to come to.

“There’s great potential that the Yakima Valley can be that. You want a community that’s so strong that people come in droves to be part of it all. We can do that.”

Heritage University serves as the backbone for YVPE. Our mission is closely aligned with the purpose of this initiative, and as an institution of higher education, many of our alumni are working in the Yakima Valley. Additionally, one of our strategic priorities is community partnerships in which we extend our support to join with others to improve educational outcomes for the Valley.

Catching Up to COVID

Nursing students’ COVID research helps community organizations understand the virus’s impact on those they serve

When nursing student Tashaé Gomez-Jones was preparing for her community health rotation at the Yakima Union Gospel Mission, she had no idea how impactful her work would be for the non-profit and how much it would shape her view on her future career.

Gomez-Jones, a senior who graduates in May, spent five weeks conducting a COVID-19 survey with homeless men and women staying at the Mission in the fall. She is one of several students enlisted by Yakima Valley organizations to conduct client and community surveys about COVID. Her classmate Heather Delozier, also a senior, took part in the same rotation and research. Similarly, Almarae Swan- Tsoodle, a junior majoring in nursing, works with the Yakama Nation and Fred Hutch on a COVID-19 patient survey. For both organizations, the goal was, and is, to better understand the impact of the virus on their communities as a way to improve services now and in the event of future health crises.


A few weeks before Gomez-Jones and Delozier started their practicum, the Yakima Health District approached the Mission with a request to conduct mandatory COVID testing of its clients. It was something the Mission was hesitant to do.

“The people who use the Mission services are already pretty fragile and distrustful,” said Gomez- Jones. “They have some pretty significant barriers, such as felonies, mental illness and immigration status that makes them wary of outsiders. They (Mission Administration) were afraid that mandatory testing would put up a barrier that would keep homeless people from seeking services.”

That, said Gomez-Jones, could have had an equally devastating effect. The myriad of issues that homeless men and women face—malnutrition, lack of healthcare, exposure to the elements, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness—already put them at high risk. For so many of these people, the Mission is the last line of defense that keeps them out of harm’s reach. Putting up a barrier to keep fragile people from bare necessity help could have devastating effects. On the other hand, the Mission also needed a better understanding of their clientele’s knowledge about COVID-19 and their personal safety practices to ensure the safety of all who seek help there.

Gomez-Jones and Delozier started their rotation at the perfect moment. Under the Mission’s directive, they developed a client survey that asked some basic information: What do you know about COVID? Where did you get your information? Have you been vaccinated, or are you willing to be vaccinated? If you got COVID, would you be willing to quarantine at the Mission?

Creating the survey was the easy part. Next, the women had to build enough trust with the clients to get them to agree to share their stories.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to work,” said Gomez-Jones. “Our biggest fear was we were outsiders. We were afraid they wouldn’t trust us enough to really open up.”

Every day, the pair would approach the people they saw at the Mission. They’d explain who they were, what they were doing, and ask if they would be interested in participating. Some agreed to answer their questions right away; others took a little more time to build up enough trust. As word spread through the Mission about the two Heritage nursing students, clients began to approach them.

“We found the clients very receptive,” she said. “For so many of these people, nobody listens to them or cares about them. Even when they go to the ER to seek help, they are treated poorly. Asking them their opinion made them feel valued.”

As the days progressed, Gomez-Jones and Delozier’s role with the people at the Mission began to change.

“We started to have clients come up to us to seek help with their physical ailments,” she said. “They’d ask us to help them connect with a clinic or help them find rides to get to their treatment. We even had a few instances where they’d mention a medical concern that ended up being a pretty serious, life-threatening issue during our conversation with a client. We would never have known about it if we were not talking to them.”

Delozier credits these interactions, where they helped clients fill an unmet need, as key to helping them break down barriers and build the relationship that ultimately led to getting responses to their survey questions.

“It takes patience to work with this population of people. We were there at the Mission three days a week, all day long. They saw us there and would sometimes ask us for help with things like getting them socks, and we’d do it,” she said. “It really helped us build a rapport with them.”

In the end, Gomez-Jones and Delozier completed about 60 surveys in the five weeks they were at the Mission. They found an overall willingness among the responders to get vaccinated and quarantine if they were infected. About half of the respondents were already vaccinated, and they were among the most passionate about the need for vaccines, especially given the vulnerability of the homeless population. Moreover, those who had not yet been vaccinated were mostly open to the idea of getting the vaccine but were still a bit unsure because they didn’t have enough information on its safety. The lack of information was not surprising, said Gomez-Jones, given that most reported that everything they know about COVID was gleaned from what they read on signs posted on the doors of businesses they walked by.

For Gomez-Jones, the experience was eye-opening and personally rewarding.

“I was most surprised by how welcoming the clients were and how happy I felt being there,” she said. “Before this, I hadn’t had a lot of interactions with homeless people, and there are lots of stereotypes about homelessness.”

Delozier’s experience was similar. Initially, she was apprehensive about the assignment, maybe even a little scared. In the end, she found it extremely rewarding.

“We got to know these people on a human level,” she said. “We came to understand their struggles. How they really try, fail, and try again, and how important it is to be encouraging. I think the experience made me a more empathetic nurse.”


As COVID-19 spread throughout the Yakima Valley, the Yakama Nation was particularly hard hit. By the end of December 2021, the tribe of 8,800 enrolled members had seen 2,487 known cases and 61 deaths from the virus.

In the last half of 2021, Fred Hutch approached Indian Health Services on the Yakama Nation to partner on a survey project that would look at COVID-19 patients, past and present, to get a feel for the effectiveness of services accessed. They wanted to identify areas that worked well, those that could be improved, and areas where resources should be directed. The idea was not so much on how to respond to COVID but rather to help build a crisis action plan for future events.

Swan-Tsoodle joined the project late in 2021. She is enrolled Yakama and has seen firsthand just how devastating the virus has been for families on the reservation. It was important to her to be part of something that brought solutions and healing to her community.

“Living on the reservation, I know that if you want to make a change, you have to involve your people. You have to hear from them and ask questions to fully understand the problem before you can find solutions,” she said. “I want to be someone who helps us all move forward and break negative cycles.”

The project involves collecting data from phone interviews with patients who were or are COVID positive. Patients are identified and recommended to the study by medical providers at Indian Health Services in Toppenish. Swan-Tsoodle contacts each individual, explains the program to them, and invites them to participate. While it focuses primarily on the tribal community, it is open to anyone living within the boundaries of the Yakama Nation reservation. Participants are asked about their experiences with COVID, in particular how their life and that of their family were impacted. Questions are not limited to healthcare but include conversations about topics ranging from economic and social impacts to food and job security.

“One of the things that’s been most eye-opening is how disruptive this virus is to the family and our entire society, in unexpected ways,” said Swan- Tsoodle. “We talk to people who were once fairly well off, then one person in their family got sick. It was the beginning of a downhill spiral. Suddenly people were not able to work. They have no income, no resources. Their lives were on a precarious teeter-totter, and the virus is what pushed them over the edge.”

The project is in its very early stages, explained Swan- Tsoodle, and the number of participants to date is nowhere near a statistically representative count to give researchers a clear picture. However, the work is ongoing and is expected to bring in more data over time. Unlike her peers who did similar work at the Mission, Swan-Tsoodle works part-time for the project outside of her nursing studies and will continue with the research as it progresses.


The kind of hands-on, real-life experiences that Swan-Tsoodle, Gomez-Jones and Delozier were part of is a key element in many of Heritage’s academic programs. Not only do they give students valuable work experience while completing their studies, but they can also introduce them to previously undiscovered career paths, such as the case with Gomez-Jones.

“Heritage University places a great emphasis on students and their education through place-based experiential learning experiences,” said Dr. Maxine Janis, Nursing professor and president’s liaison for Native American affairs. “The opportunity for career discovery while in college is central. Connecting learning to careers can form a strong foundation for our students in every degree field. It provides context to the subjects they are learning in the classroom, exposes them to the myriad of opportunities they can pursue after they earn their degrees, and helps them make professional connections that will serve them throughout their careers.”

This was certainly the case for Gomez-Jones.

“Going into this, I had been unsure about my career,” she said. “I had done some of my hospital rotations but didn’t
really see myself working in that environment. Between my experience at the Mission and the mental health rotation, I found something I can be passionate about. I can definitely see myself working in mental health or community health in some capacity after I graduate.”

Providing Indigenous Providers

Heritage’s new behavioral health program will connect trained indigenous professionals with the indigenous community, through holistic focus and traditional ways.

In August 2019, Heritage educators and Yakama tribal leaders met about a serious problem: the mental health crisis among indigenous people, in particular in the Yakima Valley and Columbia Basin.

More importantly, they were about to discuss a solution – a model to be presented by the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB).

The facts were known: Western medicine hasn’t been good at understanding indigenous people or providing real help. A better solution is needed.

Sue Steward, NPAIHB deputy director, was there to share details of what had been working in another state for years. With far more remote and underserved communities, Alaska had a program in place that provided quality health services to rural and culturally distinct populations through indigenous people specifically trained to provide those services.

For indigenous people who need help with mental, emotional and behavioral issues, finding the “access points,” or ways to identify mental health needs and receive services, is often difficult. Services may be unavailable or inaccessible, and treatment can be severely lacking.

Enter the Community Health Aide Program (CHAP) established in Alaska in the 1950s, an organically grown and implemented program that succeeded in getting health care access to remote communities. More recently, the Indian Healthcare Improvement Act of 2010 made it available in the lower 48 states. Now it was being presented as an option to the Northwest Tribes.

Building the program within a tribal university is a critical component in its efficacy, Steward explained. Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Wash., was considered creating a similar program centering on chemical dependency issues. It’s the people who reside within the communities who are best able to understand the support their own people need, she said.

The practical question was discussed next. Could Heritage develop a similar training program to create more providers who are themselves indigenous?

What has worked there can work here, Steward told the group. Seed funding was available to build the Heritage curriculum and support the program.


Maxine Janis, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing and the President’s Liaison for Native American Affairs at Heritage, knew it was time to act.

“Delivering to our people has always been approached from a Western education model,” said Janis. “The attempt has always been to deliver it in that way, like, ‘The book said do X, Y and Z.’

“It’s always been through a non-native lens, and the four elements that really comprise well-being
– serving people’s mental, emotional, spiritual and physical needs – are usually not integrated.

“We recognize the need to use a holistic approach to address this crisis, so professionals can go out into the community and help identify where people are out of balance and out of harmony. And it needs to be done in a manner that speaks to our traditions and our community.

“Alaska looked for the natural helpers in the community and trained them to be behavioral health associates. That’s the brilliance of the model.

“We knew this model needed to be our model.”


Two years after the first 2019 meeting, Heritage’s Behavioral Health Aide (BHA) certificate program has become a reality.

Its first cohort of nine students is being trained in a curriculum that uses the principles of the Medicine Wheel – serving mental, emotional, spiritual and physical needs, along with wisdom- seeking processes of caring, relationality, tradition, ceremony, healing, humility, honor and trust.

Corey Hodge, chair of Heritage’s social work department, Dr. Danica Brown of NPAIHB, and Janis developed the curriculum based on BHA certification requirements. Both indigenous, Janis and Brown brought a Northwest Tribes perspective to the curriculum.

Partnering work with the NPAIHB continues.  Its staff is involved in recruitment and feedback, supporting students in their professional development, and meeting the needs of the tribal communities.

Brown teaches a BHA class. Dr. Iris PrettyPaint has joined the Heritage faculty as
a nursing instructor and BHA student advisor. Janis and PrettyPaint are co-teaching
the seminar course that integrates the indigenous wellness strategy with all the other BHA coursework.


A behavioral health aide has been described as one of those natural helpers found in every community. They may be best described as a counselor, health educator and advocate.

They address individual and community-based behavioral health needs, including those related to alcohol, drug and tobacco abuse, as well as mental health problems like grief, depression, suicide and related issues. They work under the supervision of licensed clinical social workers.

Their work includes significant detail: referrals, screening assessment, early intervention, crisis intervention, health education, case management, community prevention activities, and postvention following a suicide or a suicide attempt.

“The role can be ideal for both existing students and for people in the community who’d like to expand their knowledge in health care and provide quality behavioral health services in their tribal communities,” said Hodge.

Hodge credits Janis, with her “deep knowledge of the community,” for identifying a number of the “naturals” who are part of the Heritage program’s first cohort.

“In the Alaska model, it might have been the receptionist in a small clinic or that person on the PTA that everyone feels comfortable reaching  out to,” said Hodge. “Alaska identified those people, shared the program goals with them, and trained them.”

“They’re community members, ‘homegrown’ counselors, good listeners, advocates, caregivers, natural healers. These are the people who can be perfect in this role if they want to take the next step in their careers.

“As indigenous community members, they already understand a lot of the concepts of the healing focuses for indigenous people.”

She said the program can also be a pathway for students to earn a bachelor’s degree in social work from Heritage.

“The curriculum of the Behavioral Health Education Program falls in line with the philosophy of social work ideals in that the degree empowers students to help others thrive and to overcome challenges.”


Native people can help native people, said Jasmine YellowOwl, a student in Heritage’s first BHA cohort. As a 2019 Heritage graduate who majored in early childhood studies, YellowOwl currently works at Yakama Nation Tribal School.

She calls herself a “bridge” between students, their families and the school, helping them navigate issues they need help to manage. Her job taps into her natural skills and abilities, as does the work she’ll do as a BHA.

YellowOwl said she finds the “identity” piece of the BHA program extremely intriguing.

“I was always told to be proud to be native, but I saw the issues – homelessness, alcoholism – and I didn’t know what it felt like to be proud.

“The program incorporates a lot of what I try to do in my job now – find ways to see things differently. Some of our youth already come from strong families and traditional ways, and that’s very encouraging.”

YellowOwl said having Janis and PrettyPaint as her teachers is a “super big deal. “

“It’s like grandmothers teaching you in a kind and loving way, like ‘Let me help you see a little differently.’

“And now I will have more of an understanding of what I can do in terms of prevention and intervention skills, in conjunction with knowing even more about our traditional ways.”

YellowOwl plans to put her BHA training to use at YNTS and is considering pursuing a master’s degree in adolescent psychology.


Hodge and Janis expect more indigenous curriculum and content to become part of Heritage’s mainstream social work program.

They also see it as another way a Heritage education can keep people in the area.

“In our rural community, if we can train someone here, they’re much more likely to stay,” said Hodge. “That’s something that our social work program is really good at.

“You can look all over Yakima Valley and the Columbia Basin and see Heritage graduates working there. They’re steeped in the culture and committed to their communities.

“This is really workforce development.”

Janis said people whose work life and sense of purpose have been enhanced by the program will be role models for others.

“Two or three years from now, people from this cohort will be mentoring new students,” she said.

“For the future, maybe even the near future, we’d love to see this expand beyond the Yakima Valley, to find ways of allowing more people to serve their communities in this way.”

Just Tell Us One Thing We Can’t Do!

It was spring 1980 when this simple sentence ignited the idea that put into motion the actions that launched Heritage University.

The story of the little university that could goes back to the mid-1970s when Martha Yallup and Violet Lumley Rau decided the Yakima Valley needed access to higher education. The two reached out to Fort Wright College in Spokane, a Catholic school operated by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. The college had an extension program that brought credit-bearing courses into rural communities. Yallup and Lumley Rau convinced the administration at Fort Wright to bring classes to Toppenish.

By 1980, ongoing enrollment issues forced Fort Wright to close its doors. Then provost Sr. Kathleen Ross traveled to Toppenish to deliver the news about the closing in person. Neither Yallup nor Lumley Rau were willing to let their community go without access to education. When Ross suggested she would find a replacement university for a similar partnership, Yallup told her they would start their own college. When Ross realized the enormity of that initiative, she told the pair the first thing they needed to do was form a board of directors with community leaders who had connections and could help find the funding necessary for a project of this magnitude. Yallup uttered her now- famous words, “tell us one thing we can’t do.”

Yallup and Lumley Rau didn’t waste a moment. Within a matter of weeks, they had their board of directors. They asked Ross to serve as the college’s inaugural president.

To an outsider, the formation of Heritage College, as it was then called, seemed like a project doomed to fail before it even got started. After all, who would build a college in the middle of a hop field, in a community where the high school dropout rate was higher than the college attainment rate, and during a global recession, nonetheless? Yallup, Lumley Rau and Ross were determined. They knocked down every roadblock that threatened their progress.

A year after the meeting that would have ended college classes in Toppenish, Heritage started operating under the umbrella of Fort Wright. The following year, 1982, it officially began operating under its own power as a private four-year college.

From the beginning, Heritage was an institution like no other. Its mission was, and is, to serve those who had traditionally been left out of higher education—older students, first-generation college students, minorities, and those from low-income households. Heritage opened its doors with 85 students and eight faculty and staff members. Most of the students were older with families and responsibilities beyond their schooling.

Over time, the university grew. It acquired the land upon which it sits today. Capital campaigns raised funds to build buildings for the library, classrooms, offices, student services and a dining commons. Degree programs expanded to include majors in social work, the sciences, humanities and healthcare, and the education and business programs already in place. The name changed from Heritage College to Heritage University to more accurately reflect the level of education provided.

Moreover, the student body grew and changed. By 2010, the average age of a Heritage student dropped from 35 to 28. Today, it is 24.

What has not changed is the university’s mission. Heritage remains grounded in its commitment to ensuring that college education remains accessible to all, regardless of social, cultural, economic or geographic barriers. That mission calls to people and attracts educators from around the world who seek out Heritage for the opportunity to work with its students, and propels those who recognize the power of education to change lives and communities for the better to support the university and its students.

1974 – Fort Wright College starts offering college credit-bearing courses at a remote campus in Toppenish.

1980 – Fort Wright College announces it will close in 18 – 24 months due to financial losses. Martha Yallup and Violet Lumley Rau convince Sr. Kathleen Ross to join them in starting Heritage College.

1981 – Heritage begins offering its first classes as the Heritage Campus of Fort Wright College in a facility rented from the Toppenish School District.

1982 – Heritage College officially opens the day after Fort Wright College officially closes, with 85 students and eight faculty/staff members and official candidacy status from the accrediting association. The first academic offerings include bachelor’s degrees in education, interdisciplinary studies and business administration, and a master’s degree in education.

1984 – Petrie Trust funds the acquisition of the 14- acre Heritage campus to include the former McKinley Elementary School building.

1985 – The first class of Heritage College graduates receive their degrees a ceremony held at the Yakama Nation Cultural Center.

1989 – Heritage University is one of two colleges nationally to receive the American Association of University Women’s “Progress in Equity” award. It grows to a student body of 540, 39 full-time and 60 part-time employees, and 330 graduates.

1993 – Heritage University dedicates the new Library and Learning Resource Center, now called the Kathleen Ross, snjm Center, made possible through a $7 million capital campaign.

1995 – Heritage graduates the 1,000th student, and enrollment tops 1,000.

1999 – Heritage remodels the old McKinley Elementary School to include classrooms, a bookstore, and a student lounge, christened the Jewett Student Center. The building is renamed Petrie Hall.

2001 – Heritage College dedicates its first Student Services Center, a 5,050-square-foot facility.

2003 – Heritage opens a regional site at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington, and starts offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees at this location.

2008 – Heritage raises $27 million in the Heritage for the Future campaign and opens its 35,000 square foot Arts and Sciences Center.

2009 – Dr. Ross announces she will be transitioning from her position of the university president to pursue the formation of a national institute housed at Heritage.

2010 – Dr. John Bassett, former president of Clark University in Massachusetts, is appointed the second president of Heritage University.

2012 – Petrie Hall, the former McKinley Elementary School, is destroyed by fire.

2014 – Heritage opens three new buildings: the new Petrie Hall, with an art gallery, art studio and classrooms; Rick and Myra Gagnier Hall, dedicated to information technology; and the Gaye and Jim Pigott Commons, which houses the cafe and lounge.

2016 – Heritage opens two new buildings named in honor of the university’s founding mothers, the Violet Lumley Rau Center, which houses the university administrative offices as well as its largest classroom; and the Martha B. Yallup Health Sciences Building, which houses offices and a large classroom.

2017 – Dr. Andrew Sund joins Heritage as its third president. He was previously president of St. Augustine College in Chicago, Illinois.

2019 – Heritage forms the workforce development program Heritage@ Work, which provides customized worker training for employers in the university’s service area.

2020 – Heritage leads a partnership of nonprofits and educational organizations to form Yakima Valley Partners for Education, a “cradle to career” initiative to improve academic readiness and success for children in the Yakima Valley.


2022 – Heritage celebrates 40 years of making higher education accessible in the Yakima Valley.

Behavioral Health Grant to fund certificate program at Heritage University


Heritage University receives a $400,000 grant to fund student scholarships for Behavioral Health Aide Education Program

Toppenish, Wash. – Tribal health workers enrolled in a new Heritage University certificate program to expand their skills will receive scholarships for their two years of study thanks to a $400,000 grant from the Greater Columbia Accountable Community of Health (GCACH). The eight students funded by GCACH will be part of the 10 students selected in the first cohort of the Behavioral Health Education Program and will start classes at Heritage in January 2022.

Maxine Janis, Ed.D, president’s liaison for Native American Affairs at Heritage said the award from GCACH very much aligns with the practice transformation initiatives in health care delivery. The funding will support, through scholarship, students seeking to expand their knowledge capacity in health care and provide quality behavioral health services in their tribal communities. These students will participate in innovative holistic and culturally responsive education approaches which are unique to their respective indigenous communities.  “This award will open the door for training tribal members to become Behavioral Health Aides (BHAs) working closely with Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) to address the mental health crisis experienced by many tribal communities.” said Dr. Janis.

The Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB) partnered with Heritage University and Northwest Indian College in Bellingham, Wash. to provide funding to develop the curriculum and deliver the two-year BHA Education Program, which will prepare students with the knowledge and skills necessary to be a tribal-based health care provider. Students who complete the program at Heritage will earn a Behavioral Health Aide Certificate, identifying them as a BHA-II. Corey Hodge, the chair of the Department of Social Work at Heritage, said the new certification program offers students a pathway to also earn a bachelor’s degree in social work from Heritage. “The curriculum of the Behavioral Health Education Program falls in line with the philosophy of social work ideals in that the degree empowers students to help others thrive and to overcome challenges,” said Hodge.

The students who complete the certificate programs offered by Heritage and Northwest Indian College must pass the Portland area Community Health Aide Program Certification Board (PACCB) exam. When successful, they will continue their careers as BHAs for their respective tribal health programs in the Pacific Northwest region. For more information, contact Davidson Mance at (509) 969-6084 or Mance_D@heritage.edu.

# # #


Connecting Kids in Crisis

Norma Chaidez, wife of Heritage president Dr. Andrew Sund, remembers coming to the U.S. as a young woman, longing for an education and opportunity. Now she’s making a difference in the lives of children escaping far more desperate situations.

Chaidez serves as the Family Reunification Regional Supervisor with Bethany Christian Services. The organization is a global nonprofit that supports children and families with world-class social services, all designed to help families thrive. Bethany’s work began over 75 years ago with serving a single child. Today, they work in more than 30 states and around the world, impacting tens of thousands of lives every year.

Chaidez is charged to provide home study and post- release services to place minors in home settings in six states – Washington, Illinois, Kansas, North Dakota and Montana. She reunites kids with family or trusted sponsors who can meet their needs and help them thrive. She’s had the opportunity to meet children from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and other countries, like Juan, Pedro and José – whose real names cannot be used for privacy purposes.

Norma Chaidez


Juan looks far younger than his years. He was nine years old when he arrived in the United States, but looked about five.

Five-year-old Pedro came to the United States so traumatized by the murder of his father that he stopped speaking.

José was 17. When he refused to sell drugs, the drug dealers punished him by breaking both of his legs.

These are just three of the more than 50,000 people served by Bethany annually. The organization works to find kids around the world who don’t have a permanent home, family-based settings, emergency care and foster care.


Their journey has been tumultuous, often life-threatening.

Parents in countries like Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras are sometimes so desperate to get their children to a better place that they often send them to the border alone. Some have a little money to get a guide; most do not.

Chaidez says 95% of the children arrive here having experienced some degree of trauma.

“Talking to families, I heard the stories of poverty, violence, organized crime, human and drug trafficking,” she said. “Despite their situations, they’re very resilient.”

Undocumented minors’ experience in this country starts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. They turn the children over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), which works with Bethany and a handful of organizations like it whose dedicated staffers get the kids situated with guardians, whether relatives or other sponsors.

“We provide case management services to unaccompanied children who crossed into the United States without legal guardianship and who do not have legal status in this country. Our team conducts home studies of potential sponsors for unaccompanied children and provides support to ease the adjustment process for both the children and their sponsor, “ said Chaidez. “We secure clothing, food or furniture, from community resources or donors. And inspect homes, do follow-up calls, make sure the caregivers have what they need to support the children.

“We start them on their way to a better life.”


Though her situation was not so extreme when she came to the U.S. in 1998, Chaidez identifies with her clients’ desperate wish for a better life.

“I came to the U.S. in search of an education and for gender equality. There was no opportunity to go to college in Mexico. But in the U.S., women have more opportunities to go to college, have a voice and rights.”

Language and culture presented a steep learning curve. Chaidez said she wouldn’t have made it if not for the kindness of new friends.

“I was able to rent a family friend’s basement apartment for $175 a month. With my neighbor’s support, I was able to find a job at a local dry cleaner.

“My chosen family motivated me; I was finally able to dream about having a career.”

Because of the support of close friends and her husband, she earned an associate degree from St. Augustine College in
Chicago, then a bachelor’s in psychology, and three master’s degrees– one in forensic psychology from Argosy University in Dallas, one in philosophy from Walden University in Minneapolis, and another in clinical mental health in counseling from Adler University in Chicago. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in forensic psychology at Walden University.


Chaidez remembers her struggles with English, which led her to teach ESL classes to several students every Saturday morning.

One day, Juan looked sad. Chaidez asked him what was wrong. He said he wanted to play with the other kids on the playground, but he didn’t know how to make friends. He didn’t speak English.

“I told him, ‘You just say this, say hi! Do you want to play with me?’ He practiced saying it.”

The next week, Chaidez said, Juan came to his lesson smiling again.

“’They said, ‘Yes, let’s play!’ he said.”

“He was so happy. Now every Saturday I talk with him, he’s always so happy because he has new friends, lives with his parents and attends school.”

“He has what every child needs and deserves.” page25image59241888

Class Notes



Cindy Sholtys- Cromwell

Cindy Sholtys- Cromwell (Professional Development) was recently chosen as the National Association ofSecondary School Principals 2021 National Digital Principal. This award was given for her demonstration of continuous bold, creative leadership in her drive to harness the potential of new technologies to further learning goals. Cindy is starting her 22nd year as an administrator with the Kelso School District.






Rachel Gonzalez-Garcia

Rachel Gonzalez-Garcia (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. She completed this work with her Yakima School District STEAM team.

Magaly Solis (Elementary Education) was appointed by the Las Casa Hogar Board of Directors to serve as the non- profit’s Executive Director. Solis began her work at the organization as a volunteer in 2013 before being hired to serve as the Wapato and Citizenship Program Coordinator. She was subsequently promoted to be the program’s manager, a role she served in until her most recent appointment.



Submit Your Class Notes

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


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

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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.


News Briefs

Students explore systemic racism in the nursing profession

Heritage University BSN students meet with Dr. Peggy Chinn and Dr. Lucinda Canty

A visit by leaders in nursing is taking Heritage students’ voices to a national audience. In October, two nursing educators who are at the forefront of a movement to address issues of racism in the field of nursing visited Heritage to meet with students.

Dr. Peggy Chinn and Dr. Lucinda Canty traveled to Heritage to spend the day with students in advance of addressing colleagues at the National Commission to Address Racism in Nursing. The pair, along with Heritage’s director of the Nursing program, Dr. Christina Nyirati, and Valorie Taylor, clinical director at Tacoma’s MultiCare Health System, are organizers of Overdue Reckoning on Racism in Nursing. The initiative, which launched in September 2020, aims to open discussion that focuses on coming to terms
with racism in the field of nursing, to elevate the voices of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other nurses of color, and to inspire changes that address racism on a national level.

“We wanted to represent the voices of nursing students as part of our keynote address at the Commission,” said Nyirati. “Drs. Chinn and Canty suggested visiting Heritage to hear from our students about how the university is standing up to fulfill our mission of creating a just society for all.”

The pair spent several hours with students, faculty and administrators, including time spent at a Blessing of the Hands and Hearts ceremony at the Heritage Teepee, in an informal listening session with the students. page14image59142544

Heritage professors join boards of directors

Two Heritage professors recently joined the boards of directors at Washington state organizations and non-profits.

Miguel Juarez in class

Miguel Juarez in class

Social Work Field Director and Associate Professor Miguel Juarez, Ed.D., joined the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) Washington Chapter Board of Directors. NASW appointed Juarez to serve as the chapter’s first vice president. He will oversee the chapter’s diversity plan as part of his duties.

Kristin James-Dunn


Assistant Professor Kirstin James-Dunn, Ph.D., joined the Seattle Shakespeare Company’s board of directors. James-Dunn is the first board member from eastern Washington and will act as primary representative and vital liaison to Washington arts communities for “all points east of the Cascades.” page27image58999408



Multimillion dollar grant to bring expantion of Nursing and enhance STEM programs

The U.S. Department of Education Developing Hispanic Serving Institutions (DHSI) branch awarded a $3 million grant to Heritage University to expand its Nursing program and upgrade its science laboratories.

The grant will allow Heritage to expand its current nursing program to allow registered nurses who are currently working in the field but do not have a bachelor’s degree to go back to school to earn that degree.

“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 President Andrew Sund, Ph.D.

In addition to the RN to BSN degree pathway development, the 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.

The grant also allows for upgrades to the university’s information technology services, improvements to its institutional data collection and analysis, and the development of a financial literacy program for undergraduates.

Federal grant allocates funds for STEM Education Center on campus

A $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will expand outreach to high school students to prepare them to pursue college studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields and help Heritage build a new 4,700
square foot STEM Education Center on the Toppenish campus.

The five-year grant will allow the university to employ mentors to work with high school students interested in STEM fields as a means to increase the number of college graduates entering into technical fields in the Yakima Valley.

The soon-to-be-constructed education center will include laboratories, learning spaces and state-of-the-art equipment to support STEM programs. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in late 2022.

Campus mourns loss of friend and volunteer

On November 15, 2021 Sister Marina Rose Parisi (nee Virginia Catherine Parisi), passed away unexpectedly at Trios Kennewick Hospital. Parisi was a long-time supporter of Heritage University and a volunteer singing teacher who with worked children in the university’s Early Learning Center.

Parisi was a member of the Catholic order of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM) for more than 66 years. Through SNJM, she devoted herself to teaching children, mostly those who were poor and from underserved communities,

as well as teaching religion and sacramental preparation. She spent 19 years working with children in Western Washington and Oregon before moving to Peru, where she spent 17 years working as a teacher and principal in Arequipa. When she returned to the United States, she moved to Wapato and worked as the director of religious education for 14 years. Her work at Heritage began after retiring from a career that spanned 40 years and two continents.


Early Learning Center to get new home

The generosity of two anonymous private donors is improving learning for Heritage’s youngest eagles. The 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, It 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.

“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. “Our basic philosophy is one of freedom to learn, grow and make choices and we have structured the environment to reflect that belief.”

The center is slated to open in the winter of 2022. The new ELC will allow Heritage to increase the number of children served from 75 to 90.



In the United States, there are only two universities designated by the United States Department of Education as both a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and a Native American Serving Non- Tribal Institution (NASNTI). Heritage is one of them.

An HSI is an accredited, degree-granting, public or private nonprofit institution of higher education with 25% or more of its total full-time enrolled students who identify as Hispanic. A NASNTI is a postsecondary institution not affiliated with American Indian and Native Alaskan tribes and has an enrollment of 10% or more of its full-time students who identify as Native American. In the fall of 2020, the undergraduate student population consisted of 67% Hispanic/Latino and 10% American Indian or Alaska Native students.

Being and an HSI and NASNTI qualify for additional funding that can pay for programming that benefits the university and all of its students, regardless of race or culture.

STEM(ming) the Tide of Pollution

Heritage STEM students get valuable experience through applied learning while working on environmental issues in collaboration with students and researchers from other colleges.

Thirty-five Heritage students, called “EAGLES Scholars,” are working with and benefitting from the National Science Foundation’s S-STEM Program grant for internships and research experiences. With a focus on studying environmental pollution, the $5 million grant was awarded to Heritage University and Portland State University in a partnership model built largely on each university’s location within the Columbia River Basin.

As EAGLES Scholars – the acronym comes from “Engagement Achievement and Graduation for Low-incomE Students” – students selected to take part have ongoing academic support and guidance for research and internship applications as well as presentations for conferences. Ultimately, they get connected to job possibilities at graduation.

Their research internships are giving them valuable real-world skills – and life experiences they never anticipated.

Mayra Diaz-Acevedo


Mayra Diaz-Acevedo’s first EAGLES-related research internship centered on numerical analysis. It took place over eight weeks last summer at Los Angeles’s Occidental College. It was completely math-focused. But in interacting with her fellow interns there, she learned how math concepts can be applied to a subject she’s passionate about: the environment.

She also learned she can operate successfully in settings other than what she’s been used to close to home.

“It was a numerical analysis internship that involved applying nonstandard finite difference schemes to differential equations,” Diaz- Acevedo said. “I focused on data science, number theory, numerical analysis, and positional game theory.

“But it was working with the other students at Oxy and getting to see how passionate they were that really inspired me.”

Diaz-Acevedo said she’s still amazed that she actually went to L.A. and at how much she learned from the experience of being away, something about which she initially felt somewhat fearful.

“I got to learn so much more about different places in those two months. Now I’m interested in going to new places, and I’m not afraid to go farther.”

Diaz-Acevedo is considering the possibility of graduate school, continuing in mathematics or applied math. She’s currently looking at internships for summer 2022 that involve environmental science with applied math or physics.

“I’ve always really wanted to see how I could contribute to helping the environment through my field of study. Now I know there are so many ways that it can be applied to the environment.”

Colton Maybee


After graduating from West Valley High School in 2018, Heritage junior Colton Maybee got a job as a low-voltage electrician apprentice. He thought he might go to technical school. He didn’t think much about college.

But a family friend suggested he look at Heritage and its EAGLES Scholarship program. Between the EAGLES funding and other aid, he could get a full-ride if he was accepted.

Fast forward two years, and Maybee, a computer science major, already has an internship in computational modeling under his belt. Through a 10-week summer program at Portland State University, virtual because of the pandemic, he’s now had his hand in computer science work he never imagined he’d have – all because of his EAGLES scholarship.

“My section was monitoring trail hazards using path-finding algorithms that guide hikers along 70 miles of trails through the Portland State Forest,” said Maybee. “My job was to develop a mobile app that would enable trail users to report hazards anywhere along the trails.“

At PSU’s final symposium on computations modeling serving the city of Portland, Maybee presented “Digitally reporting trail obstructions in Forest Park.” His 16 fellow interns presented on a wealth of mostly environment- and city- related issues in subjects that included Portland’s water quality and environmental factors affecting humpback whales.

None of the interns had any previous experience in what they relatively quickly became adept at discussing.

Maybee, who’s taken just four computer science courses to date, said though he didn’t have quite enough time to get devices communicating with each other, he did get the app’s framework up and running.

He said that a big takeaway from the internship was the concept of recognizing when you’re going in the wrong direction.

“I thought everything would be coded in Python, so I watched all kinds of YouTube tutorials. Then when I actually got to the internship, I realized it would all be in Java.

“I learned you can’t keep trudging down a trail if it’s not getting you anywhere. You have to realize when you need to start over and not be frustrated by wasted time.”

Maybee said that’s important because, while he’ll graduate with a massive body of computer science knowledge, it’s a rapidly changing field.

“I’ll always be learning.”

Gustavo Mendez-Soto


Heritage sophomore Gustavo Mendez-Soto has always observed what’s going on around him.

He chose his computer science major because he was inspired by his brother. He wanted to follow in his footsteps and thought programming sounded like fun.

After he enrolled at Heritage, he applied for and was excepted to the EAGLES scholarship program. Last summer, he did his first internship, examining the impact of groundwater on the sustainability and resilience of the Yakima River Basin during drought years, through Washington State University. It was online due to the pandemic.

“I was assigned to work with a project studying the impact of the drought years on the groundwater in the Yakima River basin,” Mendez-Soto said.

Droughts have a large impact on the basin, its fisheries and agricultural land, Mendez-Soto noted. Droughts mean lower rivers and streams, dying fish, forests burning and overall water shortages.

He employed the “STAR” calculator – for SusTainability And Resilience – to evaluate three different drought years and their impact in the Yakima River Basin.

“I learned to work with a programming system that allowed us to insert and visualize data, kind of like an Excel spreadsheet but more advanced. I did a lot of data searching, which was the hardest part, and then making sense of all that data.”

Now Mendez-Soto dreams of getting a job at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to help with environmental clean-up. He hopes to get an internship with PNNL this summer, an experience that can make his dream of working there one day more likely.


Andrea Mendoza

Andrea Mendoza wants other students to see the fun in biology, even though what she considers her first experience with it – having her appendix out at age 10 – wasn’t fun at all.

“But from that, I realized there’s more to life than what you see on the outside,” she said.

Upon graduating from high school, she knew she wanted to pursue a STEM subject. She enrolled at Heritage, where her professor Alex Alexiades suggested she apply for the EAGLES scholarship program. She was accepted. She’s currently a junior – and a biology major.

Mendoza did her summer 2021 internship in entomology research at USDA-ARS Temperate Tree Fruit & Vegetable Research Unit in Wapato, Washington. Her research contributed to knowledge about the efficacy of using natural predators to kill off insects.

For their daily fieldwork, interns and project leaders met at the lab, then drove to the site together in a work vehicle. Fieldwork involved setting up plots, collecting insects, and changing various traps. Lab work involved counting and identifying insects and mites with the use of a microscope.

“We found earwigs were beneficial in apple orchards, versus in cherry orchards where they ruined the cherries,” said Mendoza. “In apple orchards, they became the top predator killing off what was damaging to the apples.”

Many STEM students find the combination of field and laboratory work useful during a time they’re in the process of discerning their research preferences. Based on whatever internship she gets this summer, Mendoza said she’s looking forward to learning whether she prefers an outdoor science setting or a lab experience.

“I think internships are a great connection to the real world of STEM careers. You’re not just in the books – you have conversations.

“I’m learning, and I really like that.”

As the first person in her family to study science, Mendoza feels like a role model for other family members.

“I’m over here testing the waters, not quite knowing what I’m doing. It’s nice that you know you’re not supposed to be perfect or know everything.”

Mendoza dreams of sharing her love for biology as a teacher at her alma mater: Yakima’s Davis High School.


Scores of universities across the nation compete for NSF grants, said Natural Sciences Associate Professor Alex Alexiades, who spearheaded the effort.

“The NSF grant focuses on studying environmental pollution and, in particular, aquatic pollution. With PSU at the mouth of the Columbia Basin and Heritage at the headwaters, we get the full watershed scope.

“The grant lets us take advantage of that and so much more.”

“These research experiences with an emphasis on the environment open students’ minds to the possibilities,” said Julie Conley, EAGLES project coordinator and adjunct faculty member in the environmental science program.

“They begin to step out of their comfort zone and ultimately to see themselves in a more professional role as scientists and researchers.” page14image64821552