A Lift Up to Law School


As part of her freshman year at Heritage University in 2018, Maria Rivera did an internship in Laredo, Texas, translating for attorneys on immigration cases.

“We’d go into the detention center early every morning,” Rivera said. “The first time we were seated with the attorney and a law student in frontof me, and then the clients, who were both Mexican women, came in. They look like they hadn’t slept in days.

“They saw these two white men first before turning their heads toward me. I saw the relief on their faces once they saw me. And that’s when I knew there needed to be more black and brown female attorneys.

“I knew that was the only way that people like this, who are seeking justice, could feel reassured, so they could be at peace knowing that their attorneys understand where they’re coming from.

“That was when I decided I needed to become a lawyer.”

Rivera spent the next four years focused on her goal. She majored in criminal justice and history, completed internships at other law firms, and participated in several law-focused events at Heritage that taught her more about the profession. When she graduated in 2020, she went to work as a legal assistant for a Yakima- area law firm, but she had endless questions about how to actually get into law school.

This past summer, she and 35 other Heritage students and alumni and other local community members– all aspiring Latinx or Indigenous lawyers – had all their questions answered.

They participated in a new Heritage program called the “Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars Program” – “PLUS” for short – created solely for that purpose.

A partnership between Heritage and the state’s three law schools at Seattle University, University of Washington, and Gonzaga University, its overarching goal is to help diversify the state’s lawyer population.

Diana López Batista, program director, understood the students’ challenges. She had navigated her way into law school – but she’s the exception.

“Most Latinx and indigenous students have no point of reference,” said López Batista, who works in employment law and labor trafficking through a grant from the Northwest Justice Project. “They don’t typically have family or friends who can advise or mentor them, and that’s a major handicap because the road to law school is filled with challenges.

“You have to get through the LSAT, which is huge. You have to write a bio and a personal statement that will bring you to the attention of the school. You have to leave home and leave the Valley. You have to figure out how to pay for it all. The list is endless.”

And that, she said, is the easy part. There are still three to five years of law school with its intensive study and competitive clerkships and internships, not to mention passing the bar exam after graduating and landing that first job.


The law school prep course is the latest in a continuing line of law-focused events at Heritage, offerings that illustrate a strong interest in studying law among a significant number of Heritage students.

The Washington State Supreme Court has heard cases on campus in a “traveling court,” and State Supreme Court Justice Stephen González has been on campus several times to meet with students. Various forums have led to a lunchbox series where guest attorneys – typically Latinx and Indigenous – came to campus and talked about their educational and professional journeys.

“We knew from spending time with students at these events that we had a lot more territory to cover,” said Kim Bellamy-Thompson, chair of the university’s criminal justice department and an architect of the PLUS program. “I think the really healthy number of students who took this class, especially considering the size of our institution, really says a lot.”

The PLUS class started with an overview of the rigorous admission process and covered everything from the basics of the United States legal system to personal well-being strategies once in law school. During the last week, faculty and students toured all three law schools, sitting in on classes and talking with students, instructors and admissions staff.

“From LSAC prep books to having area attorneys speak to our students and then touring the law schools, we tried to cover it all,” said Bellamy-Thompson. ”First and foremost, we had to have every participant leave here with a basic understanding of the law school admission process, feeling they could move ahead.”


These days, Rivera is busy getting ready to enter law school. She took the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) this fall and is now applying to several schools. She and other class members talk frequently using their Instagram handles and texting.

To anyone who has thought about becoming an attorney “for even 30 seconds,” she said, “I would definitely recommend this course.

“I was able to talk with attorneys who focus on different concentrations of the law and ask them how they got there, ask them for advice.

“I had the opportunity to ask the small or big questions of the admissions teams of each of the three law schools, which also preps me for the application cycle.

“And it was refreshing to bounce around issues and ideas with like-minded individuals who are going through the same struggles you are while applying to law school.”

Director López Batista left the classroom hoping funding will make the course possible again.

“I think back to my family members’ experiences as farmworkers and their issues around working conditions and wages.

“I remember workers having ‘organizing meetings,’ including one attended by two white attorneys. The people thought these lawyers were going to be our saviors, but it didn’t work out that way. I was ten years old when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer to help people who had no one to speak for them.

Passion for the people you are trying to serve is key, said López Batista.

“All these students have amazing passion and backgrounds where they have overcome adversity. So many are so committed to their communities.

“I envision the ongoing success of this as actually creating a pipeline, providing the educational opportunities so that ultimately the attorneys in our community are reflective of our community.”

Graduates of the 2022 PreLaw Undergraduate Scholars Program

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program was created to teach Latinx and indigenous students how to prepare for, enroll in and succeed in law school and beyond.

It’s a partnership between Heritage and Washington’s three law schools – Seattle University School of Law, University of Washington School of Law, and Gonzaga University School of Law – and the following legal services organizations:

• Benefits Law Center
• Columbia Legal Services
• Northwest Justice Project
• Northwest Immigrant Rights
• Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA) • TeamChild

These groups continue to provide the students’ with connections to practicing lawyers and judges, a crucial component of the program.

A long list of questions and issues informed the robust syllabus for Heritage University’s first PLUS program, which included these units:

• “Envisioning Yourself as a Lawyer” allowed students to absorb individual narratives from several Latinx and indigenous lawyers who grew up in Central Washington. Each discussed the unique path they took in becoming practicing lawyers and judges. Current law students spoke to the students as well, with role play centered on how lawyers interview and counsel clients.

• “Wrestling the Beast” explained the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). “Nuts and Bolts of the Law School Admission Process” was a full three-hour session. “Financial Planning for Law School” included individual one-on-one counseling sessions.

• A mock law school class gave students the opportunity for individual mentoring sessions with Central Washington Legal Aid and Community Lawyer Mentors.

• Students experienced an evening with Chief Justice Steven González and Justice Helen Whitener of the Washington Supreme Court.

• Mentors and mentees were encouraged to meet outside class sessions to explore job shadowing, internships, or simply ongoing connection and resources.

• “It Takes a Village” discussed practical ways to build support systems dealing with family, emotional, cultural, financial, academic and community issues.


News Briefs

Heritage students present research and psychological association conference

Heritage University students present research at the 102nd annual Western Psychological Association (WPA) conference held in Portland, Ore. in late April.

Three Heritage students were among the many that presented their research at the 102nd annual Western Psychological Association (WPA) conference held in Portland, Ore. in late April. Melanie Montejano and Zahira Flores presented “Experiences Applying to Graduate Programs in Experimental Psychology” and Mira Cardozo presented “Latina Transfer Students’ Academic and Socio-Cultural Resource Use and Persistence” with Dr. Kayden Vargas.

The convention is an annual occurrence that brings together students, researchers and other professionals for the scholarly exchange of scientific ideas in behavioral science research. page17image35220448

Poet Laureate presents poetry reading and writing workshop at Heritage

Washington Poet Laureate Rena Priest holds a writers’ workshop as part of a two day visit to Heritage University in April of this year.

In April, Washington Poet Laureate Rena Priest spent two days at Heritage University, where she presented a poetry reading and conducted a writing workshop for students, faculty and staff.

Priest is a poet and an enrolled member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation. She was appointed to serve as the Washington state poet laureate for the April 2021-2023 term. She is a Vadon Foundation Fellow and recipient of an Allied Arts Foundation Professional Poets Award. Her debut collection, Patriarchy Blues, published by Moonpath Press, received an American Book Award. page17image35220448

Former faculty’s works join University’s permanent art collection

Heritage’s permanent art collection grew this spring when retired Heritage University Fine Arts Chair Carolyn Nelson donated two of her works. The gift includes the oil on canvas “Her Blue Jacket” and the sculpture “Learning to Heal.” The pieces were included in the spring exhibit of Nelson’s works that were in the Virginia S. Hislop Gallery through the end of the semester.

Carolyn Nelson

Nelson was the founding chair of the Fine Arts Department. She joined the university faculty in 1993 and taught for 22 years before retiring in 2015 and returning to working as an artist full-time. Over the past 40 years, she’s exhibited her ceramic sculpture, paintings and drawings throughout the Northwest region. page17image35220448

Generosity and Gratitude

Heritage University students reveal the night’s total raised during the 36th Annual Bounty of the Valley scholarship fundraiser held on campus June 4, 2022.

The first live, in-person Bounty of the Valley Gathering for Scholarships and Paddle Raise in three years was a resounding success, bringing in nearly three-quarters of a million dollars that evening! That amount continues to rise as contributions come in online.

“To say we are grateful is an understatement,” said David Wise, vice president for Advancement. “Our students depend upon scholarships to make their dreams of earning their degrees a reality. It is incredibly heartwarming to see so many like-minded people in one room raising their paddles high to ensure that higher education remains accessible.”

Scenes from the 36th Annual Bounty of the Valley scholarship fundraiser at Heritage University held June 4, 2022.

The event occurred on Saturday, June 4, on the Heritage University campus in Toppenish. Organizers shook things up a bit from previous pre-COVID events.

“One thing that makes this event special is the way it brings together our students, friends and supporters. Historically, getting people from the reception to the dinner was challenging because they were having such a good time socializing,” said Dana Eliason, senior director of development. “We decided to do a bit of restructuring so our guests could have more time to interact and enjoy the evening.”

The format change replaced the formal, multi-course served meal with an open buffet of gourmet favorites, such as beef tenderloin, salmon, and jumbo prawns, served at the reception in the university’s Jim and Gaye Pigott Commons. The traditional cocktail hour was extended to two hours. Then the guests moved to Smith Family Hall in the building next door for dessert and the program and paddle raise. Additionally, the program portion of the evening, where guests hear from students who have benefited from the scholarships funded through their support, was live- streamed on the Heritage website.

“The format was a bit of an experiment,” said Eliason. “And, it worked! Our guests loved having more time to mingle with each other at the reception, the broad selection of food, and the casual elegance that this format affords. Plus, guests who could not be with us in person for whatever reason were able to still participate from the safety and comfort of their own home.”

The Bounty of the Valley is the single largest fundraising event at the university. All of the money raised goes directly to support student scholarships. Since its inception, the event has raised more than $9 million.



There is still time to give. Watch the program online, see the student video, and make a gift online by going to:

HERITAGE.EDU/BOUNTY page17image35220448

The Courage to Stand Up

Growing up, Courtney Hernandez always felt a little out of place in her small hometown of Selah, Washington. She wasn’t like the other little girls with their blond pigtails and fair skin. Her complexion was decidedly darker, her hair a mass of chocolate curls. She was the only little girl in her school district whose parents were African American and Hispanic. And while she did all the same things as the other children—played sports, went to school, did her chores at home—she knew she was different. And so did those around her.

“At times, I was treated a little differently by my teachers, peers, and other kids’ families,” she said. “Until they got to know me.”

It wasn’t until Hernandez graduated from high school and moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington that she fully appreciated what she experienced growing up in a community where racial and cultural diversity was limited. She was double majoring in social work and American ethnic studies. On one of her first days on campus, she walked into her African American Studies 101 class, and, for the first time in her life, she sat in a classroom full of students that looked like her and a teacher who looked like her.

“It was such a surreal experience,” she said. “It felt so empowering. When my teacher got up in front of the classroom and started to speak so powerfully, I was almost in tears, I was so touched by the experience. I felt like I was getting down to my roots and learning my cultural history for the very first time.”

That first class, and the variety of other ethnic studies courses with concentrations in other cultures, such as Native and Mexican American, opened her eyes to how much history was left out of her K-12 learning. There was so much about the American experience of ethnic minorities that she didn’t know, even within her own culture. Hernandez soaked in those lessons like a sponge.

“I was so eager to learn,” she said. “So many people are afraid to learn about those who are different, or they look down on them and think that education that includes their history and perspectives is dangerous or wrong, but diversity in education is a good thing. The more we learn about other cultures, and the history and the experiences of those different than ourselves, the more caring and understanding we can be of other people”.

Four years later, Hernandez graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work in 2014. She couldn’t find a position as a social worker, so she started teaching in a Seattle-area preschool. There, she learned her heart was really being in a classroom. Three years later, she moved back to Selah and enrolled in Heritage’s Master in Teaching program. She started teaching at Mount Adams Middle School while attending her graduate program. After graduating, she took a position at Lewis and Clark Middle School in Yakima, where she taught until she moved to Davis High School in fall 2021.


Davis High School and Hernandez’s alma mater Selah High School are a mere 5.8 miles apart. Despite their close geographic proximity, the student makeup is decidedly different. Davis’s population of students of color tops 88%, while Selah’s student body is nearly 64% white. Additionally, a little more than three-quarters of Davis’s students receive free or discounted lunch compared to less than half of Selah’s students.

When Hernandez started teaching at the school, she remembered her experience sitting in her first African American studies course all those years ago.

“Back then, I was shocked by how much I didn’t know,” she said. “It impacts the way I teach my kids today. I like to supplement their learning as we go through the curriculum as things come up. For example, we were learning about activism and civil rights, and Emmett Till was mentioned. The very short explanation in the book didn’t really explain much about who he was, what happened to him and, the impact of his death, and the kids were interested, so we did a little bit of a deeper dive on him and his story.

“I think it is important that we look at history from multiple angles. Hopefully, I’m changing the typical Eurocentric learning kids have been getting.”

A few months after joining the Davis faculty, the school principal approached her with an idea. The school’s Black Student Union (BSU) needed an advisor. It had been inactive for several years and would take some work getting it up and running. The club supports African American youth at the school, provides a safe place where students can talk about their experiences and gives them an outlet to educate the rest of the student body about black culture and history. Hernandez and a newly-hired school counselor decided it was a task they needed to take on.

“The Black Student Union is a club for all that encourages cultural diversity with special regard to those of African American descent. In BSU we teach lessons and lead discussions on topics such as microaggressions, slavery, the “N” word, Black history, colorism and more. We also plan and implement events and activities for Martin Luther King Jr. Day as well as Black History Month in February. We do fundraisers, go to cultural events happening in the community, partake in community service, and overall we support our members and give them a safe space to talk about their lives, and how they are treated in the school and community and how they navigate living in a world as a person of color.”


On May 25, 2020, in a city 1,500 miles away, a man she had never met was killed. The death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white police officer sparked protests across the country. Sitting in her living room, watching the news, Hernandez was heartbroken.

“I was really struggling. George Floyd’s death was just one of many in a string of deaths where a black person was killed. I saw so many people around me just going on with their lives as if their deaths didn’t matter. It was like they were saying, ‘it doesn’t affect my life in any way, so who cares,’” she said. “Then I saw all the protests and the candlelight vigils and the rallies in other parts of the country, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Hernandez ran into an old friend from high school and learned that there was a similar rally scheduled in Yakima the following week. He asked for her help, and Hernandez responded with a resounding “yes!” The event was a success. Two hundred people turned out. There were speakers who shared their stories

and a march that went down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It was a peaceful gathering, one that Hernandez wanted to repeat in her small town of Selah.

The reaction she got from both those she invited to participate, and the City of Selah was night and day to what happened at the Yakima event.

“It was really intimidating. Some of the speakers that spoke in Yakima would not speak in Selah. They said it was too scary and too much of a risk to speak in Selah. We moved ahead with our plans anyway,” she said. “Then the community heard about what we were planning, and things went crazy.”

In the days leading up to the protest in early June, rumblings in the community intensified. Social media posts falsely warned that militant protesters were planning riots and burning down buildings in the town. There were even death threats levied against the event organizers. Hernandez and her fellow organizers carried on with their plans. They attempted to arrange for a police escort at the event to ensure everyone’s safety as they had done in Yakima, but their calls to the department went unreturned.

On the day of the protest, more than 150 people showed up to peacefully assemble in support of Black Lives Matter. Most of the gatherers were white, which was not surprising for a community that is 87% white and less than 1% African American. Cars sped past the activists, the drivers blasting their horns, making obscene gestures and yelling profanity out the windows. One city leader, who was an especially vocal opponent of the cause, stood aggressively staring at the group with his hand on his hip, insinuating the presence of a weapon.

The protest was the opening act for a series of confrontations that lasted for months. Community residents who supported the movement with chalk art drawings on the sidewalk outside their homes had their artwork removed and were threatened with fines. The city leader who so aggressively countered the protest in June insisted that Selah didn’t have a problem with racism and publicly denounced the protesters as outside agitators and a “neo-Marxist organization.” Hernandez’s group responded by formally organizing into the Selah Alliance for Equity (SAFE). They purchased and posted lawn signs promoting Black Lives Matter and calling for the removal of the city official from office. The city removed those signs from public areas while leaving other such signs not associated with the movement.

“Things got so ugly. Many people were unhappy with us. We weren’t trying to cause problems; we were trying to raise awareness that racism exists, even in our community,” said Hernandez. “I knew that what I was doing was the right thing. I wanted people to care and to know that there are black people who live here in Selah. And, I wanted the people of color who live here to know that we see you, we feel you, and we care about you.”

As things escalated, SAFE decided it was time to take legal action. They sued the city for violating their First Amendment rights. The two parties went into mediation. The City settled with SAFE for a monetary sum and agreed to meet several of their demands. The agreement includes renaming a park after a person of color, the creation of a welcoming diversity mural at the entrance of town, and measures to diversify the city workforce and diversity training for all city employees, including police officers.

“Selah can be a pretty exclusive community. It can feel like if you’re new here or different, you don’t belong. Our goal all along was to change hearts and minds so that minorities feel safe, accepted and welcome. It’s a slow process, and Selah still needs a lot of work, but it is a start,” said Hernandez.

Now that the spotlight has dimmed a bit on the Selah protests, Hernandez and other SAFE founders are working on forming a 501(c)(3) to oversee the management of the settlement funds and to continue the work they started in a more formal manner.


In May, Heritage University recognized Hernandez with the 2022 Violet Lumley Rau Alumna of the Year award.

“It’s one thing to stand up against injustice when you are one voice in a chorus of thousands. It’s quite another to be one of a few holding a mirror up to your neighbors’ face and showing them a truth they don’t want to see,” said David Wise, vice president for Advancement at Heritage University. “Courtney’s courage and her grace as she remained resolute as so many people in her own community were casting aspersions on her, her beliefs, and her character are in perfect resonance with the Heritage mission and why she so richly deserves this honor.”

“I am extremely humbled and grateful to be awarded the Violet Lumley Rau Alumna of the Year Award. I hope my work in the community and in education can inspire or encourage even one person to keep moving forward and to stand up for what is right,” she said.

Hernandez continues to be a contributor to SAFE and an educator at Davis. In the fall, she will start a new position. She is the high school’s newest college and career specialist.

“I’m looking forward to helping kids get into college, trade schools, and apprenticeships after they graduate. It will be rewarding helping them make sure they are taking that next step so that they can be on the path to living a successful, fulfilling and happy life,” she said. page17image35220448

Graduate’s Calculated Career in Medical Science

When Karly Beth Serrano was a small child, she would go with her mother to pick cherries. Her mom would climb the ladders and pick the fruit up high, and Serrano would pick the fruit from the bottom of the tree. She remembered the orchard owner coming around at lunchtime, passing out candy bars and cold bottles of water. That was the start of many years of working in the fields and warehouses to help support her family.

Karly Beth Serrano at the 40th annual Heritage University Commence held May 14, 2022 at the Yakima Valley SunDome in Yakima, Wash.

For a long time, it was just her and her mother. Ten years ago, her little sister was born. Around that same time, her mom developed a serious yet manageable illness that needed to be monitored by a primary care physician. However, her mother struggled to find reliable healthcare. She went five or six years without treatment before learning about the clinic at the Union Gospel Mission.

The Union Gospel Mission clinic provides medical services to patients who are uninsured and don’t have the means to pay. Many, like Serrano’s mom, don’t speak English. Children frequently take the role of interpreter, helping their parents and doctors communicate. Such was the case with Serrano and her mom. For two or three years, she would go with her mother to her appointments. Later, Serrano started volunteering her translation services for other Spanish-monolingual patients. At first, she went weekly, then as her schedule allowed her. Serrano got a great deal of personal satisfaction with the volunteer work and still provides translation services from time to time.

If there are two primary influencers that led Serrano to go to college and choose to major in biomedical science, they are her experiences working in agriculture and her time spent helping her mother with her medical condition. Serrano was still in high school when she decided she wanted to go to college and major in science.

“My mom always told me, ‘if you don’t want to work like a donkey, go to school!’” she said. “My family came from nothing. It’s my responsibility to provide for them and give back for all that they gave to me.”

Serrano knew she wanted a career that was far outside of the agriculture industry. The volunteer work she did with the Mission gave her the opportunity to “dip her toes in the medical field,” she said.

“Growing up first-generation, you only know about nurses and doctors. But there are so many other career options out there. I came to Heritage thinking I wanted to become a physician assistant,” she said. “But, once I got here, I decided to explore other options.”

Serrano was accepted into the McNair Scholars program, which prepares first-generation, minority and low-income students for graduate and doctoral studies. Their aim is to increase the number of minorities in academia. Serrano participated in two summer research projects. One at John I. Haas where she experimented on hop plant growth, and a second at the University of Washington, where she worked on a study looking at treating type 1 diabetes through generated cell growth in the pancreas. She presented this research at numerous scientific conferences, including the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.

“Those experiences got me thinking about what path I wanted to take after I graduate, either going into direct patient care, which will have me going to medical school, or becoming a medical researcher,” she said.

Graduation day for Serrano was in May, and with it came a surprise. Each year, the university selects one graduate to receive the President’s Council Award of Distinction. The award is bestowed upon a graduate with both a stellar academic record and a history of service to the campus community. Serrano graduated magna cum laude. Along with her volunteer work at the mission, and her research experiences, she also served as a mentor for students in the CRESCENT program.

“I was amazed that I received the award. The last three years of my undergraduate degree were super busy. Working from one project to another, I never really sat down and reflected on my accomplishments. With the award in my hand, I had a moment of realization; Wow, I really have accomplished a lot.”

While Serrano knew all along that she wanted a career in medicine, where she will end up is still a plan in the works. She is all about trying jobs on for size. She entered the medical field while still in college when she became a phlebotomist. The experience taught her that her desired career field is the right fit with her, and gave her some great material for her resume. However, she isn’t sure if she wants to be on the research side of medicine or in patent care. She was considering returning to Heritage to get her Medical Laboratory Science certification so she could work in a hospital lab for a few years to see if that was a good fit. But then, an opportunity that was too good to pass up came her way.

In July, Serrano is heading to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Fisk University. She was accepted into the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-PhD Bridge Program. She received full funding to earn a Master of Science in Chemistry at Fisk with the option to transition to a Ph.D. program at either Vanderbilt or another university.

Regardless of the career she ends up entering, Serrano is set on remaining in the Yakima Valley.

“The need is so great here,” she said. “This is my home, and I want to serve the people who live here. page17image35220448

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