Meet the 2022 Outstanding Graduates from the College of Science and Engineering

More than 60 Western Washington University students and graduates received Outstanding Graduate honors for the 2021-22 academic year.

Faculty members from dozens of academic departments and programs select one graduate to honor as the Outstanding Graduate of the year. Selection is a high honor based on grades, research and writing, service to the campus and community, and promise for the future.

The Outstanding Graduates from the College of Sciences and Engineering include: 

Robert Butnar

Manufacturing Engineering

When Butnar entered his major, he hit the ground running and never slowed down, driven by a lifelong interest in manufacturing and automation. Despite starting the major as the pandemic hit, Butnar excelled in his classes with one of the highest GPAs in his graduating class. He has been a leader on his senior project team as well as on Western’s Formula SAE team, where Butnar is the technical director, focusing on the design, manufacture, and testing of the formula-style electric race car, while fostering an inclusive environment and healthy team dynamic. After graduation, Robert will work for Janicki as an automation engineer.

Juliana Covarrubias

Plastics and Composites Engineering

Covarrubias is not only a gifted scholar and researcher, but an excellent mentor to other students. She was a mentor in the BEES Program and even set up a scholarship fund. She was a well-regarded teaching assistant in an introductory plastics course and CAD courses. She participated in research on ocean plastics, earning a lead authorship on a paper presented at SPE-ANTEC, a professional plastics conference. She also developed a chemical recycling technique to depolymerize carbon fiber-epoxy composites and then reused the reclaimed carbon fibers in new thermoset composites. Next, she’ll work for Janicki Industries as a research and development project engineer.

Forest Hart Easley


When Easley came to Western, math was his weakest subject, but he graduated with a 4.0 in the program. He became a Math Fellow and tutored students in calculus and beyond. He also worked with other students to revitalize the Western Association of Mathematics, which hosted research and career advancement presentations by faculty members and other experts. He will be attending the University of Wisconsin Madison, where he’ll be pursuing an M.A. in foundations in advanced studies. After that he plans to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. 

Elliott Khilfeh

Physics and Astronomy

Khilfeh earned the admiration of his department for his high academic standards, campus involvement and strong commitment to equity and inclusion in STEM. With minors in astronomy, mathematics and Honors Interdisciplinary Studies, Khilfeh authored two research papers for peer-reviewed journals. His research explores techniques measure hydrogen emissions from young stars to better understand how they form and grow. He worked closely with fellow students as a Math Fellow, as a teaching assistant in the Physics Lab, and as a clarinet section leader for the Viking Band. He was active in several student clubs, including Physicists for Inclusion in STEM, the Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Club, the Arab Student Association and WWU SUPER (Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights).

Kate McConnell


McConnell is an exceptional student and a key student researcher in chemistry. Working with Assistant Professor Mike Larsen, McConnell worked to learn and master a new concept in polymer chemistry then tackled a complex, multi-faceted research project that resulted in a first-authorship on a peer-reviewed publication and a poster award at the American Chemical Society national meeting. “It was the skills and experiences with unknown research that led me down the path of wanting to be a research scientist,” she says. Next, McConnell is heading to University of Texas, Austin to begin a Ph.D. in biochemistry for a career in healthcare research.

Rose Solway

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Solway has excelled within the Electrical and Computer Engineering Program, with a 3.96 GPA even while maintaining several community engagement, professional service, and peer mentoring activities, including mentoring newer students throughout the transition to and from remote learning. Solway has been an early and active mentor in the BEES program — which works to recruit and retain academically talented, low-income students from diverse backgrounds — sharing her knowledge of her discipline and the program and helping to create a sense of belonging. She also served as president of IEEE-HKN, the engineering honor society. Solway continues her balancing act outside of school as an aerial performer with the Bellingham Circus Guild. After graduation, she will begin working as an embedded systems validation engineer for PACCAR.

Dani Sprague

Computer Science

Sprague is a stellar student who made significant contributions to research and the community. As a student ambassador, she worked on inclusion and accessibility in the Computer Science Department. Her research included work on the APOGEE survey, using machine learning algorithms to automate the analysis of stars’ metallicity, surface gravity and temperature. She also did research work on web accessibility and stress interventions for neurodiverse individuals. During her time at Western, Dani served as president of ACM, the Association of Computing Machinery, and as community council president for Residence Life, working to build community during the height of the COVID pandemic. Sprague is very open about being transgender and autistic, and hopes to serve as a model for others, “showing that even though society isn’t always structured the best for us, we can still succeed.” Next, she’ll be a software engineer for Disney in Seattle.

Katie Stelling


Stelling strived to make the Geology Department more accessible. She served as the president of Diversity in Geoscience Club and worked with other members of her department to create a gear bank that removes barriers to participation in field work.  She also helped organize WWU’s involvement in the Unlearning Racism in Geoscience curriculum. Her study of the deglaciation of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet involved taking marine sediment samples and using the data to understand the timeline of its decline from a marine perspective. She presented this research at the 2021 Geological Society of America Conference. Stelling will be starting a Ph.D. in earth, ocean, and atmospheric sciences at Oregon State University this fall.  

Dylan Willis

Industrial Design

Willis played a key role in creating the student Makerspace on campus, an unforgettable legacy from his time as a Western student. He also served as the treasurer and fundraiser lead for the Industrial Designers of America Club. He was even part of the Viking Band. On top of everything he did on campus, he interned for General Electric as their industrial design intern and the skills he learned there helped catapult him to a similar role at Pensar Development. He plans to continue his career as an electronics and medical equipment designer at a consultancy in Seattle.

Courtney Yoshiyama


Yoshiyama’s inquisitive mind and dedication to increasing accessibility in the STEM field helped her excel both inside and outside of academics. Her research in the lab of Associate Professor Suzanne Lee, a molecular cell biologist and biochemist, is published in Molecular Biology of the Cell, and she volunteered to organize social events to promote Lee’s work. She also served as the president of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science and further expanded accessibility to biology through her work as a tutor at the Tutoring Center. Outside of school and helping her peers, Yoshiyama volunteered as a peer mentor at Animals as Natural Therapy. She plans to work in a research lab and pursue a graduate degree in one to two years. 

Robert Butnar smiles in sunlight filtered through the trees
Juliana Covarrubias smiles, wearing a backpack and a WWU hat, with a mountain and river in the background
Rose Solway
Dani Sprague sits at a restaurant table on a patio
Katie Stelling
Dylan Willis smiles for the camera
Courtney Yoshiyama smiles in front of a tree on the Western campus
Hart Easley wears academic regalia
Elliott Khilfeh smiles for the camera, rows of tulips behind him
Kate McConnell wearing dangly wire-art earrings standing in front of trees