Meet the 2023 Presidential Scholars

Seven students honored with Western's top undergraduate award

Seven WWU graduates will be recognized at commencement this weekend as recipients of the Presidential Scholar Award. 

The award honors the high achievements of students for exceptional scholarship, success in furthering multicultural programs and activities, and other service to the university and community. Presidential Scholars are nominated by faculty members, recommended by deans and formally selected by the president. 

WWU President Sabah Randhawa will host a breakfast Friday for the seven Presidential Scholars, including their nominator/faculty representative, college dean, Board of Trustees, President's Cabinet, and special guests. Presidential Scholars will also wear their award medallions and be recognized during their commencement ceremonies.

The 2023 Presidential Scholars are: 

Petra Ellerby

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Petra Ellerby, 2023 Presidential Scholar of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Petra, also the Outstanding Graduate in History, is graduating magna cum laude with a 4.0 GPA. She has three papers forthcoming from U.C. Berkeley’s Undergraduate Journal of Classics, UMN Duluth’s Aisthesis, and Columbia University’s Columbia Journal of History. A talented violinist, Petra played with Western’s orchestral ensembles and will be joining the Symphony Orchestra on tour in Spain this June. Petra also worked with her peers at the Hacherl Research & Writing Studio. Now, she plans to begin graduate school in the humanities in fall 2024.

Gil Zhaxael Tañala Gepte

College of the Environment

Gil Zhaxael Tañala Gepte, 2023 Presidential Scholar of the College of the Environment

Gil is a supportive mentor to his peers and colleagues and embodies the characteristics of a planner who fights for social justice. President of the Urban Planning Club, he worked on several community-based partnerships and projects. He also worked as a Sustainability Housing Facilities Assistant and was active in sustainability programs that address inequity and value multiculturalism. Now, Gil is a long-range planning intern with Skagit County.

Carson McCully

College of Fine and Performing Arts

Carson McCully, 2023 Presidential Scholar of the College of Fine and Performing Arts

Carson has been a powerful advocate both in and outside of their academics. Their focus on social justice, particularly relating to LGBTQIA+ individuals, has manifested through leadership and programming as the Viking Union Gallery director. Carson maintained a 3.90 GPA in their art history major and focused on diverse and innovative artists and scholarship. They also served as an intern at the Western Gallery and contributed to Outhistory@WWU. Now, Carson is heading for an internship at the Princeton University Art Museum.  

Kainui Rapaport

Woodring College of Education

Kainui Rapaport, 2023 Presidential Scholar for Woodring College of Education

Kai built upon his knowledge and experience to advocate for safe nursing staff levels in testimony before the State Legislature. He also helped establish Western’s student nursing club. In the community, Kai was among the first volunteers for Whatcom County’s Street Medicine Team to bring healthcare to unhoused people in Bellingham. He just started work with Whatcom County’s Alternative Response Team, which provides compassionate, unarmed assistance at 911 call situations.

Lily Rayor

College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Lily Rayor, 2023 Presidential Scholar for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Lily, also the Outstanding Graduate in Public Health, is described as a “shining star” in the Health and Human Development Department and a clear and dynamic leader among her peers. A chemistry minor, Lily served as a teaching assistant who implemented a DEI-informed curriculum for a physiology lab. Her research with Assistant Professor Mary Hunt examined consent communication and the non-consensual experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals. Next, Lily is interning with Cascadia Health in Portland.

Alina Sokolova

College of Business and Economics

Alina Sokolova, 2023 Presidential Scholar of the College of Business and Economics

Alina and her family moved to Western Washington in 2015 from the Donbas region of Ukraine, and she has excelled during her time at Western, earning a minor in East Asian studies and a 3.97 GPA. She helped revive the Professional Women’s Association student club and served as the president of the International Business Network. Off campus, she volunteers to teach English to Spanish- and Ukrainian-speaking refugees. Next, Alina plans to attend graduate school.

Andrea Wooley

College of Science and Engineering

Andrea Wooley, Presidential Scholar of the College of Science and Engineering

Also the Outstanding Graduate in Physics, Andrea says that the #1 reason for her success at Western was the community of care that she built for herself here.  As president of Physicists for Inclusion in STEM, she raised membership numbers and led a group of 11 students to a physics conference for undergraduate women at the University of Washington. She also worked as a teaching assistant and student ambassador for the College of Science and Engineering and was a union organizer for academic student employees. Next, she will attend Michigan State University for a Ph.D. in physics.