Meet the Outstanding Graduates from the Interdisciplinary and Honors programs

More than 50 Western Washington University students and graduates received Outstanding Graduate honors for the 2019-20 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 University Interdisciplinary  Programs and the University Honors Program are: 

Alex Avalos
American Cultural Studies

Avalos attended K-12 in the Stanwood-Camano School District in Snohomish County.

“In my K-12 experience I always felt out of place," he writes. "I felt like my teachers did not care and I often felt disrespected. During my K-12 education, I never had a Teacher of Color or any teacher who cared to teach me the truth about the inequities of our K-12 system. I was pushed out of the public high school and into an alternative credit recovery school where I barely finished with my high school diploma. Because of my poor performance academically in high school and the lack of support I received, my confidence was negatively impacted as a student, which made the transition to college difficult”.

Avalos went to Skagit Valley College where he received his Associate of Arts, and he decided to pursue a career in education after growing tired of witnessing his peers, community, and family be systemically failed by it. Avalos wanted to study the curricular practices in the K-12 system to identify and confront the injustices disproportionately impacting Black and Brown boys and men. In hopes of developing his critical consciousness around issues in the educational system and his community, he transferred to Western's Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, where he majored in American Cultural Studies and minored in Education and Social Justice.

He decided to transfer to Fairhaven College because he met Associate Professors Dolores Calderón, Verónica Vélez and Clayton Pierce who made it clear to him that they were all committed to making sure he was supported throughout his educational journey at Western. During his first quarter at Western he met Assistant Professor Lourdes Gutiérrez in the American Cultural Studies Program.

“Dr. Gutiérrez ended up being the best thing that happened to me as a student." Avalos wrote. "I experienced a severe transfer shock during my first year at Western Washington University. I was not ready for the undergraduate demands of reading, writing, and critical thinking. Dr. Lourdes Gutiérrez challenged me so much to the point that I took it the wrong way and became upset with her. I avoided registering for any classes she offered until I had to complete the capstone course to my major, which she taught. This time around, I did not run away from her challenge, instead, I embraced it and ended up completing a research proposal on acculturation and the potential effects it has on the school performance of LatinX Students. My research proposal was influenced based on my experiences dealing with a racist curriculum and the impact it had on me, my siblings, and peers. After completing the capstone course, I discovered that in Dr. Gutiérrez’s pedagogy is where her love is. She never gave up on me, even when I did not want anything to do with her. I simply needed to face my educational traumas, heal and mature to understand that she truly did care and the reason she challenged me like she did was because she knew what I was capable of before I did. I offer my profound gratitude to Dr. Verónica Vélez, Dr. Lourdes Gutiérrez, Dr. Dolores Calderón, and Dr. Clayton Pierce for their commitment to me. I extend my gratitude to everyone else who I didn’t mention and contributed to my growth as a student during my time at Western Washington University."

Avalos plans to apply to graduate school in the field of ethnic studies where he hopes to carry out his research proposal he completed in the capstone for the American Cultural Studies major.

“My hope is that through my work I can support members of my community become more aware of the systemic inequities we face in our educational journeys,” he writes. Additionally, he aims to use the results of his research to create alternative ways of valuing and producing knowledge within K-12 schooling and beyond, especially for LatinX Students. In the long run, his goal is to teach Ethnic Studies because he knows the power and impact it can have on students like himself who never got a fair chance.

Emily Jackson
University Honors Program

Emily Jackson of Maple Valley graduated in June with University Honors and a Bachelor of Arts degree. She majored in journalism - public relations and Spanish. Jackson volunteered with the Honors Outreach to Past and Prospective Students (HOPPS) program, talking about the Honors Program with many high school students and alumni. For her capstone project, Jackson created a strategic communications plan for a non-profit family home in Honduras that supports orphaned and abandoned children. She also completed internships at Lighthouse Mission Ministries and the city of Renton.

She wrote for the Klipsun and Western Front student publications and was active in Swing Kids, Campus Christian Fellowship and the Public Relations Student Society of America. She also worked as a residential advisor and as a fitness instructor. She'll return to Western this summer and fall for an internship with Campus Christian Fellowship, then she plans a career in public relations. She would like to thank God, her family and friends and her professors for helping her thrive in college. Jackson, who was home-schooled, is a graduate of Green River College and the daughter of Brian and Laura Jackson.

Kimberly Le
Canadian-American Studies

Kimberly Le of SeaTac graduated in March with a Bachelor of Arts. She double-majored in Canadian-American Studies and French. Faculty members say Le embodies the mission of the Center for Canadian-American Studies, going beyond the expected and fully embracing the interdisciplinarity of Canadian-American Studies and Francophone Canada. Le attended the Western faculty-led study abroad program in Montreal, Quebec in summer 2018. She was among 13 students who stayed at the Université du Québec à Montréal, while also going on excursions to Mont Tremblant, Quebec City and Ottawa. The study abroad experience resulted in an independent study, which she presented during scholars week in spring 2019. Le worked with international students in the Asia University America Program and volunteered in AUAP classrooms from Fall 2018 until Winter 2020.

During summer 2019, Le took part in KeyBank’s Management Associate Internship where she took on the role of bank teller while learning other aspects of banking, sitting in on appointments with personal bankers and developing relationships with small businesses in Seattle. After graduation, Le will teach English in Japan for a year with AEON Corporation. Le says her work with Japanese students in AUAP was the biggest highlight of her college career and is the reason she will be working in Japan. Le is a graduate of Mount Rainier High School in Des Moines.

Andrew Westenbroek
Outstanding Graduate in Energy Studies

Andrew Westenbroek of Issaquah graduated in June with a Bachelor of Science degree in energy science & technology and minors in economics and energy policy. He was the recipient of the Institute for Energy Studies B.S. Energy Science & Technology Scholarship. In the spring of 2019, Westenbroek interned at Sustainable Connections in Bellingham where he worked on the Solarize for Smart Business campaign. That summer, he interned for Trane in Bellevue where he worked on energy service contracts and created building energy models. During Westenbroek’s senior year, he was president of the Energy Student Union and the assistant Campus Energy Manager, working to reduce Western's energy use.

Westenbroek plans to find work that increases the prevalence of renewable energy and improves sustainability. A graduate of Liberty High School, Westenbroek is the son of Ruth Westenbroek and the late Mark Westenbroek.

Alex Avalos
Emily Jackson
Kimberly Le
Andrew Westenbroek