Presidential Scholars Announced at Commencement

Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard honored seven graduates as Presidential Scholars during Commencement on Saturday, June 11.

Presidential Scholar awards honor top students in six colleges for their exceptional scholarship and service to the university and community.

Shepard presented each of the following Presidential Scholars with a medallion:

Megan Mehan Daley

Woodring College of Education

Megan Mehan Daley graduated in winter 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts in Education in Language, Literacy, and Cultural Studies with minors in Education and Social Justice (ESJ) and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Daley is motivated by engaging in social justice in education, and she feels it’s essential to acknowledge various issues of race in a classroom setting. With a long-standing interest in issues of diversity and social justice, Daley participated in several Woodring College diversity teach-ins, and continued to ask herself and peers about the concept of colorblindness and how it’s a concept educators should not aspire to. In addition, she completed a capstone project for her ESJ minor, where she and a peer analyzed how their course experiences aligned with Woodring’s vision of social justice. They found discrepancies and followed up with the Woodring College dean, initiating a conversation of this issue. Daley continued to educate herself in the issues she stood for by attending the Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference and leading a book club relating to education and social justice. She completed a year-long teaching internship in Mount Vernon at a school with a diverse population of students who are English language learners. After graduation, Daley joined the Mount Vernon School District as a full-time substitute teacher and was offered a teaching contract for the 2016-2017 academic year. Daley graduated from Mount Rainier High School and Highline Community College in Des Moines. She is the daughter of KrisAnne Mehan and Dan Daley. 

Jasmine Escalante

College of Fine and Performing Arts

Jasmine Escalante graduated in spring 2016 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Art. She is known for her dedication, talent and passion when it comes to her work and, through her art, for taking a stance on an issue close to her. In her research, she explored her Filipino identity and heritage, and issues concerning history, immigration, nostalgia and the duality of growing up as a minority in America. In her artist statement, she wrote, “I was uncomfortably stuck in the middle of two cultures attempting to pick and choose in which one I wanted to take part.” Using her own experience and knowledge of deportation within families, she educates the audience through multimedia installations in various exhibits. Escalante choses to be transparent in her work, using her own history and knowledge of immigration and referencing her father’s deportation, while questioning the audience on their perspective of the issue.  She received best in show for her provocative work in “Vitality,” a juried exhibition in Western’s B Gallery. Escalante also spent many hours volunteering as publicity coordinator for the student-run B Gallery. After graduation, Escalante plans to rent a studio and continue to present her work in exhibitions around Bellingham and Seattle. Escalante graduated from Mountain View High School and Clark College in Vancouver, Washington, and is the daughter of Rose Guriba.  

Samantha “Sammy” Loch

College of Humanities and Social Sciences – Social Sciences Division

Sammy Loch graduated in spring 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Bachelor of Science in Psychology. Loch is described by her professors as a kind, insightful, and exemplary individual in the classroom. In fall of 2015, she was a research assistant in Psychology Associate Professor Kate McLean’s lab, tasked with going through hundreds of highly detailed data sets. Loch was accurate in her work and came up with ideas and questions far beyond the questions most undergraduates ask. Loch studied abroad the following quarter, and took a course for seven weeks in Kenya and Rwanda, where she taught classes to young women at the Ombogo Girl’s Academy and the ABBA Self-Help group, an integrated elementary school and orphanage. “I think it is important when serving internationally to not tell the community what they need, but rather listen to them and serve in whatever capacity they ask for,” Loch wrote. A cancer survivor, Loch is a former National Spokeskid for the Sunshine Kids Foundation, an organization that plans trips and events for children with cancer. Now she volunteers with Sunshine Kids to plan events for patients at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. On top of that, she is a camp counselor at Camp Korey, a camp for children with life-altering medical conditions. After graduation, Loch will attend Loma Linda University, where she will pursue her master’s as a Child Life Specialist to continue to work with the social and emotional aspects of young patients. Loch graduated from Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek and is the daughter of Scott Loch and Sharon Morris.  

Rachel Owen

College of Science and Engineering

Rachel Owen graduated in spring 2016 with a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Physics and Mathematics and is the Outstanding Graduate in Physics and Astronomy. For the past three years, Owen has been engaged with both the Math and Physics departments as a lab teaching assistant and Math Fellow. She also conducts research with Western professors outside of her course work. As a sophomore at Western, Owen worked on her first research project in quantum optics with Senior Instructor Brandon Peden in the Physics Department, which eventually became her senior project in Western’s Honors Program. She was awarded an appointment in the Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the University of Maryland for the summer of 2014. Owen did research in chaos nonlinear dynamics during her time there and was awarded funding to present her work at an American Physical Society conference. As a senior, she focused her research on nanophotonics with Physics Associate Professor Janelle Leger, and had the opportunity to not only give a talk at another APS conference, but to submit her work as a first-author peer-reviewed publication, a rare accomplishment for an undergraduate. In addition to her academic research, Owen is involved in promoting diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education through the WWU Women in Physics Club, which addresses the issues of gender disparity in physics. She also helped establish the Out in Science club to promote the inclusion of LGBT students and their allies in the science community.  After graduation, Owen will attend University of Michigan to pursue a doctorate in Physics. Owen graduated from Sandpoint High School in Sandpoint, Idaho, and is the daughter of John and Deborah Owen.  

Dylan Simpson

Huxley College of the Environment

Dylan Simpson graduated in spring 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and a perfect 4.0 grade point average. Simpson not only completed the challenging academic course work, but was known for his open-mindedness and strong commitment as a community member. His classmates nominated Simpson as highest overall in his contribution to group learning and leadership in multiple classes, which reflects his willingness to help others. Simpson’s proudest accomplishment was his year-long independent research project investigating novel aspects of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi ecology, a project that received an outstanding poster award at Scholar’s Week. At the same time, he was a co-author in a poster on home-range patterns of desert horned lizards. The project began as a field study course, but Simpson went further and entered data sets from previous years, and ultimately presented the work to the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology’s annual conference. In one of Simpson’s upper-division courses, he led his student group to design a conservation plan for wolf habitat restoration in Washington in which the final product was arguably more effective than the official plan by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Outside of his academic work, Simpson is active in two Buddhist organizations, Red Cedar Dharma Hall and the Wake Up meditation group, where he promotes events, organizes meetings, and hosts discussions. After graduation, Simpson will attend the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, to pursue a master’s in Biology. Simpson graduated from BEST High School in Kirkland and is the son of Bob and Debbie Simpson. 

Lora Sonnen

College of Business and Economics

Lora Sonnen graduated from the Honors Program cum laude in March with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a double major in Spanish and Business Administration with a concentration in International Business. She completed her senior honors thesis on microfinance in Peru, using her Spanish-language skills and international business knowledge. Sonnen also helped complete a research project through the city of Blaine, examining the feasibility of an Amtrak station in Blaine and conducting a market and demand analysis. Outside of academics, Sonnen was dedicated to the Professional Women’s Association, which, under her leadership, worked with Lydia Place, Planned Parenthood, and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services. After graduation, Sonnen spent a month in Peru for an internship focusing on hospitality and tourism with the nonprofit South American Explorers organization. When she returned home, she was offered a yearlong paid internship with the Washington State Department of Transportation specializing in rail and multi-modal system integration. Lora graduated from Tahoma High School in Maple Valley and is the daughter of Darren and Dana Sonnen.  

Aarin Wright

College of Humanities and Social Sciences – Humanities Division

Aarin Wright graduated in spring 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in Journalism-Public Relations and Spanish. Her passion for music and knowledge of Spanish culture and language shows in her academic work and as host of El Latido, a weekly radio show on Western’s student radio station KUGS-FM. In her capstone class, she helped develop a strategic, research-based campaign for the Opportunity Council’s Head Start program. Wright also went the extra mile and translated all written pieces in Spanish to help the Opportunity Council reach Spanish-speaking families. In her senior seminar course, Wright analyzed how popular music fits into social construction of cultures and subcultures in a well-regarded paper titled “The Pitchfork Effect: Exploring Tastemakers with Cultural Studies.” For the past six months, she was an intern at the Bellingham mayor’s office, working with internal and external newsletters, social media and emergency management communications. After graduation, Wright will start her summer job in creative marketing at Concur Technologies in Bellevue and also guest write for KEXP, a radio station in Seattle. She will then travel to Spain in September for the Camino de Santiago, a 500 kilometer walk across northern Spain. Wright graduated from Inglemoor High School, took Running Start classes at Bellevue Community College, and attended Syracuse University during her freshmen year before coming to Western. She is the daughter of Chris and Robin Wright and has one younger brother, Steven, who is a freshman at Western.