WWU Honors Seven Students as Presidential Scholars

Contact: Office of University Communications, (360) 650-3350

BELLINGHAM – Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard honored seven graduates as Presidential Scholars during Commencement on Saturday, June 9.

Presidential Scholar awards honor top students in six colleges and were instituted by President Emeritus Karen W. Morse during Western’s Centennial in 2000 to honor graduates for their exceptional scholarship and service to the university and community.

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

Donald Cheyette, Huxley College of the Environment

Donald Cheyette’s interest in the environmental field stems from his love for the outdoors. An avid kayaker and hiker, the Seattle resident is committed to taking care of the world around him, and at Western, his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Chemistry minor gave him the tools to fulfill that commitment. At the Huxley College of the Environment, he learned effective methods for addressing the challenges we face in achieving a sustainable society. Perhaps the most crucial component of his education was the opportunity to apply his knowledge in a real-world setting  through case-study classes, such as working with the Port of Everett to evaluate its cleanup efforts. And as a research intern with Maul Foster and Alongi, a Bellingham environmental consulting firm specializing in remediation through redevelopment of contaminated sites, he surveyed more than 40 tribes in Washington, Oregon and Idaho and submitted a Tribal Brownfield Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. A graduate of The Northwest School in Seattle, Cheyette loves learning and will eventually resume his studies in a graduate program. Meanwhile, he hopes to find a job where he may apply his knowledge and passion.

Jessica Grace Jones, College of Humanities and Social Sciences – Humanities Division

Jessica Grace Jones, a Ferndale resident who earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication in Fall 2011, is an “incredibly bright, articulate and motivated student,” according to faculty members in the Department of Communication. Jones has a 3.92 GPA. Steven Woods, an associate professor of Communication, directed Jones’ senior thesis and said she “typifies the excellence of students by demonstrating strong intellectual skills paired with a positive attitude and a willingness to work hard to achieve her goals.” Jones’ thesis paper expanded on her interest in social media by examining how Facebook users express their gender identity through profile photographs and how the portrayal of women on the social media site compares with gender portrayals in other media. Jones was the Election Board Chair for the Associated Students of Western, where she supervised fair and diverse elections. Jones was homeschooled for the first two years of high school before attending Running Start at Whatcom Community College, where she was active in student government and earned a Vision Award for her work overseeing the college’s student fee budget development process. Jones also was an intern managing communication and marketing for an East Coast company specializing in search engine optimization. Now she’s looking for a position in which she can continue to use her passion for higher education to help students achieve their goals.

Saraswati Noel, Woodring College of Education

For Saraswati Noel of Seattle, thinking and social activism go hand in hand. She graduates Cum Laude this summer with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Secondary Math Education and minor in Sociology. Noel’s work is embedded in her belief that everyone deserves access to a high-quality education where they can see themselves as active participants in society. Through teaching practicums at local middle and high schools, she has devoted hundreds of hours working with students. And as a private tutor in Western’s Veterans Affairs Office, she worked one-on-one with veterans and their dependents. Finally, as a mathematics fellow in Western’s Math Center, she tutored college students in upper-level courses. Her passion for social justice and equity carried through into her research, too. As an intern with the Department of Secondary Education, she analyzed data on Woodring alumni to assess the college’s efforts to create more inclusive and diverse curricula. A graduate of Roosevelt High School, Noel is the daughter of Linda VerNooy and A.M. Noel.

Reuben Walker, College of Fine and Performing Arts

“Reuben Walker is a liberal arts scholar in the truest sense of the term,” said Associate Professor Lesley Sommer, chair of the Music Department. “He is an outstanding student whose interests span several aspects of Music and Physics.” Walker, of Tacoma, earned a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance and Cum Laude honors for his Bachelor of Science in Physics. Walker was a lead performer or soloist in many productions while maintaining high grades in both of his majors. He had several major roles in productions at Western including the title role in “Don Giovanni” and the Pirate King in “Pirates of Penzance.” He also performed Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder” with WWU’s Symphony Orchestra as a Concerto Competition finalist. His knowledge of music from several cultures demonstrates a commitment to diversity in art, as well as in life. Walker also excelled in classes for his Physics major. He  has been accepted into the master’s program for Vocal Performance at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Michael Pegis, College of Sciences and Technology

Michael Pegis, a Shoreline resident who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry and is the department’s Outstanding Graduate, was honored for his scholarly and volunteer work. A graduate of Shorewood High School, his research explores the conversion of agricultural waste into usable chemicals and fuels. And as the lead Chemistry tutor at the WWU Tutoring Center,  he worked with about 7,000 students in Math, Chemistry, Physics and Philosophy for the past three years. Recently, he served as a volunteer private tutor for low-income students. He said this is an integral method to not only helping students with financial difficulties stay in college but giving them the tools necessary to achieve their goals and become successful. He also conducted research on learning styles and incorporated his findings into the center’s tutor training programs. And he volunteered with the Washington Trails Organization’s cleanup efforts and served food to homeless people through the St. Joseph Parish in Seattle. After graduation, Pegis will enroll in the University of Washington’s graduate program, where he will pursue a doctorate in Physical Inorganic Chemistry. He is the son of Lisa Rensberger of Shoreline and John Pegis of Chicago.

Sophie Wenzlau, College of Business and Economics

“Outstanding,” “well-rounded,” and “truly exceptional” are some of the words faculty members use to describe Sophie Wenzlau, a Magna Cum Laude graduate who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Politics, Philosophy and Economics as well as a minor in French. Wenzlau, of Bainbridge Island, is the Outstanding Graduate in the University Honors program and has taken several challenging courses beyond those required for her major. In addition to her academic work at Western, Wenzlau has distinguished herself through significant study-abroad and international-service experiences. In summer 2011, Wenzlau was a research intern in India studying water security in the Thar Desert for the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation. Some of her research work was published in the Times of India. In fall quarter of 2010, she was an exchange student in Geneva studying international relations and Swiss agricultural security. In summer of 2007, Wenzlau volunteered in Madagascar where she conducted rural field interviews in French and taught English. Wenzlau has also been active in local service organizations; she is the vice president of WWU’s Economics Association and is an intern for the local Sustainable Connections nonprofit group. After graduation, Wenzlau will spend the summer as a research intern in agricultural security at the Worldwatch Institute in Washington D.C. She is the daughter of Charlie and Vicky Wenzlau of Bainbridge Island.

Heather Wrenn, College of Humanities and Social Sciences – Social and Behavioral Sciences Division

Heather Wrenn of Sammamish graduated Cum Laude from Western with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She double-majored in Psychology and Business Administration with a concentration in Human Resources Management. Her experience during her five years at Western has been shaped largely by her advocacy for equity. She held leadership positions in several campus organizations, most notably serving as Western chapter president of the Northwest Human Resource Management Association (NHRMA) and as Associated Students personnel coordinator. In her position with NHRMA, she collaborated with groups such as the Professional Women’s Association and the U.S. Marine Corps to host speakers and put on workshops to teach women skills for their professional lives. In her position with the AS Personnel Office, she helped in efforts to increase the representation of minority employees in the AS by expanding outreach efforts and improving hiring practices. “I want women to be just as prepared as their male counterparts to enter the professional workforce,” she said. “And I want ethnic minorities to have equal opportunities on campus.” As she pursues a career in human resources, she plans to continue studying the way diversity works in the workforce and finding ways to improve interactions. Wrenn is the daughter of Ann and Heaton Wrenn if Sammamish and a graduate of Eastlake High School.