DAESA STAR: Spring 2023 Issue

DAESA STAR enewsletter: Spring 2023 issue. Brought to you by the Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement at Washington State University.
Official enewsletter of the WSU Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement (DAESA).

Dismantling Barriers

Message from William B. “Bill” Davis, Interim Vice Provost for Academic Engagement and Student Achievement

With the turning of the academic calendar in early May and graduation gone by, my thoughts start to turn toward a late spring and summer of renewal and time to think about Bill Davis. deeper questions around purpose, rebuilding connection, and perhaps finding that elusive balance in life that we all seek. But, present in the back of my mind is the future and the fact that in two and a half short months we will welcome another class of first-year students to our institution. The question I am asking myself these days is “Are we ready for them?” Note that I didn’t ask “Are they ready for us?” The latter question is sorely outdated and, in the time of the long tail of COVID, it may not have any purpose beyond a rhetorical exercise.

Late in 2022, Saichi Oba and I were asked to lead an effort to improve the retention of WSU students, particularly those from first-gen, low socioeconomic status, and Cougs of Color. This is critical work—the shifting demographics of this nation have already changed the composition of our student population in major ways. As examples, from 2007 to 2021, Cougs of Color increased from 15% to 35% of the WSU student population, low-income Cougs have grown from 15% to 25%, and First-Gen Cougs from 15% to 35%.  These changes in our student population will only increase with time and they demand that we as an institution change, our mindset away from enrolling university-ready students to a transformation to become a student-ready university. Educating the citizens of the State of Washington, whatever background they bring to us, is an imperative part of our land-grant mission and our promise to those we serve.

As we read more about how to transform land-grant institutions to become student-ready (we particularly recommend the book Becoming a Student Ready College by Tia Brown McNair—it is available online for free through WSU Libraries), Saichi and I realize that this is a shared responsibility of everyone at the institution. We, in DAESA, already play an important role in welcoming and retaining our students. That comes from efforts that help build and sustain; community for students, academic support, personal support, career exploration, early interventions, student engagement, and faculty involvement with students.  However, for our Cougs of Color, First-gen Cougs, and low-income students, the reality is that they face barriers in our institution that we are collectively responsible for erecting and maintaining. Dismantling these barriers will take collective efforts that go beyond boutique programs to ones that operate at scale and impact the trajectories of not 10s or 100s, but 1000s of students at a time.  We have models internally in DAESA and other areas of the university. The question is, do we have the will?  Is this a time when Coug Spirit and “Cougs Helping Cougs” will shine through?  I know the answer is “yes.“ I look forward to the coming journey with all of you!

Signature of Bill Davis.

Meet Our People

Three exceptional DAESA team members were recently named the inaugural recipients of the DAESA Excellence Award for their valuable impact on the division and WSU students, faculty, and staff:

Erin Rapone, April Seehafer, and Amanda Morgan pose together for a group photo while holding up their award trophies at the spring 2023 DAESA Awards Ceremony event.

Erin Rapone, April Seehafer, and Amanda Morgan received the first DAESA Excellence Awards at the division’s annual event in April.

April Seehafer, director of the Distinguished Scholarships Program, is said to be something of an evangelist, enthusiastically reaching out to hundreds of students each year to promote interest in, and applications to, a wide variety of prestigious, nationally competitive awards such as the Fulbright, Goldwater, and Rhodes. As measured by recipients and finalists, the 2021-22 cycle was the program’s most successful year with distinguished scholars that include undergraduates, graduates, and alumni; students were from WSU Pullman, WSU Spokane, and WSU Vancouver, and more than one-third identified as underrepresented students. The Distinguished Scholars Gallery housed in the CUB features lists and pictures of awardees.

April is said to help every student she advises to develop the skills and experiences necessary to be the best they can be. Whether they ultimately receive an award or not, students who work with April value the process itself, they say.

Amanda Morgan, associate director of the Academic Success and Career Center (ASCC), is said to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Whether she is teaching a leadership course, advising students, or mentoring graduate students and staff, she has built a reputation as a dedicated and caring professional who embodies WSU’s service-driven mission.

Amanda creates a culture of openness and trust, encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and try something new. She leads by example, establishing partnerships across the system, the state, and beyond. Her positive, can-do attitude is infectious, and she thinks outside-the-box and leads her team to create and deliver high-quality programs and services that promote student success. Two recent examples of her positive efforts involved securing a speaker for a recent student Etiquette Dinner, and a large donation from Zulily to boost the Cougar Closet.

Erin Rapone, administrative and communications manager for the Office of Academic Engagement (OAE), has been with that unit since its formation, supporting and managing the finances and administration of its many programs, services, and resources but also essentially creating the office’s operational practices, policies, and procedures from scratch. Her skills and talents are diverse—it’s not often you find a talented artist who loves Excel, has a passion for student success, and is pursuing her MBA. She’s even credited with designing the layout and aesthetic of the Common’s Student Center.

Erin supervises a team of administrators and communications personnel, manages the OAE annual budget, handles the personnel administration for a staff of up to 80 people, and supports the Provost’s area as grants administrator and proposal reviewer. She’s credited with being an overall a terrific source of knowledge and know-how; the glue that holds OAE together; a sounding board, source of insight, and voice of reason; and a wonderful person, friend, and colleague.

Hellos and Farewells

New Assignments and Newcomers

  • James Dalton is the Office of Academic Engagement’s (OAE) student services coordinator for Veterans Student Support Services (SSS).
  • Josefina Galván-Barajas is OAE’s student services manager for the Dare to Dream Program in the College Access and Transition unit. In April, she received the OAE Staff Excellence Award.
  • Maja Gillespie has joined the OAE as director of College Affordability Programs. One of her first opportunities was to lead OAE’s Financial Literacy Month efforts in April for all students, faculty, and staff. OAE partnered with BECU and Student Financial services to offer the annual event. Previously assistant director of student services and outreach in Student Financial Services (SFS), Maja joined WSU in 2014 and had been both senior advisor and student services advisor in SFS. She received her M.S. in family and consumer sciences with an emphasis in financial literacy from the University of Idaho. Her current position was formerly held by Kelly Demand.
  • Corey Leroy is the new program assistant for the Academic Success and Career Center (ASCC). She will assist with reinstatement and program plan changes. She earned an associate’s degree in natural science at Haskell Indian Nations University and plans to complete a bachelor’s degree at WSU focused on environmental science with an emphasis in toxicology/plant pathology.
  • Laura Lydia is OAE’s student services professional for the Passport Program.
  • Nora Rye is director of the WSU LSAMP program. Raised in West Virginia, Nora earned her M.S.W. at the University of Montana focused on social justice, research in public and social health, and counseling, and her B.S. in media arts and studies from Ohio University Honors Tutorial College. Prior to WSU, she was a Clover Park Technical College counselor for students earning their high school diplomas, learning English as a Second Language, and preparing for college. She has also worked in wilderness therapy, neuropsychology, community mental health, and as an AmeriCorps volunteer. She is in the process of becoming a licensed mental health counselor and brings with her a foundation in systems theory and uses a strength’s-based perspective when working with people. In her free time, Nora loves to read books about other countries and go backpacking with her husband, Garrett, who works for Anabranch Solutions in Asotin, Wash., and their dog, Danaher.
  • OAE’s STEM SSS Coordinator Laura Schimelfenig now also leads the CRLA Peer Educator Certification program for student peer mentors. It was launched and led previously by Josefina Galvan-Barajas.
  • Sidney Serna, a rising senior in digital technology and culture, is the communications assistant for DAESA. She formerly worked for OAE’s Passport Program.


  • Jamille Andres, OAE program assistant, is relocating to Denver.
  • Brady Bowers, OAE program assistant, has joined the WSU Graduate School.
  • Tishara Day, OAE student services coordinator for Cougs Rise, is departing in July to pursue a Ph.D. in Hawai’i.
  • Jessica Garibay, OAE former peer mentor and student services coordinator for Dare to Dream and Cougs Rise programs, is departing Pullman.
  • Oscar Martinez, OAE student services coordinator for Veterans SSS, is now the associate director for Orientation and Transition Programs (formerly known as New Student Programs). He’s currently leading the training for orientation counselors and staff who welcome new Cougs.
  • Jose Valezquez, OAE student services coordinator for College Affordability Programs, is departing in July to pursue an MBA in San Diego.

Upcoming Events

Please visit with representatives from many DAESA programs at summer welcome events for new and transfer students, and bridge events for students in our programs!

Also read DAESA’s calendar page and website for programming and student supports information and updates.

DAESA Happenings

  • Nov. 8, 2022: The Office of Assessment for Curriculum Effectiveness (ACE), along with the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President and DAESA, hosted the Fall 2022 Celebration of Assessment Excellence. Bachelor’s-degree programs from five colleges were recognized for outstanding assessment of student learning that helped guide changes to undergraduate curriculum or instruction.
  • Jan. 27, 2023: The Distinguished Scholarships Program hosted the annual Distinguished Scholars Progression for nearly 170 first-year students at WSU Pullman. The purpose is to share information about academic and extracurricular opportunities at WSU and beyond that could expand their learning, involvement, and prospects to become a “WSU Scholar.” Faculty and staff from numerous programs served as knowledgeable table hosts.
  • Feb. 6-7, 2023: The Career Expo, hosted by the Academic Success and Career Center, offered student virtual connections to employers on Monday and in-person meetups on Tuesday. This spring event preceded two related events. The WSU Career Expo for Arts, Sciences, and Education was virtual only and gave ASCC’s career staff an opportunity to start building networks and relationships with employer and students who have typically felt left out of the traditional WSU Career Expos. The CougsFirst! Tradeshow and Career Expo allowed ASCC to partner with CougsFirst! to facilitate its first Career Expo in Bellevue, providing expo logistics, resume reviews, and educational sessions; it allowed ASCC to connect with and provide services for students not normally reached, including several WSU Everett and WSU Vancouver students during resume reviews.
  • Feb. 21, 2023: The Common Reading Invited Lecture was rescheduled to this date and was presented virtually by Braiding Sweetgrass author Robin Wall Kimmerer, who had to postpone her original presentation. On the originally scheduled date in January, campus programs went ahead with unique ways to engage students with the book—Dining Services offered a special luncheon menu at WSU Pullman centers, several groups hosted watch parties to network and build community, and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU produced a booklet to inspire visitors to find ties between works of art and themes in the book. Braiding Sweetgrass is the first common reading selection that WSU will use for two years in a row. Nominations for the next book—to be used in the 2024-25 academic year—have closed and are being reviewed by the selection committee.
  • March 2023: ACE staff took a leadership role in promoting the biennial National Survey for Student Engagement (NSSE). With surveys sent to all first-year and senior students on all campuses, NSSE seeks first-hand input as to how effectively WSU is delivering educational experiences and building student engagement. A widespread effort to provide faculty with messaging templates, slides, and more helped spread the word about the survey to students, who were contacted by the NSSE organization through emails sent from WSU President Kirk Schulz throughout the month. Results should be available to WSU in fall.
  • March 2023: A system-wide committee announced the updating of the suite of 1-to-4-credit university (UNIV) student-success courses for the first time in a decade, resulting in changes effective starting in fall 2023. Some changes impact the UNIV elective courses themselves, and some impact procedures.
  • March 27, 2023: The annual Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (SURCA) was hosted by the Office of Undergraduate Research, with Provost and Executive Vice President and WSU Pullman Chancellor Elizabeth Chilton on hand to congratulate the top presenters in nine categories. Watch the SURCA awards ceremony!
  • April 2023: Throughout the month, the Office of Academic Engagement’s (OAE) College Affordability Programs, with support from BECU and Student Financial Services, hosted workshops and in-person activities to engage students, faculty, and staff in Financial Literacy Month.
  • April 13, 2023: The DAESA Awards Celebration featured 19 types of awards and honors presented to dozens of students, faculty, and staff by several DAESA programs as well as several other units who joined in the event. The DAESA Excellence Award was presented for the first time to three exceptional members of the division.
  • May 2023: UCORE’s Core to Career initiative has announced the members of its third cohort.
  • Late June and July 2023: The OAE’s Cougs Rise program and Dare to Dream will host high-school and WSU entering first-year student members to summer courses and programming that will better acquaint them with the university experience at WSU Pullman. Instructors are sought to teach courses focused on, for example, math, English, science, and foreign languages.

News Briefs

In addition to programming noted in DAESA Happenings, the following recent news for spring 2023 is worthy of note:


  • SURCA gave 49 undergraduates 43 research awards totaling $9,200. Student participation topped expectations with the number of presenters up 36 percent over the 2022 event, which was the first one in-person since before the COVID-19 pandemic. A video of the awards event is available.



  • The Distinguished Scholarships Program announced that WSU Pullman students Katy Ayers and Jessalyn Swanson are the latest recipients of prestigious, nationally competitive Udall Undergraduate Scholarship awards to support their education. They bring the total number of Udall’s received by WSU students to 12 since 2015. Ayers is WSU’s first Udall recipient in the environment category, and Swanson is the fifth recipient in the Native American health-care category.