Outstanding Graduates 2021

WWU graduate Amrit Abbasi smiling in hood and gown

Amrit Abbasi

Master of Arts, English 

Amrit Abbasi's scholarship is interdisciplinary, using both critical and creative work to examine the field of South Asian Studies. She is particularly fascinated by the radical voices of women and queer people amplified through collectivism and transnationalism, migration’s effect on cultural expectations and traditions, and the complex and fragmented identities of the diaspora of the United States. Amrit is also an award-winning instructor in WWU's English 101 program and serves as the Communications Coordinator for the English Graduate Association. She also serves as a Research Assistant for the University, developing resources to support BIPOC graduate students. When not drowning in work and/or creating unnecessary projects for herself to tackle, you can find Amrit with her loved ones, jumping from restaurant to restaurant, living out her foodie dreams. 

WWU graduate Tessa Borrego in cap, gown, and hood with blue background

Tessa Borrego

Master in Teaching, Secondary Education 

Tessa Borrego was a student in the Everett MIT program, majoring in English language arts. Ms. Borrego was among the highest performing students in a very strong cohort. She is academically outstanding, responsible, mature, and creative. She is an ideal candidate to step into a classroom and function independently with a high level of success. 

Ms. Borrego has a very high level of awareness in regard to diversity and equity issues. Her keen insights and exceptional capacity for articulating equity issues brought her peers to higher levels of awareness and understanding. She frequently demonstrated the ability to facilitate diverse and conflicting views. Her commitment to compassionate inclusivity facilitated unity in situations that in less adept care would have caused division and strife. She is viewed that way by faculty and peers. 

Ms. Borrego is an extraordinary person. Her quiet, unassuming, and ego-free demeanor belie her exceptional capacity for leading and shaping a group. She brings out the best in a group by bringing out the best in others, and she does so masterfully. 

WWU graduate Anais Dawson with landscape and clouds in the background

Anais Dawson

Master of Science, Computer Science

Anais Dawson is an energetic and passionate young student researcher, one of the pioneers who is utilizing virtual reality and wearable sensors to address challenges in the domain of assistive technology. Under the guidance of Professors Shameem Ahmed, Wesley Deneke, and Moushumi Sharmin, Anais led a small group of undergraduate students to develop InterViewR: a VR-based platform that provides training to autistic young adults to better prepare them for job interviews. Anais demonstrated remarkable leadership skills in supervising and training undergraduate students who previously had little awareness of the domains of Autism, Virtual Reality, and Human Computer Interaction. As a teaching assistant, Anais demonstrated excellence in mentoring students at all levels by providing thoughtful, detailed, and encouraging feedback to them and by creating an inclusive and accessible environment for all students. As a student researcher, Anais published her preliminary work in IEEE CompSAC 2020, presented her work in Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2020, and is currently in the process of submitting her graduate research work in ACM CSCW 2021 – these are testimony of outstanding accomplishments for a graduate student who is just starting her research career. Anais is an exceptional student, an outstanding researcher in the making, and a passionate computer scientist, all of which makes her a wonderful role model for young female CS students. 

WWU graduate Sarah Dorfler

Sarah Dorfler

Master of Education, Language and Literacy/ELED

Sarah Dorfler: Innovator. Creator. Leader. Sarah was the first master’s in Language and Literacy graduate to complete the Media and Digital Literacy Certificate, and she set the bar high for others to follow. While her work in the program ranged from examining podcasting as language literacy and the use of digital tools for wellness, she centered much of her work on the design of digital tools and materials through an examination of User Experience and User Interface design. In one instance, she critically explored the use of color in augmented, virtual, and mixed reality and how color in these and other digital environments affects individuals with color vision deficiency. For this work on UX/UI design, she was accepted to present “Introduction to UX: User Experience Design for Educators” at the Northwest Council for Computer Education 2021. She further capitalized on her creative capacity, and with an affinity for participatory culture, she developed effective lessons for a one-credit technology course for pre-service teachers. Within that course, she supported students to create and publish a class e-zine. In all her studies, Sarah created impressive digital materials (websites, zines, podcasts, etc.) to represent her understanding and to practice the knowledge gained. Sparkling. Hilarious. Gifted. Sarah Dorfler.

WWU graduate Jennifer Hahn wrangling seaweed out of the water

Jennifer Hahn

Master of Arts, Environmental Studies

Edible Seaweeds of the Salish Sea: Contaminant Levels and Comparison with Common Foods

Jennifer Hahn is an author, scientist, teacher, culinary explorer, and wilderness guide. She has long made her living by sharing her love of the outdoors and began relying on wild harvesting to keep her pack and kayak light. She has written two books about finding wild edibles and teaches courses about sustainable wild food harvesting at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies and the North Cascades Institute. This eventually led to her interest in the issue of potential contaminants in seaweed.  

The resulting research project was ambitious and daunting, and the results are impressive. Funded primarily by a grant from the SeaDoc Society and the Border Policy Institute, the project involved sampling seaweeds from dozens of sites around the Salish Sea. She put together and worked with a diverse team that included stakeholders (tribes and First Nations), experts from a diverse group of departments at WWU and UCD, state and federal agencies, and funders. The resulting project involved deep engagement with tribes and First Nations to gain support and approval for the project, and in turn, in-depth communications with these communities about the findings and implications for seaweed consumption. 

After sharing results with eighteen Salish Sea tribes and First Nations, Hahn will submit a scientific article with nine authors (including her committee members and colleagues from NOAA, WDFW, WDOH, UC Davis, and The SeaDoc Society) to Total Science of the Environment. Hahn is currently in process with sharing results. 
Jenny holds a BS and now an MA from WWU's College of the Environmental, Western Washington University, and a BA in writing and ecology from WWU's Fairhaven College, at which time she studied with Pulitzer-prize author Annie Dillard and worked at Audubon magazine. She later founded her own kayak and natural history company, and leads tours in Washington, Canada, Alaska, Baja Mexico, and the Galapagos. Her first book Spirited Waters: Soloing South through the Inside Passage won the Barbara Savage Miles from Nowhere award for adventure narrative writing in 2001. In 2003, on behalf of the Washington Commission for the Humanities Inquiring Mind lecture series, she traveled across Washington State speaking and serving up wild edibles for her lecture, "Feasting on Flotsam: Eating between Tides, Fields, and Forest as Cuisine, Culture, and Ecology." Currently she is an adjunct professor at Western Washington University's Fairhaven College teaching courses on northwest wild food. Her love of foraging inspired her latest titles with Mountaineers Books, Pacific Feast and Pacific Coast Foraging Guide. 

Emily Hamilton

Master of Arts, Rehabilitation Counseling

Emily Hamilton completed a BS in Psychology from Gardner-Webb University and now a MA in Rehabilitation Counseling (RC) from Western Washington University. Over the two years she was in the RC program, faculty observed the effort and excellence she put into each of her classes and how she desired to be a compassionate and patient member of her cohort. During her second year in the program, Emily was the RC Teaching Assistant and provided great support for faculty and the program. The faculty take this opportunity to acknowledge her diligence in her studies and her commitment to the field of rehabilitation counseling. Emily has a strong passion for working with individuals with disabilities and she is currently working at Compass Health in Skagit County.

Katie Higinbotham

Master of Fine Arts, Creative Writing

Between Fight and Flight: Essays and Poems

Katie Higinbotham is a creative writer in WWU's MFA program. Though she most often works as an essayist, she is a gifted writer in other modes as well; her creative thesis is a complex blend of poetry and lyrical essays, reflecting on a range of political, personal, and environmental topics. Her essay "Looking for Neowise" will appear this summer in the Rappahannock Review. She has also excelled as the Nonfiction Editor for Bellingham Review, Western's acclaimed biannual literary magazine. She also works as Events Coordinator for the English Graduate Association. She is co-founder of the EGA Reading Series, where she organizes, publicizes and hosts everything from visiting author events to professional events to student readings. 

WWU graduate Matia Jones smiling with a chicken standing on top of her straw hat and another on her shoulder

Matia Jones

Master of Arts, Anthropology

Ethnography of Urban Food Policy: Increasing Food Sovereignty in Bellingham, Washington

Matia Jones hails from Tonasket, Washington and graduated from WWU in December of 2020 with a Master of Arts degree, as a Phi Kappa Phi Honor student, and as the Outstanding Graduate Student in Anthropology. Jones specialized in cultural and medical anthropology, was a member of Dr. Bruna’s Medical Anthropology Lab, and was a teaching assistant and lab instructor in the Anthropology Department. Her thesis entitled "Ethnography of Urban Food Policy: Increasing Food Sovereignty in Bellingham, Washington," focuses on municipal, institutional, and neighborhood food system work aimed to increase healthy food access and strengthen food systems. She partnered with the Whatcom Food Network, Western's Food Systems Working Group, and the Birchwood Food Desert Fighters as both participant and researcher. Prior to this, she worked in the region as a farmer, food bank farm manager, Americorps volunteer, and WWU educational farm coordinator for over 10 years. She completed her interdisciplinary undergraduate degree at Fairhaven College. It consisted of premed, cross-cultural health care, and social and environmental justice as preventative health care. Jones is the daughter of Victoria and Jerry Jones.

Joseph Jung

Master of Education, Educational Administration 

In his research and study, Joseph investigated the effects of a digital formative assessment platform on student performance, attitude, and willingness to request assistance on academic tasks. He wanted to determine the correlations between student performance, attitude, and willingness to request assistance to determine whether one necessitates the other in a hierarchical manner. His results indicated that when students are supported in using the online tool “IXL,” they showed more positive academic learning than students who were using traditional paper-based learning strategies. Looking at the challenges school administrators face in the current digital age, Joseph advocates for future leaders to develop a deeper understanding of digital tools for student learning, for training teachers to effectively use such tools, and for strategic planning to harness these new tools to support increased student learning. 

Jianping (Jerry) Lin

Master of Business Administration

WWU graduate Walker Marks

Walker Marks

Master of Science, Chemistry 

Demystifying Denitrification: Coordination Complexes Give Valuable Insight into the Reduction of Nitrogen Oxides

Walker Marks is an incredibly industrious researcher. His thesis work was featured in a first-author publication in Chemical Communications and further research is being submitted to Inorganic Chemistry. He produced a tremendous amount of data—even more impressive that it was done during COVID restrictions. He is always willing to help other researchers. Walker was a dependable teaching assistant for general chemistry courses and served on the Research and Creative Activities Council grant review sub-committee. In the fall he will begin PhD studies at UZH in Zurich, Switzerland. 

WWU graduate Halley McCormick with plants in the background

Halley McCormick

Master of Science, Mathematics

Halley joined the master’s program in mathematics at Western after completing her bachelor’s degree at Whitman College. She excelled in all her classes and was awarded the department’s Greene award for achieving the highest academic performance among the graduate students. During her time at Western, Halley was funded as a teaching assistant. She taught her own section of a pre-calculus class each quarter and was recognized by another Greene award for being one of the two most outstanding instructors. For her master’s project, Halley studied the “Asymptotic behavior of Markov Chain Monte Carlo and Reversible Jumps” under the advisement of Dr. Ramadha Piyadi Gamage. Her presentation to her project committee, and her performance during the following oral examination were unanimously given the highest rating. As well as these impressive achievements, Halley has been a joy to have in the department, always willing to help out whenever asked. She now heads off to UT Austin for the summer where she will work with the Dana Center for the summer. We wish her the very best and look forward to hearing of her future successes.

WWU graduate Christina Merritt smiling in hood and gown with a brick background

Christina Merritt

Master of Education, Educational Administration 

In her research and study about how school administrators can support learning, Christina examined “Effective Strategies to Engage Students with ADHD: What Really Works?” In the project she evaluated the variables that impact ADHD students and how those variables create barriers to successful functioning in traditional class environments and structures. After thoroughly examining peer-reviewed research, her own action research implemented self-monitoring strategies with students in a third-grade classroom. Christina aspires to be a school principal, and her research and coursework led her to a deep understanding of how school principals need to lead with an eye on researched best practice. Her inquisitive mind, her passion for serving students, and her desire to collaboratively work with teachers will be strengths going into her new career as a school principal. 

Truc Nguyen

Master of Professional Accounting 

Truc Nguyen is a gracious student who has a servant’s heart, always willing to do what it takes, and more, to be excellent. She has been a significant addition to our MPAC program and has earned a great deal of respect from our faculty. Truc is a quick learner, deep thinker, smart inquirer, and a great presenter. If you pointed towards a mountain and asked Truc to climb it, she would ask if there was a taller one. She always goes that extra mile or puts forth just that little bit extra to take things from good to great. I’ve even had to ask her to back off a topic, a time or two and not to do so much. She typically smiles and says okay, but then asks, “If I was going to do it, what would you suggest?” 

WWU graduate Sarah Pine in cap, hood, and gown, smiling with a light background.

Sarah Pine

Master of Science, Kinesiology - Exercise Science

The Effects of Hip Position on Scapular Kinematics and Muscle Activation in the Oblique Sling: A Simulated Study

Sarah earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, both in kinesiology, right here at Western. Her initial research interest was on the effects of including exercise in the care plans of individuals on the Autism spectrum. As someone on the spectrum herself, Sarah saw an aspect of healthy living that was almost entirely unexplored in the population. Her research interests shifted after chancing upon an article that she found for a research seminar class about mechanotransduction through fascia. This led her to her thesis and current research area on the effects of changing the position of the hip on the muscular activation and scapular kinematics of the contralateral shoulder via force transduction through fascia.

Sarah is an incredibly hardworking individual who fulfilled many roles as a student. She was a private tutor for multiple classes, a peer mentor for multiple quarters, a teaching assistant for several classes, and a graduate lab manager. Her love for her course work was reflected not only in her grades, but in the way that she led other students and assisted them in their own quests for knowledge and understanding.

She currently works as an adjunct professor for WWU teaching classes such as exercise physiology, measurement and evaluation in kinesiology, and nutrition. She also works as a lab technician for the health and human development department where she assists with the biology labs, kinesiology labs, as well as the human cadaver labs. Aside from her current work and research, Sarah is preparing for a PhD in exercise physiology so that she can meet her ultimate career goal of both teaching at the collegiate level and conducting further research.

WWU graduate Vida Pourmand with ferris wheel in background

Vida Pourmand

WWU graduate Cammy Quaife smiling with gray background

Cammy Quaife

Master of Arts, Speech-Language Pathology 

Cammy is an extremely bright, thoughtful, and mature student clinician who easily stands out as a leader in our graduate program. Cammy has excelled in academic experiences and in direct clinical services. In addition, she has made significant contributions to research by serving as a research assistant in Dr. Moore’s lab. She is an extremely hard worker who goes above and beyond. Our department is happy to recognize her strong skill set and her dedication to professional learning. 

Megan Russell

Master of Science, Biology - MESP 

Investigating the effects of climate co-stressors on surf smelt energy demands

Megan’s impressive scholarship, her service to the Biology Department and its students, her leadership and exemplary teaching (including during spring 2020’s emergency COVID modality conversion), and her service to the greater university during her time at WWU is worthy of recognition. 

Megan Russell came to WWU after taking her BS in Oceanography from the University of Hawaii Hilo. Prior to starting at WWU in the fall of 2018, Megan was selected as WWU Biology Department’s first ever Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (NWCASC) Graduate Fellow. As a NWCASC fellow. Megan’s thesis research was a study quantifying the effects of climate change co-stressors on the energetic budgets of embryonic and larval surf smelt. Surf smelt are a critical link in Salish Sea food webs and a foundational forage fish whose presence serves as indicators of healthy marine ecosystems. Megan’s findings are in revision for PLOS One. In addition to a future publication, Megan presented her research at the Northwest Climate Symposium in 2019 in Portland, OR. 

Megan was a dedicated, empathetic, knowledgeable, and confidant TA. Student evaluations stated that Megan cared for her students, and in addition to gaining understanding of course content, she wanted them to develop professionally. During Megan’s matriculation at WWU, she was awarded the Shannon Point Marine Center’s (SPMC) Scientific Diving Scholarship. After taking her MS from WWU in fall of 2020, Megan was offered a job and currently serves as the Research Specialist for the Biosphere II Ocean Biome. In this position Megan is conducting marine research and maintaining the infrastructure that allows the Biosphere’s self-contained ocean to function.This position has her now living in Tucson, AZ. 

Christina Seeger

Master of Science, Geology

Using Multispectral Imagery to Interrogate Deposition, Alteration, and Weathering Across Curiosity Rover’s Traverse in Gale Crater, Mars

Tina finished her MS in Summer 2020, and she's now in her first year of a PhD program in the Division of Geology and Planetary Sciences at Caltech. While at WWU, she worked on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover mission, and helped calibrate the Mastcam-Z cameras for the new Perseverance Mars rover mission. In the Geology department, Tina was a fantastic peer mentor and did a significant amount of service and outreach, including writing guest blogs for The Planetary Society, participating in local K-12 events, and giving webinar presentations during COVID. In her two summers at WWU, she worked on her thesis research while also working as a park ranger at Mt. Rainier (she was the park's "Dark Ranger," in charge of astronomy programs!).

WWU graduate Tanner Thuet-Davenport in the lab holding two beakers

Tanner Thuet-Davenport

Master of Science, Biology 

Mapping Genetic Variants Associated with Dynamic Protein Abundance in Haploid Yeast

Tanner exhibits excellence in all facets of his work – from research to teaching to service. Tanner has impressed me with his curiosity, comfort taking on new challenges, work ethic, integrity, genuine friendliness and compassion for others, verbal communication skills, and natural leadership skills. Tanner was a model student. He worked hard, was respectful, and asked many excellent questions. Tanner seems to have deeply engrained in him the idea that the benefit of being honest about what you don’t understand outweighs any discomfort that comes with it. As a research assistant, Tanner jumped right in on a challenging genetic mapping project. Tanner’s project required him to pioneer the use of a number of new techniques in the lab. His upbeat manner allowed him to weather many setbacks. His excitement about the science and his attention to detail allowed him to keep trying more refined ideas until he found a path forward. In the end he completed his task of mapping ~20 chromosomal locations that influence the expression level of FIG1 protein. He is the lead student author on a paper in preparation for submission to Genetics on the topic of his thesis. Tanner honed his science communication skills during his thesis work by presenting numerous posters and talks at regional and national scientific meetings, including talks at UBC and UW. In addition to achieving his research goals, Tanner trained in several new lab members who have now grown into a big team, all working on follow-up projects connected to his project. 

Maggie Wang

Master of Science, Chemistry  

Plasmonic-based hybrid nanomaterial: from synthesis to application

Maggie Wang demonstrated excellence in both teaching and research. She was a teaching assistant for both general and analytical chemistry courses and created a welcoming and inclusive environment for her students. She was an author on four peer-reviewed papers stemming from her thesis work and started other research projects that will be taken up by future students. In addition to publishing, Maggie presented her research at two national meetings of the American Chemical Society. She is continuing her education at University of Texas Southwestern. 

Meagan Wells

Master of Business Administration

WWU graduate Erika Whitney smiling with fence and plants in the background

Erika Whitney

Master of Science, Environmental Science

Can arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi protect Rubus idaeus from the effects of soil-borne disease and parasitic nematodes?

Erika exceeded expectations in every aspect of graduate school. As a researcher she was thoughtful and creative. Importantly, she had a work ethic that enabled her to act on her ideas and complete an ambitious research agenda. She was also a beloved teaching assistant. Erika often went beyond expectations and found new ways to support student learning. As a result, students often commented on how much they appreciated her support in the class feedback forms. As a student, Erika was inquisitive and hard-working, generous with her time, and elevated learning for all her colleagues. Finally, Erika did a great job bridging concepts from ecology to applications in raspberry farming. She presented her work at a local conference for small fruits growers, and she did an excellent job of translating her research into useful information for this audience.