2023 Outstanding Seniors

Meet Our Global Campus Outstanding Seniors!

In recognition of outstanding academic performance and service to the university and/or their community, WSU Global Campus is recognizing 15 outstanding seniors for the 2022-23 academic year. Below they share their stories in their own words, explaining what their Global Campus Experience was like and how it has changed their lives.

Jenny Trujillo, left, with her husband Tayvin

Jenny Trujillo

Accounting Outstanding Senior

I started my education in accounting in my native country of Taiwan but took a break for a few years to travel the world with my husband, Tayvin. A few years ago, we settled down in Washington state and I decided to start working on my degree again. I knew WSU had a good reputation, and I wanted the flexibility of learning online, so WSU Global Campus was the perfect choice for me.

While at WSU, I was able to participate in two internships. They were great opportunities, and I learned a lot about accounting and tax preparation. I also had the chance to volunteer my time at a local homeless shelter, clean streets, and work to get art supplies to children in need. Art is a passion of mine which grew while I was at WSU. Several of my watercolors were published in a WSU art journal in 2021. It was great to be able to express myself and have my work be recognized at the same time.

One big challenge for me as I earned my degree was the language barrier. Writing in English was especially difficult for me, as it is a lot different than writing in Mandarin, which is my first language. Time management was another challenge for me. I often had a high volume of work, and it took me a while to get into a good tempo. Despite the challenges, I stuck with it until the end, and I’m glad I did. I couldn’t have done it without Tayvin’s support and the great professors and staff at WSU.

It’s very exciting to graduate after all the time and hard work I’ve put into my education. I’m planning on taking my certified public accountant exam in the next year or so, and then I’d like to go into financial and retirement planning. I’m proud of what I accomplished at Global Campus and am looking forward to the next phase of my life and career!

More about accounting degree—online

Brittany Giebelhaus

Brittany Giebelhaus

Anthropology Outstanding Senior

After graduating with my associate degree from South Puget Sound Community College, I made the decision to transfer to WSU to obtain my bachelor’s degree in anthropology. I was drawn to WSU Global Campus because it gave me the flexibility to still work on my degree at home and complete my work anywhere, which has been so important to me as an adult learner.

In my time at WSU, I’ve had the opportunity to work on several different research projects. My first major project was looking into missing and murdered indigenous women. My next project focused on the spread of misinformation and disinformation in America. My last project focused on the ethics of the true crime community.

With the work I have put forth in my time at WSU, I was accepted into The National Society of Leadership and Success and Honor Society. I have also been present on the President’s Honor Role since the first semester I began my studies at WSU. I am very excited to graduate summa cum laude as an endcap to my undergraduate program.

As an adult learner working on my degree at WSU, I had to overcome a variety of challenges including some serious health issues. I have been a military spouse for a long time and the uncertainty surrounding my spouse’s career at any time helped me to prepare for adversity over the years. I will be forever grateful to my husband for being a strong supporter of my dreams.

More about anthropology degree—online

Sophia Van Elsberg, right

Sophia Van Elsberg

Biology Outstanding Senior

I struggled with school as a teenager, and it took me a while to gather my footing. Looking back at my academic record, there seems to be a gradual increase in my GPA, and I’m really proud of my ability to improve over the years.  

I also struggled with my mental health throughout high school and my first few years at community college. Therapy was life-changing for me, and I think you can see that reflected in my grades. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made and how it really shows in my life journey. 

My degree will allow me to work in the field I care most about. No other subject has sparked my interest the way biology has, and I believe a career in biology will align with my values. I want to learn more about how the world around me works so I can utilize it for good. I never want to stop pursuing new knowledge, and the field of biology is so vast—there is so much to learn!

I just want to say thank you to everyone at Global Campus and in my personal life! I’ve been supported every step of the way while I’ve been at WSU, and I couldn’t have done it without my advisor, teachers, and all the people behind the scenes. 

More about biology degree—online

Joe Mello

Joe Mello

Criminal Justice Outstanding Senior

I’m proud to say that I have now graduated Summa Cum Laude with a BA in criminal justice with a minor in history. I have been a police officer for 20 years and have volunteered to mentor many criminal justice students. That mentorship is something I’m very proud to have done, especially the students who were struggling and I was able to get them to pass with high marks. I’ve also assisted many professors with providing real life applications of class material along with giving a police officer point of view.

The biggest challenge I had to overcome was time management. From 2021-2022, I decided to become a fulltime student while still working as a police officer for the city of Kent. I had to work long hours, often 12-14 hours a day in a very stressful job and come home to do two hours or more of homework. I am blessed to be married to the most understanding and supportive person—my wife of 30 years, Dolores—who unselfishly picked up the slack to help keep our household afloat.

I believe my degree will help as I advance in my career. My degree, along with my academic accomplishments, has given me confidence that I can tackle any task, critical situation, project, or investigation and be successful. I believe the public is demanding more of its police officers and getting my degree will help with reestablishing public trust in law enforcement.

Graduating from WSU and becoming a Coug is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. Being selected as outstanding senior in criminal justice is just the icing on the cake. My son is also a Coug, and the incredible spirit of camaraderie I saw from the WSU community really stirred me emotionally and was just overwhelming. The Coug family is so supportive and proud, and that’s a huge part of why I decided I needed to be a part of such a great institution myself. GO COUGS!

More about criminal justice degree—online

Jay Kim and her children

Jay Kim

Data Analytics Outstanding Senior

Throughout my academic career at WSU Global Campus, I’ve had the opportunity to be actively engaged in classroom discussions and consistently sought out opportunities to deepen my understanding of the course material. I am always eager to share my insights and perspectives with my peers, and I strive to ask thoughtful questions that challenge both myself and my classmates. My dedication to academic excellence has also been recognized by my professors, who have commended me for my active participation and contributions to class discussions. Through my exemplary class participation, I have demonstrated my commitment to academic excellence and my desire to contribute to my academic field in meaningful ways.

As an adult learner pursuing my WSU degree, I have faced numerous challenges, but the biggest one has been balancing my academic responsibilities with my personal life. As a stay-at-home mom of two young children, I have had to juggle the demands of coursework with the responsibilities of childcare and household management. This has required careful planning and time management skills, as well as the ability to be flexible and adapt to unexpected situations. Additionally, as a first-generation college graduate and second-generation immigrant, I have had to navigate the complex higher education system on my own, without the support of family members who have gone through the process before. This has required me to seek out resources and support systems, such as academic advisors and student organizations, to help me navigate the challenges of pursuing a degree. Despite these challenges, I am proud to say that I have been able to successfully balance my academic responsibilities with my personal life, and I am confident that the skills and experiences I have gained through this process will serve me well in my future academic and professional endeavors.

This degree is a critical step in advancing both my academic and professional goals. Academically, earning this degree will equip me with the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in my chosen field. Professionally, it will provide me with a competitive edge in the job market and open up new career opportunities that would not be available to me without this degree. Personally, earning this degree is a source of pride and accomplishment, as it demonstrates my commitment to lifelong learning and personal growth. Additionally, it will serve as a positive example for others in my community, including my family and friends, who may be inspired to pursue their own academic and professional goals. Overall, earning this degree is a key part of my larger vision for my life, one in which I am able to use my skills and knowledge to make a positive impact on the world around me.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to attend WSU Global Campus and for being chosen for this award. It is a privilege to be part of such a dynamic and supportive community of scholars, and I am honored to have the opportunity to contribute to and learn from this vibrant academic environment. As a first-generation college student, this opportunity means even more to me, as it represents the realization of a lifelong dream and the culmination of years of hard work and dedication.

More about data analytics degree—online

Ross Carter

Ross Carter

Economics Outstanding Senior

As I earned my degree, I maintained a job as a senior branch banker at a large national bank. I’m happy to say that I have been able to be a high performer at my job while also going to school. I also had the opportunity to present research on the impact of government regulations on the rental market during COVID-19 at SURCA (Showcase for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities). It was a great experience, and I had the chance to discuss my ideas with members of the Econ department as well as the general public. Originally, I wasn’t looking forward to it and just hoped my research would be good enough to count for my degree, but I came away from the experience very happy that I participated.

There are several directions I am considering for my career and this degree would help with all of them. I was also recently accepted to the master of applied economics program at WSU this Fall.

More about economics degree—online

Elizabeth Vaughn

Elizabeth Vaughn, left, and her family

Environmental and Ecosystem Sciences Outstanding Senior

Although I started my educational journey a little later in life, I firmly believe that it’s never too late to learn. My educational journey began at Lower Columbia College, where I graduated with an associates of arts and an associates of science degree. After graduating, I chose to transfer into WSU Global Campus’ Environmental Science undergraduate program.

While there, I pursued a minor in biology and obtained a certificate in professional science and technology writing. I also had the honor of joining the National Society of Leadership and Success honors society, where I completed a rigorous leadership training program. Through this program, I learned how to engage a peer group in order to increase performance and attended training broadcasts with leaders such as former President Barack Obama.

In the summer of 2022, I got the chance of a lifetime to study abroad in Ireland, where I created some of the best memories I could have ever dreamed of having at WSU. That same summer, I completed an internship with the Cowlitz County Conservation District, working with senior hydrologist Darin Houpt. During this internship, I learned how to survey streams, perform pebble counts, plant bank stabilization plants, and help stop the spread of invasive knotweed. It was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it.

One of the biggest challenges I faced during my time as a student was becoming pregnant with my only child, Augustus, who is now four years old. Being a full-time student and a first-time mother came with many obstacles, but I was determined to continue not only for myself but for my child.

I could never have gotten this far without the help of some amazing professors. Specifically, Jason Malozzi, Kara Whitman, and Julie Staggers, and also my academic advisor Keri Hill. All of of them were instrumental in helping me to achieve my goals and fulfill my dreams. I would also like to acknowledge my husband, Dillon Vaughn, for laughing and crying with me all these years, my mother and father for being unconditionally supportive, my grandmother, Colleen, for giving me a passion and respect for the planet that no one else could have, and all of the other friends and family who cheered me on through this journey.

After graduation, I accepted a position as a biologist for Ecological Land Services in Longview, WA. I can’t wait to begin performing wetland mitigation, stream surveying, endangered species surveys, and permitting, as I have a true passion for protecting our planet and its wildlife. This position will allow me to make a real impact on the environment and to continue learning and growing in my field. In addition to this exciting opportunity, I am also planning to apply to a natural resource graduate program in the Fall of 2023. I am eager to further my education and gain the skills and knowledge necessary to become an even better biologist and environmental advocate. It’s never too late to keep learning and growing, and I am committed to pursuing my dreams and making a positive impact on the world around me.

More about environmental and ecosystem sciences degree—online

Angela Hagedorn

Angela Hagedorn

History Outstanding Senior

I’m very proud to be earning my degree after so many years. I am 54 years old and finishing my degree, summa cum laude, was a really important personal goal.  I recently completed a temporary position with the Washington State Veteran’s Cemetery, where I was able to dip my toes into archival work as well as doing some research on unclaimed remains. One of the reasons I love history is because it can help to find genealogical stories for people rather than just filling in a family tree with dates of birth, marriage, and death.  I also volunteer at the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge where I can connect with visitors and wildlife, as one of my earlier loves was biology and botany. 

The biggest challenge for me was keeping a healthy school/life balance. I began my degree during COVID, simply because I could not just sit around watching Netflix and earning a degree is something that I had always wanted to do. I think that the online learning option was a wonderful thing for that time, as it helped me to do something just for myself. I have always put others first, whether that be kids, husband, family, friends—to do otherwise just seemed selfish, but online learning let me focus on my own education, and I’m happy I did so.

Now that I have my degree, I want to be able to contribute to the discipline in some way. I love the research aspect of history and would like to continue to research topics that I am passionate about. I am drawn toward the Columbia Gorge, especially the Indigenous tribes that called it home and gave up so much with the colonization of the area. Celebrating and helping these people achieve some sort of reparations is very important to me.

I also have a few personal goals I want to pursue. One is to author a children’s book. Another personal goal is to become a certified genealogist as well as complete a personal memoir project to share with my family. Getting my degree online has been a huge part of my journey and helped me pursue what I care about in life. I’ve also applied to get my MA in History from WSU, and I’m very excited for that opportunity as well.

More about history degree—online

Melina Geftar

Hospitality Business Management Outstanding Senior

Stay tuned for Melina’s story!

More about hospitality business management degree—online

Amanda Terry

Amanda Terry

Human Development Outstanding Senior

Over the course of earning my bachelor’s degree, I have received the President’s Honor Roll Award each semester. I am passionate about Human Development, and I have been fully invested in the coursework. I am currently completing an internship at a local head start program, where I am learning a great deal about helping children reach their full potential.

While earning my degree, I was able to volunteer at local schools and head start programs. I also served as a WSU global student ambassador. During my time as an ambassador, I ran a student affinity group called Cougs and Cubs. The group was designed to connect students who are also parents and aimed to provide students/parents with engagement and networking opportunities.

In 2022, I joined the WSU chapter of the National Society of Leadership and Success.
Joining the society was an honor, as students are selected by their college for membership based on academic standing or leadership potential. I also belong to the WSU Psychology Club and the Cougs and Cubs student affinity group. 

As an adult learner, I have overcome many challenges while pursuing my WSU degree. As a first-generation college student, it was challenging to navigate the college experience with no template. One of my greatest challenges was striking a balance between family and school responsibilities. I overcame some personal health challenges during my time as a student as well.

My Human Development degree has provided me with the foundational skills I will need to be successful in my professional career. My degree has also supported my personal goals by helping to grow my interpersonal skills and cultivate more meaningful relationships.

More about human development degree—online

Gina Krause

Humanities Outstanding Senior

WSU Global Campus gave me the flexibility I needed to pursue opportunities inside and outside of school as a military spouse, parent, and business owner. I was able to maintain being in the President’s honor roll, and able to participate in the Global Campus Leadership Program. I was supported and encouraged in my course work and by professors to dig deeper into research on the indigenous boarding schools, which is an important topic that the world should know more about. I also co-chaired a special education advisory committee and worked with people with disabilities in my community.  

I needed maximum flexibility in the degree program I chose, and Global Campus was perfect for that. Through multiple deployments, moves, and even a global pandemic I finally made it to graduation, and I am proud of what I have been able to accomplish. 

Years ago, I promised my father and my first mentor, both of whom have passed away, that I would finish my degree as a Coug. My mentor encouraged many others to do the same. His legacy impacted many lives—including mine. There are many of us in his “Top 25” that have made it.  I will be forever grateful and inspired by my experience at WSU. 

WSU Global Campus faculty and staff were incredibly supportive throughout the peaks and valleys of life, which is rare. In the end, it is an experience I will never forget. It is with gratitude that I thank you for the support and opportunities ahead, GO COUGS! 

More about humanities degree—online

Marya Jallad

Marya Jallad

Integrated Strategic Communication Outstanding Senior

My biggest academic accomplishment is resuming my education at a critical time when I have the most impressionable set of eyes on me – those of my children. Completing my bachelor’s degree is a long-held dream of mine, and while I wish that I could have obtained it as planned (immediately following high school), I am thankful that there was a blip along the way so that I could show my children that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. 

While I don’t like to stress the notion of perfection, I did complete my degree with a summa cum laude designation. The most important part of the education process is actively being engaged and learning, and not letting fear reign. One of the most challenging courses, COM-300, ended up being one of my favorite classes, because I leaned into the content and utilized the resources available to me to succeed.

I decided to resume my education in the midst of the pandemic, in the fall of 2020. My children were at home alongside me as we learned remotely. I had just left a job that I loved, which connected me to my community in meaningful ways. The shift to being a student was undeniably jarring and shook my confidence. I questioned why or how I could manage my education. Juggling my children’s education and my own while navigating the rampant fear and uncertainty in the world was a daunting task. I learned to focus on one semester and one day at a time. I was forced to prioritize tasks and responsibilities. Finding that balance did not come easily and is something I refined through my final semester at WSU. 

I have a strong desire to connect individuals within communities, both locally and globally. I want to document and share experiences from minority groups in an effort to forge genuine understanding and connection. This degree has given me the required tools to begin facilitating these connections. 

More about integrated strategic communication major—online

Anita Kear

Anita Kear

Management Outstanding Senior

WSU Global Campus provided a unique “study abroad” experience while I worked and lived in Ireland. This also contributed to my success with the Amplifier program, as I was able to apply my work and travel experience to the program. I’ve made the President’s Honor Roll every term, and I’m happy to be graduating with a 3.93 GPA after four years with WSU.

Thanks to my classes I was able to find new approaches to projects I was leading and improve my communication style, leading to a promotion in my junior year. I took the opportunity to help mentor others in my organization, in formal and informal settings, that allowed me to pay forward the support I’d received in my own education. After graduation I plan to find more opportunities to contribute to my community through volunteer activities that I missed out on while I studied.

Being an adult learner with a full-time job has been challenging. It hasn’t always been easy to balance work, school, personal life, and training to compete in CrossFit—all with the bonus complexity of being in a different time zone! But WSU Global Campus has allowed me to create a flexible schedule that fit into my life without needing to commute to and from a physical campus every day.

I didn’t have the opportunity to get my undergraduate degree after finishing high school, and it was a lifelong goal to obtain it. A traditional college campus would not have allowed me to complete it without giving up some of my other personal goals, so attending a well-respected college with remote learning options was ideal for my personal situation. My business classes have been incredibly helpful in my job as a program manager, helping me better understand how my role fits into the bigger picture. I’m looking forward to finding new ways to apply my learning as I progress in my career.

I just want to add that my success as a student has been greatly influenced by the help and support of my partner, Joe. He helped me focus on school and kept me sane on late night study sessions, and I’m so grateful for what he’s done to get me here. I’m excited for the next chapter in life! Go Cougs!

More about management major—online

Brad Sturgeon

Brad Sturgeon

Political Science Outstanding Senior

Being on President’s Honor Roll each of my semesters at WSU, as well as maintaining a high GPA and earning manga cum laude honors, are accomplishments that I am very proud of. These are things that, if you had asked me right out of high school, I would have never imagined I would accomplish. I take pride in the work I did at this institution and am grateful for the opportunity of receiving an education that I was able to excel at while also being an adult and working at the same time.

One challenge I had to overcome as an adult learner was the apprehension I had about returning to higher education. I had never intended to learn online, but a combination of the COVID Pandemic ending in-person learning and the need for flexibility while I was working lead to me making this choice.  I learned that this style of education was very beneficial to me and was something I could excel at, contrary to what I thought at the time. Being able to return to higher education at WSU in an environment that I could thrive in is something that I am very grateful for.

I chose to pursue a degree in political science due to my interest in the subject. I also wanted to be better informed on a topic that is an increasingly important part of daily life, both domestically and globally. I believe that the education I received for this degree has prepared me for a wide variety of future careers and has given me a broader perspective on sociopolitical topics.

Graduating college at all, let alone graduating with honors, is something that I never thought that I could accomplish. Despite this, I was able to learn a lot about myself and my capabilities and have been imbued with confidence in my ability to succeed and make a difference in the world. 

More about political science major—online

Alexia Lui

Alexia Lui

Social Sciences Outstanding Senior

After engaging in the Running Start Program at Clark College, I transferred to Washington State University to finish my undergraduate degree. I am graduating with my Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences, with focus areas in political science, psychology, and women/gender/sexuality studies. During my junior year, I applied for and was accepted into the Washington State Legislative Internship Program, where I earned course credit while working in the office of a state senator during the legislative session. This internship opened many doors for me and was an experience that will stay with me forever.

For the past few years, I have been a volunteer soccer coach with the Pacific Soccer Club. Through a course requirement, I got connected with Friends of Trees, which is an organization that mobilizes volunteers to restore and maintain local ecosystems. I also began volunteering with Clean Slate Clackamas, a criminal expungement clinic. Another way I volunteered my time that meant a lot to me was through establishing a new student club, Cougs for Reproductive Freedom. This student group was a partnership with Pro Choice WA and worked toward advancing reproductive rights on campus and state-wide.

Supporting myself while earning my undergraduate degree has been a great challenge. In addition to being a full-time student, I have also maintained a full-time job. However, the ability to take summer courses and transfer to the Global Campus has significantly aided me in being able to complete my degree while working.

This degree has been an integral step in earning a spot in a graduate institution where I plan to continue my academic and professional pursuits. I have accepted an offer of admission from Lewis and Clark Law School, and I intend to begin my first semester in the fall of 2023! My current goal is to pursue a career in public interest law, with my areas of interest being victim advocacy, civil rights, and immigration law.

More about social sciences degree—online

Mara DiBenedetto

Mara DiBenedetto

Sociology Outstanding Senior

The flexibility of WSU Global Campus has allowed me to follow my dreams. While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I worked full-time as a criminal litigation legal assistant at my county’s prosecutor’s office and then later in the same role at a local civil law firm. I made the President’s Honor Roll each semester and graduated with Magna Cum Laude honors. 

Though learning online was flexible, my time as a student wasn’t without its challenges. Earning a degree while working full-time and single-parenting teenagers is not easy. Prioritizing my goals and working to remain present helped me achieve my goals while fulfilling other responsibilities. Additionally, I was also able to volunteer at a local food bank and get involved in the Alpha Kappa Delta Sociology Honor Society. None of this would have been possible without the flexibility offered by WSU Global Campus.

I double-majored in two subjects that I am extremely passionate about – Sociology and Criminal Justice. Sociology provides insight into the underlying issues of the criminal justice system. The classes I took helped me form connections that I know will be valuable in my future career. Now that I have completed my undergraduate degree, I will be pursuing a J.D. at Seattle University School of Law starting in the fall. WSU helped me get one step closer to my goal, and I’m excited for the next part of my journey.

More about sociology degree—online

Want to read more outstanding senior stories? Check out our 2022 outstanding seniors page!