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Washington State University

Top Ten Senior Awards

Class of 2020

For more than 80 years, Washington State University has recognized ten of the top seniors in each graduating class. These women and men represent the highest standards in specific aspects of the college experience, including academics, athletics, campus involvement, community service, and visual and performing arts.

Zachary Harper

Zachary Harper

Campus Involvement

  • Carson College of Business
  • Business, Global Leadership Certificate
  • Richland, Washington

Involvement

President, vice president and director of finance with the Associated Students of WSU Tri-Cities; Rising Star Award; President’s Award for Leadership; President’s Civic Leadership Award; the Rock Award; Crimson Fest Core Committee; Chancellor’s Leadership Council; Student Government Council; Student Union Governance Board; member of many other committees and boards; published in the HRExaminer; global talent acquisition intern for PVH Corp.; career and college mentor with the Family Learning Center

Favorite WSU experience

The one that comes to mind first is, on Cougs Give Day in 2019, I got to ride in the golf cart with our chancellor, Sandra Haynes, picking students up and driving them where they had to go. It was something fun we got to do together while meeting new people and talking about raising money. It was a huge campus-wide event, we did stuff like the spicy ramen challenge, pies in the face, popping mystery balloons over people’s heads when we got to certain milestones. I got a pie in the face and I smelled like milk all day. Doing those college activities all in good fun to raise money for a good cause, that was my favorite day.

I was also on the design committee and governance board for the new student union building at Tri-Cities. It was the beginning of a new era, and I got to be part of the team that gives students a new place to hang out. I was ASWSUTC president when we opened the building. It’s incredible to see this new life come into campus, and I can’t wait to see what student life looks like in a couple years.

Future plans

I’d like to work in fashion again, since I interned with PVH Corp., a clothing company that owns Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. I’m also applying to graduate school. I had a job lined up with a recruiting company, but then the COVID-19 outbreak happened, and the job fell through. It’s the first time in my life I don’t have a plan. I’m taking it one day at a time.

Morgan Atwood

Morgan Atwood

Campus Involvement

  • College of Arts and Sciences, Global Campus
  • Social Sciences (concentrations in Criminal Justice and Human Development)
  • Vancouver, Washington

Involvement

Director legislative affairs and president of Associated Students of WSU Global; chair of the Student Government Council; member of the Strategic Planning and Institutional Effectiveness Council; member of the Provost Search Committee; member of the WSU Global Proctoring Committee

Favorite WSU experience

“One of my favorite experiences has been getting to know other passionate student government leaders, and collaborating and working together with them,” says Morgan Atwood. While chair of the system-wide WSU Student Government Council, she says, she strived “to open up cross-campus communication and collaboration between student leaders” and “instilled the values of being “One WSU.” As she and her fellow student leaders from ASWSU and ASWSUTC worked to bring Lauren’s Promise to WSU Global Campus, she says she learned that “we are stronger when we share solutions discovered at one campus with the others.” Lauren’s Promise, written by a WSU professor whose daughter was murdered by a stalker, is a commitment to ending sexual violence; the Promise has gone viral in universities throughout North America.

Future plans

Atwood says she grew up poor but that her mother taught her to “dream big.” With the world “changing quickly,” Atwood says she is passionate about ending poverty and helping others realize their potential to achieve great things by overcoming disadvantages. Establishing measurable goals and providing emotional support are two key factors that contribute to a person’s or a community’s success, she says. A natural leader, Atwood points out that “leadership isn’t a role so much as it’s a process. It’s a way of empowering others.”

AJ Block

AJ Block

Athletics

  • Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture
  • Computer Science
  • Bellevue, Washington

Involvement

Left-handed pitcher with starts for four years with the Cougs; four-year varsity letter and scholarship recipient; Pac-12 Conference All-Academic First Team; named eighth-best senior pitcher in the country and the second-best Pac-12 senior; struck out 10 hitters in three consecutive games (a first for WSU pitchers); as a junior, selected in 17th round of Major League Baseball draft by the Detroit Tigers but chose to return for his senior year at WSU; part of a four-student team on ArduPilot mission planner project, working to create 3D flight route mapping for drones (current system only allows 2D mapping); speaker for the alumni groundbreaking event for the new baseball stadium; participant in Lentil Festival and Butch’s Bash for elementary school kids

Favorite WSU experience

During orientation was the first time I realized the whole “Go Cougs” thing, that it’s a family and a small-town feeling. The other time I realized it was traveling. We’d go to California, Arizona, all these random places and hear “Go Cougs!” in the airport when you’re walking around with the t-shirt on. That’s when I realized it was a special place and a special family to be a part of, with a sense of community.

Future plans

I want to play baseball as long as I can. I don’t really know what’s going on with the draft this year. It changes daily but the idea is to play professional baseball. As for computer science, if I do end up going into that career, I’ve always been interested in Microsoft and Boeing in the Seattle area since I grew up near those companies.

Kathryn “Katie” Doonan

Kathryn “Katie” Doonan

Community Service

  • College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences
  • Biology, Organic and Sustainable Agriculture
  • Bishop, California

Involvement

Representative for CAHNRS Student Senate; vice-facilitator for CAHNRS Ambassador program; CAHNRS research assistant for the Department of Crops and Soil Sciences; CAHNRS IGNITE researcher; Organic Agriculture Club president; Eggert Family Organic Farm volunteer; Palouse Conservation District intern; Cougar Award recipient; participant in a study abroad program in Ireland; emergency room technician; volunteer firefighter and EMT

Favorite WSU experience

Coordinating the Fall Harvest Festival and pumpkin patch at the Eggert Family Organic Farm. I was so happy to be able to help bridge the gap between the WSU community and the Pullman community. Seeing people so excited to be there made me feel like all of my hard work for the three months beforehand really made a difference. It’s the farm’s biggest event, and it’s the Organic Agriculture Club’s biggest event—and it was my project. My research senior year, too, was a big aspect in my WSU experience. I was researching Rhizoctonia’s impact on wheat, and I was able to run my own experiments and go out and meet with local farmers who had this problem. Rhizoctonia is a soil pathogen, a fungus that grows through the soil but will attack wheat roots, and it causes a lot of yield loss in the Palouse area. It helped me see where I want to go in the future. I really like being able to experiment, to troubleshoot.

Future plans

I want to help keep people healthy through sound agricultural practices. Right now, I’m working on a business plan with my family so I can try to start my own sustainable farm. From there, I’d like to go to graduate school to study interactions between agriculture and human health—and potentially use my farm as a study site for that research. I would start out with hay production but eventually transition to more vegetables and grain crops. Right now, my family mainly grows alfalfa and a grass hay mix and also raises cattle. We want to bring the principles of the sustainable farm into current production and use (my farm) as a trial site, but that’s definitely years down the line. We’re trying to diversify the crop base.

Colin Taylor

Colin Taylor

Visual and Performing Arts

  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Music Performance and Music Education
  • Boise, Idaho

Involvement

Section leader of the Cougar Marching Band; president of the Low Brass Collective; member of the Mu Phi Epsilon music fraternity; group leader at Cougar Kids’ Camp; secretary and treasurer of the WSU Collegiate National Association for Music Education

Favorite WSU experience

Born into a musical family, Colin Taylor started playing piano when he was 5, then went on to play cello and trombone before settling on the euphonium in his senior year of high school. One of his favorite experiences at WSU was ESPN GameDay in October 2019. WSU played Oregon—but the two marching bands were joined by the funk and jazz brass band Lucky Chops to form a 400-plus-member ensemble. “That was exhilarating!” Taylor recalls. He contrasts this with the School of Music’s Mug Club, where he got to socialize with fellow students and get to know faculty member—and drink coffee.

Future plans

Next fall, Taylor will be student teaching at schools on the Palouse, as well as preparing for auditions for graduate school. Taylor hopes to earn a master’s degree in musical performance before going on to earn a doctorate and teach studio lessons at a university.

Thomas LeClair

Thomas LeClair

Visual and Performing Arts

  • College of Arts and Sciences, Honors College
  • Music, Biology
  • Mount Vernon, Washington

Involvement

President and treasurer of Allegro: Student Association for Music Advocacy; president, vice president, and PR coordinator for Student Ambassadors at the College of Arts and Sciences; sang with WSU Madrigal Singers and Concert Choir; collaborative pianist and accompanist for lessons and performances; historian for the Honors Student Advisory Council; researcher with the Dowd Ecophysiology Lab

Favorite WSU experience

From singing with the WSU choirs everywhere from Reaney Park to his hometown, to presenting an organ recital and demonstrating the instrument to non-organists, musical performances were a highlight of LeClair’s WSU career. Seeing family, friends, and faculty in concert audiences made these events particularly special. LeClair was also instrumental in repairing a theater organ in the basement of Webster Hall, as well as restoring the Bryan Hall carillon. He says he was thrilled to get to play the bells for a variety of special occasions, including playing the Fight Song after WSU football home wins. “Just being on campus is special,” he adds, “there’s an infectious energy that is more than you can bargain for.”

Future plans

Music will always be a part of LeClair’s life, he says. “It’s something I can’t live without.” He plans to keep it up through church choirs and working as an organist. But he loves science, too, especially animals. Already accepted into the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, the future vet hopes (pandemic permitting) to first travel to the United Kingdom to earn a one-year master’s degree in marine biology. Though he’ll never truly finish his education, LeClair wants to establish a veterinary practice serving both large and small animals, while working with wildlife rehabilitation projects and aquariums.

Megan Lee

Megan Lee

Academics

  • College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Genetics & Cell Biology
  • Colville, Washington

Involvement

Air Force ROTC Cadet, Cadet of the Year; Scholastic Excellence Cadet; Superior Performance; director of staff; WSU Women’s Rowing, Pac-12 rowing championship finalist; wildland firefighter; student ambassador, student assistant coordinator, teaching assistant, and research assistant; shadowed at Providence Mount Carmel Hospital, Pullman Regional Hospital and Palouse Medical; volunteer at Senior Chore Center, Kindred Hospice, and Whitman County Humane Society; ranch hand and orchard worker

Favorite WSU experience

The people. The family aspect of everything really blew me out of the water. Everyone is so kind here, it’s a cool town built around the college so everyone is so close-knit, and that has been my favorite thing about WSU, the community and the people. The Pullman community has been really influential in my personal development, with all the people I’ve been able to meet and volunteer with. My roommates turned out to be my best friends, and we would take camping trips to Elk River Falls and go skiing and sledding at the golf course at night.

Future plans

I will be attending the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in the fall to become a doctor. I want to work in rural communities, and their mission and vision is exactly what I wanted to do in medicine. The people are awesome. I’ve been able to meet them and it was an easy choice for me. I secured the Air Force Health Professions Scholarship, which gives me a full ride to medical school in return for eight years of active duty after completing school. So, in about 12 years, I hope to be a physician in underserved rural areas, preferably in Washington.

Kristian Gubsch

Kristian Gubsch

Academics

  • Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, Honors College
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Edgewood, Washington

Involvement

Recipient of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship (first-ever for WSU student), Hollings Scholarship, and Goldwater Scholarship; American Chemical Society delegate to COP 25 on climate change; Virginia E. Thomas scholarship; president of the Harold Frank Engineering Entrepreneurship Institute; conference chair and industry relations officer for American Institute of Chemical Engineers; undergraduate peer research mentor; researched process to convert sequestered carbon dioxide to formic acid in undergraduate research with WSU professor Hongfei Lin; programmed and built air quality units for research experience with WSU Laboratory for Atmospheric Research; Honors College facilitator for global leadership

Favorite WSU experience

My first summer at WSU was really transformative. I did a research experience for undergrads in the Laboratory for Atmospheric Research. I was working with Dr. Von Walden and programming Raspberry Pi for air quality sensors, coding in Python and doing things I’d never done before. We were trying to understand how the air quality changed when wildfire season hits. I was trying to automate these processes. I had never worked on a project like that before. Additionally, I’m still in contact with the people I met there. I just had a Zoom meeting with them a few weeks ago.

Going out and exploring all the Palouse in all its beautiful glory. I loved biking in the wheat fields. I loved being here, being outside, and taking time to appreciate how special Pullman is.

Future plans

After I graduate, I’ll study on the Marshall Scholarship at the University of Sheffield in energy and environmental engineering. That’s a one-year master’s program where I’ll take classes and do a research project. After that, I’m still deciding but leaning toward a master’s program at Cambridge. It has a focus on entrepreneurship, which I’m really passionate about here at WSU as president of the Harold Frank Institute. The long-term ambition is to develop technology that mitigates the effects of climate change.

Ana Karen Betancourt Macias

Ana Karen Betancourt Macias

Community Service

  • College of Arts and Sciences
  • Sociology
  • Vancouver, Washington

Involvement

Co-founder of the Betancourt-Macias Family Foundation Scholarship, founder and director of Seeds for Liberation mentorship program; lead organizer for the Clark County Latino Leadership Youth Conference; vice president of diversity for the Washington Student Association; director of legislative affairs for Associated Students of WSU Vancouver (ASWSUV) for 2018-2019; vice president for ASWSUV for 2019-2020; president of WSU Vancouver Collegiate League of United Latin American Citizens; vice president for Youth for the Southwest Washington League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Council; winner of a 2019 Distinguished Woman of the Year Award for WSU Vancouver; and the student representative of the WSU Vancouver Council on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Favorite WSU experience

Creating a campaign for a bill that will provide undocumented students with the ability to get funding through state-supported, low-interest loans. I came up with the idea of an orange ribbon with a monarch butterfly attached to it to signify migration and how beautiful it is. I also worked with undocumented students across all of the WSU campuses to come to Olympia and testify. In February, I testified before the Washington State legislature in support of the bill, SB 6561. For more than a year, I worked with a team to develop and advocate for the bill. It took a village. The bill was signed by Governor Jay Inslee in early April. It takes effect July 1, 2021.

Future plans

I’m already working on another bill for undocumented students in the state of Washington. And I’m planning to apply to Harvard University for my master’s degree. I’m not giving myself another option. I’m taking a year off to study for the GRE and get all my paperwork and recommendations ready. I want to study higher education and leadership to pair with my sociology degree and come back to Vancouver. This is my home. This is where the community has embraced and supported me. I’m from La Paz, about an hour north of Cabo San Lucas. I came to Vancouver just before I turned 10. I am undocumented. I am 100 percent open about my status. If anything, I like it when people know that I’m undocumented and that I was able to accomplish all of these things. I’m also a single mom. One thing that really drives me is my son—and being able to let other single mothers know that even though we have kids, at the end of the day, we write our own stories. It is up to us. I want everybody to know: yes, I’m a single mother; yes, I’m undocumented; and yes, I’m graduating from college and planning to go forward with my education.

Elyse Bennett

Elyse Bennett

Athletics

  • College of Arts and Sciences, Honors College
  • Biology (pre-physician assistant focus)
  • De Pere, Wisconsin

Involvement

WSU Women’s Soccer; Student Athlete of the Month; Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll; All-Academic Honorable Mention; All-Freshman Team; Student Athlete Advisory Committee; Olympic Development Program; certified nursing assistant and medication aide at Bishop Place and Good Samaritan Moscow Village; shadowed at Inland Orthopedics; Special Olympics basketball; WSU Athletics Annual Butch’s Bash; soccer camp counselor; Career Day at Sunnyside Elementary School

Favorite WSU experience

My favorite experience was this past season when we made it to the final four of the College Cup. It was something every little girl that plays soccer dreams about. Only four teams out of more than 300 in Division I make it that far, and it was the first time in WSU’s history that women’s soccer made it.

Another memory was when we made it to the Sweet 16 when I was a freshman. Most of our team were freshman players, and I was proud we made such an impact our first year coming in. I was so happy to be playing college soccer at such a high level. It wasn’t something I’d seen myself becoming – I didn’t think I would make it to a Pac-12 school. I was playing soccer in a small town in Wisconsin. My academics always came first, so being able to play soccer was big for me.

Future plans

I’m applying for a master’s of physician assistant studies, probably at Northern Arizona University, University of Southern California or University of Colorado. I’d like to focus on dermatology or other types of surgery. I’m also interested in playing soccer professionally with the National Women’s Soccer League depending on how this next season pans out for me, but my first priority is graduate school.