Commencement Speakers and Awards
Ms. Jan Yoshiwara
Yakima Valley College is honored to have Ms. Jan Yoshiwara speak at the 89th Commencement Ceremony. Yoshiwara is executive director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), an agency that administers Washington’s system of 34 public community and technical colleges. The SBCTC sets policy, allocates state operating and capital funds to the colleges, strategically plans the two-year college mission, and approves educational programs.
Yoshiwara earned a bachelor of science degree in zoology from the University of California, Davis. She later earned a master’s in education degree in student personnel administration for higher education from Western Washington University.
Yoshiwara assumed the role of executive director in July 2017 after serving as deputy executive director for the State Board’s Education Division since 1994. The division consists of instruction, student services, eLearning, policy research, and performance accountability. In that role, Jan secured and oversaw multi-million-dollar grants and supervised state-level research on community and technical college students, staff and resources. She built partnerships with high schools, universities, business and labor leaders, state agencies, national associations, and philanthropic organizations. Yoshiwara worked with senior staff at colleges, universities, higher education and K-12 agencies, the Office of the Governor, federal and state lawmakers, and state business and labor partners to advance education goals and policies. She continues to advance these relationships as executive director.
Under Yoshiwara’s leadership, the State Board and the college system embarked on several initiatives to help more students succeed at the community and technical colleges. These efforts include establishing a Student Success Center that coaches colleges as they develop ways to help students earn degrees and certificates. She promoted Guided Pathways, a way of grouping classes and services to help students quickly and efficiently complete degrees and certificates. She helped complete the Math Strategic Plan, an initiative designed to help all students succeed in math courses, and also helped incoming high school students place into college-level math and English using innovative Bridge to College courses. In addition, her work helped expand Achieving the Dream, an initiative to improve student success measures at 16 colleges. To ensure the success of many of these initiatives, Yoshiwara obtained grant funding from sources like Jobs for the Future, College Spark Washington, and the University of Texas Austin’s Dana Center.
Yoshiwara has been instrumental in developing budget requests to the Governor’s office and the Washington state Legislature related to student success programs like Guided Pathways, I-BEST, Opportunity Grants, Math, Engineering Science Achievement (MESA), Job Skills Program, eLearning, basic skills, workforce development, aerospace training and applied bachelor’s degrees. She created the Open Course Library, a collection of 81 high-enrollment courses redesigned to use high-quality, free-to-use materials to lower students’ costs. Yoshiwara developed the System Direction and Strategic Technology plans, multi-year strategies for the college system to think about long-term goals. Yoshiwara also has placed an emphasis on developing partnerships with the Association of Washington Business, and the Washington State Labor Council, while reestablishing the system’s statewide student leadership organization (WACTCSA).
Yoshiwara’s career at the State Board began in 1984, and her commitment to the students, faculty and staff of Washington community and technical colleges has been extraordinary. In addition to serving as executive director, she has worked as associate director of planning and information services and for student services and minority affairs.
Ms. Erica Lua-Alonzo
Student Commencement Speaker
Yakima Valley College is pleased to have graduate Erica Lua-Alonzo deliver the student commencement speech for the class of 2018. Lua-Alonzo has completed her associate of applied science degree in bilingual administrative office assistant.
Lua-Alonzo was born in the Yakima Valley and graduated from Davis High School in 2004. Following high school, she worked a series of jobs in banking, fast food, and as a legal assistant at a law firm. After the birth of her children, Erica made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom. “I loved my time as at stay-at-home mom, but I missed working. I knew that for my and my family’s future I wanted more,” stated Lua-Alonzo. In the spring of 2016, she took the leap and enrolled at Yakima Valley College pursing a degree from the Business Technology program.
“There has been so much that I’ve liked about YVC and the Business Technology program. There is so much diversity on campus, which has helped me grow. When I first returned to school, I did not think I would be able to do it. Here at YVC I have been pushed to my limits to do better in class and instructors have expected more of me that I expected of myself. I’ve had the opportunity to meet new people and have new adventures. As someone who wasn’t able to
travel or relocate for school, YVC has been an ideal fit for me and my family,” she stated.
Pushed to succeed, she credits some of her success on the support and leadership of her instructors. “Susan Klaus was a big influence for me. She never let me settle for the minimum, it was never enough. If I turned in an assignment that wasn’t my best work, she would ask me if this was really me, which always pushed me to do better,” she continued. Her hard work has paid off with several appearances on the president’s and dean’s list.
On campus, she worked as a work-study student in YVC’s Athletic program, helping out in the fitness center and during athletic contests. Off-campus she was recently hired to work at the East Valley School District. She also volunteers as treasurer for her son’s soccer team and assists the coach during fundraising events.
Following YVC she plans to continue her career as a Special Programs Administrative Assistant and District Translator with the East Valley School District. One day she hopes to return to school to pursue a degree in teacher education.
In her commencement address, Lua-Alonzo extends her hope for the future to YVC’s graduating class of 2018. “To my fellow graduates, now you know every late night, every tear, every assignment, every exam, every moment of this journey was worth it,” she writes. “You now have something so many dream of. My wish for you is to find even the simple things in life rewarding. In moments of your struggles remember that if you can accomplish college, you can accomplish anything.”
In her free time Erica enjoys the company of her husband Jose, and three children Azelynn, Annaliah, and Jose. The close family enjoys cooking, gardening, watching movies, and are avid soccer fans.
Mr. Terry Abeyta
Distinguished Alumnus Award
The Yakima Valley College Alumni Association is pleased to announce Mr. Terry Abeyta as this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Abeyta has been a personal injury lawyer in the Yakima Valley since 1978.
Born and raised in Yakima, Abeyta attended Yakima Valley College from 1969-1971 where he says he received some of the best instruction of his educational career. He benefited from outstanding teachers like Delma Thayer, Inga Wiehl, and Mary Lou Schmidt, Gordon Howard, Jim Newbill, Bill Scofield, Paul Anderson, Robert McCutcheon, Millie Stenehjem, and the late Herb Blisard. He graduated at the top of his class with a 3.98 GPA and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa honor society.
Terry says the great start he received from YVC prepared him well for transferring to Whitman College. At Whitman, he graduated at the top of his class with a 4.0 GPA, summa cum laude, was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and received honors in political science. He later attended the University of Washington Law School, winning the moot court competition and graduating in 1976 in the top 15% of his class. Terry worked his way through college and law school as a reporter with the Yakima Herald-Republic, Walla Wall Union-Bulletin, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
After law school, he worked for two years for a law firm in the Seattle area, where he was drawn to litigation. Terry moved back to his hometown in 1978 to practice law and raise a family. He practiced two years with a firm before going into solo practice in 1981. He hired Rod Nelson a year later. They recently celebrated 36 years of practice together. Terry has limited his practice to personal injury cases since 1985.
Terry has earned a reputation as one of best personal injury lawyers in Washington. He has been honored as a Super Lawyer every year since 1999, and has been named to The Best Lawyers in America every year since 2009. In addition, he is the only lawyer in Central Washington chosen for the Damage Attorney Round Table. He has been selected for the American Board of Trial Advocates, Million Dollar Advocates, and Law Dragon’s Leading Plaintiff Lawyers in America. He has also served in many leadership positions for the Washington State Association for Justice, and is a past president of the Yakima County Bar Association. Terry has the highest personal injury settlement, arbitration award, and jury verdict for a neck injury case in the history of Yakima County.
Abeyta Nelson Injury Law was recently designated by readers of the Yakima Herald-Republic as Best Law Firm and Best Personal Injury Law Firm and by readers of the Yakima Valley Business Times as Best Attorney. US News & World Report has named it a Best Law Firm.
He is active in the community, serving on the board of trustees for La Salle High School and Catholic Charities of Central Washington, and is active in St. Paul Cathedral Parish. He has served in leadership for United Way, the Yakima Valley Community Foundation, YVC Foundation, and Whitman College.
Terry’s son, David, is a lawyer and daughter, Julie, is a legal assistant at his firm. His daughter, Meagan, is a teacher at Apple Valley School. His life partner, Denielle Beaulaurier, manages his law firm.
Distinguished Service Award
Yakima Valley College is honored to present BORArchitecture (BORA) with the 2018 Distinguished Service Award. BORA is being recognized for its significant contributions to help reshape and expand campus through the years. As one of the leading architecture firms in Central Washington, BORA has a wide range of experience providing both new construction and major renovations.
BORA is deeply rooted in the Yakima Valley and is committed to providing architectural services that enhance the local area. Their work at YVC is evidence of this commitment to community. Several members of the BORA team attended YVC before advancing to architecture school and have found extra satisfaction returning to enhance campus as accomplished professionals.
Architects have the unique opportunity to integrate themselves into their client’s work environment and through this relationship come to understand what makes an organization tick. At YVC, BORA has made it their business to get to know the faculty from each program and department involved in their projects. They take to heart the needs and concerns of those who will use these spaces as instructors and view each project as an opportunity to give local students a state-of-the-art learning environment. BORA’s most valued praise comes in the form of positive feedback from students and faculty.
BORA has helped YVC develop campus building standards that include a palette of economical and energy efficient building materials and systems. Budget management plays a key role in their work. They are committed to providing the most value possible within the funds available, taking care to honor the spending priorities established by YVC for every project.
“I cannot imagine a better client with which to work,” stated Principal Architect Sheri Brockway. “We truly have a collaborative relationship with YVC. The administration, faculty and staff are committed to working with us to design great buildings which makes the whole process a ton of fun!”
YVC follows a competitive selection process for the design of all major buildings. Over the years, BORA has repeatedly been selected as the most well rounded consultant for projects on campus. Some recent YVC projects that have received architectural services from BORA include: Weston D. Brown Dental Hygiene Clinic (2008), Glenn Anthon Hall (2007), City of Grandview/YVC Library (2011), North Campus Commons Plaza (2017), Palmer Martin Hall (2015), and Toppenish Learning Center (2016).
“YVC has been very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with an architecture firm that values student success and access and is committed to the community college mission,” stated Vice President of Administrative Services Dr. Teresa Rich. “YVC students reap the benefit of state of the art instructional spaces designed around beauty and functionality”.
Mr. Duane Reed
Faculty Emeritus Award
Yakima Valley College is pleased to honor Mr. Duane Reed as the 2018 Emeritus Faculty. A long-standing instructor in the arts and sciences division, Duane taught English courses for 15 years before his retirement in 2015. He has continued to teach part-time.
Reed was born and raised in the Yakima Valley. After graduating from Selah High School, he attended YVC for two years before enlisting in United States Army. He served as a Technician in the Army Security Agency for four years in Vietnam and West Germany. When his service ended, he spent a short time working in retail before beginning work as a professional photographer. He soon had the opportunity to teach photography part-time at YVC with the late Herb Blisard. It was during this period that Reed realized he wanted a career teaching at the community college level.
In 1989, he decided to return to school and majored in English literature with an emphasis on American literature. While working on his graduate degree, he was hired to teach full-time for two years at Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, Washington. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Central Washington University, he taught four years full-time at Columbia Basin College, in Pasco, Washington. In 2000, he returned to Yakima and began teaching
full-time at YVC.
“What I really like about teaching is interacting with students,” stated Reed. “I also liked the idea of fighting ignorance. This has been the most rewarding aspect of teaching,” he continued.
In addition to instructing his students, Reed has been a valuable resource to his colleagues. “Duane is extremely generous with his concern for students and for fellow faculty,” stated English Instructor Mary Dahlin. “I remember when I was first hired and was working as an adjunct instructor, and Duane immediately volunteered to let me share his office. He was teaching on a different schedule than I was, and it was so helpful to have a desk, a computer, and simply a place to be able to work and meet with students. He didn’t seem to mind at all that an interloper was invading his office space,” she continued.
A lifelong learner, Reed continues to seek out opportunities to connect on campus. “Although Duane’s service with YVC has been a recent vintage, compared to other retired faculty, he actually has one of the longest connects to YVC,” stated History Instructor Monty Walker. “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s oft-quoted line that ‘there are no second acts in American lives’ has little application to Duane. After fifteen years of teaching English composition and literature courses, Duane retired, only to return for another ‘second act.’ Now retired, Duane has become a student again, attending history and anthropology courses as well as resuming teaching as a part-time English instructor. Duane may seem to have a curmudgeonly presence, but I think he has the softest of soft spots for YVC,” he continued.
Reed is both honored and humbled to receive this award, stating, “I am very pleased to have been selected for this award. Having the respect and admiration of my colleagues validates for me what I have been trying to do over the years.”
Reed and his wife Sandra live in Yakima. They have two grown children. The couple, enjoying their retirement, love traveling throughout the US and abroad. In addition, Reed continues to be active in the local arts scene. His fine art photography is shown in local galleries and he will participate in Yakima’s upcoming Art Fest event.
Dr. Kelley Denome
Sherrie & Daryl Parker Faculty Award
Yakima Valley College is pleased to honor Dr. Kelley Denome with the 2018 Sherrie & Daryl Parker Faculty Award. Denome is an instructor in the Workforce Education Division, teaching courses in Veterinary Technology.
Growing up near Spokane, Kelley always dreamed of being a veterinarian. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary science in 1993 and with a doctor of veterinary medicine in 1996 from Washington State University.
“I’ve always loved animals,” stated Denome. “Going into veterinary medicine I loved the combination of the animals and science. After spending years in the field I now realize that the people side is just as important,” she continued.
Originally not considering a career in education, Denome worked as a mixed and small animal veterinarian before moving to Yakima with her husband. She was encouraged to consider teaching by technicians with whom she worked at clinics, who felt that her caring and helpful nature, as well as her broad knowledge, would make her an ideal teacher. With support of these co-workers she decided to give it a try. She began teaching at YVC in 1999. A dedicated instructor, Kelley spends countless hours with both students and animals, making sure that both are nurtured.
“I love teaching,” Denome explained. “The interactions with students is my favorite aspect of teaching. Encouraging and pushing them to do better, seeing them doubt their abilities, before realizing that they can do it, it is a wonderful transformation to watch and be a part of.”
Student Violeta Aguilar Pantaleon has benefited greatly from Kelley’s helpful nature. She states, “She is a compassionate, respectful and wonderful instructor. I am a very sensitive person and I tend to show my feelings without wanting to. Recently I was having a difficult family issue and I was not paying attention during our lecture courses. Dr. Denome noticed something was wrong and asked me if I was doing okay. I really needed someone to talk to. I spent the rest of the evening in her office talking and crying about my family problem. She had many things to do that evening but she never once told me that I was wasting her time. I remember apologizing but she just told me she could work on her stuff later. She told me she enjoyed my company and was grateful she had the opportunity of getting to know me better. I admire her dedication to the program and how much she enjoys what she does at YVC.”
Denome is also involved on campus in many areas. She has been a pathway lead for the healthcare pathway for the last three years. Throughout her time at YVC, she has also been involved in various committees including parking, curriculum, exceptional faculty awards, and chair of a faculty tenure review. She was a recipient of the Robert M. Leadon Excellence in Teaching Award in 2011.
Kelley and her husband, Andy, live in East Valley with a charismatic barn cat and exuberant English setter. They actively serve with Christian Veterinary Mission and Sun Valley Church. She also works as a clinical veterinarian during the summer.
The Sherrie & Daryl Parker Faculty Award provides recognition to a full-time faculty member who, through extraordinary interactions and personal influence, motivates students toward greater academic and personal achievement. The selection is made by committee from nominations submitted by students.
Mr. Rajkumar Raj
Robert M. Leadon Excellence in Teaching Award
The Yakima Valley College Foundation is pleased to present the Robert M. Leadon Excellence in Teaching Award to Mr. Rajkumar Raj. An instructor in the Workforce Education Division, Raj teaches courses for the college’s engineering program and the operations management course for the bachelor of applied science in business management program.
Raj was born in Madurai, India. As a child, he always dreamed of becoming a design engineer. Following high school he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from India’s National Institute of Technology. After earning this degree, he accepted an offer to work for a design company. In 1995 he moved to the United States to attend graduate school. He graduated in 1997 with a master’s in industrial engineering from State University of New York, Binghamton. He spent the next several years working for Flextronics in the San Francisco area first as a process engineer and later as an technical program manager. In 2005, Raj moved from California to Yakima with his family.
When an opportunity arose to tutor YVC engineering students, Raj accepted the position. He enjoyed being able to help students earn higher grades and for the first time considered education as a career.
“I saw that what I was doing was useful to these students and that it might be useful to others,” he stated. When a faculty position in the engineering department opened in 2007, he applied and was hired. He later earned a master’s degree in business from the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. In addition to teaching, Raj also works as the office manager for his wife’s medical practice.
“During his tenure at YVC, he has committed his time and dedication in providing students with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities in various content areas of engineering,” stated Dean of Workforce Education Paulette Lopez. “Raj demonstrates a natural ability to connect with students and his peers. I have found Raj to be student-centered and engaged with all students in and outside of the classroom setting,” she continued.
A dedicated instructor, Raj regularly seeks out connections that will be beneficial to students even after their time at YVC ends. “His contacts in the Yakima engineering community have enabled students in the AA programs to secure immediate employment upon completion of their degrees,” stated Physics and Engineering Instructor Dr. Stephen Rodrigue. “Engineering programs around the state regularly update Raj with their degree requirements, which allows Raj to provide excellent advising to transfer students. YVC engineering students, due to the excellent training they have received from Raj, have earned a very positive reputation upon their transfer to four-year institutions,” he continued.
Raj is also a valuable resource for his peers. “Raj has spearheaded projects that have allowed students to compete at state-level engineering events and mentored students in our undergraduate research program as they worked on building aerial and marine drones,” stated Biology Instructor and S2TEMS Director Dr. Matthew Loeser. “My first collaboration with Raj began in the planning of the Science Olympiad tournament. Raj volunteered to organize five different engineering events, many that involved students racing homemade cars or launching improvised bottle rockets. Not only did Raj take on responsibility far in excess of any other faculty, but he handled it with fantastic planning and professionalism,” he continued.
Raj and his wife, Jacintha, live in West Valley. They have three children, Freida, Joshua, and Nathan.
The Robert M. Leadon Excellence In Teaching Award is an unrestricted monetary award. The selection is made by the YVC Foundation Board of Directors from nominations provided by students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni.
Ms. Rebecca Cikauskas
Darlene Koch Classified Employee of the Year Award
The Yakima Valley College Foundation is proud to honor Ms. Rebecca Cikauskas with the Darlene Koch Classified Employee of the Year Award. Cikauskas is a Program Assistant for the Workforce Education Division’s Nursing program.
Rebecca was born in Ephrata, Washington and lived in Ellensburg for a brief time before her family settled in Selah. She graduated from Selah High School in 1986 and enlisted in the United States Navy after graduation. In 1988, when she became pregnant with her first daughter, Cikauskas requested, and was granted, an honorable discharge. The next several years brought three more daughters and Rebecca decided to stay at home and care for her family.
In 2002, she decided to return to school and began taking courses at Yakima Valley College. She earned an associate of applied science degree in general information technology and an associate of applied science degree in network administration. In 2004, she was hired to work in YVC’s Nursing program. Her various duties include class scheduling, technical support for the lab classes, equipment support, advising pre- and current nursing students, community outreach, club advising, and instructor support. She also serves as a liaison between instructors, students and community organizations that host YVC students for externships.
“I love the environment at the college,” stated Cikauskas. “I felt like it was a place that I would be challenged at, and where I would be able to provide support to. I love how my position is always changing. It is never stagnant. There is always growth, whether it be within the program, the college or with students. The most rewarding aspect of working here is when you see the results for the students. When they’ve completed the program, and passed their boards, knowing that you’ve been there through it all with the students, to see their progress and finish is pretty special,” she continued.
Cikauskas is also a valuable resource for her colleagues. “Earlier this year, I was offered a position of Program Assistant at Yakima Valley College,” stated Cody Thompson. “As with any new position came trials and tribulations of learning the ins and outs of that role. The wonderful thing about being a Program Assistant in Workforce Education is that the position comes with a team of outstanding employees that are equipped to handle any challenge, and always willing to aid me along the way. Rebecca Cikauskas, with her vast knowledge of scheduling (my most difficult challenge to date by far), has been there for me through the learning process and continues to support me as questions arise even today,” he continued.
“Rebecca is the heart and soul of our program,” stated Nursing Program Coordinator Rhonda Taylor. “Her dedication and attention to detail has served faculty and students in more ways than can be listed. Her contributions to the success of the nursing program far outweigh her job description. She goes above and beyond for each student and faculty member,” she continued.
“Rebecca helps students and faculty navigate YVC systems,” stated Nursing Instructor Wendy Baker. “Her problem solving ability is legend. She keeps all of the systems running that support student success, from on boarding requirements for clinical sites, collecting data for faculty to track student progress, to making sure students know how to plan a pinning ceremony. Rebecca is an integral member of our team,” she continued.
Rebecca lives in Selah with her fiancé Greg Sugden. She has four grown daughters, and a stepson. She also has two grandsons.
The Darlene Koch Classified Employee of the Year Award is an unrestricted monetary award. It provides recognition to a classified employee who exemplifies dedication to the mission and goals of YVC. The selection is made by the YVC Foundation Board of Directors from nominations provided by students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni.