Steve Isaak

Associate in Arts

After the death of his father, Steve Isaak moved with his mother and stepfather to Ephrata while in junior high. During school he was active in extracurricular activities but struggled with academics, graduating in the bottom third of his class.

Thinking that he would not excel in college and that he did not have many options, Isaak decided to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I never thought I was very smart,” stated Isaak. “Not knowing what to do I decided to join the Marine Corps and served my country from 1995-1999. After my time in the service ended, I eventually returned home but struggled to find my professional identity. I farmed for a while, drove 18-wheelers, and worked on the docks of Seattle as a longshoreman.”

By the fall of 2011, Isaak was struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. He eventually found his way to a yearlong treatment program in California, which helped save his life. After returning to Ellensburg, Wash., in 2013, Isaak decided that he needed to try something different. That decision brought him to Yakima Valley College.

“YVC was the natural place because it was close to where I lived and the admissions were accepting of nontraditional students who may not have had the best academic record during high school,” he stated.

Initially, he planned to earn an associate in arts transfer degree then pursue a bachelor’s in ministry leadership. However, during his second quarter Isaak shifted his focus after discovering that YVC’s psychology program fit the requirements needed to transfer into an arts and science bachelor’s degree program at a four-year university.

The mentorship he received in YVC’s program helped Isaak build his confidence and chart a different course for his future.

“I loved how the faculty in general appeared to meet me where I was at. Whether taking a Math 92 course under Dr. Sullivan, or the excellent guidance I received through my psychology mentor Heidi Shaw, the faculty took notice of my work, helped me grow in my deficiencies, and spoke life into my trajectory going forward,” he stated.

While at YVC and with the support of Shaw, Isaak had the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research during the spring of 2014. Those undergraduate research opportunity was provided by funding from the Title V grant.

Isaak, along with classmates Rachel Gasseling and Melanie Packard enrolled in Shaw’s Psychology 209: Fundamentals of Psychological Research course, learned and applied social science research skills by conducting interviews and focus groups with other college students about practices instructors engage in that support student success. The students authored a report of their findings titled “Breakthrough Strategies: An inquiry to teaching strategies and the course syllabus.”

Even after all these years, Shaw’s mentorship is still shaping Isaak’s current research as a doctoral candidate in the University of South Alabama’s Combined and Integrated Clinical/Counseling Psychology Program.

“One of my current areas of research involves the psychology of religion and spirituality,” said Isaak. “Shaw took the time away from her own research interest to find a book that opened my eyes to how religious and spiritual factors influence meaning and behavior. This led to a comprehensive literature review of the field that eventually became my undergraduate honors thesis at Central Washington University.”

Isaak is in his fourth and final year of coursework and has successfully proposed his dissertation. He is on track to graduate with his PhD in 2022. His ultimate goal is to serve veterans as a Veterans Health Administration psychologist with a focus on trauma informed care and working as part of a clinical team supporting individuals impacted by post-traumatic stress disorder.