Grads Shine with Many Gifts

May 03, 2016

SPOKANE, Wash. – Following is a glimpse of some of the many outstanding students who graduated during Gonzaga University’s 123rd commencement exercises May 6-8.

Megan Selden came to Gonzaga four years ago from Tacoma, Washington, eager to learn as much as possible. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Selden is graduating with a double concentration in finance and operations along with minors in entrepreneurial leadership and English.

Also, she is finishing a two-year stint as a student manager of the New Venture Lab in the Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program.

Norm Leatha, entrepreneur-in-residence for the Hogan program, is among many duly impressed.

“Megan is always reliable, never satisfied with average, an excellent listener, and always a class act,” Leatha said. “She is perpetually early for assignments, meetings, projects, etc., and anticipates needs before asked. You can give Megan responsibility for a major endeavor and know that it will get done ahead of schedule and to a quality you never thought possible – all with little or no guidance or oversight.”

Selden, who spent a summer studying at Gonzaga-in-Florence, Italy, enjoys English literature. “It helps me to be able to tell a story behind the numbers,” she says. Math and English were here favorite subjects in high school.

“They seem to be polar opposites but they complement each other very well,” said Selden, who has loved her work with New Venture Lab.

“It is a very unique role for a student. It’s almost like running a mini-business. We get free rein to make decisions, change processes, and implement ideas,” said Selden, who interned at Boeing last summer. “Sometimes you get a fail; other times you get a success. It’s helped me to not be afraid of failure.”

Amid all her coursework and activities, Selden has found time to give back through several initiatives, including She’s the First, which sponsors education for girls in developing countries. After graduation, she will join the Boeing Career Foundational Program, which rotates promising young leaders through six different roles – a new one every four months – for two years.

“You gain a wider understanding of what the company does much faster. There is so much to learn and maybe I’ll be able to see where I fit best,” Selden said, adding she’s glad she chose Gonzaga.

“My growth at Gonzaga has led me to where I am now,” she said. Asked what advice she’d give incoming students, she said, “take classes that you are passionate about and don’t be afraid to explore other passions. This is your chance for education in all areas and it’s all very beneficial.”

Angela Jones is one of 23 graduates in the first class of Gonzaga Law’s accelerated two-year Juris Doctor degree program. Jones has presented at events including Future Teachers and Leaders of Color Conference, Washington State University’s Black Women’s Caucus Tea, Spokane Youth and Justice Forum, Gonzaga Prep’s Diversity Week, and Gonzaga University’s International Day of Tolerance. She has served as diversity chairwoman of the Student Bar Association, and as a member of the Multicultural Law Caucus.

She is a student member of both the Asian Bar Association of Washington and the Loren Miller Bar Association. Locally, she is a member of the Spokane Police Advisory team and faith alliance that is reviewing use of force data, the NAACP Criminal Justice Committee, and the Spokane Regional Law and Justice Commission’s Race and Equity Committee reviewing disproportionality in the criminal justice system.

Currently clerking for State Supreme Court Justice Mary Yu in Olympia.

“Zag Law has been an amazing stop on my journey to seek knowledge in order to strategically affect change in the systems that compromise my community and our nation,” Jones said. “After graduation, I have an offer to serve as an assistant attorney general for Washington state. Ultimately, I will end up precisely where God needs me to be. Thank you, Gonzaga!”

Kyle Wiltjer, from Portland, Oregon, one of the most prolific scorers in Zags’ basketball history, leaves Gonzaga with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and an MBA. The DI-AAA Athletic Directors Association Men’s Scholar Athlete of the Year, Wiltjer had a magnificent season in the classroom and on the court.

He was an Associated Press Honorable Mention All-American, a Senior CLASS All-American, All-West Coast Conference, and was named to the WCC All-Academic team. Gonzaga’s Male Senior Athlete of the Year, Wiltjer led the Zags with 20.4 point per game. His 736 total points this season rank fourth-highest single-season total in GU history.

He also led the team with 90 three-pointers, tied for sixth all-time at Gonzaga. In two years at Gonzaga, he scored 1,374 points, which ranks in the school’s top 20 all-time.

“Walking away with my undergraduate and master’s degree in business will help me so much in the future but it is the lasting relationships that I have built that mean so much more,” he said. “It is the values that they instilled in me that will help me in whatever career I choose.” Wiltjer aims to play professionally and hopes to be picked in the NBA draft. “Right now, I am in Chicago training for the NBA draft in June.”

Brandy Rippon, an English major from Marcus, Washington, with minors in political science and women’s and gender studies, will receive the William A. Garrigan, S.J., Award as the undergraduate who has achieved the highest cumulative grade-point average.

Next year, she plans to pursue a master’s in teaching degree. Since coming to Gonzaga, Rippon has realized her passion for helping others. In addition to working at the Writing Center, Rippon has contributed her time at Second Harvest food bank, and has been involved in a number of mentoring programs through the Center for Community Action and Service-Learning.

Also, she served as an editor for The Fringe, Gonzaga’s gender and sexuality focused literary and art magazine.

“Gonzaga has helped me be more aware of social justice issues,” Rippon said. “I’ve met a lot of people here who are super passionate about so many things that it’s made me want to be more passionate about things in my life.”

She hopes to become a teacher who has a positive influence on her students.

William Fegett, accounting major from Tracy, California, received the Business Academic Excellence award from the School of Business Administration for his outstanding scholastic achievement and leadership. At Gonzaga, Fegett has become deeply involved in his area of study.

He is a member of the Gonzaga chapters of the national business honor societies Beta Alpha Psi and Beta Gamma Sigma, and is a member and treasurer for the Gonzaga Chapter of Alpha Sigma Nu (honors students of Jesuit universities).

After graduation will serve an internship this summer in the tax department of the public accounting firm Deloitte. This fall, he will return to Gonzaga to complete his master’s degree in taxation.

Shelby Mills, biology major from Snohomish, Washington, had one of the most successful seasons in Gonzaga women’s cross country and track program history this year.

She was named the West Coast Conference Runner of the Year following her first place finish at the WCC Cross Country Championships this past fall – becoming the second GU runner in history to win a WCC cross country title.

The top WCC finisher at both NCAA West Regionals and NCAA Nationals, Mills led the team to a program-best sixth place at the NCAA West Regional Championship. Following their first national ranking, the Zag women finished 25th in the first appearance by GU at the National Championships. On the track, she became the first Zag in school history to compete at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field National Championships, placing 21st in the 3,000-meter steeplechase last year.

She broke her own school record in the steeplechase this season and ranks seventh in the West region in the event. Mills also broke the program’s 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter indoor records this year. In addition to her athletic success, Mills has maintained outstanding academics.

As for the future, she plans to work with a medical simulation company through Swedish Hospital in Seattle while applying to medical school.

Elizabeth Hassebrock, an honors civil engineering major from Lynnwood, Washington, with a concentration in structural development and design, plans to attend Stanford University in the fall to study structural engineering and geomechanics. However, her plans extend far beyond earning a master’s degree in engineering.

She hopes to change the world.

The summer before her senior year of high school, she went to Haiti for a service trip and was deeply moved by the enormous impact poor infrastructure had on the quality of life of residents. She decided then and there to pursue an education to help build sustainable infrastructures in developing and non-developed cities.

Aside from her long-term goals of contributing to a sustainable society, Hassebrock has earned a minor in philosophy, served as vice president of the social justice club Gonzaga Without Borders, and was one of the first engineering students to study abroad in New Zealand two years ago.

For Gonzaga Without Borders, she organized a Global Development Summit that brought local leaders to campus to speak about climate change and sustainable development.

Hassebrock says fellow students, faculty and staff at Gonzaga have given her more than a degree.

“The people are what makes Gonzaga, more so than the programs and buildings,” she said.

Sarin “Putter” Tiatragul, a biology major from Nonthaburi, Thailand, is grateful for the opportunities he has had at Gonzaga to be involved in residence life, the Bulldog Band, biology research, the Comprehensive Leadership Program, and sustainability efforts.

For Gonzaga’s Green Fund, he co-directed the “Rethink Waste” campaign, a project to educate students and administrators about sustainable practices for handling compost and recycling waste on campus. Tiatragul received the Carl Lindberg Loyalty Award presented annually to a senior who has embodied academic achievement, student leadership, and service to the University.

Affectionately called “Putter” by his golf-loving father, he will attend Auburn University in January 2017 to pursue a master’s degree in biological sciences and he hopes to eventually do research and teach at a university. Read more about Putter.

Shelby Cheslek, from Pullman, Washington, knows how difficult it can be to balance the rigors of academics and Division I basketball for the Zags. With all the time and energy required for basketball games and practice, Cheslek was a West Coast Conference All-Academic selection and was named to the DI-AAA Athletics Directors Association Women’s Scholar Athlete Team.

Cheslek put together a record-breaking season, grabbing the Gonzaga all-time blocks record at 213 for her career. She also ended her career ranking second all-time at GU in rebounding with 932. A redshirt year allowed her to complete a bachelor’s degree in business administration and she will graduate with an MBA. As for the future, the 6-foot-5-inch center signed with Phoenix Mercury of the WNBA and has begun training with the team.

“I am extremely excited about this opportunity to make the team and will be focusing on that for the remainder of the summer. In the fall, I’ll be heading overseas to play professional basketball somewhere in Europe. So for now, my focus will be basketball,” said Cheslek.

She’s the sixth Zag in school history to be invited to a WNBA training camp. Kayla Standish and Katelan Redmon were the last in 2012.

Jaime Cuevas Jr., part of Gonzaga Law’s first accelerated two-year degree program, worked in the Gonzaga University Legal Assistance Clinic, as a legal researcher for Professor Brooks Holland, and as an intern at the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office.

“In a short stint, my classmates and I embraced law school for all it was worth, and some would argue that we stretched the boundaries of what law school originally has been. That, however, is exactly why I enjoyed every day of the grind that law school entailed,” Cuevas said. “We all took advantage of the many opportunities to hone our craft, some would say their calling, of becoming lawyers. Gonzaga is a place where a commitment to service is not only spoken but embodied. A place that will always be special to me.”

After graduation, Cuevas will join the law firm of Stokes Lawrence Velikanje Moore & Shore, with offices in Seattle and Yakima, Washington, as a litigation associate. “My quest there will be very similar as to what it was while at Gonzaga. I will continue to serve, embrace any opportunity, and give it all I have. To my family, friends, and Gonzaga community all I can say is, ‘Thanks!’”

Mackenzie Pavlik, a public relations major from Farmington, New Mexico, considers Ketchikan, Alaska and Spokane to be just as much her home. Pavlik, a member of Gonzaga’s Comprehensive Leadership Program, is also earning a minor in art with a specialization in ceramics.

She spent two summers in Alaska working as a zip line guide, was a guide for GU Outdoors, and is a constant presence in the ceramics studio.

She will move to East Timor this summer to serve as a community service volunteer for the Peace Corps.

Garrett Mathews, a mechanical engineering major and physics minor from Boise, Idaho, will pursue a doctorate in mechanical engineering from Purdue University next fall. In particular, Mathews will study laser diagnostics.

Beyond his studies, Mathews worked at the machine shop on campus and last semester helped build a tricycle, powered by hand pedals, for a paraplegic boy. When he wasn’t studying or working in the shop, Mathews served as a teacher’s assistant for physics labs, a tutor for the athletic department, played guitar for Thirst (musicians who led weekly worship and praise), and was involved in the Society of Automotive Engineers, which is building a Baja car they will race in California a few weeks after graduation.

Mathews has conducted research for the past two summers in physics labs at Gonzaga and Columbia University in New York City. Research, he says, has sparked his interest in pursuing a doctorate.

“I’ve always had significant interest in both physics and engineering. Through the research I found a way to combine them. Pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering rather than physics allows me to perform fundamental physics-based research – laser diagnostics in particular is heavily based in optical physics – but also work on the engineering and design side of a system,” Mathews said. “At Purdue, and following in my career, I’ll get to apply my work to a variety of systems. Seeing my work applied and refined into a working system or design is what I really like about engineering.”

After finishing his doctorate, Mathews aims to work in the aerospace industry.

Stephanie Clay, from Sammamish, Washington, won the “Human Physiology Major of the Year” award as the outstanding student who demonstrated leadership and esprit de corps, and exemplifies the highest ideals of the department. This fall, she will study physical therapy and human movement sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, one of the top-ranked graduate schools in the country.

Clay says she is excited to explore Chicago and continue learning at such a prestigious school. “With physical therapy there are all these different opportunities to really make an impact on someone, whether it’s small or large,” says Clay.

Her love for her human physiology stems from a love of sports. Clay has played on the women’s club volleyball team all four years at Gonzaga and has held a leadership position for the past two.

This year, she has coached the team on top of her role as the president of the club. When she’s not studying or playing volleyball, Clay has spent her spare time working for Gonzaga’s School of Professional Studies.

Cole Fiscus, a sports management major from Broomfield, Colorado, exemplifies Gonzaga’s Mission Statement that aims to “educate students for lives of leadership and service for the common good.”

Fiscus has become a mentor and leader for multiple initiatives through the Center for Community Action and Service-Learning, including Campus Kids, Mission: Possible, and Reality Camp. Taking a special interest in helping youth, Fiscus says: “I’ve learned that everyone you love and meet has infinite worth.”

On his most recent Mission: Possible trip, Fiscus went out of his way to be vulnerable, and create a space comfortable for honest reflection. Because of his care and compassion to serve youth, he received Gonzaga’s Sister Virginia Claire Carvey Volunteer of the Year Award for his contributions and commitment to service and justice. As for the future, service seems to be his calling: “I’ve never felt more passionate or connected to my purpose in life than when I’m doing service.” Fiscus plans to complete a year or two of service within the Jesuit Volunteer Corps or a similar program.

Olivia Schneider, a public relations major from Portland, Oregon, has made social justice, community and spirituality the cornerstone of her Gonzaga experience. She has been involved in multiple service and justice programs on and off campus through the Center for Community Action and Service-Learning.

This past year, she served as a Catholic Relief Services Ambassador, running the Operation Rice Bowl campaign and several social-justice themed events. Most recently, she led Reality Camp, which tested her ability to function under extreme pressure while responsible for 12 leaders and 40 student participants. Schneider received the Father Leo Robinson Volunteer of the Year Award. She also received the University Ignatian Award, given each year to a senior who has modeled the values of Ignatian spirituality through leadership and service to the GU community.

“Through her participation and leadership in our service programs, Liv has shown a consistent commitment to serving the poor and nurturing relationships,” said Chris Wheatley, associate director of CCASL. “She is a highly capable leader with a servant’s heart.” After graduation, she will serve a term in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Brett Konzek, a double major in biology and environmental studies from Kennewick, Washington, is a pied piper of sorts with a huge heart. Last summer he worked the pre-orientation University Ministry retreat, treasured the association with GU newcomers, and organized Thursday night dinners and conversation for freshmen and a handful of upper-division students.

“It was a time to hold each other accountable, learn from the experiences or mistakes of the upperclassmen and relate them to our own lives, be vulnerable, share openly with others, laugh and cry,” says freshman Billy Bartell, III. “Brett wanted us all to make mission statements for our lives; how we define ourselves, what we like or dislike about ourselves, and what we want to improve on and accomplish. He was always open to having us invite some of our own friends. Everything that happened at these dinners impacted my freshman year positively.”

After each dinner, Konzek followed with a new lesson plan based upon experiences or exercises he learned in Gonzaga’s Comprehensive Leadership Program, University retreats or as a resident assistant.

“This was definitely a positive freshman alternative to the party scene, and I wanted them to connect to students other than through that party culture,” Konzek said.

Conversations ranged from questions about majors and faculty to relationships and future plans.

“Gonzaga is proud of educating men and women for others. I think Brett is a great example of that. He is one of those individuals you automatically gravitate toward,” says Fr. Brad Reynolds, S.J., assistant director of University Ministry. “I don’t know how he does it, but after five minutes with him you leave considering him one of your closest friends. It’s not just charisma. It’s a generosity of spirit and an open, welcoming heart.”

Konzek plans to work in Alaska this summer as a tour guide for a cruise line as he discerns his next step.

Danielle Shyne, who will graduate from Gonzaga Law School at the commencement ceremony May 7, has accomplished much during law school.

Shyne’s accolades include pro-bono distinction, the Dean’s Honor Roll, and the CALI (Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction) Excellence for the Future Award for academic distinction. She was employed by the Washington State Supreme Court, the Unemployment Law Project, and the Washington Moderate Means Program during her time at Gonzaga Law.

She also served as executive editor of the Gonzaga Journal of International Law, vice president of the Gonzaga Public Interest Law Project, and president of the Women’s Law Caucus. Shyne, who had her second child while in law school, is graduating with the support of her children and husband.

After graduation, she will serve as a clerk for the chief justice of the Montana State Supreme Court.

Harrison Braaksma, an accounting major from Gresham, Oregon, has served as a resident assistant and assistant residence director, as director of finance for the Gonzaga Student Body Association, and as a mentor in the Center for Community Action and Service-Learning.

Braaksma, a member of Gonzaga’s Comprehensive Leadership Program, will study for the CPA exam this summer and spend time with friends, family and two new puppies.

In September, he will move to Seattle to begin his career as an associate for Deloitte & Touche in the firm’s audit practice.

Sarah Anderson, from Bloomington, Illinois, is the human physiology “Outstanding Senior” for excellent academic performance, community service, and involvement in research or other activities. Anderson said she has known since high school that she wanted to pursue a major like human physiology to go into the field of physical therapy.

As a competitive runner in high school and her first few years of college, Anderson often worked with physical therapists for her injuries. She became drawn to their work for the intellectual challenge and the ability to help people on a daily basis. Since coming to Gonzaga, Anderson has widened her experiences in human physiology through a number of research opportunities.

She has worked at the U-District Physical Therapy of Spokane for two years and served as president of the Human Physiology Club on campus. Through the club, she has organized speakers, tutors and led review sessions for the anatomy classes.

“I’d like to teach one day,” says Anderson