Gonzaga Grads Shine with Many Gifts

May 10, 2017
SPOKANE, Wash. – Following is a glimpse of some of the many outstanding students who graduated during Gonzaga University’s 124th commencement exercises May 13-14.

Art Por Díaz, a theatre arts major from Oakland, California (in the video above), has been honored by the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival with its Artists Striving to End Poverty scholarship in recognition of the play he wrote titled, “A La Roro.”

The scholarship allows Díaz to attend the Artist as Citizen Conference in June at the Juilliard School in New York City. The conference celebrates, connects, and develops young leaders in the arts by providing them with a transformative artistic and educational experience in the heart of New York City.

The play features the story of a young, bicultural boy at bedtime navigating an internal world of Latino ghost stories and an external world of racism and anti-immigration. The story focuses on questions of identity by using both the American and Latin-American version of the boogeyman as characters.

The story reflects Díaz’s conflicts growing up as Mexican-American as well as his cousin’s experiences being referred to as an “alien” at school. In particular, the play addresses the challenge children face dealing with weighty political and social conflicts.

“A lot of hyphenated people are always struggling with this idea of not knowing where they’re represented, because you’re not too much of where your parents are (from), but you’re not enough to be an American by most definitions,” said Díaz, who began his theatrical career in high school as a slam poet.

Díaz had planned to study communication in graduate school, but the success of his play has drawn interest from graduate theatre programs at multiple universities. (By Jackson Scallen, Class of 2020)

Amanda Martin

Amanda Martin, from Battle Ground, Washington, received the Senior Award at commencement for the highest senior-year GPA. A biology major, she will apply to the University of Washington School of Pharmacy for admission in fall 2018. This summer, she’s doing an internship at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, taking part in research focusing on developing cancer treatments.

Martin has explored many of the diverse opportunities Gonzaga offers undergraduates. She spent a summer studying abroad in Florence, Italy and she participated in the Mission: Possible Trip to San Francisco, which focused on education and advocacy for environmental social justice issues.

In addition, Martin has been an undergraduate research assistant for two and one-half years with the biology and chemistry departments and has presented her research at local, regional, and national science conferences. She worked for Gonzaga’s Telefund for two years and for one year as a lab assistant for the biology department. Also, she has volunteered as a pharmacy assistant at Holy Family Hospital.

“I am incredibly grateful for the variety of in-class and extracurricular opportunities that Gonzaga offers to its students,” Martin said. “The Jesuit concern for mind, body, and spirit really resonated with my experience, and I really do believe that I am leaving with not only a degree, but also with a deeper concern for the world around me.”

Sharon Henzler

Sharon Henzler, from Seattle, received the Garrigan Award at commencement for the highest grade-point average over four years while earning a double major in mathematics and economics with a minor in philosophy.

“One of my most meaningful experiences at Gonzaga has been working as a tutor for my fellow undergrads through the economics, math and athletics departments,” Henzler said. “I want to express my gratitude to Gonzaga for the opportunity to connect with my peers and give back to my community through what I love most: teaching. It has been so meaningful, fulfilling, and rewarding for me to develop authentic connections with the students that I tutor and truly help them through difficult classes.”

Henzler has also given back to the Spokane community by delivering a presentation this year to Mayor David Condon and the City Council about the economic and aesthetic advantages of planting Ponderosa pine trees along the highways in Spokane.

“I very much appreciated all of the opportunities Gonzaga provides its students to help make our community a better, more sustainable place,” said Henzler, who plans to move to Boston in September to work as a data analyst at Liberty Mutual Insurance’s headquarters.

“I am excited and nervous to move across the country to an East Coast city where I know no one, but I know the life skills Gonzaga has taught me will help me succeed in the work world and in my personal life. As eager as I am to begin a new chapter of my life in Boston, I will deeply miss Gonzaga and will always look back on my fond memories here.”

Henzler has been busy during her four years at Gonzaga. Among other activities, she has served as: coxswain for the women’s rowing team as a freshman and sophomore, as a mentor for Campus Kids, president of the Actuarial Science Club, president of Pi Mu Epsilon (math honor society), and as a private tutor for local children.

Caleb Dawson (GU photo)

Gonzaga Student Body Association President Caleb Dawson, from Federal Way, Washington, a double major in sociology and economics with a minor in women’s and gender studies, will begin a doctorate in education this fall at the University of California at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education.

The academic program is titled Critical Studies of Race, Class, and Gender. Dawson aims to “advance equity and justice in higher education through teaching, scholarship, and service as a professor and eventually as an administrator.” A fellowship will fund his studies, health insurance, and a living stipend.

He will be advised by two nationally renowned black scholars: GSE Dean Prudence Carter, a sociologist, and Assistant Professor Michael Dumas, an expert in urban education and African American studies.

Dawson has been deeply involved at Gonzaga since entering in 2013 as an Act Six Scholar, an emerging urban leader chosen to receive a full scholarship based on his leadership, academics, and commitment to service. As a scholar-activist, he is committed to leading change in higher education from merely recruiting and retaining students of diverse backgrounds to educating equitably and inclusively.

Recently, as a member of the University Council for Equity, Inclusion, and Intercultural Awareness, appointed by Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh, he has been a leader in campus efforts to foster the conditions that will lead to transformational educational experiences for all Zags, particularly students of historically marginalized backgrounds.

“What if institutions of higher education could be the model of a diverse, democratic community?” he asks. “We cannot stop at welcoming ‘different’ people to ‘our’ ways of doing higher education. We must create new conditions that enable, support, and reward different identities and contributions.”

As GSBA community events chair as a sophomore, he launched the annual Gonzaga Scares Hunger food drive and the monthly Courageous Conversations luncheon.

Last summer, he spent seven weeks at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy as one of 100 students nationwide invited to the Public Policy and International Affairs Program’s Junior Summer Institute, which prepares students to enter the nation’s top graduate programs in public policy and international affairs.

McKayla Ferris (Photo courtesy GU Athletics)

McKayla Ferris, a classical civilization major from Chandler, Arizona, is the Fredric Schlatter, S.J. Classical Civilizations Book Award winner for her commitment to learning and high level of academic achievement – reflecting the dedication of Jesuit scholars in teaching Latin, Greek and classical culture.

Apart from her studies, Ferris played outside hitter position for the women’s volleyball team since 2013, and was recognized as West Coast Conference All-Academic First Team (2015 and 2016) and the Utah Classic tournament MVP (fall 2016). One of 13 women to reach 1,000 career kills in GU volleyball history, she and fellow seniors led the team to its best record in 26 years.

Ferris was also a member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, the Classics Club and the history honors society Phi Alpha Theta. She was on the Dean’s List (minimum 3.5 grade-point average) for two semesters and the President’s List (minimum 3.85 GPA) for three.

She will attend Loyola Marymount University this fall to earn a master’s in educational studies and use her final year of NCAA eligibility playing beach volleyball. She hopes to join the professional beach volleyball circuit in Southern California and help advance social justice issues in the greater Los Angeles area. When her athletic career ends, she hopes to teach classics at a university.

Ferris said she appreciated her understanding and attentive classics professors, and Gonzaga’s small class sizes that foster a tight-knit community.

Her words of wisdom to incoming students: “It is OK to feel overwhelmed as long as you keep in mind that it will get better. College has this amazing habit of making you a little uncomfortable in order to make you a lot better.”

Daniel Hodge

Daniel Hodge, from Folsom, California, an English major earning a concentration in creative writing, was an innovator in digital humanities during his time at Gonzaga.

In his internship with Gonzaga’s Digital Humanities Initiative this spring, he developed a project that provides an accompaniment to author D’Arcy McNickle’s 1978 novel “The Surrounded,” which is set on Montana’s Flathead Indian Reservation during the Great Depression. The project centers on the work of Jesuit missionaries with indigenous peoples and connection to their lands.

Hodge played for the rugby club team for four years. As a senior, he served in leadership positions on several student boards, and participated in the Gonzaga Student Body Association event “Stories Behind the Stats,” which Hodge calls “one of my greatest moments” at Gonzaga.

“A group of ten students of color and I told our experiences of GU to a crowd of over a hundred students and faculty. Based off faculty feedback from our stories, I know this event will stand to change the campus climate in years to come,” said Hodge.

He plans to teach full time at a Catholic middle school in Santa Ana, California, while earning an online master’s of education from Notre Dame University through an Alliance for Catholic Education Teaching Fellows scholarship. Long term, he hopes to earn a doctorate in education with a concentration in cultural competency in higher education.

His advice to incoming students: “Be a part of your experience and take control of it. Don’t blindly become a ‘Zag’ and follow the usual trends of the university. Be you. Love yourself first. Once you do that, the Gonzaga experience will come to you and you’ll have the greatest four years of your young life.”

Janine Warrington

Janine Warrington, Medical Lake, Washington, a religious studies major with a minor in theatre arts, received the 2017 Flannery Award for Excellence in Religious Studies and a first-place Michael and Gail Gurian Writing Award for a section of her senior thesis on the role of doubt and questioning in faith development.

Warrington is passionate about the integration of Scripture into the performing arts. She performed in the 2015 mainstage production of “Weaving our Sisters’ Voices,” a play about women from Scripture co-created by Suzanne Ostersmith, dance program director and assistant professor. Warrington also directed a touring version of the show that performed at multiple venues, and helped develop a Digital Humanities Initiative project about it.

After graduation, she will travel to Israel with Rabbi Elizabeth Goldstein, associate professor of religious studies, and integrated media Lecturer Tracy Simmons for a four-week study abroad program. This fall, she plans to teach preschool at a bilingual class for immigrants in Washington, D.C., before pursuing a master’s in divinity.

“Gonzaga has prepared me for this journey by helping me to open my mind up to different ideas and teach me how to engage in dialogue with those who I disagree with,” Warrington said, noting she appreciates her personal experiences of community at Gonzaga, particularly in the Honors Program and religious studies.

“We have the best professors at Gonzaga who care deeply about their students and the material they teach,” she said. “The time and energy that my professors have invested in me has definitely shaped who I am.”

Andy Buhler

Andy Buhler, a journalism major from Portland, Oregon, aspires to become a sports journalist and is well on his way. After graduation, he will serve a 12-week global sports internship for the Associated Press in Atlanta.

“GU has allowed me to seize the opportunity to be a sports journalist and the professors helped me get there,” he said. “There is a great support system.”

Buhler worked for The Gonzaga Bulletin and a host of West Coast newspapers as a freelance journalist during his time at Gonzaga. He joined the Bulletin staff as a sports writer his freshman year and said he always treated every story “like it was my Super Bowl.” Later, he served as sports editor, managing editor and editor-in-chief.

Throughout his undergraduate career, Buhler wrote AP stories on Washington State University basketball games, a Gonzaga basketball game story for The San Francisco Chronicle and sports stories for The Oregonian.

He attended Jesuit High School in Portland and wanted a similar social justice-oriented education in college, which is one reason he chose Gonzaga. He hopes incoming students will “take risks and spread their wings as far as they can reach.”

Bethany Beekly

Music and science scholar Bethany Beekly will pursue her dream of teaching at a university through her studies at the University of Michigan’s neuroscience doctorate program this fall.

The biology major and chemistry minor from Seattle conducted research on nutritional issues for two summers in a Michigan State University neuroendocrine lab. Last summer, she received a research fellowship through the Endocrine Society. An Honors Program student, she has remained on the President’s List (minimum 3.85 GPA) virtually her entire Gonzaga career.

In March, Beekly played alongside the Gonzaga Symphony Orchestra as a winner of the Young Artists’ Concerto Competition. She also played clarinet in the Gonzaga Wind Symphony, served as co-president of the Swing Dance Club and studied conducting at Gonzaga.

Beekly urges incoming students to take advantage of Gonzaga’s “caring and welcoming community.”

“You have to simultaneously learn to advocate for yourself and believe that you deserve to be where you are,” she said. “Never again will you probably be surrounded by so many people who genuinely want to see you succeed. Take that and run with it. Then, go out into the world confident, capable and prepared to be your own best ally.”

Ryan Gaske (Courtesy GU Athletics)

Golfer Ryan Gaske, from Brisbane, Australia, was named Gonzaga’s Male Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Gaske transferred to Gonzaga in fall 2015 and has since been named to the President’s List and WCC All-Academic First Team twice.

Gaske, who will earn a bachelor’s of education degree in sport management, has been a leader in academics, athletics and in the community. He has been a member of GU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, participated in various community outreach opportunities such as Trunk-or-Treat, Leaf Raking Blitz, and annual food drive for Catholic Charities.

Natalie Hoebing. (Photo by Kayla Hondo)

Natalie Hoebing, from Scottsdale, Arizona, whose paintings and drawings have been featured in magazines and various locations in the Spokane area, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, concentrations in finance and entrepreneurship, and an art minor.

Guided by her high school teacher, she fell in love with charcoal drawing. She was awarded the “Most Talented Artist” of her class upon graduating from Notre Dame Preparatory High School. While enrolled at Gonzaga, Professor Bob Gilmore greatly influenced her work and introduced her to the world of color.

“The most influential person in my life was Professor Gilmore. He was not only my favorite teacher at Gonzaga, but my mentor before he passed away (on Aug. 1, 2016),” she said. “Professor Gilmore helped refine my artistic techniques and guide me in my creative process.”

Hoebing has created many pieces for various charities in Spokane. In the summers of 2015 and 2016, she studied art and finance in Florence, Italy, and multiple cities in China. Also, she has interned under the founder of Beyond Pink, a nonprofit in Spokane dedicated to ensuring women have access to breast cancer screening.

Upon graduation, she plans to return to Scottsdale and continue her art. (Emma Winkelman contributed to this report.)

Brad Dale

Brad Dale, Bellingham, Washington, received the 2017 Gonzaga School of Business Academic Excellence Award for his scholastic achievement and leadership. In August, Dale will work as a consultant for West Monroe Partners’ financial services practice in Los Angeles after returning from travels throughout Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

At Gonzaga, he served on the executive board of the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, and as a business tutor for Gonzaga athletics and the Foley Library Learning Studio. He also received the Outstanding Student Organization Officer award for playing and coaching for the men’s club soccer team his senior year.

Dale said he appreciated his supportive peers and professors.

“I utilized office hours for many classes and built a relationship with most of my professors,” he said. “There’s a culture here where everyone is looking out for everyone else. Zags really do help Zags. We’re competitive as a collective, but supportive as peers.”

Dale would advise incoming students to explore GU’s abundant extracurricular opportunities to help them find their place on campus.

“I’ve been involved in about ten clubs over my time at GU, and I was able to find a few that I was passionate about and heavily invested my time in them,” he said. “While academics were a clear priority for me, my Gonzaga experience has been defined by my involvement on campus and friendships I’ve developed outside of the classroom.”

Jessica Mildes (Courtesy GU Athletics)

Cross country and track athlete Jessica Mildes, from Chattaroy, Washington, was named Gonzaga’s Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.

Mildes, who came to Gonzaga as a transfer student in fall 2014, earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting with a perfect GPA and this past summer gained admission into GU’s Master of Science in Taxation program while finishing her undergraduate work last fall.

She was named to the WCC All-Academic team twice and last season was named an Academic All-American by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Mildes, who walked in the undergraduate ceremony in May 2016 as an early graduate, placed 31st in the women’s 10,000-meter semifinal at the NCAA West Preliminaries on May 25 at the University of Texas, crowning her Gonzaga career. It was her second appearance at the NCAA West Preliminaries.

She holds the GU program records for 10,000 meters, 33:40.82, and 5,000 meters, 16:16.88. In cross country, she is second on the program’s all-time list over a 6,000-meter course and third over a 5,000-meter course.

Daniel Incerpi

Broadcast journalist Daniel Incerpi, from Northridge, California, will launch his digital storytelling career covering news and sports at NBC affiliate in Kalispell, Montana. He hopes to work as a sports reporter and play-by-play commentator in the future.

Incerpi was part of a “GUTV Takes L.A.” team this year, which told the Gonzaga vs. Loyola Marymount basketball game story and highlighted outstanding alumni in the area. He served as president of the Kennel Board along with playing intramural sports and serving in a leadership role for intramurals. Early on at Gonzaga, Incerpi began livestreaming intramural sports games with play-by-play and color commentary through Periscope and, eventually, Facebook Live. He served an internship with KHQ-TV in Spokane, and volunteered for the Center for Community Action and Service-Learning’s mentoring program Smile throughout his academic career.

“My Gonzaga experience has meant absolutely everything to me,” Incerpi said. “I cannot think of a better place to have attended college for four years and am so incredibly grateful to say that I will be a Zag for life. I appreciate the endless opportunities that this university has given me both in my academic field and extracurricular activities.”

Dan Garrity, director of broadcast studies, describes Incerpi as an outstanding student.

“All four years with us, he was constantly going above and beyond and taking advantage of every opportunity that came his way – especially when tasked with shining a bright light on his school through his storytelling skills,” Garrity said.

Morgan Green

Morgan Green, a mathematics major from Snohomish, Washington, received the 2017 School of Education Academic Excellence award in secondary education.

Green was a resident assistant for housing and led the weeklong Mission:Possible service immersion trip to Neah Bay, Washington, last year. She appreciates how her Gonzaga education shaped her as “a whole person” – consistent with the University’s mission.

“I would not be the person I am today without the inspiration, challenges, growth and experiences that my education at GU has provided me,” she said.

After graduation, Green will travel to Zambia for a month through the Gonzaga-in-Zambezi study abroad program with a service component. “While we are there I will also be a part of an education team that will teach storytelling at a middle school in Zambezi,” Green said.

Her advice to incoming students: “Embrace challenges and setbacks as opportunities to grow and learn.”

Ladd and Carley Serwat with friends from Burundi.

Ladd Serwat, an international relations major with a minor in French, will begin graduate studies in African development this fall at the London School of Economics as part of his plan to help the marginalized people in Burundi.

As an 18-year-old graduate of Lakeland High School in Rathdrum, Idaho, Serwat landed an internship with the Hope Project, a nonprofit organization that helped provide housing and education in African countries. He helped raise awareness and funds in the United States, along with some occasional travel to East Africa.

As a student at North Idaho College, he met wife Carley. Two years after they married, they moved to Burundi to learn the language and culture. They fell in love with the country and its people, many of whom had been marginalized due to land disputes. Some residents were displaced while others were forced to leave the country.

His experience with the Hope Project convinced Serwat he needed more academic research and preparation to play a significant role in the work, an epiphany that brought him home and to Gonzaga.

In political science and international relations courses, he explored the structural challenges to poverty, the criticism of relief efforts, the empowerment of local leaders to create solutions, and how relief organizations could work with the United Nations to be more effective.

At Gonzaga, Serwat found flexible faculty who supported his efforts to focus research projects on Burundi specifically and the Great Lakes Region in general. In particular, he credits Stacy Taninchev and Sean Swan, political science faculty.

“It’s been an eight-year commitment to seeing change happen in Burundi both in practice and through academic research,” Serwat noted in a graduate school admissions letter. “I am not giving up, losing focus, or willing to stop fighting on behalf of the poor, oppressed and vulnerable in this frequently forgotten country.”

Amanda Hardt

Amanda Hardt, from Apache Junction, Arizona, became the first person in her family to graduate from a four-year university when she received a bachelor’s of education in sport management with a double minor in communication studies and promotion. She spoke at the undergraduate commencement.

“The reason why I chose this particular course of study is that I am personally interested in sports, and I find it to be a universal language that has the ability to unite people of all ages, from all backgrounds and cultures, from all abilities,” Hardt said. “That’s really powerful to me.”

This self-proclaimed breakfast connoisseur and ultimate Elvis fan has also been involved in CCASL, as a member of the club tennis team, and has served for the past two years as the GSBA director of clubs and organizations.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here on campus and I know my time as a ‘Zag’ will last well beyond Spokane,” said Hardt.

Kristina Spring

Kristina Spring, a computer science major and a math minor from Saratoga, California, is the recipient of the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s Excellence Award.

Spring, who has consistently been represented on the Dean’s List for academic excellence, founded and served as president of the Women in Computer Science Club at Gonzaga. A tutor for computer science students the past two years, Spring received a scholarship to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing – the first Gonzaga student to attend the prestigious conference.

Spring has done three summer internships while at GU – two at Lockheed Martin and one last summer at HP Enterprises. After graduation, she will work for Veritas Technologies in Mountain View, California. She is a member of honor societies for computer science (Upsilon Pi Epsilon) and math (Pi Mu Epsilon).

“Gonzaga has been a great experience for me. I have been provided so many opportunities in the computer science department, from starting a club to being invited to a lunch with Dr. Rhea Seddon,” Spring said. “The faculty here have always supported me and their passion for teaching and for their students is inspiring and is what really makes this school great.”

As a volunteer, she helped Ferris High School with its advanced placement computer science course, which involved being in the classroom three times a week for three months, and served as an event coordinator at Innovention 2016.

“I have personally had Kristina in four courses – she is an amazing student,” said Shawn Bowers, chair and associate professor of computer science.

Lauren Saunders

Lauren Saunders, a mathematics major from Lake Tapps, Washington, received the 2017 School of Education Academic Excellence award in elementary education. Saunders, who ran cross country and track for four years at Gonzaga, will teach first grade at Rock Creek Elementary School in Maple Valley, Washington this fall. She hopes to eventually earn a master’s degree in education.

Saunders participated in the service-learning program Gonzaga Athletes Mentoring for Excellence, which pairs GU student-athletes with middle school youth to develop skills and relationships. In addition, she was a member of the Jesuit (Alpha Sigma Nu), mathematics (Pi Mu Epsilon) and education (Kappa Delta Pi) honors societies.

Saunders said she appreciated her Jesuit education and professors at Gonzaga, and would encourage incoming students to get involved and take advantage of the abundant opportunities on campus.

“Branch out and meet new people,” she said. “Work hard in your classes, don’t procrastinate, take advantage of office hours and the wonderful professors at GU, but have fun along the way.”

Ciera Min (Courtesy GU Athletics)

Ciera Min, a psychology major from Hilo, Hawaii, and golfer, was named Gonzaga’s Female Senior Athlete of the Year.

Min was the first in program history to be named All-WCC in all four seasons. She won the 2016 WCC championship and appeared in the NCAA Regionals twice. This season she had three top-five finishes and two runner-up finishes, and shot below par seven times, twice in the 60s.

Min is a three-time WCC All-Academic selection, two-time preseason All-WCC honoree, won a U.S. amateur qualifier, and was named WCC Golfer of the Month in April 2016.

Kaari Loukusa

Kaari Loukusa, who hails from Bellevue, Washington, received the 2017 School of Business Academic Excellence award from the School of Business Administration for her outstanding scholastic achievement and leadership.

Loukusa was deeply committed to her studies and remained on the President’s List every semester at Gonzaga. She received an internship through the School of Business this spring.

“I pushed myself to achieve as much as I could while at GU,” she said. “It all came down to good habits and dedication.”

She is moving back to the Seattle area to look for jobs and is excited for the future.

Shelby Wells

Shelby Wells, from Portland, Ore., was recognized by the Miracle Network Dance Marathon as one of 20 recipients of the 2017 Distinguished Leadership Award for helping to raise $76,592 for Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane through the Gonzaga University Dance Marathon in February. Wells, who founded the event, served in leadership positions the past three years.

A public relations major with a minor in promotions, Wells was inspired by the Miracle Network Dance Marathon after meeting Maddie, a girl born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia who is being treated at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.

Wells was among the group of students honored by Gonzaga this year with the Philanthropy Award and the Program of the Year. She has been involved in the campus and community as coordinator of Parent & Family Orientation; University Ambassador; Student Involvement and Leadership intern; and Parent & Family Relations marketing specialist.

After graduation, she hopes to work in some capacity with Children’s Miracle Network hospitals or with a university’s dance marathon.