February 09, 2018

Math Major Elly Zykan's Commitment to Service

For some it's a lucky pair of shoes or a certain ball to help them bowl a good game. For 79-year-old Illa-Mae, a large Mountain Dew is all it takes, and her Gonzaga partner Elly Zykan learned not to question her routine.

They arrived at the Regional Special Olympics tournament to find a longer than normal line for  concessions. Elly wasn't sure if they would have time to get through the line before they needed to be ready for their first frame, but Illa-Mae insisted they wait. Making it through the line and to their place just in time, Illa-Mae proceeded to throw three strikes in a row, winning her a bronze medal in their bracket. "I don't know if it was the caffeine from the Mountain Dew or Illa-Mae's pure energy that afternoon," says Elly, "but now whenever I see a Mountain Dew, I smile and think of Illa-Mae's good luck charm."

Memories like these provide their own rewards for people like Elly Zykan. Elly is a senior Mathematics major also pursuing a secondary teaching certification, but with her extensive service resume, it's almost hard to believe she spends time in class at all. Even before attending her first class as a freshman, Elly began her service work at pre-orientation with Reality Camp, where students learned about social justice issues that impact the people of Spokane and ways organizations support marginalized populations. As a senior, Elly paid her freshman experience forward, serving as a core team leader who co-planned the program.

Outside of Reality Camp and Gonzaga University Specialized Recreation (GUSR), Elly has also volunteered with Walking School Bus, traveled to Zambia for a study abroad program, and participated in the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice. Walking School Bus is a program that connects Gonzaga students with students at Holmes and Logan Elementary Schools. GU students meet the younger students at designated stops and walk with them to school, providing companionship and a safe walk.

But it was through participation in the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice that Elly learned about the significance of speaking up for what she believes. The group traveled to Washington, D.C., to gather with other Jesuit High Schools and Universities at a social justice conference and meet with elected officials to advocate for support on issues such as mass incarceration and immigration.

Elly will graduate having given so much back to others in our community and learning about the world beyond the classroom, and she says she won't stop after college. "My time spent in GUSR, Reality Camp, the Walking School Bus, and at IFTJ have shaped me into the person I am today and helped me to define my values," she says. "As I move into the realm of education as a teacher next year, I hope to carry these experiences with me in my pursuit of educational equity and inclusion."

by Dalton Burnett ('18)