Outstanding Grads give advice to the next generation of Vikings

We asked the Outstanding Graduates of 2017, selected by their departments for excellence in academics, scholarship and service, for advice they would give to incoming students.

Click here to read about all of this year's Outstanding Graduates.

Myann Refai
Manufacturing Engineering

From: Redmond

At Western: Teaching assistant and research assistant in engineering. President of Western’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. Interned with Boeing and Alcoa Intalco Works.

Advice: Get involved! If you are not getting involved, you're not doing it right. Find something, a club, a sport, anything on campus that motivates you. Find something that you can be truly passionate about. That drive will help you in ways you wouldn't even realize, such as interviewing.

After graduation: Working as a process engineer with General Motors in Detroit.

Tristan Olson
Honors Program

From: Olympia

At Western: Wrote, directed and co-produced a feature-length film for his senior project. A student ambassador for the Western Foundation. Editor-in-chief of Jeopardy Magazine. Executive producer for “The Mix,” music show on KVIK-TV.

Advice: Speak to your professors and build relationships with them, they want to help you succeed more than you know! Join clubs, go to events and speakers, volunteer, work on campus, live in the residence halls, create projects with people you might not know that well, step outside your comfort zone, try things more than once, and reach out to others. I have made some terrible projects during my time here, been in some awkward situations, and seen that it would be easier to quit and not worry about being involved, but I've also made some projects and been a part of teams that I am truly proud to talk about. Through all of these projects and events I've met some people who I've made real connections with and know will continue to be lifelong friends. Every person in your life starts out as a stranger and there is no better time and place than now to connect with like-minded individuals who want to see each other succeed!

After graduation: Heading to Malaysia in 2018 to teach English on a Fulbright Fellowship.

Haley Douglas
Finance and Marketing

From: Highland, Utah

At Western: Named Marketing Student of the Year by the Puget Sound chapter of the American Marketing Association. Served as president of Western’s Student Marketing Association. Launched a student-run marketing agency.

Advice: Take risks, be genuine and personable, and ask good questions. It is always easier to do what is comfortable, but this will not allow you to reach your maximum potential. If you find something that interests you, go for it! If there is no challenge in your life, it will be very difficult to progress. Once I grasped that professors are here to help me achieve my goals, it made it so much easier for me to approach them for advice and guidance. Your professors are humans just like you, and understanding that helped me personally feel more comfortable connecting with them. Another great way to get to know your professors is to ask good questions in class. This not only helped me connect concepts more easily, but it also helped my professors get to know me better. Just be yourself, don't be afraid to ask for help and take the leap of faith to do what you are passionate about and the rest will fall into place.

After graduation: Plans to apply her creative skills to a job in marketing, and to someday own her own agency.

Ben Larson
Political Science

From: Seattle

At Western: Co-founded the Bellingham Tenants Union and served as a board member for the York Neighborhood Association. Studied agriculture and water management in Whatcom County and Ladakh, India.

Advice: After graduation: Go to class. Be of service. READ. Listen. Listen to those you disagree with. Play devil’s advocate. Talk to professors. Be kind to everyone. (EVERYONE!) Wrestle with ideas. Learn things yourself. Question your privilege. Actually cook things. Call your parent(s). Learn to dance (swing, salsa, twerk, Zumba, doesn’t matter.) Take a sailing class with your friend or partner. Study abroad with the Institute for Village Studies. Give a damn. Get involved with something, anything. Make as many friends as you can during your first year and on the first day of every class. Be interested. Chill out. And, for the love of God, don’t listen to me and do your own thing!

After graduation: A summer internship with King County on local agriculture issues.

Alicia Duncombe

From: Las Vegas

At Western:Completed minors in sociology and Spanish. Worked in Residence Life. Volunteered with AFS Intercultural Programs.

Advice:Plan ahead, but keep your eyes open to new opportunities. I accomplished a lot in my four years at Western, and I attribute those accomplishments to my ability to do just that. I developed a detailed four-year plan at the beginning of my college career, but I made sure to adapt that plan every quarter to accommodate for growth and changing interests. Before college, I never considered programming as something that I would be good at or enjoy as much as I do. After I took my first computer science class during my sophomore year, I was able to incorporate an additional two quarters’ worth of classes into my plan and still graduate on time. Having a plan helped me focus my time, but paying attention to opportunities is what made that time meaningful.

After graduation: Working toward a doctoral degree in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

Jeffrey J. Guptil

From: Stanwood

At Western:Served as a teaching assistant in linguistics courses. Won a WWU Library Undergraduate Research Award. Speaker at the International Symposium on Typological Regularity.

Advice: Join study groups, bake cookies, have lunch and connect with peers. Join clubs! Join group chats--they inspire, support, and help everyone vent. Go to office hours when you don't need help as much as when you do: Get advice now, you'll be done too soon!

After graduation: In graduate school at Hofstra University in New York studying forensic linguistics.

Amelia Jones

From: Edmonds

At Western: Served as a therapeutic recreation intern at the Mount Baker Care Center and volunteered with an adaptive aquatics program to provide swimming experiences to people with disabilities.

Advice:Jump in! Find some people you can be real with and build community. Invest in this temporary college season as if you were going to stay forever (and sometimes it may feel that way!). There is no better way to feel at home than to put down some roots and invest in the lives of those around you. Find places to volunteer, join campus clubs, get familiar with Bellingham. It has so much to offer.

After graduation: Going to graduate school in occupational therapy at the University of Puget Sound.

Huy Nguyen
Physics and Astronomy

From: Seattle

At Western: Research assistant for three projects. Presented his research at the American Physical Society. Math tutor. Physics teaching assistant. President of Western’s Association of Mathematics.

Advice: Try to form a group of students who share common interests as early as possible. As the courses become tough, it’s important to have a good foundation of support to fall back on. Also, the faculty here at Western want to see you succeed, so it’s incredibly beneficial for you to get to know them well.

After graduation: In graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. in physics at the University of Michigan.

Jeffrey Katen

From: Livermore, California

At Western: Captained a winning codebreaking team. Attended a summer research program at the Fields Institute at the University of Toronto. Helped organize the WWU Great Puzzle Hunt. Earned Western’s highest score since 2002 on the William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. Tutored in the Math Center.

Advice: If you don't know what to study or can't find something you love, be patient. If you work hard enough, you'll find yourself getting attached to a subject soon. Beauty can go unnoticed for longer than one might think.

After graduation: Graduate school in Western’s accelerated master’s program in mathematics, then on to a doctoral program.

Riley Jessett
Liberal Studies

From: Spokane

At Western: Student commencement speaker. Helped fellow students in the Academic Advising Center and the Hacherl Research & Writing Studio. Presented his research at two conferences.

Advice: Say yes to everything!

After graduation: Working as a kindergarten teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with Teach for America.

Hope Midgley
Special Education

From: Bellingham

At Western: Volunteered with Rebound of Whatcom County’s Roots program. Interned at Cordata Elementary School in Bellingham. Active with Campus Christian Fellowship.

Advice: Put hard work and effort into every class you take and appreciate the opportunity to learn at such an outstanding university. However, remember to explore other parts of what Western has to offer and get to know the people around you. Western is full of fantastic programs, clubs, events, and opportunities! I have formed some of the strongest friendships at university than I have ever built before. So whether it’s your classmates, your roommates, people you see on the bus, or people you meet through clubs, take the time to meet with those around you and develop community friendships.

After graduation: Working at Rebound of Whatcom County’s Ray of Hope summer camp, then as a teacher at Bellingham Christian School.

Steve Brazel
Communication Sciences and Disorders

From: Olympia

At Western: Served as a communication partner for a person with global aphasia. Traveled to Guatemala with a WWU faculty member and a speech language pathologist on a four-week service trip.

Advice: Don't worry about the grades, but enjoy the learning process. True learning changes the way you think, feel, and act. When you fully appreciate the doors that knowledge opens, the grades will follow. You will be amazed at how much you will grow if you adopt that mindset.

After graduation: Joining the first cohort of Western’s new doctoral program in clinical audiology.

Andy Brown
Computer Science

From: Bellingham

At Western: President of the WWU Game Design Club. Research assistant for computer science faculty. Mentored fellow computer science students.

Advice: Take the time to help out other students in your field of study. It’s easy to forget the basics if you never use them. Helping others is a great way to not only help them succeed, but help cement that material in your memory. And join a club! In clubs, you can make amazing friends from other fields of study that you normally wouldn’t meet. The leadership experience from officer positions is also a great opportunity. Don’t be afraid to start a club if you notice a niche that is missing.

After graduation: Working on a master’s degree at Western in Computer Science.