WSUV’s first four-year class receives degrees

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer

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Other honors

In addition to the diplomas conferred at Saturday’s graduation, four people who have served the Washington State University Vancouver campus or excelled there were singled out for honors:

Bill Fromhold: Chancellor’s Award for Service to WSU Vancouver for “outstanding service, demonstrated leadership and the giving of time, talent and resources toward advancing the university’s mission.” As a state legislator from 2001 to 2008, Fromhold sponsored legislation to create the Science and Engineering Institute and authorize the Vancouver campus to award undergraduate engineering degrees. He also helped win funding for an undergraduate classroom building, completed in 2009, and the engineering and computer science building currently under construction.

Mary Krzysiak: Chancellor’s Award for Student Achievement. Krzysiak, the mother of two young children and the wife of a Navy reservist, enrolled as a transfer student in Fall 2007. An education major and a member of the President’s Honor Roll, she graduated with a 3.92 GPA and was named the Department of Human Development’s 2010 outstanding senior.

WenZhan Song: Chancellor’s Award for Research Excellence. Song, an assistant professor of computer science, brought together a multidisciplinary team of researchers to develop a system for remotely monitoring geological activity at Mount St. Helens. With $2 million in research funding, he has been key in developing a wireless “sensor network” that blankets the mountain, monitoring seismic activity and interacting with a NASA satellite.

Pavithra Narayanan: Students’ Award for Teaching Excellence. Narayanan, an assistant professor of English, a literary scholar and an award-winning documentary filmmaker, won this award from students for being “progressive, insightful, thought-provoking, funny and engaged.” One nominator said, “Dr. Narayanan goes beyond just teaching students basic facts; she teaches her students to think and to search for the real answers.”

When Nicole Mousleh crossed the stage Saturday to receive her bachelor’s degree in finance, she became part of a history-making class at Washington State University Vancouver: the first to complete all four undergraduate years at the Salmon Creek campus.

Mousleh, vice president of the Associated Students of WSU Vancouver, knew even as a student at Prairie High what she wanted to study in college — business — and where she wanted to study it — at her hometown university.

Her timing was impeccable: The Vancouver campus began admitting freshmen and offering lower-division classes in Fall 2006. Before that, only upper-division and graduate courses were offered at the branch campus, which opened in 1989.

“I applied to Portland State University, but ultimately WSUV felt like the best fit,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to leave Vancouver.”

If she’d had to take her lower-division courses at a community college, she would have made a different choice, she said.

“I wanted a university experience. I wanted to put my feet down and stay somewhere for four years.”

Mousleh is the first in her family to graduate from college. Her father is Palestinian; her mother, born in Brazil, is of Russian ancestry. They value education so highly that they have saved to allow their three daughters to graduate from college debt-free.

Mousleh is also fortunate in that she has landed a job as a personal banker for Chase Bank. She’ll begin her new job after she obtains state and federal licenses.

How has the presence of freshmen and sophomores changed campus culture? That’s easy, Mousleh said. “They come from high schools where they were involved in activities,” and they want to stay involved. “We have over 35 clubs now, as well as a radio station.”

The addition of lower-division programs has opened a wider array of choices for students, said WSU Vancouver Chancellor Hal Dengerink.

“The neat thing about this is the options that students here in Southwest Washington have,” he said. “You can go to Clark College for two years and transfer here. Students can do a co-admission, which means all the courses they take (at Clark) count toward graduation here. Students can go to Clark College on our campus; Clark offers several different classes here. Students can take general education courses here, just as they would downtown, and stay here for their junior and senior years.

“The other option is for students to start with us as freshmen and stay here four years and get their degrees. We have set up as many options as we possibly can.”

On Saturday, the Sleep Country Amphitheater was a sea of proud family members as 768 students, including 124 master’s candidates and a single candidate for a doctoral degree, took part in a traditional commencement ceremony. In the program, Cougar icons marked the names of the 34 graduates who are members of the 2006 freshman class.

Scott Carson, a member of the WSU Board of Regents and a retired Boeing executive, kept his keynote speech brief, noting that he, like many of the graduates, was a “nontraditional student.” Carson returned to college, at the main WSU campus in Pullman, after community college, four years in the Air Force and a stint with the aerospace manufacturer that ended in a layoff.

He offered 10 succinct pieces of advice, starting with this:

“Seek opportunities to improve yourself. Today is not the end of your education. Today is the end of the beginning of a lifetime of learning. Seize every opportunity, big or small.”