2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards

Alumni and others who are making a difference at Western and the world

Vini Elizabeth Samuel

Distinguished Alumna, College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Samuel (’94, English, history) realized that when she decided to run for mayor of Montesano, “I wanted to preserve the nature of my town and that I was the person at this moment to do it.” She won by a landslide and is the first female Indian American mayor in the U.S. She continues to practice law while serving as mayor.

Samuel maintains her connection to Western. She met her husband, Guy Bergstrom (’94, journalism), at Western, and she served on the Alumni Board. “Some of my best friends ever are from those four years I spent at Western.” She supports Western’s liberal arts focus. “Western students and alumni are special because they constantly strive (and thrive) to be active and engaged in their community.”

Debora Juarez

Distinguished Alumna, Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies

Juarez (’83, Fairhaven interdisciplinary concentration) has dedicated her career to legal advocacy and economic development. She is an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation and the first person in her family to go to college. She spent five years as a public defender, worked as staff attorney for the Native American Project at Evergreen Legal Services, and served as a King County Superior Court Judge. She was elected in 2015 to represent District 5 on Seattle’s City Council, making her the first Native American Councilmember in the city’s 150-year history.

On the council, Juarez has advocated for capital projects and bike-pedestrian connections. She has worked with stakeholders like Northgate Mall and North Seattle College to make better transit connections. She walks the neighborhoods, knocking on doors and reaching out to her neighbors to find out what issues are of greatest concern to them. Whether working to divest the city of Seattle from Wells Fargo or advocating for strong neighborhood representation, Juarez works hard with her community in mind.

Jesse Dean Moore

Young Alumnus of the Year

Moore (’05) majored in political science at Western, launching a successful career in politics, from the White House to owning a consulting firm, Common Thread Strategies. “It became clear that everything I cared most about was dependent on functional, creative, and, at times, bold policy decisions made by the people we elect and appoint to lead us.”

Moore was the Associate Director of Public Engagement and a speechwriter for the Obama White House. Recently, he was VP of Civic Engagement for Rock the Vote and is now communications lead at Pop Culture Collaborative, a project that aims to leverage popular culture to elevate the narratives of people of color, Muslims and refugees in the media.

Scot Studebaker

Larry “Go Vikings!” Taylor Alumni Service Award

“That’s done. What can we do next?” said Studebaker (’90, accounting) about his latest fundraising effort for Western. Though he was talking about fundraising, one gets the idea that this is his general philosophical approach. Having started at EY 25 years ago, he has not stopped seeking new horizons.

“I believe we all have a responsibility to give back,” Studebaker says. “Not just to give back, but to do so on a larger scale.” EY has been part of Western’s legacy of success in the financial world through their partnerships with the College of Business and Economics.

Studebaker is more than just a global financial whiz kid at the EY firm in Seattle, he has served as an adviser to Western’s College of Business and Economics since 2001. What’s more, Studebaker— along with partners at EY—donated generously to the CBE to establish the EY Global Mindset Immersion Program, an internationally- focused immersive summer program.

Todd J. Lindley

Distinguished Alumnus, College of Business and Economics

​Lindley (’83, business administration) was the first in his family to earn a college degree. Two years after graduation he and his wife opened Lindley Financial Services. In 2016, Lindley Financial Services merged with Pillar Financial Group in Lacey. For more than a decade, Todd has supported the WWU Alumni Association Scholarship Fund, served on the Alumni Association board, and endowed a scholarship.

Marc A. Seales

Distinguished Alumnus, College of Fine and Performing Arts

A 1978 music graduate, pianist Seales’ great passion is jazz. He has composed, performed, and won awards all over the world. He was Western’s first prominent black jazz student, and now he is the longest-serving faculty member in the Jazz Studies department. He has served continuously since the department was established in 1990.

Jeffrey Stuart Wiggins

Distinguished Alumnus, College of Science and Engineering

Wiggins (’88, industrial technology) directs the School of Polymers at the University of Southern Mississippi, but his connection to Western is so strong he regularly recruits Western grads to his programs—and one of his former Ph.D. students, John Misasi, is now an assistant professor of engineering and design at Western.

Betty Jean Cobbs

Distinguished Alumna, Woodring College of Education

​Cobbs’ (’73, elementary education; ’76, education administration; ’77, principal’s certificate) 44 years in public education includes 35 years as a principal, currently at Woodside Elementary in Everett. She has received numerous distinctions and awards for her leadership in education and received a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership from University of Washington, Seattle in 2008.

Gerald E. “Gerry” Henson

Community Volunteer Recognition Award

It’s no secret that rugby is a prominent club at WWU and Henson (‘73, business administration) is one reason why. The retired director of IT and corporate services for Puget Sound Freight Lines, Henson is a former player who loves the game, loves WWU, and supports the team by organizing golf tournaments and auctions to raise funds, producing the club newsletter and more.

Linda P. Beckman

Campus Volunteer Recognition Award

Beckman not only graduated from Western with an MBA in 1991, she serves as the division director of budget & administration for Enrollment and Student Services. She volunteers on several campus committees for the Western Foundation and the Alumni Association.

James L. Hildebrand

Campus School Recognition Award

​Hildebrand got a great start at the Campus School for his career in international law and banking. He started the Campus School in third grade and graduated in 1956. The progressive education, based on John Dewey’s pedagogy, has been a life-long influence on Hildebrand, he says.


The Hoffman-McLeod Family

Legacy Family of the Year Award

With a whopping 23 family members attending Western from 1923-2016, the McLeod Family is practically a Western institution. From the early days of the Campus School, to the founding of Fairhaven College with the help of Professor Don McLeod and into the future of Western, the McLeods have been with WWU every step of the way.