In Her Father’s Memory

Julann Spromberg learned to love nature on her family farm, and learned to be a scientist at Western
Story by Frances Badgett

As a child, Julann Spromberg learned to love the outdoors at her dad John’s side, whether it was camping, horseback riding, fishing or just working together around their family farm.

“That was how I learned to treasure nature,” says Spromberg.

a teenager in a formal red dress and black gloves sits next to a man wearing a red and plaid flannel shirt
Julann and John Spromberg in 1986

But when Spromberg was in seventh grade, their time outdoors was relegated to car rides into the mountains. Her father was diagnosed with debilitating heart disease, on top of his diabetes. Soon he was put on disability and the breadwinner of her family died before Spromberg finished high school.

In the wake of his death, she helped her mother take care of their farm and worked a part-time job – all while maintaining perfect grades. She got herself into Western, but without scholarship support, college would have been out of reach.

The first in her family to attend college, she lived on campus and was able to afford Western because of scholarships from the Alumni Association, Residence Life and private donors.

The scholarships not only covered tuition but also freed up precious time to be involved in campus leadership: She helped turn Edens residence hall into a haunted house every Halloween and was a student representative on the Admissions Scholarship committee, determining which applicants were eligible to receive scholarship money.

With a heart for nature, Spromberg was drawn to the College of the Environment and majored in environmental science. But her real passion at Western was environmental toxicology. She found a mentor in Professor Wayne Landis, and they still keep in touch.

“He took us to meetings like the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry conference and introduced us to people in the field,” Spromberg says. “I still see some of them at conferences, and they are now my colleagues.”

After attaining her Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky, she joined the Ecotoxicology Program at NOAA in the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and moved home to the farm in Arlington. Her research on contaminant exposure in salmon informs policy improvements and provides research for best practices in stormwater management and conservation.  

Julann Spromberg, wearing bright yellow waterproof gear, smiles while holding several sample bottles
Julann Spromberg, '95, B.S., environmental toxicology, is a research fish biologist for NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

“I was so fortunate to have been at Western, to have known Wayne Landis. I benefitted from scholarship support, so I wanted to pay it forward.”

In 2010, she established the John D. Spromberg Opportunity Scholarship, named in honor of her father, to be awarded to a first-generation student in environmental science in the College of the Environment.

“I’m glad I have the opportunity to help students. I tout Western to prospective students and bring them to campus for personal tours. Western is a great place.”

two women on horseback smile for the camera
Julann Spromberg, right and her mother, Joy Rawlins, on horseback at their farm.

Today, Spromberg still lives on the family farm in Arlington with her mom Joy Rawlins who, at 80, continues to ride horses, make cider and do farm chores.

And she continues to honor her father’s memory in other ways.

“He showed me that you don't put things off that are important, because you never know if you will have time to do it later,” she says. “Those are hard lessons to follow in our scheduled world, but I try.”

John and Julann Spromberg on a wooded riverside, holding hiking sticks and smiling
John and Julann Spromberg in 1983.

Frances Badgett is is assistant director of Communications and Marketing for WWU Advancement.