Ramirez, Lee, Peters, Crespi, Thepvongsa, and Hurt.Six CAS women were honored for their accomplishments, service, and commitment to student success at the 15th annual WSU Women of Distinction awards ceremonies this spring.

“It is amazing to see what all of these women accomplished over the past year, and we are truly in awe of their dedication to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Davi Kallman, Women of Distinction co-chair and Commission on the State of Women public relations officer.”

With a total of 11 awards across three campuses, the 2021 award recipients represent a range of colleges and academic and professional pursuits, but they all share a passion for making their communities better.

Pullman/Vancouver

The three CAS recipients honored with awards are:

Erica Crespi
Woman of the Year

Erica Crespi

As an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences (SBS), 2021 Woman of the Year Erica Crespi is committed to excellence in research and teaching, but it’s her “commitment to promoting the success of diverse students,” her nomination letter said, that makes her truly exceptional. She is a tireless advocate for under-represented groups in the sciences – particularly women. She mentors and advises female students, co-advises the Scientista group, serves on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, regularly speaks on panels about women in science, and recently secured a grant to support a maternal-child health collaborative that will bring together female researchers from across WSU.

In addition to her advocacy work, Crespi is an engaging teacher who received the Smith Teaching and Learning Award in 2017 and was inducted into the WSU Teaching Academy in 2020. She has had several projects funded by the National Science Foundation and recently received a $900K Murdock Trust grant to build an Aquatics Phenomics Research Center at WSU. “While there are many important women leaders at WSU,” her nomination letter read, “Erica is unique in that her leadership is changing the landscape of research at WSU for so many faculty while also innovating graduate and undergraduate training and education.”

Jeannette Hurt
Staff Woman of Distinction

Jeannette Hurt

Staff Woman of Distinction Jeannette Hurt is dedicated to serving her community. As the Community-Oriented Policing officer with WSU Vancouver Public Safety and Police Services, she promotes campus and public safety through regular positive interactions with the community. “In addition to performing her job as a campus police officer at an exemplary level, Jeannette demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to the campus community, public neighbors, and visitors,” her nomination letter said. Hurt regularly gives presentations to campus groups on Title IX, the Clery Act, and self-defense, and she is known around the Vancouver campus for encouraging students who are having a difficult day. Hurt earned a bachelor of arts in general studies in 1997, completed her master’s in public administration in 2003 while working as a WSU police officer, and is currently pursuing a certificate in emergency management. Her nominator said that over her 23 years of service to WSU, “Jeannette has made a positive and profound difference to the university by positively impacting clients, visitors, and staff with her thoughtful and upbeat interactions.”

Michelle Lee
Undergraduate Student Woman of Distinction

Michelle Lee

After COVID-19 caused many of Michelle Lee’s fellow pre-law classmates to lose summer internships and jobs last year, she contacted courthouses around the state to find them new opportunities. While searching for her own opportunity, Lee – this year’s Undergraduate Student Woman of Distinction – decided to found the Student Legal Research Association (SLRA), a registered student organization that conducts research for policy reform and advocacy. Through SLRA, Lee examined data from WSU’s police department in an effort to address racial disparity in arrests on the Pullman campus. The outcome of the research, her nomination letter said, was “profound” and highlighted “both the issue at hand and the adaptation of suggested policy change.” In addition to her work with SLRA, Lee is a senior peer mentor for pre-law students and an intern at the Pre-Law Resource Center, where she has identified ways law education can reach all students, regardless or income or location. “[She] has distinguished herself as a woman of exceptional courage, leadership, and service,” her nominator said.

“It is an honor to recognize the extraordinary work of women at WSU; it is especially important during a global pandemic that has had a disproportionate impact on women,” said Season Hoard, Women of Distinction co-chair and Commission on the Status of Women Institutional Climate Committee co-chair. “Our nominees and winners show that women continue to strive and thrive at WSU and within our communities, and it is humbling to be a part of the process in recognizing these important efforts.”

Read about all six WSU Pullman and Vancouver Women of Distinction recipients at WSU Insider.

Tri-Cities

The three CAS recipients honored with awards are:

Janet Peters
Woman of Distinction

Janet Peters

Janet Peters serves as a scholarly associate professor of psychology and director of instructional excellence and innovation at WSU Tri-Cities. She is continuously recognized for utilizing innovative and engaging teaching strategies in the classroom and often goes above and beyond to ensure her students’ success. She actively incorporates service learning into her classroom environment where students craft real-world solutions to regional issues in partnership with nonprofit organizations. In research, she focuses on student, employee and faculty engagement, innovative instruction and high-engagement pedagogy, student leadership development and student attitudes toward statistics. She also provides professional development in innovative teaching and classroom tools for her fellow WSU Tri-Cities faculty. In addition to the WSU Tri-Cities Women of Distinction award, Peters has been published and recognized as a WSU Outstanding Teaching Award Recipient, LIFT Faculty Fellow, AVID instructor and as a Center for Civic Engagement Faculty Fellow, to name a few.

Gabriela Ramirez
Woman of Distinction

Gabriela Ramirez

Gabriela Ramirez is a 2020 graduate of the psychology program at WSU Tri-Cities and currently serves as a Spanish teacher at Tri-Cities Prep Catholic High School. As a WSU Tri-Cities student, she was active in bringing her Latino culture to the forefront, serving through the MEChA and the Dreamers’ Club, which advocates for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students regionally. Through her role as a teacher, she continues to raise awareness about various cultures and communities. She brings innovative strategies into the virtual environment as part of her courses, using videos and other virtual experiences to connect the Spanish language to the real-world environment. She also learned from a young age that her greatest passion in life is dance. In 2017, Gabriela and a friend started their own dance organization, Ballet Folklórico ‘Cielo de México.’ Their mission is to keep Mexican traditions alive through dance and bring people from the community closer together. The group has since grown to 40 individuals.

Mikaela Thepvongsa
Woman of Distinction

Mikaela Thepvongsa

Mikaela Thepvongsa is currently pursuing a bachelor’s of science in nursing from WSU Tri-Cities after earning a bachelor’s in psychology in 2019 from WSU Pullman. In addition to taking on a rigorous course of study, she serves as president of Crimson Scrubs, the nursing student service organization, and with the Disabled Students and Allies Club of WSU Tri-Cities, where she is the liaison officer to the WSU system from WSU Tri-Cities. Additionally, Thepvongsa serves as a WWAMI Area Health Education Center scholar. In this role, she works in an interprofessional capacity to assist with health literacy and language and engages in additional classes and volunteer work. As a deaf student, Mikaela uses her own experiences to continually advocate for individuals with disabilities. Additionally, she has served at hospitals, Safe Harbor’s My Friend’s Place, food banks and churches. In 2019, she participated in a service trip to Mexico with Loma Linda University graduates to help at a dental clinic in poverty-stricken areas.

Read about all five WSU Tri-Cities honorees.

Top image: Left to right, (top row) Gabriela Ramirez, Michelle Lee, Janet Peters, (bottom row) Erica Crespi, Mikaela Thepvongsa, and Jeannette Hurt.