Advisory Board

WSU alumni with extensive experience leading business and philanthropic endeavors provide insight on the impact and opportunities made possible by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Darren Alger

Unify Consulting

  • B.A., Political Science with a minor in history; Washington State University

Darren Alger is the president and CEO of Unify Consulting, a premier management-consulting firm headquartered in Seattle.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from WSU in 1993. Shortly thereafter, he joined Sanyo Energy as a sales and marketing specialist, where he played a key role in driving the growth of the company’s market share in Brazil. In 1998, he joined General Electric Information Services, managing accounts for high-tech and retail clients such as Microsoft, Tektronix, Nike, and Nordstrom. In this position Darren developed a love for data-driven decision-making. Merging his technological expertise and strong relationship-building skills, he joined Two Degrees Consulting to grow their current business which was at 35 consultants. He helped them rebrand to Slalom and rose to co-running Slalom’s P&L and running national business development, taking them to 2,000 employees. He then left to start his own firm. Today, Unify Consulting has more than 500 employees with offices in Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Sioux Falls, and Silicon Valley.

Outside of the office, Darren supports local non-profit organizations including the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Communities in School of Seattle, and Technology Access Fund. He serves on the board for WSU’s Data Analytics Program. He cherishes time with his family, skiing, reading, and is an avid golfer despite being constantly humbled by the sport.

Rhonda Crate

Sr. Data Scientist

  • B.A., Anthropology; Eastern Washington University
  • M.A., Anthropology; Washington State University
  • M.S., Statistics; Washington State University

Rhonda has been a part of The Boeing Company since 2014 and is currently working as a senior data scientist supporting the Analytics and Information Management Services within the Information Technology and Data Analytics organization. In addition to her MA in cultural anthropology and MS in statistics from WSU, she has earned professional certificates in statistical programming with R and big data technologies from the University of Washington, and is currently working on a master’s certificate in geospatial intelligence from Penn State University. Rhonda teaches R programming classes through Boeing’s Ed Wells program and is a relations focal for the WSU College of Arts and Sciences within Boeing. She is currently teaching a class for WSU Global Campus, Data 424, which helps students learn to combine skills they’ve gained from the data analytics program into creating a solution for an Industry based analytics project. Prior to her work at Boeing, she worked at a small marketing company doing work for companies such as Microsoft, GCI Telecom, Treehouse, and Seattle Central Co-Op.

Outside of work, Rhonda enjoys doing sewing craft projects, hiking, gardening, and organizing. She is married to fellow data scientist Andrey Zaikin, has an elementary school-age daughter named Elsie, and one fluffy Russian Siberian cat named Emma.

Jim Hanna

Director, Datacenter Community Development

  • B.S., Environmental Science; Washington State University

In mid-2016, Jim Hanna joined Microsoft as the company’s first director of datacenter sustainability, providing strategic environmental direction in the fields of land-use, green building, energy and water to the company’s growing cloud computing platform. Today, he leads the company’s focus on urban planning and community prosperity in its datacenter communities around the world.

Previously, Jim served ten years as global director of environmental impact for Starbucks, where he led the company’s overall sustainability function and contributed to enterprise-wide initiatives that supported green building, energy conservation, international procurement, recycling and waste reduction efforts, in addition to serving as Starbucks external voice and policy advocate for its sustainability vision and platform.

Prior to Starbucks, Jim served as director of environmental affairs for Xanterra Parks & Resorts at Yellowstone National Park. In the position, he oversaw Xanterra’s many progressive environmental initiatives in its operations as the primary concessionaire in the park, including an ISO 14001-certified Environmental Management System. Before escaping to Yellowstone, he worked as director of operations for Teris Environmental in Los Angeles, managing the company’s seven regional offices in North America.

A native of Olympia, Washington, Jim earned a BS in environmental sciences from Washington State University and is a U.S. Green Building Council LEED-accredited professional. He serves on the boards of the Washington Environmental Council and Yellowstone Park Foundation.

Christopher “CJ” Johnson

U.S. Space Force

  • B.A. in French, Honors College; Washington State University
  • M.S. in Security Studies; Naval Postgraduate School
  • M.S. in Strategic Intelligence; National Intelligence University
  • M.S. in National Resource Strategy; National Defense University

Colonel Select CJ Johnson is the director of innovation and technology outreach for the Cross-Mission Ground and Communications Enterprise within the U.S. Space Force at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California. His organization develops, acquires, and sustains terrestrial-based communication systems, information networks, and command and control software applications comprising the Space Enterprise of the Department of Defense. CJ leads a small team focused on searching for and evaluating emerging technologies from the American technology start-up community.

CJ earned his commission in the U.S. Air Force in 2002, following graduation from WSU. While CJ currently supports the U.S. Space Force, he is both an Air Force communications network and Africa Foreign Area officer. CJ has served at every level of the Air Force, to include serving as the Commanding Officer of the 919th Special Operations Communications Squadron at Duke Field, FL.

His staff-level experience includes U.S. Special Operations Command Central, Office of the Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs, Joint Staff Deputy Directorate for Africa, U.S. Africa Command, and U.S. Cyber Command.

He has been stationed overseas at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and the U.S. Embassy in Morocco. CJ’s overseas duty also includes Tunisia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, the Kyrgyz Republic, and operations supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.

Megan Nelson

Senior Manager and Chief of Staff for Research and Development

  • B.A., Sociology, Washington State University
  • M.S., Education, Western Oregon University

Megan earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Washington State University  in 2004.  While she was in Pullman she worked for the Student Advising and Learning Center as a student worker assisting with the Transfer Center. She was a transfer student and very passionate about transfer student success at WSU. Her first faculty role at WSU was with the Distance Degree Program as an Faculty Academic Advisor. She was in that role for one year before the Transfer Center asked her to return as their Coordinator. She returned and spent two years working as the Coordinator and a Faculty Academic Advisor.  Megan returned to school and earned her MS in Education from Western Oregon University.  She went on to work for Oregon State University as a Career Counselor in their Career Success Center until her family relocated to Nevada.  She went on to work for Touro College and the Nevada Community Enrichment program before returning to Washington in 2012.  Megan decided to take a sabbatical from education in 2013 and went to work for Microsoft for 3.5 years, Google for 5 years and now she is a Senior Manager serving as the Chief of Staff for their Research and Development team at Confluent. She planned to step away from education for one year and has been gone for almost 10 years thoroughly enjoying working in tech.

Outside of work, Megan is married to Ken (Coug Alum ‘05) and she has two daughters.  Megan was born and raised in Hawaii and spends as much time as she can in the ocean and home with her family.  Megan is passionate about personal and professional development and is currently working on her certificate in Professional Coaching. 

Tracy Ostrem

Ostrem Leadership Group, Founder and CEO

  • B.A., Finance; Washington State University
  • Grad Degree-Higher Ed; Harvard University Graduate School of ED

Tracy founded the Ostrem Leadership Group out of the realization that today more than ever, universities and non-profit organizations need strategic, responsive, bespoke approaches that unleash immediate and long-term fundraising success. A dedicated and passionate partner to academic and advancement leaders, Tracy and her team of industry-leading strategists create personalized approaches unique to each organization’s culture, fundraising aspirations and staff potential.

From her early days as a student caller through her experience leading major fundraising campaigns with a passion for excellence, Tracy is a celebrated and dedicated partner helping organizations harness the power of philanthropy to effect positive change in limitless ways. Following more than 30 rewarding years leading fundraising success from within leading institutions, Tracy founded the Ostrem Leadership Group with the desire to empower organizations to achieve fundraising success in a new era through expert counsel and innovative approaches.

At the University of Washington, Tracy led the College of Arts & Sciences through the comprehensive $6.3 billion “Be Boundless” campaign, more than doubling the College’s fundraising performance over the previous campaign. Prior to that, she led the UW’s top-ranked School of Nursing through the $2.7 billion “Creating Futures” campaign, which earned her national recognition for tripling the school’s fundraising performance.

Tracy previously led the fundraising enterprise at the Hope Heart Institute at Providence Seattle and Virginia Mason Medical Center after launching her career at her alma mater, Washington State University. She has held several volunteer leadership roles with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and is a highly regarded conference speaker.

Together with her team of industry-leading strategists, she provides a diverse array of sophisticated consulting services with a commitment to excellence through measurable fundraising results.

Keith Simanton, Chair

Managing Editor, IMDbPro, Senior Film Editor and Senior Content Editor, IMDb

  • B.A., English; Washington State University
  • M.A., English; University of Washington

Keith Simanton is the Managing Editor of IMDbPro, IMDb’s subscription site for professionals, which is part of IMDb, the world’s most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV, and celebrity content.

Keith is in the select group of “Experts” on, prognosticating who will win at the Oscars, Emmys, Spirits, guilds and other major awards. He’s quite proud that he’s been in the #1 spot for the Oscars and Spirits more than most. He is also a member of the Critics’ Choice Association and votes for the Critics’ Choice Awards each year, for both film and tv/streaming. Keith is a longtime commentator on movies and the arts, and his expert film commentary has appeared in notable outlets worldwide including Business Week, CNBC, Entertainment Weekly, TIME Magazine, The New York Times, National Public Radio, USA TODAY, and many others. Before the pandemic he travelled to the major film festivals each season including Sundance, Cannes, Venice, and Toronto and attended the three major Comic-Cons (San Diego, New York, and Seattle). He served on the board of the Seattle Film Festival from 2008 – 2020, and was elected Vice President twice.

His greatest accomplishment has been with IMDb, which, when he joined in August of 2000, had 3 million page views a month. During the time he was managing editor IMDb grew and now enjoys the patronage of more than 250 million unique users a month, with 150 million downloads of IMDb’s mobile apps worldwide.

In 2008 Keith also managed the acquisition of Box Office Mojo for IMDb, bringing the revered industry site into the IMDb family.

Dawn Smith

Consumer Support, Retired

  • B.S., Botany; Washington State University
  • Certificate; Computer Information Systems

After graduating from WSU, Dawn spent several months as a volunteer for the Student Conservation Association in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She had the opportunity to assist with trapping and relocating black bear and wild boar, setting up and checking gypsy moth traps to better understand infestation and spread, trail maintenance, and eradication and control of invasive plants, such as kudzu, mimosa, etc.

Dawn moved to Seattle in 1983 and worked as an office manager, data entry technician, and mainframe computer operator prior to being hired in 1993 at Microsoft, where she worked in consumer support services, filling several roles before retiring in 2017.

Patricia Sobczyk

MD, Retired
VA Puget Sound Health Care System

  • B.A., Mathematics; Washington State University
  • M.D., Medical College of Wisconsin
  • Medicine Residency, Indiana University Medical Center

Patricia grew up in Bremerton, WA, and graduated from East High School. She then attended WSU, graduating the year Mount St. Helens erupted (1980) with a BA in Mathematics. While at WSU she played JV basketball and lettered in Track and Field. She earned her medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in 1984. She did a residency in Internal Medicine at Indiana University Medical Center (IUMC) from 1984 to 1987. Upon completion of her residency, she worked a year for an HMO and then returned to IUMC as part of the clinical faculty. This involved working in various clinics, caring for nursing home patients, and working in the county ER. She also supervised residents and medical students when attending on the wards.

The last 20 years of her career were spent at various VA Hospitals across the country. Most recently, she worked at the American Lake division of the Puget Sound VA system retiring from there in 2016.

She has donated to WSU athletics, CAS, the alumni association, and the medical school. She has established several endowed scholarships. She is trying to make a difference by giving others the opportunity to go to college and/or medical school.

She enjoys sports, reading, and traveling. She previously was an avid cyclist having ridden the STP (Seattle To Portland) several times as well as the RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa). She currently swims and walks for exercise. She also volunteers at the Dupont library and helps adults learn English as a second language.