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Washington State University

M&S Ed student wins travel scholarship

By C. Brandon Chapman – College of Education
January 11, 2022

Doctoral student Johana Thomas Zapata has received a travel scholarship to the annual Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) conference.

The conference will be held Feb. 10-12 in Henderson, Nevada and Thomas Zapata, who is in the college’s Mathematics and Science Education program, is one of only four across the world to receive the Susan Gay Graduate Student Conference Travel Scholarship.

The scholarship covers the cost of graduate student early registration and provides addition money to offset the cost of attending the conference. Thomas Zapata said she’s excited to attend and to continue being part of the organization.

“Being part of the AMTE community allows me to share with peers my interest in mathematics educations and expands the spectrum of my access to materials and expert in the field,” she said.

In the application, Thomas Zapata had to talk about her background, her future goals as a mathematics teacher educator, and her progress within the doctoral program. In another paragraph, she expressed her teaching and research interests and the current direction of her work.

Thomas Zapata said WSU and the College of Education has helped that work.

“WSU has helped me learn more about the theories in teaching and learning and think of ideas to improve mathematics education equitably,” she said. “The courses I have taken in the last two years encompass different perspectives that encourage to look at mathematics as an inclusive subject that students should be eager to learn.

Professor Amy Roth McDuffie said  she cannot think of anyone more deserving of the scholarship than Zapata.

“I was delighted, but not at all surprised,” she said. “Johana embodies many of the goals of AMTE including focusing on educational research that informs practice, aiming to improve the way we prepare and support teachers, and emphasizing the importance and value of equity and diversity in teaching and learning.

Roth McDuffie said Thomas Zapata’s experience teaching in her home country of Honduras and graduate studies in Ireland and the U.S. support her multi-cultural and multi-lingual perspectives.

“Johana’s experiences and perspectives have enriched our college, and I’m sure that AMTE attendees will appreciate her views and participation, as well,” Roth McDuffie said.”

The scholarship is named after Susan Gay in honor of her extraordinary service to AMTE over many years as conference director, president, secretary, and board member-at-large.


COE Ph.D. student nationally recognized for science video

Melissa Pearcy is a winner.

And even if the video she recently submitted to a national competition didn’t actually win, she’d still be a winner, just for the truths about STEM education that she believes in and her desire to share those with others.

But she did win an award so perhaps she could be called a double-winner.

Each year, The Science Coalition (TSC), which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group of more than 50 research universities, hosts a video challenge for students like Melissa to tell their stories and help spread the word about why science matters.

As the TSC says: “The power of a great story can change the world.”

We agree.

Melissa’s video won Honorable Mention.

Read Full WSU Insider story

Ph.D. student wins WSECU award

By C. Brandon Chapman

Jose Riera says WSECU is like family, so it only makes sense that the credit union wants to help one of its favorite sons.

Riera is a doctoral student in Washington State University’s College of Education and is part of a small handful of individuals who have won WSECU scholarships in the amount of $3,000.Jose Riera smiling at camera while in front of some trees with their fall leaves.

“WSECU has played an essential part of my life since I moved to Pullman,” Riera said. “They provided me with my first and only banking relationship in Washington and their staff at the WSU campus branch has always treated me like family.”

And, just like a big family reunion, where everybody knows one another, Riera said this award has a little extra significance due to its proximity.

“It is not often that a scholarship recipient gets to meet their donors in person, so getting this recognition from a community-based organization where I know my donors personally is particularly meaningful.”

Timely help; overarching benefits

Riera is studying Language, Literacy and Technology. While worth it, education can cost a lot. Riera said he’s grateful for his graduate assistantship but also appreciative of this award which helped him complete his summer research under the guidance of professors Sola Adesope and Joy Egbert.

“This scholarship provided very timely financial assistance for my summer schooling and living expenses, as my graduate assistantship does not cover the summer months,” Riera said. “Thanks to this financial peace of mind, I was able to dedicate myself fully, furthering my research studies.”

These studies include effective ways of enhancing language instruction for immigrant learners, and individuals with verbal impairments.

Always one to share the spotlight and give credit where it’s due, Riera is excited as what this research can potentially mean for WSU, in general, and the College of Education specifically.

“While I am grateful for the honor, the WSECU award truly belongs to the College of Education, as the college provided me with the opportunities and support that made it possible,” Riera said. “As a proud College of Education student, I trust that this award will generate attention to our program’s instructional excellence, so that WSECU and other caring institutions may help other students to benefit from the college’s superb program, just like I have.”


Jose expresses gratitude…
I would like to express how grateful I am for the blessings I have received, particularly during these challenging times when the lives of so many millions of people have been devastated by the effects of the COVID-19 crisis and racism. I am grateful for WSECU and for the support and recognition that they provided me. I am grateful for the unwavering support that I receive from my advisors Yuliya Ardasheva, Tom Salsbury, and Don McMahon, and for the opportunities that Sola Adesope and Joy Egbert have granted me. I am grateful for those who wrote letters of support for this award (Ardasheva and Dr. Carmen Lugo-Lugo at the School of Languages, Cultures, and Race, and Ms. Davi Kallman from the Access Center). I am grateful for the support that I receive from the COE, the Access Center, and the entire Pullman community. And most importantly, I am grateful for having been blessed with my beautiful daughters Natalia & Marilyn, for whose love and respect I strive every moment of my life.

Our recommitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice

Dear WSU College of Education community,

I am deeply saddened by the killing of Mr. George Floyd, a Black American, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. We have witnessed several killings of Black and Brown people in America in recent years, and tragically, in recent months. The video and sound of Mr. Floyd’s killing is shocking. I grieve for his family, the Minneapolis community, and our country. It’s clear to me that while this country has made progress with respect to civil rights, when it comes to race, we continue to fail. We have much work to do.

I very much appreciate President Kirk Schulz acknowledging this tragedy, and brutal racism, at the start of Friday’s COVID-19 Town Hall meeting. He promised that the WSU community would continue to work toward a safer and more inclusive environment. Indeed.

In my lifetime, I have witnessed this nation struggle through many protests and uprisings across the country. From the Vietnam War protests to the cause for civil rights. Many of these protest demonstrations (though not all) boiled over into violence and the destruction of property, as we’ve seen the last couple of days in cities across the country.

The TV images illustrate many of the emotions being felt in the U.S., spanning from sadness, fear, and enormous frustration, to sheer anger. It is palpable. And while I don’t condone the violent behavior in some of these protests, I certainly understand it. To be accurate, some of the violence and property destruction is likely to be fueled by fringe groups with alternate agendas. Most importantly, we must not let these fringe actions distract us from the central issue of racism. This isn’t a political issue. It is a moral issue. No person should fear being chased while jogging and eventually gunned down, simply because of the color of their skin, as Ahmaud Arbery was recently. No one should fear having their door knocked in, and shot and killed in their own home, as happened to Breonna Taylor just weeks ago. No one should fear police brutality and the threat of being killed, simply based on the color of their skin. Yet, sadly, it’s clear in our communities this fear is far too real and the stakes are high.

My first reaction when learning of this most recent tragedy was thinking: I must do something. That was followed by: What can I possibly do? I am just a college dean and this is a national issue that has been here for centuries. Racism unfortunately, is deeply embedded in the historic fabric of our U.S. culture.  We have outstanding scholar activists in the College of Education who understand that they are privileged members of the academy that have a duty to serve those in racialized communities. The conversations we have with them help us increase the value we put on diversity, inclusion, and social justice. My thought came to this: We all can – and must – do something to address racism.

In the days and weeks to come, know that the college Leadership Team will discuss this issue and work toward a path forward for the college. We will be consulting others in the college as things unfold.

This college has done great work with respect to the principles of diversity, inclusion, and social justice, but that work is far from complete and its importance is more obvious now than it has ever been. Thus, I am re-committing the college to the central principles of diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

This is our moral imperative.

Mike Trevisan
Dean, College of Education


UPDATE (12/09/2020): The College of Education has formed a new Equity and Inclusion Committee. The committee’s new website is under construction but contains some good information already.

Creativity combats COVID

MIT Students at WSU Vancouver get creative with digital lesson plans in response in COVID-19

By: Hannah Schneider – College of Education

Recently graduated students in the Master in Teaching (MIT) program at the WSU Vancouver campus didn’t leave before making their mark with some new coronavirus-induced program changes. And they got creative doing it.

The program focuses on connecting MIT students with soon to be high school students in the Camas School District. Their work this year was focused on eco-justice by having fifth-grade students work on collective garden projects. However, when the COVID-19 outbreak occurred things took a digital shift.

The MIT students were determined to adapt their projects. They wanted to create problem-based projects relating to the ongoing crisis. The MIT students work in small groups to develop new one-week lessons for the middle school students.

Robert Mattson leads students in a planning session. He's standing in front of a white board with a lot of writing.
Robert Mattson leads students in a planning session.

Their lessons include having their students develop PPE gear (personal protective equipment), design a fitness school, and develop a resource bank of examples of empathy and reflection during the crisis. During the fourth-week capstone lesson, the students go back and research their own work and find examples of where they found hope. The fourth lesson especially builds on a goal of project-based learning as an opportunity to understand and engage in self-directed leaning.

For the MIT students, they originally were to learn and examine “regular” project-based learning in the school with students working hands on with them. However, they now are examining online project-based learning and the importance of learning in that context.

On the last day of the semester, both groups of students shared their learning portfolios together on an online platform. Examining their strengths and weaknesses of their own self-regulated learning strategies the MIT students collectively highlighted their own growth as new teachers.

Finally, Richard Sawyer, the chair of the MIT Program, has been conducting formal research on the overall partnership. He is focusing on the different meanings of project-based learning, and now online project-based learning, to teaching interns.

“These MIT students not only adapted their initial engagement and work in the school, but, remarkably, began to observe and study the change in teaching environment from actual to virtual as a complex, real-world laboratory of practice,” Sawyer said.


Alumna recognized as finalist for prestigious award

By: Hannah Schneider – College of Education

College of Education alumni Kathy Garneau has been announced as a finalist for the 2020 Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in the state of Illinois.

Garneau started like so many WSU Elementary Education students. She was a freshman in the class of 1990 and knew right from the start she was going to be an elementary school teacher. She graduated as an Elementary Education major with an emphasis in reading. But it didn’t take long before her calling and national recognition would come from work in the STEM field.

When she graduated from WSU, she found her way to Chicago, where she now has been for the past 20 years. She joined the Bannockburn School District in 2003. She said the community there has embraced all 165 students that are taught in the district. This small school district gave Garneau the opportunity to wear many different hats. She is the STEM specialist where she teaches students from kindergarten through 8th grade. She also is an instructional coach and is one of the technology coaches that teaches teachers how to use technology in the classroom. On top of that she is also the librarian.

What made Garneau stand out among so many other teachers was her unique approach to her curriculum development. She said part of that started when she took part in a small webinar that opened her eyes to the concept of teaching students empathy. This inspiration was the first snowflake in the snowball of her success.

She wanted the idea of empathy to be woven into everything she was having her students do. She knew that creating this mindset in young students would have positive long term effects.

“Given that the students I teach, for the most part, have the resources and support from their parents to go to college, I find it even more important to teach them that what they are learning can have an impact on the world in a positive way,” she said.

Things began to snowball when she was creating a 3D printing focused curriculum. She asked herself: how can 3D printing small things teach empathy? How can she go further than just teaching them the skill but also teach them to apply it in a way that betters their community?

She started with teaching her third- and fourth-grade students how to 3D print pieces to fix broken toys. Once they mastered that, she moved them on to Beanie Babies. She taught them how to 3D print braces for all different types of stuffed animals to put over their beaks, legs, and feet.

However, the highlight for Garneau, was when the students finished their projects. She connected her students with engineers who do this as a profession via facetime. The students asked if they could give them their projects to them so they could be given out to the kids who need them.

“It was such a beautiful moment as a teacher. It was deep learning that was connected to their community,” Garneau said. “It is one of those moments where the students understood that STEM is not about them and how it’s about ways, they can improve the world. That is a huge message to give to an 8 year old. And I hope it is something that sticks with them throughout their life.”

When word spread about her work, she was nominated by her principal Adam Mihelbergel for the Golden Apple Award. She soon was asked by the Golden Apple Organization to submit a series of essays. The process continued when they came to observe her teaching, and interviewed parents, students, and other faculty. She then got the call that she was a finalist. Which meant that out of 730 teachers who applied in the state of Illinois, she was recognized as part of the top 30.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this award ceremony, which announces the 10 winners, has been postponed.  However, that hasn’t damped Garneau’s attitude.

“I am so honored to make the top 30. Being in my position as a STEM specialist in the school district, people don’t always recognize what you are doing,” Garneau said. “To have my principal acknowledge me just through the nomination was amazing and it was so humbling. But then to have the Gold Apple Award organization recognize me was amazing because they even don’t know me.”

So, what is next for Garneau? She plans on continuing working with her students in full force. She wants to continue her learning, growing, and training. She also will be presenting her work at other conferences at the end of the year.

Garneau’s passion for teaching STEM is the core of this recognition.

“One of the very cool things about teaching STEM is that the kids who really excel and shine are sometimes the ones that really struggle in other areas,” she said. “As a teacher part of my job is to find those students and love them for that. To give them that unconditional encouragement. Because doing that gives them the mindset that they can do great things. When you have someone, who believes in you like that, it gives you the motivation to be better.

“That’s what being a teacher is all about.”


Removing barriers at WSU Vancouver

WSU Vancouver honors Martin Luther King Jr. through social justice workshops

By: Hannah Schneider – College of Education

On MLK Day, the At Home At School (AHAS) program hosted a teach-in on the WSU Vancouver campus. The focus was to on honor Martin Luther King Jr. by envisioning a future where the needs of an increasingly diverse society are met.

A series of workshops were scheduled throughout the day. They covered topics of poverty and homelessness, mental health, race and racism, and indigenous educational policy among many other social justice topics.

“Our purpose was to provide a format for discussion and to inspire action among individuals and organizations that aspire to remove equity barriers in education and other social systems,” AHAS Director, Susan Finley said.

Participants included representatives of many social service organizations, educators from local K-12 public schools, faculty and staff from Clark College, WSU Vancouver, Portland State University, and even from Southern Illinois University. In total the event had over 100 attendees.

AHAS has a Youth Activism Board made up of students from Clark College and WSU Vancouver along with students from local high schools. These students were major contributors to the conversations that took place during the event.

AHAS is hoping to achieve a similar impact as other related groups. They continue to grow a relationship with the Climate Crisis Breakout group, said Finley.

They currently do not have any specific plans for other events however, they are still working on their effort to create and encourage positive social change.


Established in 2002 on principles of empowerment and democratic education, AHAS is breaking down barriers in education on multiple fronts.

AHAS has three goals which consist of helping children overcome social and economic barriers, shaping the next generation of teachers to work with underprivileged children, and creating an environment where teachers can design projects and curriculum for students.

Nora Coker reports on the climate crisis during a breakout session.

There are many components within AHAS. From organizing volunteers in shelters to tutoring children during the academic year, they are focused on helping students reach their full potential.

“In the long term, we are revisioning our purpose to support the continuation of these conversations and to facilitate activism among our current and future participants,” Finley said.


Keep up on AHAS by following their Instagram: @ahas2020andbeyond

Learn more about AHAS at:

Sport Management hosts career fair at WSU Everett

By C. Brandon Chapman

Students getting to hear how things really work in the sport world highlighted Washington State University’s recent Sport Management Career Exposition Fair on the WSU Everett campus.

“We had a good turnout and an excellent roster or list of presenters who provided an inside glimpse into the day-to-day of sport management professionals,” Sport Management program chair Simon Licen said. “This included quite a few program alumni who reaffirmed the importance of lessons they had learned in class.”

It wasn’t the first time the program has hosted a career fair with speakers, such as this, but it was the first time at WSU Everett, which helped the program attract Seattle-area sport professionals. This included people working for the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, Storm, XFL Dragons, Aquasox, WIAA, Everett Community College, and exhibitors from regional graduate programs.

Paul Pitre, chancellor of WSU Everett.

Because it was held at WSU Everett, Chancellor Paul Pitre, also a faculty member in the College of Education, shared a concise, yet informative overview of how the Everett campus came to be.

Clinical assistant professor Tammy Crawford, who was the driving force behind the initiative, said WSU Everett was very helpful in helping the event take place.

“The staff in Everett were incredibly supportive and generous and the location and facility was perfect,” she said. “It allowed us to cater to students returning to the Seattle area for the winter break, and expose the program and the college on WSU’s newest campus in Everett.”

Because Crawford came up with the idea of the first career exploration fair, and has been intimately involved in each one since the inception, this time leading a group of committed graduate students to plan and execute the event, Licen said it was fitting that industry giants gave Crawford public kudos.

Senior associate athletic director at UW, Erin O’Connell.

And it cemented his appreciation for having Crawford as a colleague and friend.

“It was quite rewarding to see the University of Washington’s senior associate athletic director Erin O’Connell and the XFL Seattle Dragons’ senior directorz of marketing Michelle DeLancy share their professional and personal appreciate of Dr. Crawford with the audience,” Licen said. “You realize then that you are learning from, or working with, an elite professional and extraordinary individual.”

Licen said the event will happen again.

“There are fields that remained unexplored or only briefly mentioned, so next time we will highlight some new aspects and realms of sport management.”

A few tweets that Sport Management sent out during the event

Little Engine comes up big

Nov. 1, 2019
By C. Brandon Chapman – College of Education

Jose Riera is only 5-foot-6. Like Spud Webb or Al Pacino or Ben Stiller. Not an inch more, not an inch less.

But that’s OK because this is Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! and Jose is Little Mac, doing a great job swinging way above his weight class.

On Monday, Oct. 21, Riera won the 2019 Travel Grant Competition hosted by Washington State University’s Innovation and Research Engagement Office (IREO). By winning, Riera receives a $2,500 travel grant to further and enhance his research goals and provide him with valuable administrative support from IREO.

Jose Riera holding first place certificate.

And he did it against seven other competitors, all of whom were faculty members.

Riera is a doctoral student in the WSU College of Education’s Language, Literacy and Technology program.

“I’m humbled that IREO would have selected this presentation over so many other impressive presenters, all whom were full-fledged Ph.D.’s and faculty,” he said. “I did not expect to be the only student who would be invited to present at this prestigious event. This is truly an honor for the entire College of Education, and I trust it demonstrates that our people and our proposals can be appreciated for their innovativeness and societal impact even in traditional hard-science spheres.”

According to the IREO website, the organization “works with students, faculty, and staff to position WSU’s creative, scholarly and technical assets in ways that maximize impact and return value to our state and national stakeholders.”

Riera was presented his award certificate on Thursday, Oct. 24 at an event that included WSU president Kirk Schulz, as well as vice president of research Christopher Keane.

About the research

Riera’s research focuses on advancing the use of visual speech recognition (VSR) technology to improve communication and learning for individuals with disabilities and health impediments.

An example of this would be someone who can’t make a vocal sound. Even though the individual is unable to make this kind of sound – or perhaps just has a difficulty doing it – the assistive technology can pick up the facial movement and translate that into actual sound.

Riera said that, with more than 50 million individuals in the United States with verbal and hearing impairments, VSR technology can help.

“VSR has the ability to facilitate more intimate, real-time conversations,” he said.

It’s research that is both important and timely. And, according to Don McMahon, an assistant professor of special education, as well as a research team member, a project that is destined to succeed not in spite of a graduate student leading, but because of who the graduate student is.

“Jose is a great example of a graduate student who came in to a program with vision and clear interests,” McMahon said. “In addition to Jose doing an excellent job creating an interdisciplinary team to support his research, he is a prime example of a graduate student working to get the most out of their program.”

A collaborative project

It should probably not be anything new that Riera aims high and succeeds. After all, he’s already an Ivy-Leaguer. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Riera earned his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s distinguished Wharton School. Most folks probably wouldn’t know that. And why would they? Riera doesn’t walk around telling everybody. If his diminutive stature stands out, so does his humility. Riera refuses to take credit for, well, almost anything, deferring instead to the efforts of the team and, with this latest success, the work itself.

Don McMahon and Jose Riera sitting on the stairs inside Cleveland Hall, both with a smile on their face.

“This research was undoubtedly enhanced by the sponsorship and expertise from College of Education faculty members Don McMahon and Yuliya Ardasheva,” Riera said. “But it was also very collaborative across colleges, as I received unparalleled hands-on guidance from Howard Davis from the College of Engineering, and Mark Vandam from the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.”

Jose Riera smiling at camera while in front of some trees with their fall leaves.

Indeed, Riera is correct. He has been able to rely on the expertise of many others. Take McMahon, for example: he runs the VR2GO Lab, which uses virtual and augmented reality as assistive technology. Or Vandam, an associate professor of linguistics who runs the Speech and Language Lab at WSU Spokane.

Tariq Akmal, chair of the College of Education’s Department of Teaching and Learning, said he thinks Riera’s research has the potential to be successful precisely because of his penchant for teamwork.

“Collaboration is a vital ‘soft skill’ sought after in pretty much all fields; but in addressing complex problems, it’s critical to bring together multiple perspectives and approaches, Akmal said. “Jose is doing just that, identifying a complex problem and then thinking through available resources to assemble a team that has the capacity to effectively address that problem.”

On one hand, while having WSU work with other universities can be a positive, on the other hand, Riera said there was probably something “very special” about the fact that all the critical resources needed to bring this research to market are within WSU community.

“The judges may have perceived the significant value of sponsoring an initiative that we can nurture in-house, and one that will allow WSU to establish its preeminence in assistive technology research and social advancement,” Riera said.

A myriad of applications

Having a highly collaborative project made sense to Riera. After all, in the end, VSR has the potential for extensive applicability in a number of fields, including healthcare.

“My sense is that the judging panel connected very directly with the positive societal impact of this research proposal,” Riera said. “I could feel the way the audience immediately bonded with the presentation when I was discussing how we would enhance the quality of life and social integration for so many citizens with disabilities and limiting health conditions.

“It was a very powerful feeling.”




New Native/Indigenous books at WSUV to help K-12 teachers

August 23, 2019

VANCOUVER, Wash. – Books by Native American authors intended for use by teachers in K-12 classrooms are now available at the WSU Vancouver Library.

The books in the Native American Teaching Library were acquired through a grant to help implement the State of Washington’s Time Immemorial curriculum on Native American history and culture. The books in the Vancouver library were selected to reflect the experiences of young Native American people both past and present.

Shameem Rakha, assistant professor of education at WSU Vancouver, coordinated the selection and purchase of the books. She worked with Roben White of the Native American Elders Council and Karen Diller, library director, to choose a range of books appropriate for primary, middle and high school students. They settled on 17 titles, purchasing multiple copies of each for potential use as class sets. Powell’s Books in Portland, which supplied much of the library, helped locate obscure books and books from small publishers, and provided a discount that enabled Rakha to purchase additional titles.

Shameem Rakha

One example of a book in the Native American Teaching Library is “I Am Not a Number,” a picture book about the boarding school system in the United States and Canada in the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. Rakha considers it relevant to a wide range of experiences in human history. “It’s the story of children taken away from their homes, culture and ways of being, and the horrors this created for them and their parents,” she said.

“Black Elk’s Vision” tells the life story of an Oglala-Lakota medicine man, who lived through the battles of Wounded Knee and Little Big Horn. “House of Purple Cedar” is about a Choctaw girl’s growing up in Indian Territory in pre-statehood Oklahoma.

“It is our goal to support the important work of teaching our children that American Indian people have had a significant impact on American history, and that despite an ongoing genocide, they are still managing to do amazing things today.”

There is no charge for teachers to check out books from the Native American Teaching Library (library cards are free for residents of Southwest Washington). Over the coming year, students in Rakha’s social studies methods classes will add summaries and questions to the books to enhance their utility as teaching materials.

If you have questions, contact Rakha at

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About WSU Vancouver

As one of six campuses of the Washington State University system, WSU Vancouver offers big-school resources in a small-school environment. The university provides affordable, high-quality baccalaureate- and graduate-level education to benefit the people and communities it serves. As the only four-year research university in Southwest Washington, WSU Vancouver helps drive economic growth through relationships with local businesses and industries, schools and nonprofit organizations.


Brenda Alling, Office of Marketing and Communications, 360-546-9601,