By Kären McCormick ’18
Dressed to the nines in their finest black and red, armed with champagne glasses and surrounded by the sound of a two-step jazz band, more than 200 EWU alumni filled a ballroom on May 18 at the Spokane Convention Center in celebration of the 2018 alumni awards.
In March, a committee composed of previous winners, Alumni Association board members and campus community partners selected the honorees.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Barbra Shields ’92
Barbra Shields is a first-generation college graduate. In 1992, at age 62, she obtained her degree from EWU in general studies. Shields then retired from the telecommunications company, Pacific Northwest Bell, where she had been working for more than 34 years. The company had provided funding for her education at Eastern, offering a tuition reimbursement program.
Following retirement, Shields went on to volunteer for many organizations including Telephone Pioneers, Coats for Kids, Infant Hearing Assessment Program, Statue of Liberty restoration fundraising, Los Angeles Summer Olympics, Interlake School in Medical Lake, Spokane Guild School and many more.
Passionate about helping students achieve their academic goals, in 2008, Shields established two separate endowments for two undergraduate students and two graduate students.
“I got motivated to help others because there is so much need and there’s so many wonderful young people that just need a hand up,” said Shields. “If I could play a small part in that, where they could concentrate on their studies instead of worrying about the debt.”
In recognition of her generous contributions to EWU, Dean Vickie Shields surprised Shields in 2014 with the dedication of a remodeled state-of-the-art classroom and media presentation practice lab for communication students named in her honor.
Inspirational Young Alumna Award: Rebecca Long ’13, ’06
Rebecca Long is a proud representation of women in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) in her community. Long graduated from Eastern in 2006 and 2013 with degrees in computer science and continues to utilize her degrees today while advocating for women and diversity in the STEAM fields.
“I don’t think I would’ve made it through the program if it wasn’t for the faculty here at Eastern in the computer science department,” said Long.
Long is involved in several organizations, including “Write/Speak/Code” — a women and nonbinary coders technology conference in New York, the Inland Northwest Technologists Group, Spokane Geek Girls and SpoQuality. Long also serves as the vice president of Spokane Arena National Organization for Women and acts as vice chair of the Eastern computer science professional advisory board.
“It’s really important for me to encourage more women to go into the STEM fields because there isn’t enough of us and for us to be able to solve diverse problems we need diverse people in these fields to take the world forward,” said Long.
In 2017, Long founded Future ADA, a non-profit organization in Spokane specializing in securing space in STEM fields for women and nonbinary individuals.
“I realized that just my efforts alone aren’t enough,” said Long. “I felt a strong need in the community to mentor more people, to have workshops and training, to put together a bigger effort of support for women and minorities. We want to make all of our STEAM fields in Spokane inclusive and diverse.”
Alumna of Service Award: Kathy Covey ’78
Covey actively serves as the CEO of Blue Mountain Action Council (BMAC) — a nonprofit dedicated to helping residents achieve self-sufficiency — and has worked for the organization for 40 years.
“The vision of BMAC strives to have healthy, thriving communities,” said Covey. “One that has individuals and families that are free from hunger, poverty and homelessness. BMAC strives to fulfill that vision every day in all that we do.”
BMAC is one of 30 community action partnership agencies in Washington. Founded under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, BMAC serves approximately 5,000 people a year. Services vary from housing to food distribution to backpacks for children to helping people find jobs and more.
In 2017, BMAC raised $2.2 million toward the development of the Walla Walla Teen Center, which offers counseling, child care, skill-building and placement for jobs, recreation and emergency housing for youths.
“I hope that for the future of BMAC, we continue to have the community support and the financial stability that we’ve been lucky to have from the individual donor base,” said Covey. “I hope that we are able to continue to do what we do, even better.”
Exceptional Military Service Award: Don Nelson ’66
Don Nelson’s interest for football and aviation brought him to Eastern. After graduating from EWSC in 1966 with a degree in history, he was commissioned as second lieutenant in the field artillery missile school branch that same year.
Nelson’s career in the U.S. Army spanned more than 30 years. He was recognized for his service by the Vietnamese Army with two valor awards, including the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.
“It was particularly meaningful to me because those were the people that we supported directly,” said Nelson. “The valor device is of importance to soldiers to know that they put their life on the line or did something above and beyond.”
Upon completing his active duty in San Francisco in 1969, Nelson took a state job with the Ohio National Guard.
“It offered tremendous opportunity to fly the same kind of aircraft I flew in Vietnam and put me back in commodity with veterans like myself,” said Nelson.
As part of Eastern’s ROTC program, Nelson was required to participate for the first two years, but his next two years were voluntary.
“I would like to see more kids that maybe wouldn’t get to Eastern have that opportunity through a scholarship fund and have that access that I had at one time,” said Nelson.
Eagle4Life Spirit Award: Hailey Tangen ’11, ’08
Hailey Tangen is the definition of Eagle pride. A former EWU cheerleader herself while completing her undergraduate degree in children’s studies, Tangen became the assistant coach during her fifth year at Eastern when she returned to Eastern to complete her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, opening the door to her career as head coach.
Originally planning to be a part of the team for two years, Tangen continues to hold the title of EWU head cheer coach today.
“Ten years later, I tell everyone I have the best job on campus,” said Tangen.
In addition to her dedication to the cheer team, Tangen works for Kindred at Home, a home health and hospice care facility. Tangen works in the sales and marketing department, advocating for seniors in the community and making sure they get the care they need. Tangen balances family, friends and a full-time job, all while finding time to coach her team.
“The majority of my free time is taken up by Eastern Cheer, and the simple answer to that ‘why’ is because you make time for the things that you love,” said Tangen. “I love them, and I love my program, and I love Eastern.”
Tangen aims to grow the EWU Cheer program by improving fundraising as well as on-and-off the-court techniques.
“Coaches don’t coach for themselves,” said Tangen. “We do it for our athletes. Every moment is about them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
About the author: Kären McCormick ’18 worked as a student writer in EWU Marketing & Communications department before moving to Nashville to pursue a music career. Things are going well for her. She had crazy experiences – singing her original music at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville; she opened for Terry McDermott and met and sang for The Band Perry and Danielle Bradbery. Kären’s latest single, We Were on Fire is available on iTunes and Amazon Music, and you can watch her on YouTube.