Meet Jesenia Larios
Class of 2024 | Spanish and Secondary Education | Yakima, Washington
When Jesenia graduated high school in 2001, she couldn’t imagine herself pursuing a college degree.
“I just didn’t have the same opportunities or help to find out how to get to college,” she said. “I was the first in my family to speak English and graduate high school.”
Jesenia’s parents moved to Yakima from Mexico in the 1980s, where they worked on orchards picking cherries and other produce.
“Every morning my dad would say to do our best, because he’s working hard so one day we don’t have to,” Jesenia said. “We were a low-income family, but if you look past those challenges, you see you have pretty good memories that shaped who you are today.”
In 2019, Jesenia enrolled at Yakima Valley College to continue her career in education. She eventually joined the YVC Honor Society and began to get offers from colleges around the country. However, after visiting her niece, a WSU student, she decided to come to Pullman.
“Pullman just has this tranquility, this peace,” Jesenia said. “There is this mix of student life and family life and community life that all kind of revolve around each other cohesively. And because it’s family friendly, it’s made the transition easy for me and my children.”
After graduation, Jesenia hopes to return to the Yakima School District and work with Spanish-speaking students and their families.
“As students get older, they sometimes feel like their parents can’t relate to them and that they can’t relate to their culture, so they feel stuck in between,” Jesenia said. “I want to connect with those families and those first- or second-generation students to show them the path they can build alongside their parents.”
Meet Katy Ayers
Class of 2023 | Kearney, Nebraska | Bioengineering
Not many people hold world records. And only two people, including Katy, hold a world record for the longest fungal mycelium boat. That’s right: Katy engineered a canoe out of mushrooms. And yes, it does float. It even sprouts more mushrooms every time it gets wet.
Katy worked with the owner of a local mushroom company to grow the canoe while she was a student at Central Community College in Columbus, Nebraska. Using a hammock and sawdust mixed with mushroom mycelium, it took only a few weeks to grow and dry, though Katy said she spent three months designing it.
Now a student at WSU, Katy said she decided to transfer to Pullman after reading a study where entomologists bred a strain of fungus to kill mites that can destroy honeybees in their hives.
“I was inspired by the research happening here and I wanted to become a part of that,” Katy said.
After graduation, Ayers hopes to study more niche uses of fungi as a graduate student. It’s part of her long-term goal of finding new ways to use mycelium to improve the environment.
“I’ve had so many opportunities come to me already, and I’ve made a lot of friends with similar interests here,” Katy said. “Everyone has been so kind.”
Meet Jesse Brazil
Class of 2021 | Sociology | Wichita Falls, Texas
Before transferring to WSU, Jesse pursued majors in psychology, history, and even business at five other colleges since his high school graduation in 2010.
“WSU is my sixth transfer, and my final one,” Jesse said. “They gave me $1,000 off my tuition for attending orientation, and it’s been surprisingly easy and straightforward for me as a transfer student to start developing relationships with faculty in my department.”
Though his path to college was more roundabout than most, Jesse said it gave him time to realize what he valued. That wisdom is an asset, he said.
“Don’t rush into it, don’t feel pressured, and it’s okay if you end up changing your mind. You’re still trying to figure yourself out,” Jesse said. “Your experience helps you be more successful.”
After graduation, Jesse plans to get a doctorate in sociology, with a focus on international politics and climate change conflicts.
“Sociology really encapsulated all my interests, both big and small,” Jesse said. “It’s undergirded by the desire to analyze and improve our world.”
Meet Behnam Mozafari
Senior | Criminal Justice and Criminology | Iran and Kirkland, Washington
As a child, Behnam told anyone who asked he wanted to be a police officer when he grew up.
“But as I got older, I realized my goals and belief in individual liberty and individual rights did not align with the government in Iran,” Behnam said. “I decided to leave that dream and move on with my life.”
After promising his mother that he would go to college, Behnam decided to emigrate to the United States in 2013. He attended Northwest University in Kirkland before taking a few years off to work as a bartender and wine sales associate. Once he could afford it, he got his associate of arts degree at Bellevue College and transferred to WSU.
“At first I took intercultural studies, but I realized I could now pursue my dream in the U.S.,” Behnam said. “It took almost a decade and a lot of hard work, but it’s possible, and WSU was there to support me.”
After graduation, Behnam plans to pursue global justice and security as part of a master’s in criminal justice at WSU. With his fluency in Arabic, Farsi, and Kurdish, Behnam hopes to support the U.S. government as a federal law enforcement officer.
Oluwanifemi “Nife” Shola-Dare
Meet Nife Shola-Dare
Class of 2021 | Neuroscience (Pre-Medicine) | Kobi, Nigeria
Growing up in Nigeria, Nife always knew she wanted to be a doctor.
After high school, Nife attended a medical school in the Caribbean, but realized it was unaccredited. So she decided to enroll in a U.S. college, first at a school in Virginia before transferring to WSU. She then moved to Spokane to be closer to her uncle.
“I wanted to study neuroscience because I’ve always been very intrigued by the brain,” Nife said. “That’s one of the reasons WSU stood out to me. I also liked that I could work in the same lab in Spokane that I’d started doing research at before I got accepted to WSU.”
Despite her short time at WSU, Nife was determined to get involved and make a change on campus. She joined the Associated Students of WSU, where she represented the College of Veterinary Medicine and was part of the Student Health Advisory committee. She was selected for the Basic Needs Task Force to help WSU better meet student needs, and she was also a DJ for KZUU, WSU’s student-run radio station.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities to be a leader at WSU,” she said.
After graduation and medical school, Nife hopes to return to Nigeria to provide mental health care and aid, as well as reducing the stigma of mental illness.
Meet Skylar Hamilton
Class of 2021 | Interior Design | Las Vegas, Nevada
In high school, Skylar suffered a back injury that ended her volleyball career and prevented her from pursuing her goal of becoming a field agent for the FBI.
“That taught me to always have a Plan B,” Skylar said.
She decided to pursue interior design instead of criminal justice, later finding WSU’s program after searching online for nationally ranked programs. She transferred from college in Southern Nevada to WSU, where she was selected as a Transfer Ambassador for Multicultural Student Services.
After graduation, Skylar hopes to design restaurants and other businesses to improve efficiency and customer experience.
“WSU has graced me with the opportunity to learn that interior design is so much more than home renovations,” Skylar said. “I learned how to make people’s lives easier through design.”