2019 Distinguished Student Awards

Distinguished Students of 2019

The Distinguished Student Award is one of the top student honors given at OSU-Cascades and recognizes one graduating student in each degree area for outstanding achievement in academics and contribution to their field.

Here's what our faculty shared about the honorees.

Luis Alberto Navez Dircio

Bachelor of Arts, American Studies

Since arriving at OSU Cascades, Luis' writing, thinking, and his scholarly voice have grown eloquent, and he brings a steady, good-humored voice to the classroom. Luis has not only performed at high levels within the American studies program, he has forcefully advocated for it. In addition to being a student, Luis worked full-time for the Bend-La Pine Schools district as a Latino family liaison. In the fall, he will begin graduate studies at the University of Oregon in special education.

Deidre L. Heil

Bachelor of Science, Biology

Deidre Heil has an innate curiosity, and a deep passion for fish biology, parasitology, organic chemistry, and microbiology targeted at improving the health of Oregon rivers, as well as the people reliant on them. As a biology student she raised $7,500 for a research project on stickleback fish as environmental sentinels for river health, and presented her findings at an international meeting of The Society for Ecotoxicology and Chemistry. Deidre has elevated the achievement of students who work with her, and has inspired and encouraged her peers. As she pursues a Ph.D. in animal biology, she’s a role model for us all.

Kaitlyn Johnson

Bachelor of Science, Business Administration

Kaitlyn's performance in the classroom is exemplary. She has been a leading performer on assessments and projects, and also an active contributor to discussions and activities. Her business degree will be her foundation for making positive change in the world. Following graduation, Kaitlyn will attend graduate school in Missouri, studying theology and intercultural studies. Her hope is to work internationally in philanthropic work or perhaps mentoring entrepreneurs.


Aaron Baker

Bachelor of Science, Computer Science

During the decade after high school, Aaron tried college, but it never stuck. He worked at a bookstore, and faced his share of life’s challenges. Eventually, he quit his job there and faced the future. This time, college stuck. Aaron has earned one of the top GPAs in his class of graduating computer science students. He has completed an undergraduate research project investigating artificial intelligence and humor detection in stand-up comedy. And he’s working at a local tech company as a software engineer. Aaron has been accepted into the Georgia Tech Master of Science in Computer Science program.

Gertrude Villaverde

Honors Bachelor of Science, Energy Systems Engineering

Gertrude was one of OSU-Cascades' very first freshmen. From Introduction to Engineering to Capstone Design, she has been the top performer in class. She has impressed faculty with her intellect, drive and discipline. Gertrude worked as a research assistant in Associate Professor Chris Hagen’s energy systems lab and completed a six-month internship through the Multiple Engineering Cooperative Program (MECOP) at A-dec, a dental equipment manufacturer in Newberg, Oregon. Gertrude’s internship led to a full-time job offer at Energy 350 in Portland.


Cristina Bennett

Bachelor of Science, Hospitality Management

When Cristina started in the hospitality management program, she had 10 years of experience in the industry. She also had a full-time job in Portland as an executive chef at a nationally ranked hospital. That meant driving over the pass, often twice a week to pursue her degree. That didn’t hold her back. Cristina often submitted work early and went beyond expectations on assignments, all the while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. She also served as a research assistant to Todd Montgomery, the program’s Executive In Residence, and conducted work highlighting the region's hospitality companies and their employee retention efforts.

Katie Weible

Bachelor of Science, Human Development and Family Sciences

When it comes to helping people improve their lives, Katie is all in. Even prior to coming to OSU-Cascades she had started a career helping others, working with families and young adults facing mental health challenges and even homelessness. Katie chose projects that were personally meaningful and relevant to her professional goals, and reflected on readings, discussions, and lectures with thoughtful, in-depth insight. She also joined Associate Professor Shannon Lipscomb’s Roots of Resilience research team, collecting data with preschoolers.

Casey Russell Collier

Honors Bachelor of Science, Kinesiology

Casey Collier is the first OSU Honors College student in the kinesiology program at OSU-Cascades. His 3.97 overall GPA is a testament to his commitment to giving the best of himself in everything he does. Casey demonstrated intelligent and logical reasoning when working through challenges but, maybe more importantly, he let his enthusiasm shine through his efforts at each step. Casey is deeply invested in making an impact in Central Oregon and on the world. He's now weighing multiple options — graduate school, teaching, or combining kinesiology and computer science to develop fitness and health technologies.

Nick Daniel Maithonis

Bachelor of Science, Natural Resources

The original plan was to go into business. Or become a chef. In downtime at COCC’s culinary school though, Prineville native Nick Maithonis read books about challenges facing the environment. Fast forward and Nick now has the book smarts and hands-on experience to take on almost any challenge in the natural world. A new campus gave him an opportunity to contribute to a native landscape, a summer on a Hawaiian macadamia farm taught him community engagement and an internship with the Oregon Natural Desert Association opened his eyes to land stewardship. Nick plans to apply to master’s programs in restoration ecology.

Aubrey F. Sills

Bachelor of Science, Psychology

Aubrey is a distinguished student for the quality of her achievements and her commitment to her peers, but most importantly, for her active and passionate pursuit of her interests both inside and outside the classroom. She has an intrinsic desire and curiosity to learn through her engagement in class and through many out-of-class experiences, and even creating some on her own. Aubrey eagerly sought out and participated in weekly readings of articles, and for more than a year participated on Associate Professor Shannon Lipscomb’s Roots of Resilience research team. Aubrey hopes to continue her interest in research at graduate school.

Nathan Goldberg

Bachelor of Arts, Social Science

Nathan Goldberg embodies what it means to be a social scientist — he engages in structured inquiry to understand humans relations, the environment, and ways of being and dwelling, then uses the gleaned knowledge to engage his communities through leadership and community development. Within his major, he was selected by his faculty to participate in two research studies, both of which he presented at academic research conferences — a high achievement for an undergraduate student. On campus, Nathan founded the OSU-Cascades student Spanish Club and co-founded the student Sustainability Club. After graduation, Nathan hopes to first teach English abroad, and then return to the U.S. to pursue a master's degree in communication or Spanish.

Jennifer Soto

Bachelors of Sustainability and Accountancy

While enrolled as a student double-majoring in accountancy and sustainability, Jennifer has maintained a 4.0 GPA. Jennifer completed the full training for the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) Standards reporting, which is the most widely recognized sustainability reporting protocol in the world. Her public service includes volunteering to help community members prepare their tax returns for free and attending community meetings to provide input on what should be prioritized in the City of Bend Climate Action Plan. Upon graduating she will pursue her CMA (Certified Managerial Accountant). Ultimately, she would like to negotiate for a role as sustainability director for her current employer.

Britt Elizabeth Hanson

Bachelor of Science, Tourism, Recreation and Adventure Leadership

Britt has the highest G.P.A. of all graduating seniors in the tourism, recreation and adventure leadership program. Her level of classroom engagement and interaction has been consistent and intellectually rigorous. She has been employed by Bend Parks and Recreation for the past seven years in various capacities. Britt worked as a park ranger for Newberry National Volcanic Monument and earned her Interpretive Ranger certification. She earned a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and she has volunteered in dual immersion Spanish classes at Bear Creek Elementary School. She is a member of the Oregon State chapter of Phi Kappa Phi National Honor Society.

Marjorie Gosling

Master of Counseling, Clinical Mental Health

Marjorie has excelled academically, and in clinical skills and client advocacy. She also participated in research with Assistant Professor Ryan Reese, looking at how our connection with the natural world can be therapeutic. Marjorie served as chapter president of the counseling honor society, Chi Sigma Iota. She has co-authored three peer-reviewed publications. Marjorie looks forward to moving back to southern Oregon and starting a private practice. She is going to make our world better, one person at a time.

Allison Marlene Styffe

Master of Counseling, School

Allison is defined by a relentless pursuit of excellence and leadership. Allison became an expert among her peers in college and career counseling — regularly providing them ideas and resources to use during their own internships. But she’s more than smart. According to Assistant Professor Ryan Reese, Allison was a blast to have in class — she was engaged, kind, and humorous. She cares deeply about the populations she works with and is going to make an exceptional professional school counselor.

Yolanda Gomez

Master of Fine Arts, Creative Writing

Yolanda's breadth and depth of knowledge about the power dynamics of class, race, gender, and sexuality — as well as the craft of writing about those difficult topics — enriched the MFA classroom discussions immeasurably. She wrote an essay entitled “We’ve Always Been Weeping and Searching for the Dead,” which has been published in Entropy, an online literary journal. The essay is described by faculty as provocative, insightful, and rooted in her own experiences of growing up in the borderlands of Arizona and Mexico. Her poems are moving and lyrical, incorporating both Spanish and Arabic, the two languages she is fluent in addition to English.

Lucas Adrian Reyes

Master of Arts in Teaching, Elementary Education

Lucas is known for his work ethic, dedication, enthusiasm, and warm rapport with children. He is receptive to feedback and eagerly implements ideas and suggestions to his teaching practice. As a student teacher, Lucas was able to differentiate curriculum to help meet the varying needs of all students, from those well above grade level, to those receiving intensive support services, to English Language Learners. Principals and teachers in school districts where he has student taught have sent notes to commending Lucas’ work in their classrooms. Lucas is now ready for an elementary school classroom of his own.