It’s been 20 years since the state legislature created the student position on the Board of Regents, Washington State University’s governing body.
It’s a big deal; the 10-member board, appointed by the governor, sets policy and provides guidance for University administration. the student regent holds the same voting rights and responsibilities as other regents—with only one exception: personnel issues.
“Having a student voice on the Board of Regents is invaluable,” says Governor Jay Inslee. “Student regents act as advocates for their peers, they represent the students’ needs and concerns, and are also able to communicate the regents’ decisions to students. Student representation is crucial to the institution’s leadership and governing.”
The governor selects the student regent from three to five finalists recommended by the governing body of the Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU). Regents attend four meetings and two retreats each year.
“We’re always trying to serve the state better, and I think we do a better job if we have a diversity of expertise, life experiences, and viewpoints represented on the board,” says WSU President Kirk Schulz. “That’s why it’s so important to have student regents. They offer a valuable perspective—and often great ideas—to board conversations that no one else can offer.”
The first student served for the 1998–1999 academic year. Two decades later, Washington State Magazine connects with alumni to reflect on their time on the board.
When she was a junior—and ASWSU chief of staff—at WSU Pullman, Janelle Milodragovich (’99 Poli. Sci.) made a bid for ASWSU president at the same time candidates were being sought for the first student regent. She applied for the new position “not really knowing what it was about.” While she didn’t win the election, she was appointed to the board by then-Governor Gary Locke. She also eventually married her running mate, would-be ASWSU Vice President Nate Brooling (’98 Comm.). “The joke we have is that we might not have married if we actually had won the ASWSU election,” says Milodragovich, CEO of Ten Gun Design, a full-service creative agency in Edmonds.
Her term started on the heels of a riot on College Hill, where two dozen law enforcement officers were injured attempting to disperse a crowd of about 200. Milodragovich lived around the corner from where the incident—believed to have been sparked by WSU’s policy against on-campus drinking—took place. “From my first board meeting, the regents sought my input on student perspectives and systematic changes to address underage drinking on campus,” she says. “Even though I was just 20, I had a unique viewpoint on aspects of school governance that wasn’t previously represented on the board. They were all professional people with significant business experience. And, from a personal perspective, being able to work with women who had a strong presence at the table was incredibly impactful.”
During one dinner, she was seated between WSU’s then-President Sam Smith and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, who had attended WSU and was receiving the Regents’ Distinguished Alumnus Award. “I cannot tell you what we ate, but we had a wonderful conversation about the Seahawks, (their then-new coach) Mike Holmgren, and online chess,” says Milodragovich, who went on to attend law school at the University of Washington, then work as an attorney specializing in labor-management litigation. “I really had to pinch myself at multiple points.”
San Francisco, California
“Serving on the board, I learned anything is possible with hard work and dedication,” says Derick En’Wezoh (’10 Neurosci.), who earned his MD at Harvard Medical School and MBA at Stanford University. “If I hadn’t served on the board, I’m not confident I would’ve had the mindset to subsequently run for student government or apply to Harvard or Stanford. It wasn’t a trajectory I thought would be attainable; I’d likely be living a very different life.”
Born and raised in Tri-Cities, En’Wezoh served on the board his junior year and was ASWSU president his senior year. His tenure followed the murder of his cousin in the Virginia Tech massacre, and student safety became one of his top priorities. “That year we started Safe Walk, a program which dispatched a group of students in orange jackets to take you where you wanted to go. We expanded Women’s Transit. We installed blue emergency light boxes everywhere on campus. We offered self-defense and safety courses. We went on a mission to try to improve sidewalks and lighting on College Hill. We started a banquet to raise money for different safety initiatives on campus. We accomplished a lot.”
En’Wezoh remembers then-President Elson S. Floyd telling him, “‘You may only have one vote, but you have an infinite power to persuade.’ I’m quite lucky Dr. Floyd and WSU prepared me so well. Those years were incredibly instrumental in shaping me to be who I am today. Looking back, I am incredibly lucky to be a Coug . To be a Coug is to be part of a remarkable community.”
“I had a unique experience because I was a transfer student, a student of color, a first-generation student in the United States—and I felt like I could do a lot of good,” says Narek Daniyelyan, director of strategic initiatives at Workforce Southwest Washington (’12 Hum. Dev., ’19 Poli. Sci.).
Daniyelyan is Armenian. He came to America in 1992 when he was four, first settling in the greater Los Angeles area, then moving to Vancouver in middle school. He transferred from Clark College. As an undergrad, he was vice president of the Associated Students of Washington State University Vancouver (ASWSUV). As a graduate student on the same campus, “I felt like I could bring a different perspective to the board.”
During his tenure, he visited WSU Pullman, WSU Spokane, WSU Tri-Cities, and WSU Everett. “The common theme among all of the campuses was a need for additional resources outside the classroom to help students get through their education journey, whether they be mental health, healthcare, tutoring, veterans’ support—whatever it may be—so students have an equitable opportunity to get their degree. There are some students who have the privilege of getting through a system with relative ease, students that don’t have to worry about tuition checks bouncing or going back to their dorm and not having food to eat or not having to worry about healthcare.” Other students struggle with basics, and, Daniyelyan says, “that’s really the voice I was trying to bring to the board.”
Gig Harbor, Washington
“This was the year the students approved the fee for the CUB renovation,” says Brady Horenstein (’05 Poli. Sci.). “That was the big thing I worked on. I wasn’t there when it opened, but we did a lot of work to put it on the ballot.” The Compton Union Building, named for WSU’s fifth president, Wilson M. Compton, and dedicated in 1952, was reopened in 2008 after a two-year, $86 million renovation.
Other discussions during Horenstein’s tenure centered around diversity, biotechnology and life sciences, and the university’s $1 billion capital campaign, which launched in 2006 and ended in 2015. There was also a lot of talk at the time, Horenstein says, about building the 18-hole, par-72 Palouse Ridge Golf Course, which opened in 2008, as well as renovating Martin Stadium. The two phases of that project were completed in 2012 and 2014, respectively. “There was a lot going on,” Horenstein says, noting board members “were always interested to hear the student perspective. They were curious and interested in my feedback and what I had heard from other students.”
After graduation from WSU Pullman, he attended law school at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. In 2018, he left his position as the legislative director for the Washington state court system to devote more time to LobbyGov. Horenstein started the software company in 2006 as a “side hustle in law school” to make it easier to track proposals through the legislative process. Today, a number of state agencies, trade associations, lobbyists, and nonprofits use his software.
He says his time on the Board helped prepare him for his career. “Being part of those meetings and having those conversations gave me insight into pretty high-stakes decision-making that impacted a lot of people statewide. Universities are sophisticated operations. To be in the room and hear how those decisions are made was very interesting, especially for me as someone interested in politics and policy and the legal system.”
RAFAEL BENAVIDES PRUNEDA
He had just learned a friend was considering dropping out senior year because he was short about $3,000 for tuition. And, “I decided I really needed to talk about this,” says Rafael Benavides Pruneda (’11 and ’13 Hist. and CES).
Decreased tax revenue during the Great Recession led to diminished state funding. As a result, WSU’s tuition climbed by 81 percent between the 2007-2008 and 2012-2013 academic years. This was one of Benavides Pruneda’s biggest concerns during his time on the Board.
By the end of his first meeting, two members offered to help his friend. “I was thankful to them for leading by example in that way,” Benavides Pruneda says. “To me, that let me know right away I was working with a group of individuals who were going to make things happen. I looked up to them, and I made a point to get to know all of them personally.”
After much discussion, the 2013-2014 school year ended up being the first time since 1986 that WSU students saw no tuition increase. “Zero percent. That was amazing to me,” Benavides Pruneda says, adding it was “an honor” to serve on the Board, and the experience — as well as mentorship from then-president Floyd — inspired the Othello native and fifth of seven siblings to stay in Pullman to pursue a career in higher education. He came to campus in 2006 as a student and, “I never left. I’ve been here 13 years.”
He started as an outreach specialist at the WSU Foundation, then became a retention counselor at the Office of Multicultural Student Services. Now he’s an academic coordinator and retention specialist for the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP). He also serves as a program advisor for First Generation Abroad, WSU’s study abroad program for students who are the first in their families to attend college.
As student regent, Benavides Pruneda was particularly concerned with how undocumented students, like his friend who was considering dropping out, could afford college. He advocated in Olympia for undocumented students to be eligible for state financial aid. SB 6523, the Washington State DREAM Act, was signed into law in early 2014.
“There was a sense of pride and a sense of love that—without me even knowing it at the time—planted the seed to stay at WSU,” says Benavides Pruneda, who’s considering pursuing graduate school at WSU Pullman. His tenure on the Board “really taught me what goes on behind the scenes to plan for the future. When I became the student regent, I had an idea what it was, but I really didn’t know the impact of what I was doing until I was able to look back. You really get to represent the students. It was an amazing opportunity.”
LINDSEY (SCHAFFER) HIPPE
Lindsey Hippe (’14 Pharm) served on the Board immediately following her term as student body president at WSU Spokane. “It was just sort of a natural progression,” she says. “At the time, the Spokane campus was kind of in flux, and I felt it was really important to represent that campus to the board for the coming years.”
Many discussions during her term focused on establishing the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, founded in 2015 at WSU Spokane. “I was able to provide quite a bit of perspective from the health science students’ point of view,” says Hippe, who grew up in Richland and now serves as an inpatient pharmacist at St. Luke’s Boise Regional Medical Center.
“At first, it was certainly intimidating. And most of the time, it wasn’t black or white. I don’t remember a lot of issues that were yes or no. I think my main take-away was really comprehending the bureaucracy of higher education and all the barriers and red tape that have to be worked through to get anything done. All of that’s there for a purpose. But I saw the power of challenging the notion that this is how we’ve always done it so this is how we’re going to do it. I think all of the members of the board were very good at asking pointed questions. They were wanting to know what does this look like a couple of decades from us, and I think I was able to make a difference in that sense.”
Alyssa Norris (’18 Civ. Eng.) came to the Board after serving as a senator for ASWSU. “I had a unique situation as a female in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) major, who was an out-of-state student, had years of experience with several different groups and clubs on campus, and had taken graduate courses in addition to undergraduate courses at WSU,” she says.
Two important decisions during her tenure were approving the Finance and Human Resource Services Modernization Initiative Project as well as building phases for additional research, classroom, and collaboration space at WSU Pullman. “I was particularly excited to be on the Board to help approve the next stage of the Research Education Complex Building since I think it will help continue WSU’s mission of being a top-notch research university. The Modernization Initiative Project is important to all functions of the University—and one that I believe was absolutely necessary to help WSU succeed and be more efficient in the future.”
Now, Norris is back home in Alaska—she grew up in North Pole—working as a sales engineer for LONG Building Technologies, where she helps design building automation systems, energy efficiency retrofits, and heating and cooling systems, as well as works with customers on building solutions. She also serves on Interior Alaska’s energy co-operative’s member advisory committee and as president of the Alaska WSU Alumni Association. She hopes to someday go to graduate school and is particularly interested in air and water quality, and how it relates to energy production, especially in rural America.
Serving as student regent “forced me to listen more intentionally and with purpose,” she says. “In addition to learning more about how the University works, and what was happening at the University, I also learned how to listen more effectively to my peers, how to communicate more concisely, and how to ask better questions.”
Summing it up, she says, “The experience of being student regent was priceless.”