The Cougar Nation extends far beyond the borders of Washington state. Alumni, students, business connections, and fans continue to travel to Washington State University from California, Hawaii, Arizona, and all across the world to study or visit.

Starting last fall, WSU went to them. In a series of “WSU in” events, representatives of the WSU Alumni Association, WSU Foundation, enrollment and student recruitment, and WSU leaders like President Kirk Schulz joined alumni, potential students and their families, corporate partners, and WSU fans in their home cities.

“We want to plant that WSU flag and let them know that we’re going to come back year after year,” says Mariah Maki, WSU Alumni Association executive director and associate vice president of advancement. “We’re showing that we are in their community.”

Often built around an anchor event like a basketball or football game, the “WSU in” events in fall 2023 and spring 2024 took place in Honolulu, Hawaii; Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona; and Palm Desert and the Bay Area in California.

For example, “WSU in the Bay Area” featured the WSU vs. Cal football game, and included a reception that brought together current parents, prospective students and their families, and WSUAA volunteers.

The events, which hosted between 100 and 200 attendees, combine different WSU offices that would likely visit those places separately to recruit students, build business relationships, and connect alumni.

“We’re bringing in our alumni that may have just moved to the area and are looking for a way to engage,” Maki says. “Our volunteers like putting on the event and bringing in speakers, because they use that as recruitment for the chapter.”

Mike Connell (’85 Busi.), vice president of advancement and CEO of the WSU Foundation, agrees that “there’s a cohort of passionate alums that would probably show up to almost anything. We’re grateful for their ongoing connection to WSU.”

Connell notes that the “WSU in” events expand the university’s footprint while being more efficient. “It shows everybody how connected we are,” he says.

Potential and future WSU students and their families can really see that connection, says Saichi Oba, vice provost of enrollment management.

Attendees can go to panels with recent WSU graduates who speak about their experiences and successes. Parents also hear a powerful and reassuring message, Oba says, when Schulz speaks to them and other people. “That engagement can’t be underestimated. They get to hear from the president of the university, and then they start to drill down more,” he says.

Oba says the Hawaii event especially encouraged students and families to attend the alumni reception and see how the university they will attend is supported by WSU graduates.

“They are getting a multigenerational view of the community support,” Maki agrees.

Alumni who attend also really enjoy the Coug interaction. Stuart Vreeburg (’90 Comm.) was emcee for the Scottsdale and Tempe events and is vice president of the WSUAA Arizona chapter.

“If I lived in the state of Washington, I’d be volunteering there and participating. But geographically, it’s tough,” Vreeburg says. “I would love to continue attending these Arizona events.”

The “WSU in” events will continue in fall 2024 and beyond, Maki says. “This isn’t a onetime thing. There’s real excitement that WSU is in their community.”

Connell says “WSU in” will feature a few more events in different places.

No matter where they occur, Connell says, “you don’t have to be an alum to attend. If you’re a prospective student, we’d love to see you. This is WSU, as a whole, coming together and making these connections.”


WSU in Hawaii

The unstoppable Coug spirit combined with the warmth of aloha at the first “WSU in Hawaii” event in Honolulu.

three people with lei
WSU alumni in Hawaii share stories at a 2024 event. (Photo courtesy WSUAA)

WSU president Schulz, WSU Board of Regents chair Lisa Keohokalole Schauer, and other university leaders joined WSUAA president Lester Barbero (’10 Mat. Sci.), WSUAA Hawaii Chapter president Christine Nishimoto (’17 Microbiol., ’22 DVM), Hawaii state senator Donna Mercado Kim (’74 Rec.), and other WSU alumni, supporters, and future students and their family members from across the Hawaiian Islands for an evening of Cougar camaraderie. The gathering took place at the Prince Waikiki Hotel on January 31 and marked the largest “WSU in” event to date with nearly 200 attendees.

“In addition to the WSU supporters residing on Oahu, we also had supporters travel from our neighboring islands of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island,” Barbero says. “For them to make the trip during the middle of the workweek is a reflection of the energy and enthusiasm we have for WSU in Hawaii.”

Barbero, a mechanical engineer at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, moved to Oahu in October 2016. That same month, he attended a Cougar football watch party, hosted by the WSUAA Hawaii Chapter in Honolulu, “as a way to make friends and meet fellow Cougs.” He found instant community.

Now, as WSUAA president, he has attended several “WSU in” events and helped organize the one in Hawaii. WSU staff were presented with lei. Recent alumni Shantel Rita (’16 Psych.) and Erin Todoki (’19 Speech & Hearing Sci.) from the islands of Kauai and Oahu, respectively, talked about their experiences at WSU.

A group of people around a long table in a restaurant
WSU alumni and friends gather in Hawaii for a meal at a 2024 event. (Photo courtesy WSUAA)

“Home is a lot closer than you think,” Barbero says. “There is a strong Hawaii community at WSU.”

Oba, who has family connections to Hawaii, says that community spirit also inspired future Cougs. Many potential students and their families were lined up to see the admissions counselor after the reception.

Another aspect of “WSU in Hawaii” struck Oba. “There were so many families and their future Coug who are working-class people. They believe in education and they want their children to better themselves. And that’s really important because that is the ethos of WSU as a land grant institution. We want your working-class kids here. And in Hawaii, that’s who we’re attracting.”


WSU in Scottsdale

Among the saguaro cacti and canyons, there’s a vibrant bunch of WSU alumni in Arizona, and they showed up for “WSU in Scottsdale” on February 12–15.

Vreeburg and other WSUAA volunteers helped put on the event, with panels of recent graduates emceed by Vreeburg, receptions, and a basketball watch party.

Tall man holding a basketball next to a woman in baseball cap, both wearing WSU clothes
Stuart and Casee Vreeburg (Photo courtesy WSUAA)

“People here love the weather, and so we try to give them that Coug experience in Arizona,” he says.

A second-generation Coug who works in medical sales, Vreeburg has lived in Arizona with his wife for 20 years.

“There are lots of folks here from the Northwest, a lot of snowbirds, who want to get out of the crummy weather,” Vreeburg says. “They come down here for spring training for Mariners games, and for the golf.”

The Scottsdale event, and the one in Tempe last year, gave Vreeburg and others a chance to meet with the president, deans and chancellors, and other leaders.

While Vreeburg loved the chance to meet alumni and WSU leaders, he and Oba say there’s more potential for attracting and recruiting potential students.

Meanwhile, the WSUAA Arizona chapter continues to draw in young Cougs with a lot of energy, Vreeburg says. He notes that last year, they won the top state chapter award in the Alumni Association.

Large group of people wearing Washington State University gear
Coug spirit was on display at a 2024 event in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Photo courtesy WSUAA)


Is “WSU in” coming to your city? Find the schedule and agendas.