It takes scores of volunteers of help the Washington State University Alumni Association connect with Cougs across the country. Meet three of the alumni who help make it happen.
‘All about giving back’
It was her first Cougar football game. WSU was playing Stanford at Stanford, and the Cougs had just scored.
“I remember being in the stands,” says Katey Koehn, who attended the October 23, 2010, game with her husband. “There was a group of three or four Cougs behind us, and they started singing the Fight Song. I realized I didn’t know it. That moment made me think, ‘If I really am a Coug, I need to learn the Fight Song.’”
She downloaded it as soon as she got home. “And I practiced it, and I learned it, and I started going to watch parties,” says Koehn (’14 Soc. Sci), who was in her first year of school and wanted to connect with other Cougs. “As a WSU Global Campus student in California, I was physically disconnected from the university. But I was living in a state where Cougar sports came to play.”
She had started attending WSU online earlier that year as a non-traditional student in the San Francisco Bay area and got involved with the WSUAA four years before she graduated. She went from attending watch parties to hosting watch parties, becoming a chapter vice president then president and at-large member of the board. Now board vice president, she’s slated to become president-elect, then president, of the WSUAA. She also chairs the scholarship committee for the Kitsap County alumni chapter, having recently relocated to Port Orchard.
“Every interaction grew my connection to WSU. I met new people, and nobody cared that I was a WSU Global Campus student. I was a Coug, and that’s all that mattered,” Koehn says. “It inspired me to give more time and engage with more people. And it led to leadership positions. My passion has only blossomed and grown over the past 13 years.”
Koehn, director of technical program management at Walmart Global Tech, had previously worked at eBay. When she was laid off after more than 10 years in 2009 she was “devastated.” She also saw an opportunity.
Koehn had attended community college in the Bay area and wanted to finish her degree. “I didn’t want to go to a degree mill,” she says. “I wanted a sense of place, somewhere I could visit for a college experience.”
Soon after she started school, in January 2010, she was referred to Yahoo by a friend and landed a job there in March. She worked full time and attended WSU part time, taking classes in summer and finishing her degree in four and a half years.
“It expanded my mind in ways I don’t think I ever would have imagined,” she says. “The curriculum was really fantastic. I felt like I had wonderful support. I always felt welcomed and included in everything. The Alumni Association was a huge part of that.”
Her increased volunteer work through WSUAA “has been all about giving back and hoping people have a similar experience. Creating that sense of place for people really makes a difference.”
In addition to organizing watch parties, serving on committees, and being involved with leadership, she has helped organize community service projects and get-together such as an alumni dog-walking day. WSUAA sent “cute little WSU bandanas” for the dogs.
“You can spend a few hours a year or you can spent a lot more time, too, if you really want to go all in,” she says, noting staying Cougar-connected was one of the reasons for her recent move to Washington state. “I’ve gotten a lot out of it. I hope the people I’ve met along the way have also gotten a lot out of it. That’s one of the reasons I do it: to enhance the experiences of my fellow alumni.”
‘Get plugged in and give back’
Two years out of school, Ellen Price was looking to grow her network. She remained connected to WSU Pullman and was also in touch with the WSUAA through her work as a campus recruiter for Moss Adams but “wanted to make new friends and find new ways to get plugged in and give back.”
The young alumna learned the King County Cougs were holding a get-together on Queen Anne Hill, attended, had fun, and learned of another gathering in the works: a St. Patrick’s Day cruise on Lake Union. One thing led to another and shortly after cruise, she became co-president of the chapter. Now, she’s in her second term as president. She’s also an at-large member of the WSUAA board.
“I don’t think I’ll ever not be involved,” says Price (’15 Comm.), who initially wanted to go to college in the Midwest. “No one in my family was a Coug,” she notes.
A WSU Pullman campus visit—including a chance to play with the marching band—changed her mind. “I realized it had everything I wanted: a super-fun band, a great communication school, and a sense of community. When you get to Pullman, there’s just a great community and small-town vibe that was really different from growing up in Seattle. It seemed like a safe place where I could grow into myself.”
Price participated in marching band her freshman year. She also became actively involved with the professional, co-ed Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity. And she changed her mind from initially wanting to be a TV news anchor to becoming more interested in marketing, branding, and social media.
After graduation, she moved to Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, not far from Issaquah, where she grew up. She knew a lot of people and had a lot of friends in the Seattle area, but wanted to make professional connections. “I went in looking to meet more Cougs and get my name out there to build my professional network. I found those things and had a lot of fun. But I feel like I really got a lot of professional development out it as well. I executed on events, plan the chapter’s calendar for the year, and manage volunteers. And I’m still having fun doing it while meeting Cougs in the area!”
King County Cougs have gone to Seahawks and Mariners games, outdoor movies at Marymoor Park, Zoo Lights at the Woodland Park Zoo, and The Nutcracker at the Pacific Northwest Ballet. They’ve also organized networking events, toy drives, bar crawls, and more.
In the spirit of the WSU motto “Cougs Helping Cougs,” she notes, “You never know who is going to help you out in the future. It’s never too early to build your network. And there are a lot of Cougs in King County.”
Plus, “It’s just a blast. You get to do new things, and you get to do them with Cougs.”
‘Just love being a Coug’
Fifteen years after college graduation, Tracey (Johnston) Kohler was living in Vancouver, Washington, and working in Portland, Oregon. “I would get these emails regarding helping support activities of the Portland chapter and decided to register for one of their events.”
The first event she attended was a service project at the Oregon Food Bank, packaging pasta. At the end of the evening, she asked whether there was a chapter on her side of the Columbia River. There had been. But, at that point, it was inactive.
Kohler (’02 Psych.) contacted the WSUAA. “When they told me the Southwest Washington Chapter was looking for new leadership, I didn’t even hesitate. I just said, ‘I’ll do it. How do I get started?’”
Why did she step up? “I think the most obvious answer is I just love being a Coug.”
Kohler served as acting chapter president that first year and is now in her second three-year term as president of the Southwest Washington Cougs. In addition to service projects at the Clark County Food Bank and food pantry on the WSU Vancouver campus, the Southwest Washington Cougs have gone to Portland Pickles and Ridgefield Raptor games, held holiday toy drives and summer pub crawls, organized watch parties, and more. Another popular event is the annual rooter bus to the football game at either the University of Oregon or Oregon State each fall.
“Before the pandemic, we tried to do a social activity and a service activity every quarter. Now we are getting back into it,” Kohler says, noting, “I’ve always had such wonderful experiences at these events. I’ve met some really great people. I’ve met people who have become friends outside of alumni events. We always have a very strong turnout at whatever we do. There are a lot of Cougs in Vancouver, not only Pullman Cougs but VanCougs. We are very fortunate in Southwest Washington with how many Cougs we have.”
For Kohler, getting through undergrad required a regimented routine. She had transferred to WSU Vancouver after earning an associate degree at Clark College and was a non-traditional student, a single mom in her early 30s who worked full time and had two boys in elementary and middle school. “I made my kids go to bed every night at 9, and 9 to 10 was my homework hour. I did all of my reading and whatever else I needed to do for class in that hour.”
Kohler now also serves as an at-large member of the WSUAA board. “I love everyone at the Alumni Association. They are always friendly and willing to help you,” she says, noting she hopes to remain involved.
“I feel like being a Coug means being part of a family,” she says, adding, ”Family is really important to me, and it felt natural for me to try and foster that and do whatever I could do to bring people together—not only in the spirit of being Cougs and having fun, but also in the spirit of being of service to others.”
Contact the WSU Alumni Association at 1-800-ALUM-WSU or email@example.com for information about how to get involved.
Already a WSU Alumni Association volunteer? Share your volunteer story with Washington State Magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A desire to help (Summer 2023)