CPP Student Spotlight: Leah Wilborn Neese

March 23, 2022 By Amy Laskowski

The College of Professional Programs is very proud to highlight Leah Wilborn Neese, an Eastern graduate currently pursuing a certificate in Program Evaluation.

Prior to her enrollment in the program, Wilborn Neese completed a dual degree through Eastern Washington University and Gonzaga University School of Law, earning her master’s degree in Social Work (EWU, spring 2020) and her Juris Doctorate (GU, spring 2021). She earned her bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Iowa.

Hometown: Pella, Iowa
Completion Date: Spring 2022

Wilborn Neese is pursuing the program evaluation certification in order to build a career pursuing social justice. Self-described as “passionate about alternatives to the criminal justice system,” Leah looks forward to vocational opportunities in therapeutic and restorative justice programs. Having built a foundation of evaluative skills during her MSW studies, she feels “it’s crucial to be able to measure if an alternative program is actually helping individuals; if not, find where the gaps are, and if so, demonstrate that success to stakeholders.”

I want to be part of providing services in our communities that actually work and continuously improving those services. This certificate program provided a great opportunity to build the skills to do that. – Leah Wilborn Neese

Like many of EWU students, Leah identifies herself as a first-generation student from a low-income background. “For much of my academic career I felt out of place and lost; I often struggled with imposter syndrome,” she reports. She believes that many low-income students face a similar struggle, and, like herself, never fully recover. Despite struggling, Leah’s persistence and academic endeavors foster increasing confidence and feelings of authentic belonging within the realm of higher education.

I am so thankful for peers and professors – many of them at EWU – who made me feel seen, supported my success, and gave me a sense of belonging. – Leah Wilborn Neese

Wilborn Neese identifies Program Director Beth Halaas, EdD, MSW, as her mentor. Calling Halaas a professional always willing to offer support, discuss ideas, and talk about possibilities, Leah met her mentor during her MSW studies. “Her expertise and brilliance are matched by her passion and dedication to students,” says Leah. She credits Halaas as a reason she was eager to return to EWU to pursue the Program Evaluation certificate. Other reasons included her familiarity with EWU resources such as library databases and resources, which “made the prospect of attending classes while working so much more manageable.”

When asked what advice she would offer others interested in enrolling in the Program Evaluation Certificate Program, she answers simply “if you’re thinking about it, do it!”

. . . the course content is practical, the professors have a wealth of experience in this area, and you are learning alongside others who are interested in the same things. I have learned a ton in a short amount of time and feel prepared to apply what I have learned in the real world. It is an investment of your time and energy, but worth that investment. – Leah Wilborn Neese

To learn more about this 9-month, online, certificate program, visit the program webpage.